In the wake of Logan Forsythe’s departure, the Rays find themselves considering a number of avenues to replacing his offensive production, and while internal options alleviate some of the pressure to bring in another bat, there’s no question that shifting Brad Miller to second and signing Mike Napoli or Christ Carter is among the most coveted of options.
But what if they miss out on both of those guys? Would they then be more inclined to turn towards a trade rather than settle for one of the weaker bats still on the market like Pedro Alvarez or Billy Butler?
Quite frankly, it’s difficult to predict what Erik Neander is likely to do at this point, but if there is one thing we have learned during his short regime, it’s that he’s not afraid to take calculated risks when the market shifts.
Already this offseason he bid on a freefalling Bautista, nabbed a top tier offensive catcher for practically nothing because of a second ACL injury, dealt a precarious Drew Smyly for an intriguing short and long term package, gambled on a bounceback for Colby Rasmus, and when the Twins greedily asked the Dodgers for Yadier Alvarez and Willie Calhoun on top of Jose De Leon for Brian Dozier, Neander swooped in to land six years of a potential front end starter for two years of a quality second baseman that was headed out eventually anyways.
The moves aren’t without risk, but they’re sort of low risk/high reward moves a small market team needs to simultaneously be competitive now and build for the future.
So even if the Rays internal options enable them to simply add a throw away player who can be jettisoned off once Ramos returns or Gilaspie/Adames/Roberston is ready, I wouldn’t rule out the Rays’ general manager striking another deal if they can’t come to terms with Napoli or Carter. As such, here’s a brief look at some of first baseman rumored to be on the block.
The rebuilding White Sox are undoubtedly preparing to deal Todd Frazier at some point this season to recoup some value before he walks in free agency. While the one year/half season rental likely won’t net them a bevy of prospects, Frazier’s combination of talent and an affordable $12 million salary could make him a coveted piece.
He’s changed his approach offensively the past two seasons to become a heavy flyball hitter, as evidenced by a nearly 10% spike in flyballs, so even if the batting average is unlikely to rebound, he offers prodigious power to his new team after the adjustments produced an average of 37.5 homers the past two seasons.
Unlike the top first basemen left on the market, Frazier projects as a competent defender capable of playing either corner infield spot on a regular basis. His numbers slipped a bit at the hot corner last season, but his strong track as an above average third baseman (5.3 UZR/150) bode well for a smooth transition to first base allowing Miller to man second full time.
There hasn’t been as much interest in Frazier as Chicago would hope, possibly due to a finger injury that was still be examined last month, so it’s possible his price tag is in a comfortable range for Erik Neander. Perhaps Daniel Robertson and a couple of lottery ticket guys get the job done. Although, it’s a questionable move to part with six years of Robertson for one year of Frazier if you’re not going all-in this season.
After defecting from Cuba, Jose Abreu burst onto the major league scene with a sensational .317/.383/.581 slash line and 36 homers to garner AL Rookie of the Year honors. He followed up his stellar debut season with two years of above average production, but they’ve both been a far cry from the lofty expectations that arose after his first year. Nonetheless, Abreu’s combination of contact and power make him an attractive target as the White Sox continue their fire sale.
The 30 year old first baseman is set to earn just under $11 million this season with a $3-4 million jump anticipated each season through 2019 after opting out of his contract into arbitration this offseason, so while he fits Tampa Bay’s 2017 payroll, the team would need to be committed to expanding the payroll the next couple of seasons if they were to acquire him; yet, if they truly think Abreu’s bat could help propel them to the playoffs, it’s feasible the coinciding increase in revenue could make a slightly elevated payroll possible moving forward.
Furthermore, with the three years of team control remaining, Jose Abreu and not Todd Frazier is the White Sox player you want to add if you’re trying to avoid your trade tree dying out. The obvious catch is that he’s bound to be more expensive than Frazier, but he may not be as expensive as you would think.
According to ESPN’s Nick Ostiller, the Rockies have explored a possible Abreu trade that did not include top prospect Brendan Rogers. Instead, a package built around two of Jeff Hoffman (44), Riley Pint (51), German Marquez (73), and Raimel Tapia (90) was the likely return. This is good news for Tampa Bay, as the team has similar depth and could arguably make a comparable building point around the likes of 1B prospect Jake Bauers or Casey Gillaspie, should the front office believe Abreu is the answer.
Despite the obvious offensive appeal, count this one extremely low on the chances of coming to fruition for a team that’s always hesitant to deal quality prospects.
After the addition of Luis Valbuena, Marc Topkin reported that C.J. Cron could be available via trade; however, it remains to be seen if Albert Pujols’ durability concerns have the Angels hesitant to part ways with Cron.
