Evaluating Casey Kotchman & The 2011 Free Agent 1B Class

It had long been assumed Carlos Pena would no longer be a Ray once his three-year contract ended following the 2010 season. There was some consideration of a hometown discount deal from the fan base when Pena posted a very disappointing 1 WAR season in 2010. Perhaps Pena would sign a one year deal to rebuild his value went the line of thinking, but Jim Hendry and the Cubs quickly squashed that idea by ponying up $10 million on a one-year deal.

The Rays were left with AAA/Japan/anti-Red Sox home run hero Dan Johnson and little else in the cupboard. PECOTA offered some reassurance with a projection of .244/.368/.465 for the Pumpkin, but the Rays wanted to make sure they had an insurance plan. Collective groans went out when that insurance plan turned out to to be buy-low candidate Casey Kotchman, he of the .217/.280/.336 2010 slash line, to a minor-league deal. The reaction was even worse once Nick Johnson and Russell Branyan signed minor-league deals as well.

It's easy to lose sight of the fact that first base was a huge question mark coming into the season and how we all gushed over Johnson's .833 OPS projection. How does Kotchman fit in amongst the rest of the 2011 crop of free-agent first basemen who were available to the Rays?

Player

Team

Years

Salary

WAR

Paul Konerko

White Sox

3

$37.50

2.3

Casey Kotchman

Rays

1

Minor

2.1

Carlos Pena

Cubs

1

$10.00

0.8

Brad Hawpe

Padres

1

$3.00

0.4

Derrek Lee

Orioles

1

$7.25

0.1

Xavier Nady

D-Backs

1

$1.75

-0.1

Adam LaRoche

Nats

2

$16.00

-0.2

Russell Branyan

D-Backs

1

Minor

-0.3

Jorge Cantue

Padres

1

$0.85

-0.7

Lyle Overbay

Pirates

1

$5.00

-0.8

Aubrey Huff

Giants

2

$20.00

-1

Casey Kotchman's 136 wRC+ eclipses every season of the Carlos Pena era with the exception of 2007's 167. Kotchman's .846 OPS eclipses the .833 PECOTA for Dan Johnson that had us all tickled pink. Kotchman has outperformed every free agent first basemen with the exception of the $37 million Paul Konerko and wake me up the day you see the Rays making that type of investment in a free agent first baseman. Friedman once again has skimmed the bargain bin and found a magical season, one beyond any dreamer's wildest vision. If Carlos Pena, Russel Branyan, or Dan Johnson was putting up an .846 OPS as a Ray, we would not be bemoaning the fact he was under-performing Albert Pujols or Adrian Gonzalez but rather celebrating a player who outperformed expectations. If fingers are to be pointed at individuals it should be at those who have failed to live up to the expectations set for them not a first baseman making less than $1 million. That is where the shortfall exists.

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