If the Orioles are going to add that so called “big bat” during free agency, the supply of quality hitters is certainly larger at first base than at third.
Adrian Beltre heads up a not great list of free agent third sackers, while Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko top the list of first baseman.
Dunn and Konerko are both type A free agents. Because the O’s draft among the top 15 in the first-round of next June’s draft, they cannot lose that pick. If they signed any type A free agent that is offered arbitration, they would have to give up a 2011 second-round pick.
I would look at that as a small price to pay to add a Dunn or Konerko to a lineup that badly needs some punch.
Here are some quick thumbnail sketches on a few of the top free agent first sackers.
Adam Dunn: You can count on him for a lot of walks and strikeouts but also a ton of production. He hit .260-38-103 for the Nats in 2010 and was 2nd in the NL in homers and 3rd in extra-base hits. He struck out 199 times.
He will not turn 31 until November, making him one of the youngest in the first base crop of free agents. He made the move to first base this season. Some say he got a little better with the glove as the year went on and was dismal before that. He just finished out a 2-year, 20 million deal with the Nats.
Paul Konerko: Would the O’s make him an offer again? They reportedly offered Konerko a 5-year, 65 million dollar deal in November of 2005 but he re-upped with the White Sox on a five-year, 60 million deal.
He is 34 but coming off a monster season where he batted .312-39-111 with a whopping .977 OPS.
The O’s could use his right-handed bat after hitting .248 vs. lefties last year as opposed to .264 vs. right-handed pitching. The risk here, is, of course, his age and the fact he put up much better numbers last season in a walk year than he did in the couple of seasons before that.
Carlos Pena: A lefty hitter and type B free agent, he hit .196-28-84 last year, his fourth season with Tampa. His OPS was just .732 but his OPS for his four seasons in Tampa is .884.
Pena is a good defensive player and won a Gold Glove in 2008. On the downside, there must be some concerns that his average has dropped four years in a row, going from .282 to .247 to .227 to .196.
Pena, who spent some time on the DL in August with a right foot injury, is said to be a high character guy. He made 10 million last year and his agent is Scott Boras.
Lance Berkman: He certainly will come cheap coming off a year where he hit just .248-14-58 with Houston and New York. His slugging percentage was only .413.
He is a switch-hitter, so he’s got that going for him, but his homers have declined from 29 to 25 to 14 the last three years. Can he resurrect his career like Aubrey Huff? He doesn’t look like a good option at all to me.
Derrek Lee: His numbers fell off in 2010 from his monster 2009 year with the Cubs when he hit .306-35-111. In 2010, when he ended the year with Atlanta, he batted .260-19-80.
His defense is considered very good. He looks like a fall-back option for a club that can’t sign one of the top players at this position.
Of these five, my order of preference would be Dunn, Konerko, Pena, Lee and Berkman.
There is another player that could factor in here. Most are listing Victor Martinez as a free agent at catcher but I think he could be a player signed for first base as well and could emerge as someone the Orioles pursue, amidst rumblings they are interested. Many have seen reports that he’d prefer to catch, but I don’t think he would or should completely rule out first base either.
Some O’s fans are going to wonder about Aubrey Huff, but I think that ship has sailed on both sides at this point and there is almost no chance of a Huff return to Baltimore. Pretty sure he is happy on a World Series winner unless they completely low-ball him with an offer.
Some others the club could possibly pursue at first base might fit into the “trying to catch lightning in a bottle” category.
Another Garrett Atkins type, where they hope he can recapture success from a few years ago would be met with disdain by the fans, one would think. In Atkins’ case, he didn’t even put up decent numbers in 2009.
He was a risk that backfired, but at least the club had the sense to end the experiment early.
If they even have thoughts of going that route again, why not just re-sign Ty Wigginton for first or turn it over to Brandon Snyder to sink or swim at the spot?