Filling the First Base Hole is Crucial for Success


It is no secret among anyone in Major League Baseball right now that the Tampa Bay Rays are in need of a First Baseman. Be it from a trade, a free agent or maybe even a budding star caught between a rock and a potential All-Star, the Rays will find their man, but at what price?

Heck just for conversation and a few giggles, can Andy Sonnanstine play First Base? Seriously I am not applying Sonny name to the 1B fodder list, it is just he has done everything else for the Rays, plus he will finally get a gig where he can hit daily.

You can immediately take names like Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Jorge Posada and Derrek Lee out of the think tank mostly because of the fear it would cause instantly to the Rays payroll situation. Even past Rays familiar names like Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, Brad Hawpe, Jorge Cantu, Adam Kennedy, and Carlos Pena might give each of us a wonder if they can again be monster at the plate and huge pillows in the field, but their tenures have come and gone for this team.

Dan Johnson, the Rays 2011 Opening Day starter refused a assignment and is also within the free agent wading pool. His exploits, especially in the latter weeks of the season have made him a folk hero in Tampa Bay, but his dismal early season slump in 2011 made in more than expendable. Johnson has unfortunately had a yo-yo existence with the Rays from his plucking off the waiver wire, to a year in Japan courtesy of the Rays, to being a part of this team by proxy in Triple-A Durham then emerging with memorable Home Runs and spontaneous eruptions of power. If only he could get that power spurt to last 180 days during the regular season.

Interesting name do pop out at you from the list of potential young free agents like the powerful ex-Yankee Juan Miranda. The former Cuban baseball star signed a reasonable $2 million contract with the Yankees in 2006, and like former team Cuba team mate and current Rays farm hand Leslie Anderson, Miranda has not shown the verbosity yet to possibly warrant more than a casual look by the Rays. That and a limited MLB experience which mired Miranda with a .226 career average, this might take him out of any Rays consideration.

 Michael Cuddyer might be an interesting name to associate with the Rays in their 1B quest, but his Type A status, which could cost the Rays draft pick might be a huge stop sign to any advancement towards his name. We all know how the Rays value their draft picks, and accumulate them like canned goods to weather any impending payroll storm. I actually would love to see what Cuddyer would do with his photographic talents if given a few extra months of Trop photography….but that is not a reason to sign him (bummer).

There might be a few young tradeable names to ponder for the Rays, but then again it might come down to the “want “ list by the other franchise, possibly killing the deal in the initial chatter phase. If the Miami Marlins do indeed get Price or King Albert to guard their First Base bag, it will be interesting to see how the team positions Gaby Sanchez for relocation. With the Marlins pretty set with at least 3 starters on the books, there is room for rotation adjustments and improvement, but would someone like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann or an Rays prospect on the cusp plus a young catcher like Jose Lobaton or Nevin Ashley be enough to land the powerful Marlin?

Or could the dangling of Cincinnati Reds young hitter Yonder Alonso be the morsel that tempts the Rays into digging into their roster and farm system possibly bringing Alonso to Tampa Bay where he will have a free range position in front of him unlike in Cincy where Joey Votto is cemented at 1B for the immediate future. The problem with Alonso is not his value, but the deal it would take to possibly separate him from his Reds jersey and into a Rays uniform.

Would Rays VP of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman be willing to possibly delete SP James Shields from his roster even before Spring Training, or can be package a deal possibly including some middle infield talent, plus a budding pitcher and possibly another player to get this deal done and put a solid body with a few years of flexibility at the corner position for the Rays? Alonso might be a power upgrade over the Rays 2011 First Base corps, but will he be the fielding gem the Rays need to keep their defensive fielding advantage intact?

Even though other First Baseman names out there like Lyle Overbay and Jason Giambi might tweak a bit of Rays interest as potential platoon members, their salaries definitely might be out of the Rays comfort zone, immediately dissecting their name from the 1B Carousel.

