November 10, 2010

The 2011 First Base Job

The Pirates had a bad lineup in 2010, and the first base position was the biggest reason. Pirates first basemen hit an abysmal .227/.277/.370 on the year. Garrett Jones (106 starts) and Jeff Clement (33) were the primary culprits, and to make matters worse neither man fielded well either. Another sign things were bad - Steven Pearce, Bobby Crosby, John Bowker, Ryan Doumit and Andy LaRoche all saw time at the position.

I advocated during the season that Jones should play all year to see what he's capable of. It turns out he's capable of a reserve 1B/LF/RF role. That's fine, but it means the Pirates need to bring in a new starting first baseman. Like I said with pitching, there's no trade bait worth trading so that means signing a free agent.

Remember Adam LaRoche? The perennial .270 hitting, 85 RBI first baseman who so many fans hated? That kind of production would sure seem nice in comparison. It's also the minimum a major league team can get by with.

Garrett Jones (247/.306/.414) simply did not hit enough to start at first base next year. I suspect the Pirates will put him in a platoon role, but he also can't field at first base. Jones hit .215/.266/.392 in the second half - those are bad enough numbers to lose the job.

Steven Pearce (.295/.395/.414) hit well and fielded passably for a few weeks before undergoing season-ending surgery. Yet he never hit well in MLB before and, of course, is coming off surgery. A Pearce/Jones platoon would be the most bullshit possible scenario for 2010.

Jeff Clement (.201/.237/.368) was outrighted to Indianapolis and can elect free agency. His performance was downright terrible and I'd be shocked to see him in a Pirates uniform again. Expecting Clement to both learn a new position and learn to hit breaking balls, just by placing him on the field and in the lineup, was a pretty dumb decision.

Adam LaRoche is a free agent and remains a good option, but I'd be shocked to see him come back. Paul Konerko, Aubrey Huff, and Adam Dunn will be out of the Pirates' price range. Here are the two guys who I would look to sign:

Carlos Pena (.196/.325/.407) hits free agency at the worst possible time as he embarassingly hit below .200 over a full season. He's a Scott Boras client, and Boras typically seeks one-year deals for guys coming off career-worst years to rebuild their value. Remember, Pena is only one year removed from a season in which he led the American League in home runs despite missing a month of the season. He's a solid defensive first baseman with 144 home runs in the past four years. I'm guessing he signs a one-year deal worth around $7.5 million.

Derrek Lee (.260/.347/.428) played poorly for the Cubs but rebounded to hit very well down the stretch for the Braves, helping them to the NL wild card. 2010 was also Lee's career worst year, and I think it's a better bargain to expect a guy to rebound from his career worst year than repeat his career year (Konerko, Huff). He's a former Gold Glover and entering his age 35 season, still is not a liability in the field. There's no reason to think he can't score and drive in 90 runs in 2011 while playing average defense. I think he'll settle for a one-year deal worth around $6 million.

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