Free Agent Frenzy: Profiling the First Basemen

One of the key positions the Mariners need to address heading into the 2005 season is first base. Luckily, if they should choose to do so through free agency, there are two huge names available for the right price.

Carlos Delgado
Age on Opening Day 2005: 32
2004: .269/.372/.535, 32 HR, 99 RBI
Career: .282/.392/.556, 336 HR, 1058 RBI

Player Strengths:
A left-handed bat that can flat-out smash the ball out of the ballpark with tremendous power to both alleys. Even during a down year in 2004, Delgado still managed to reach the 30-homer mark for the eighth-straight season and finish just one RBI short of 100.

As a true slugger, Delgado does strikeout a lot – over 130 six times in his career – but he is a patient hitter who has drawn 100 walks four times in his career as well.

Player Weaknesses:
Health and age are two concerns with Delgado, especially if the team that gets him has to agree to a longer contract to coax him to sign on the dotted line. The slugger, who has stayed remarkably healthy throughout his career, missed 34 games in 2004 due to rib cage problems.

In the field Delgado is neither a speedster or a defensive wizard. His defense is good enough that potential suitors won't be afraid to use him at first base, but it also leaves much to be desired. Rarely will the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder make the spectacular play, but he also will seldom hurt his team.

The Mariner Factor:
Delgado would be the perfect fit for Safeco Field, giving the Mariners a dimension – left handed power – that they have lacked since the day Junior was traded to Cincinnati in February of 2000. The ball flies out to right field in the Mariners home ballpark, and adding a lefty in the heart of the order is the top order of business this winter.

With Delgado being 32 years old, the Mariners may be a bit afraid to offer him a long contract after taking one on the chin with the free agent signings of Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio a season ago, but few free agents on the market offer the instant pop to the lineup that Delgado would bring.

Richie Sexson
Age on Opening Day 2005: 30
2004: .233/.337/.578, 9 HR, 23 RBI
Career: .271/.349/.528, 200 HR, 616 RBI

Player Strengths:
The Washington native has tremendous power to all fields, using his lanky 6-foot-8 frame and long arms to get good extension on balls and sending them deep out of the ballpark. As far as pure power goes, few players in the game are in the league of this right-handed hitter.

Defensively, most underestimate Sexson's talents in the field. His height makes him a huge target – that's the understatement of the day – and he is a strong fielder, scooping wild throws in the dirt as well as most any first basemen in the league. The towering slugger also has a strong arm.

Player Weaknesses:
Obtaining Sexson's power doesn't yield 100 percent positives. Why? Because he strikes out with the best of them, fanning over 150 times on three occasions in his career. Pitchers try to bust the long-armed first baseman inside to take away his power, and when they are hitting their mark Sexson becomes less of a threat.

Health is also a concern, as it would be for any player who was coming off a season in which he played in a mere 23 games. The good news is that the injury, a dislocated left shoulder and muscle tear, was to his non-throwing shoulder. It won't affect his throwing, but batting could be another story.

The Mariner Factor:
With each day that passes, it appears less likely that Sexson will resign in Arizona, where the rebuilding process in is full swing with the recent hiring of a new manager and the likely departure this offseason of Randy Johnson.

While the M's could benefit from Sexson's raw power in the middle of the lineup, and the thought of bringing another Northwest native home might be appealing, don't look for Seattle to get into a bidding war for the soon-to-be 30 year old slugger. Their money could be better spent elsewhere.

Rafael Palmeiro
Age on Opening Day 2005: 40
2004: .258/.359/.436, 23 HR, 88 RBI
Career: .289/.372/.517, 551 HR, 1310 RBI

Player Strengths:
As consistent as they come, Palmeiro has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past 15 years. A left-handed pull-hitter, the 40-year-old has punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame by jumping on pitches and hammering them down the right field line.

Player Weaknesses:
At his age, Palmiero is in the twilight of his career. There's little doubt that his best years are behind him – his knees are gimpy, his one-time gold glove defense is now a distant memory and his remaining days on the diamond will likely be spent almost exclusively as a designated hitter.

