Nats Free Agent Choices: 1B and OF

Earlier in the week, we took at look at the offseason needs of the team. The biggest is a top of the line starting pitcher, a real ace. Yesterday we looked at options there. After that, they probably need someone to play first base. Another outfielder would be desirable, and with those hitters they could use a power bat as well as a high-OBP leadoff type. A veteran second baseman for a short term deal is possible, maybe not necessary. So let’s go over the bigger names that are out there, at least ones that I find interesting. Today it’s position players, the outfield and first base:

First Base

Adam Dunn – The guy who manned the position last year is available, and his offensive numbers were the same as the always are. He hits close to 40 HRs, strikes out close to 200 times, and has an OPS of around .900. His fielding is suspect, and this year his UZR/150 of -3.3 ranked him 15th among qualified first baseman. It’s not horrible, but it’s below average. He won’t age great, but at only 30, he’s got a few more good years in him.

Carlos Pena – This is the name that has been bouncing around recently, in part because he did have a bad 2010, he might be had at a discount. For the three seasons prior to his 2010 in which hit .196/.325/.407, he had an OPS over .850 each season. His average has dropped around 30 points each season, as has his OBP, and a recovered Pena may still only be the guy that hit .227/.356/.537 last year. In other words, he’s pretty similar to Dunn, only it’s perceived that he’s a better defender. Of course, his UZR/150 of -3.7 last season is actually worse than Dunn’s, and his 2009 was much worse at -6.1. But from 2006-2008 his numbers were positive, putting him as a better than average fielder.

Derrek Lee – Another name I’ve heard associated with the Nats, he is a free agent turning 35 next year. His bat has been good, but he’s not a consistent home run threat anymore. In the last 4 years, he’s only topped 22 HRs once, when he blasted 35 in 2009. His OPS of .869 over that time frame has been pretty good, even though he played in a hitter’s park, but I’m not sure how much he has left. His glove is good, his UZR/150 this year of 2.3 is better than Dunn and Pena, and over the last few seasons it has been above average.

Troy Glaus – All he does is hit homers and make the playoffs. Ok, he didn’t do alot of HR hitting recently. He didn’t have a particularly strong season with the Braves, a .744 OPS this year is not good for a 1B, and he was hurt in 2009. And he was one of the worst fielding 1B in the league.

Aubrey Huff – Huff had enough of a season to insert himself into the conversation. His OPS of .891 was just what the Nats would want, if it wasn’t preceded by .694 in 2009. He actually played well at first base this year, with an UZR/150 of 9.7 at that position, and positive numbers in the OF as well. His versatility sending him to first or the corner outfield positions could be appealing to the team that needs both.

Paul Konerko – His .977 OPS and 39 HRs are pretty good for a 34 year old. He might have some years left in him, and whoever signs him might expect an .850 or higher OPS. As for defense, he makes Adam Dunn look like Don Mattingly sans mustache.

Adam LaRoche – An interesting one here. If you believe Pena had a down year, why not LaRoche. He only had a .788 OPS this season, but was just above .840 for the 3 seasons prior. And he’s a better fielder than most of the guys on the list.

Victor Martinez – He wants a long term deal, and he probably wants to play catcher some, but hey, he could be a starting 1B in DC.  His career numbers are impressive – .300/.369/.469  – and he’s probably good for 25 homers a year if he plays full time first base. He may get a premium for his versatility, but the Nats would be remiss to completely ignore him.

The Outfielders

Carl Crawford – Probably considered the #2 free agent this offseason after Cliff Lee, Crawford has some great numbers. A speedy guy with a great glove, he actually had the third highest UZR/150 of all qualified OFers this year. He’s only going to be 29 next year, and has hit .306/.360/.473 over the last 2 seasons, after an injury shorted 2008. His OBP isn’t as high as you might want in the leadoff spot, but his power makes up for some of that. The problem is if he loses speed, and his batting average drops a bit, he could suddenly be batting .276/.330/.443, which is not horrible but not acceptable for a corner outfielder and not for the amount he’ll make. Someone will probably be very happy with him for a few years, and then have to put up with some overpaying. Can that Nats live with that?

Jayson Werth – The outfielder will be 32 next year but only in his 4th year of full time play. He absolutely destroyed lefties but over the last few years has hit righties more than enough to be acceptable. His .885 OPS since coming to Philly in 2007 is pretty appealing, as is his 25-35 homer potential, and he’s been a strong fielder over his career. He’ll be high up in this free agent class, and may try to get a long term deal.

Pat Burrell – He had a horrible time in Tampa Bay over the last year and a half, but hit .266/.364/.509 in more than half a season with the Giants. He’ll be 34 next year, but he had an OPS of .890 from 2005-2008 with Philly, so he has shown he can hit, and hit with power.

Hideki Matsui – He’s barely ambulatory, so signing him to play full time LF is probably out of the question. But his bat may be just appealing enough. His .848 career OPS just keeps rolling along, and he’ll be 37 next year. I don’t expect them to look this way, but maybe a desparate one year deal if they can’t find anything else.

Manny Ramirez – He’s going to be 39 next year, has a terrible attitude, and can’t field anymore. If it wasn’t for hitting .298/.409/.460 in his age 38 season, he could be completely ignored.

The Conclusion

The first base class is a large one without a superstar, the outfield class has a stud or two but is relatively thin beyond that. With the 1Bs, either Carlos Pena has had a few bad years, or he’s an old 32. I have a feeling it might be the second one, and unless the Nats can get him for a short term deal, I don’t want them to be the ones to try and find out. Short term deals to Lee or Huff could be interesting, but I think Dunn is the best option out there, and even if they’re forced into a 3 year deal, they could try to move him after the second year if Marrero is ready to play. Of course, if they think Victor Martinez is worth scooping up, he could be a wild card.

As for the outfield, both Crawford and Werth are interesting, but they both are scary. If Crawford wants 5, 6 or 7 years, the Nats would do well to avoid him. But if they could give him a ton for a shorter deal, he’s the best one out there. I’d be thrilled with a 29, 30 and 31, maybe even 32 year old Crawford, just very scared beyond that. Look at what happened to Bernie Williams – he was one of the best players in the game, and then at age 34 was ancient. Werth give similar problems not because of a fear of losing speed, but because he’s going to be 32. He’s probably going to last a few more years because he doesn’t rely as much on speed, so his worries are Crawford lite. He likely won’t be asking for 7, but he’s scary at 4. A 3 year deal with him would be very interesting though.

They can fill the power void that Dunn will leave, but even if they snag Crawford he isn’t a true high-OBP guy. That need may not be able to be met this offseason, unless they find the right trade out there.

Rather than try to get long term deals at somewhat of a discount, the Nationals best bet is to go hard after one or two of these guys with high annual pay, shorter term deals. It may or may not work, but if it does, their payroll is low and they can afford to bring on some high end talent. They should “overpay” to grab one of the best guys, and prepare not just for a run in 2012, but at least an attempt in 2011. Even if they don’t get quite there, it’ll help for 2012 when the team is really ready to go.

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