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Mariners 2018 Free Agent 1B Candidates

We were oh so full of optimism when Jerry traded for Danny Valencia...

In 2017, Mariners first baseman combined for -0.5 fWAR, good for 24th in the league. With the two players who made up a majority of that “value” ticketed for free agency in Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso, the M’s will be in search of a new opening day first baseman for the fifth straight season.

Since 2015, only one multi-year contract has been given to a free agent first baseman--Chris Davis signed his monster seven-year, $161million deal with Baltimore in 2016--which bodes well for a team that many consider to have just one year remaining in their current window of contention. Excluding Davis’ big payday, these were the top contracts given to first baseman in the 2016 offseason:

And in 2017:

2018 holds the most potent crop of free agent first baseman in recent memory, headlined by the likes of Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana, but there’s also a handful of second and third tier options that should be available to the M’s that would be an upgrade over the eventual platoon that was ineffective for most of the 2017 season. Other than Davis, there hasn’t been a first baseman who hit the free agent market following a 1.0+ fWAR season in either of the last two offseasons. This winter, that trend is bucked, as four of the following five first base candidates cracked that threshold in 2017.

The Long Shot

1B Carlos Santana

Santana is the lone switch-hitting option listed here, and also represents the player on this list with the longest track record of success. Santana has never posted a season in his eight year career of less than 1.8 fWAR, and has been good for 2.6 - 3.9 fWAR six of his eight seasons, including 3+ fWAR in each of the last two seasons. The huge advantage Santana has over his free agent counterparts is that he walks, A LOT, and manages to do so while really limiting the strikeouts. Santana’s .365 career OBP is .025 higher than than the next closest guy you’ll see below, and he’ll likely be rewarded for his unique plate approach on the open market. Since the Mariners have several pressing needs this offseason, with pitching being the obvious Achilles heel in 2017, it’s hard to imagine them allocating all that much cash to the first base position. As a result, we’ve already seen early rumblings connecting the Mariners to less consistent options such as Logan Morrison and Mitch Moreland.

The Usual Suspects

1B Logan Morrison

In his two years as the Mariners first baseman from 2014 - 2015, LoMo posted one solid, albeit injury-shortened, season where he racked up 1.1 fWAR in just 99 games, and one less-than-stellar follow up season in which he posted a -0.2 fWAR over 146 games. After being dealt to Tampa Bay in Jerry Dipoto’s first offseason at the helm of the M’s, Morrison really found his footing in 2017 with the Rays, belting 38 home runs on the way to a career high 3.3 win season. Morrison and his 130 wRC+ should fetch a nice payday this offseason, and he’s interested in a reunion, Seattle is a logical destination for the big lefty slugger. Despite delivering more production than Santana last season, Morrison’s lack of any other real productive seasons could lead to him being leapfrogged by Santana on most team’s wish lists this offseason.

1B Lucas Duda

You may recall Duda’s name being thrown around last trade deadline. Instead of winding up in Seattle, Duda was dealt to Tampa Bay, where he managed a 91 wRC+ and a 0.2 fWAR over 52 games. Over his career, Duda has made hay mashing righties, posting a career 132 wRC+ vs. RHP’s as opposed to just 84 against LHP’s. It’s also worth noting that Duda has played more than 135 games just once in his eight year career. If the M’s are interested in taking a flier on the longtime Met, Duda should come at cost that shouldn’t prohibit them from targeting some top flight pitching.

1B Mitch Moreland

Moreland, who is just finishing up his first season outside of the Texas Rangers’ organization, managed a 0.9 fWAR despite being a slightly below league average hitter. The former 17th round draft pick has posted an fWAR north of 0.9 just once in his eight year career, and seems to offer fairly limited upside. While unexciting, any team that signs Moreland knows what they’re getting, and he should be one of the less expensive positive first base contributors available on the free agent market.

1B Yonder Alonso

After starting the 2017 season on a torrid pace that lead to Alonso being selected as an All-Star, Alonso saw his production dip in the second half as he starting gravitating back towards hitting the ball on the ground, something that plagued him in the past. That said, Alonso finished out his campaign in Seattle strong, posting a 126 wRC+ in September/October for the M’s, which brought his fWAR for the team up to 0.5, and 2.4 on the season. Especially considering Jerry apparently liked him enough to deal a fairly high upside prospect away for him, it would stand to reason that the M’s GM will bank on Alonso being able to parlay his strong finish into season long success for the Mariners. A return to Seattle, particularly in a more full time role like he held with Oakland in the first half of 2017, could be attractive to Alonso as well, perhaps even attractive enough to sacrifice a little yearly cash in exchange for a mult-year contract.

In all honesty, outside of Santana, it really doesn’t seem likely that anyone from the Morrison/Duda/Moreland/Alonso group is going to vastly outperform the field; however, my money would be on Morrison and Alonso to separate themselves from Moreland and Duda next season. With LoMo being a guy Jerry has already dealt away, and Alonso being a guy he specifically selected and went out and acquired, a reunion with Yonder seems like a likely solution to the hole at first base for the 2018 season. If an offseason of work with Edgar can get Alonso back to consistently lifting the ball in the air again and tapping into the potential he put on display in the first half of last season, he could end up deliver value in excess of what it’d take in dollars to bring him back to Seattle.