Also, his batting average has taken a dip in recent seasons. He hasn't hit above .273 since 2000, and last year fell to an uncharacteristic .258 while with Baltimore.

The Mariner Factor:
Nobody in the game today kills Mariner pitching quite like Palmeiro. It's well-documented in Seattle, and while it might be tempting to go with the "if you can't beat him, buy him" approach, look for the M's to steer clear of this aging veteran. At this time, the organization is looking to build around younger players with a long-term future on the team.

John Olerud
Age on Opening Day 2005: 36
2004: .259/359/.374, 9 HR, 48 RBI
Career: .295/.399/.465, 248 HR, 1193 RBI

Player Strengths:
The consummate professional, Olerud quietly goes about his business on a day-to-day basis as well as anyone in the game today. His defense remains superb at first base, thanks in part to his 6-foot-5 frame and his ability to pick any thing thrown at him.

Player Weaknesses:
Olerud's bat has slowed down considerably since his glory days with Toronto and even more recently in his early years with Seattle. For a player with nearly 1200 career RBI, his days as a middle-of-the-order hitter are a thing of the past. In 2004, he managed to hit just nine home runs and drive in 48 runs in 425 at bats with Seattle and the New York Yankees.

Never a burner on the basepaths, Olerud's wheels have worsened over the course of his 15-year career. As of today, he's one of the slowest players in the game.

The Mariner Factor:
While Olerud was a part of a tremendous era of baseball in Seattle, there's little to no chance the team will bring him back in 2005. Instead, they will look to reshape their team with fresh faces to build a new identity.

Tino Martinez
Age on Opening Day 2005: 37
2004: .262/.362/.461, 23 HR, 76 RBI
Career: .272/.345/.472, 322 HR, 1222 RBI

Player Strengths:
A veteran who knows the game inside and out, Martinez still has some baseball left in the tank. His production, while not eye-popping, continues to be serviceable at the plate, and his skills defensively remain strong.

Martinez has soft hands and an accurate arm at first base, and can still play the position if called upon.

Player Weaknesses:
Like Olerud, Martinez's bat has slowed in recent years. The soon-to-be 37-year-old can't catch up to the high heat like he once did while in Seattle and New York, making him a player who is better suited at the end of the batting lineup. Martinez is also one of the slowest base-runners in the game today.

The Mariner Factor:
Everyone in Seattle still connects Tino with 1995. For that reason, if nothing else, M's fans love the guy. But his days in the Northwest as a rising star are better kept as a memory from the past. Like Olerud and Palmeiro, his age doesn't suit a M's team looking to start anew.

Travis Lee
Age on Opening Day 2005: 29
2004: .105/.150/.158, 0 HR, 2 RBI (played in only 7 games)
Career: .258/.340/.411, 92 HR, 408 RBI

Player Strengths:
Lee is a gap-to-gap hitter when hitting at his best that shows good discipline at the plate.

In the field, he is an underrated first baseman and is athletic enough to shift to the outfield for the occasional spot start. As an infielder, he is one of the game's best at picking throws out of the dirt, showing great anticipation and positioning himself accordingly. His range is above average, leading to flashy plays on a regular basis.

Player Weaknesses:
Lee has never lived up to the expectations place on him since he was a first round draft pick by Minnesota, then Arizona. His nonchalant way about him, coupled with his inability to ever have a breakout season, is a dangerous combination. He's never hit above 22 home runs or 90 RBI in a season.

The Mariner Factor:
A product of Olympia's Capital High School, Lee is another home-grown talent much like Sexson. He doesn't turn 30 until late May and would come cheap if the M's are interested, but the chances are slim of a homecoming for Lee.

Other Possibilities:
J.T. Snow – Snow has a $2 million option with San Francisco, and after hitting .327 with 12 HR and 60 RBI in 2004 there's little reason to believe the Giants won't retain his services.

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