Cron boasts a career 119 wRC+ against right handers and a passable 91 wRC+ against southpaws, and although he had lukewarm defensive results early in his career, Cron’s 8.5 UZR/150 in 2016 provide optimism that he’s more than a designated hitter or bench warmer. Unfortunately, his career BB% is under 5%, so he’ll need to keep last season’s hitting momentum going if he hopes to stick it as a regular.
The Angels glaring need for starting pitching means something out of the Rays deep rotation depth could get the job done, although one has to think that Cron’s teammate Jefry Marte, who is a more versatile defender and possesses a superior stick against lefties, would be the Rays’ preferred player.
It’s been years since Jurickson Profar was heralded as one of the premier prospects in all of baseball but that hasn’t stopped Texas from receiving a flurry of inquiries about the 23 year old middle infielder, perhaps instigating it themselves.
After essentially missing two seasons of action to various ailments, Profar appeared in 90 games for the Rangers at five different positions in 2016. Initially, he posted a stellar .323/.363/.465 slash line before falling prey to a .215 BABIP despite excellent contact percentages at the plate.
Profar could stand to be more aggressive at the plate, but it’s encouraging to see him make a high percentage of contact inside and outside of the zone when he’s only played 184 games in the majors in his career.
The jury remains out on his bat, but he’s flashed the defensive chops that were graded so highly coming up through the Rangers’ system to give him a decent floor. (Granted, there are lingering questions about his arm after shoulder injuries bogged him down years ago.) He’d be wasted at first base, so I’d expect him to be the primary 2B with some playing time all around diamond, which makes him a particularly flexible option when Adames and Robertson join the big league squad.
Profar is the true high risk/high reward type of player that oozes potential, so as the Rays found out in checking on him, he probably isn’t cheap. Previously, Texas has attempted to acquire Jake Odorizzi, but a more reasonable ask was reported by Evan Grant of Sports Day, who broke news out of the Rangers camp that Tampa had inquired about Profar:
“The Rangers might consider trying to get a minor league pitching prospect for Profar. The Rangers are badly in need of minor league pitching depth, particularly at the upper levels.”
The emergence of Aledmys Diaz shuffled the Cardinals infield pushing Matt Carpenter to regular time at 1B and simultaneously rendering Matt Adams expendable after a couple of subpar seasons.
Adams reportedly dedicated this offseason to “getting in the best shape of his life” through a heavy routine of pilates, which you’d normally take with a grain of salt if it weren’t for the fact that he shed 25 pounds in the process.
6’ 3” and now 230 lbs, the first baseman has a career .284/.331/.480 line against righties but has hovered around the Mendoza line against fellow lefthanders. Additionally, he’s never hit more than 16 homers in a season leaving much to be desired out of 1B. On the bright side, his career 2.0 UZR/150 suggests that he’s a capable regular fielder if he can endure the physical rigors of a full season.
Adams is set to earn a mere $2.8 million this season with another year of arbitration remaining so he’s more than a rental but easily discarded after the season if the team needs to clear a roster spot. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnik tweeted the following more than a month ago:
The #STLCards are in listening mode on Matt Adams, sources say. He's a change of scenery candidate with Matt Carpenter set to play 1B.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) December 15, 2016
Since that time, few left-handed free agent first baseman have signed leaving a plethora of options of guys with a similar skill set available, so he could likely be had cheap if the Cardinals are truly desperate to move on from him.
Tyler White/A.J. Reed
With Yulieski Gurriel slated to start at first base, it’s unlikely that the Astros will carry both Tyler White and A.J. Reed much longer. Neither player had an auspicious start to their major league career last season, but they both put up some gaudy minor league numbers the past couple of seasons.
White had won the Spring Training battle for first base and continued with a 116 wRC+ in April, but then posted a mere 83 wRC+ in May before losing his starting role. White is three years older and (as a right handed hitter) stronger against lefties, so he’s the more likely trade target for the Rays, but I wouldn’t discount a preference for the 60-grade power of A.J. Reed.
Still a prospect, the knock on Reed is that his 275 pound frame could ultimately relegate the 23-year old to a DH role in the long term, so perhaps he should join Adams’ pilates’ training.
Regardless, the cost to acquire either of them would be minimal, and either player could easily serve as organizational depth with a couple of options left enabling them to start the year in the minors.
Unless Neander is dedicated to clearing a roster spot through a trade, it’s considerably more reasonable to sign one of the free agents rather than part with minor league talent. It’d be a different story if the trade market presented a few strong options, but the worthwhile first baseman are mostly seen as either too expensive or indispensable.
In the end, I’d consider Abreu and Frazier as more pipe dreams with the most likely chance be for a trade being one of others or maybe even for an outfielder with a modicum of first base experience like Scott Van Slyke or Kyle Blanks.