MLB

Looking at the free agent first base options for the Indians

The Indians are in heavy pursuit of a first baseman this offseason. Here is a rundown of the options available to them and maybe a name or two not previously brought up...

With the winter meetings in full motion, the Cleveland Indians are wrestling with what to do at first base with the departure of Mike Napoli.

Napoli, 35, had a season of career highs with 34 home runs, 101 RBI and 194 strikeouts, so he hopes to cash in on, what may be, his final long term deal. He is reportedly seeking a three-year deal, which has little appeal to the Indians who prefer to sign him to a one year deal.

Under Napoli’s leadership the young Indians learned how to win despite diversity; the veteran was the undisputed leader throughout the regular season. His popularity with the fans spawned “Party at Napoli’s,” a popular slogan created by a season ticket holder. The slogan was embraced by fans and teammates, and signs and chants erupted whenever the burly slugger came to the plate.

Success in the regular season didn’t last into October and November. Napoli struggled in the Tribe’s run through the playoffs and World Series – with only Game 3 of the ALCS his high-water mark when he went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI off a double and home run in Cleveland’s 4-2 win.

Napoli’s .239/.335/.465 regular season slash line was productive, but his post-season slash line of .173/.230./.288 was dismal. A pull-swing produced 21 strikeouts in 52 at bats with a high percentage of weak fly ball outs to the opposite field. Even so, Terry Francona never lost faith in Napoli, keeping the slugger in the four-hole throughout the post-season, despite poor production.

As Napoli continues to field free agent offers, the Indians have met with his agent at the winter meetings. If both sides cannot come to terms, management must look for ways to fill the void the popular veteran leaves behind. While Napoli will be hard to replace in the clubhouse and on the field, the Tribe has some replacement options in its price range.

Chris Carter, who the Indians had an interest in last winter, is a first baseman who fits the bill of a middle of the order right-handed bat. Carter was non-tendered by Milwaukee after he hit 41 home runs and drove in 94 runs. The feeling was that the Brewers were unwilling to go to arbitration with him which could have resulted in a $9-$10 million payday for Carter.

Carter and Napoli’s stat lines are eerily similar. Neither hit for a high average and both had a high strikeout rate - Carter led the majors with 206 strikeouts with a slash of .222/.321/.499.

A dark horse candidate to replace Napoli may be Trevor Plouffe, who was released by the Minnesota Twins. Plouffe, 30, was limited to 84 games in 2016 due to injuries and hit just .260/.303/.420 with 12 homers, 13 doubles and 47 RBIs. The corner infielder is a career .247/.308/.420 hitter with 96 homers, 148 doubles and 357 RBIs in 723 games.

Comparing both hitters over 162 games the trade-offs are apparent.

 

HR

RBI

BB

SO

BA

OPB

SLG

OPS

Carter (29)

35

88

72

206

.218

.314

.463

.777

Plouffe(30)

22

80

49

130

.247

.308

.420

.727

Carter is a triple threat for the three true outcomes for a hitter: homerun, walk or strikeout. Plouffe will put the ball in play more and drive in runs, but he also has the capacity to hit 20-25 home runs and play good defense.

Carter looks to command more money and could be hunting a multi-year contract, while Plouffe should come cheaper and could be signed to a one-year deal with the hope of posting big numbers for a contending team.

Another option is Adam Lind who is coming off an underwhelming season in Seattle. The left-handed first baseman hit 20 homeruns with 58 RBI’s in 126 games and a slash line of .239/.286/.431. Numbers like that make him affordable in Cleveland. Lind could be signed for one year and at $5 million or so based on the contract signed by Mitch Moreland with the Red Sox (one-year, $5.5 million); however, his left-handed bat is not what the middle of the lineup needs.

Finally, what some speculate may be an ideal fit for the Indians, you have Edwin Encarnacion who the Indians have interest in and has seen his suitors dwindle. Encarnacion hit career highs with 42 home runs and 127 RBI in Toronto. The right-hander batted .263 with a .352 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage. The major drawback with Encarnacion is his desire for a multi-year contract. Still smarting from the Michael Bourne and Nick Swisher signings, Cleveland would be hard pressed to bring on Encarnacion for a $60 million three-year deal.

CAREER

HR

RBI

BB

SO

BA

OPB

SLG

OPS

Lind

25

88

48

118

.271

.328

.462

.790

Encarnacion

33

101

71

108

.266

.352

.498

.850

Signing Encarnacion commits money which could be used for other areas like a left-handed reliever or a center fielder and really impacts what they can do financially beyond 2017. On the flip side, signing Carter, Plouffe or Lind gives the Indians more flexibility with which to bolster the bullpen and lineup this season, and also some wiggle room for seasons to come.

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