In my honest opinion, I am still hopeful the Rays can plug in Rays 2011 First Baseman Casey Kotchman as a exclamation point into this pondering question. Still there are questions within this easy solution to the Rays First Base dilemma. Kotchman’s biggest stumbling block to him possibly getting a multi-year deal might be his ponderance for low power numbers. Still, if the guy can get the needed hits, place himself up near .300 and produce scoring opportunities and drive in runs, does that vault him over a guy who might hit 20+ HR and have a average glove?

This decision on the immediate horizon for the Rays has to have their direct and undivided attention. This current opening that the Rays need to fill this off season is the keystone of their defensive alignment. Get the right glove and bat into this slot, and the Rays could see their offense suddenly pull a Rasputin and emerge from their slumber with their lumber. Whatever happens, this one move will send immediate signals on the way the Rays want to do business in 2012.

Sure you would love to possibly see someone like Cantu come back, or possibly entertain a Pena reunion, but those scenarios might not be in the compromised deck of cards the Rays have for 2012. Possibly a Alonso or Sanchez could fall into the Rays hands, but at what cost, and is Rays pitching really such a high point that losing a Shields, Davis or even a emerging Cobb or Torres not produce a few shock waves?

This one movement by the Rays front office this Winter will be watched closely by the Rays Republic because First Base is just that critical a spot for the Rays, and only a solid corner man will fit nicely with the square peg shape of First Base.

6 Comments

Cuddyer would be an awesome pickup, unfortunately I’m afraid the Rays might not have the money for him. I still think Kotchman is the Rays’ best choice at the moment, but a lot of things can happen in the offseason.
The Rays Rant- http://yossif.mlblogs.com/

Yossif,
I am a firm “Magic of Kotch” guy, but I wonder what he will ask for after a cozy $ 700,00. 2011 contract? I am hearing whispers of discussions, but as we all know, the Rays cloak of darkness is huge when contracts are being pondered. Cuddyer would take a huge chunk of 2012 payroll, but he can also play First Base plus DH. I expect a possible Rays-Dan Johnson reunion as a fall-back option, but I think DJ has had his fill of Rays wishy-washy intentions when his name is brought up.

Actually, the terms of the new CBA changed the situation with Cuddyer so the Rays would not lose their 1st rd pick to sign him.

From Rhett Bollinger = “Cuddyer, along with five other players, was moved into a new category as a Type A free agent that means a club won’t lose a Draft pick for signing him to a deal.

For example, if Cuddyer left for another club, the Twins would receive a Draft choice in the same round and immediately prior to the Draft choice that the signing club otherwise would have forfeited, as well as a Compensation Round selection between the first and second rounds. But the signing club wouldn’t actually lose that Draft pick as it would’ve under the old system.”

Jason,
Thanks for that information. I am kind of entranced within James Shields book at the moment and have not taken on that required reading of the new CBA agreement.
That puts Cuddyer possibly on a Rays “Wish/Want/Possible” list.
I am still a bit enchanted to see what Cuddyer could do through a eyepiece with a very photo-friendly Florida locale…..plus play some mean First Base.
Again, thanks for that great clarification.

Kotchman’s lack of power is overstated if he is their #2 hitter. His .378 OBP and .800 OPS show that, even with just 10 HR last year, his gap power and ability to get on base, PLUS hit amazing glove, make him worth a short, multi-year deal. They don’t have someone in the system that is pounding on the door, anyway. Looking at other, cheap 1B options, you’re left with Nick Johnson (can’t stay healthy), Ross Gload (most AB in a season is 388), or Xavier Nady (also hasn’t stayed healthy). Kotchman will be 29 in February. He seems like a lock-down type at this point.

Evan,
I am totally on the “Magic of Kotch” bandwagon. Should be interesting to see what develops out of the Winter meetings, but I think the Rays right now have Kotchman eyeing a return for 2012. Still, we do not have information as to if the two parties are chatting, or even close since the Rays throw on that cloack of darkness when discussing free agents and contracts. Kotchman might not the power of a usual MLB 1B, but his glove and consistent bat gives you enough reasons to gladly bring him back for 2012, and beyond.

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