24. If LaRoche leaves, who plays first base?

If the Braves don't sign Adam LaRoche, they'll need a new first baseman. Who are the candidates?

The Braves will have to make a decision on what to offer free agent first baseman Adam LaRoche. But it's very possible he gets an extended offer, one longer than what the Braves are comfortable offering with Freddie Freeman waiting in the wings.

So if LaRoche leaves, the Braves are going to need a first baseman. Freeman will need at least one full season in the minor leagues to continue his development. So the Braves could possibly just be looking for a stopgap player for first to be there until Freeman is ready.

The Braves are looking for a right-handed hitter, and at the same time they have an extra pitcher to offer in a deal. So it's possible the pitcher can land a right-handed hitting first baseman.

One has to wonder if the Braves would ask the Cubs about Derrek Lee, whose contract is up after the 2010 season. Lee is owed $13 million for next season, and the Cubs could be looking for a starting pitcher. Lee would only be here for one year, and then Freeman would hopefully be ready for Atlanta.

The Brewers are looking for pitching, but it's unlikely they would part with Prince Fielder, who is getting close to free agency. The Astros are talking about shedding payroll, and Lance Berkman is in the last year of his deal. But it's unlikely the Astros would trade the Texas-boy in a deal.

There are rumors San Diego will trade Adrian Gonzalez this winter. If the Braves were interested, Freeman would undoubtedly have to be in the deal. Gonzalez is under contract for two more seasons at a very reasonable rate (a combined $10.25 million). So the price for Gonzalez would be substantial, with Freeman being only the start of a huge package.

The Blue Jays are shopping Lyle Overbay, who is due $7 million in the last year of his contract next season. Overbay is a left-handed hitter, but since he is under contract for only one more year he might be a perfect stopgap. And the Blue Jays are dumping salaries, so the payment in a deal might not be substantial.

Detroit has been rumored to be dumping contracts as well. Miguel Cabrera has played first base for the last two seasons. He's under contract for six more seasons for a total of $126 million dollars. There is no doubt Cabrera is a young dominant power hitter, but his contract is huge. It's unlikely the Braves would be interested in that big of an investment.

Paul Konerko will be in the last year of his contract, paying him $12 million in 2010. The Braves would have to get the White Sox interested in one of their pitchers for such a trade. Chicago isn't taking Javier Vazquez back. It's unlikely they'd take on Derek Lowe's contract. Might they accept Kenshin Kawakami in a deal for Konerko?

There have been rumors the Rangers have talked with Atlanta about one of the starting pitchers. Chris Davis is a young player (23 years old) that hits left-handed. He hit 21 home runs last season. He could be involved in a deal if the Rangers take one of the starters.

Expect a number of first baseman to be non-tendered, with Colorado's Garrett Atkins at the top of the list. Atkins made $7.05 million last season when he .226 with 9 home runs and drove in 48 runs in 354 at bats. But Atkins hit 75 home runs from 2006 through 2008, so he will have some value if he's a free agent. Atkins hits right-handed, and he plays first, third, and occasionally in the outfield.

Troy Glaus may also be non-tendered. Glaus played in only 14 games last season due to shoulder issues, which might make him perfect for first base.

Here are the free agent first baseman, with the 2009 salary and the type of free agent they are this winter in parenthesis.

Carlos Delgado ($16 million, B) - Lefty hitter, but might fit in as a one-year stopgap. Got to prove he's healthy, though.

Aubrey Huff ($8 million, B) - Probably needs to stay in the American League so he can be a designated hitter. Lefty hitter.

Nick Johnson ($5.5 million, B) - Will want a longer-term deal than the Braves are probably prepared to offer.

Hank Blalock ($6 million, none) - Interesting lefty hitter who could take a one-year deal to repair his value. Will be cheaper than $6 mil.

Russ Branyan ($1.4 million, none) - Mouthed off a bit when he was in camp with the Braves a few years ago. Probably going back to Seattle.

Eric Hinske ($1.5 million, none) - He's still only 31, but the former Rookie of the Year is mainly a pinch-hitter now. Another lefty hitter.

Kevin Millar ($0.85 million, none) - Mainly only a role player now, but could be a good bench option. Came up with the Marlins when Wren was an executive there.

Chad Tracy ($4.75 million, none) - Had only 8 home runs in 98 games last season. He can play first and third. A lefty hitter.

So if LaRoche does not re-sign with the Braves, they will have to look for someone to play first base in 2010. Freeman is going to need more time to develop, but his presence will make it difficult to find anything more than a stopgap for the upcoming season.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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