Who’s On First in 2012?
Sweet Lou brings us a guest column on what the Cubs may do at first base in 2012
It will be interesting to see who will be playing first base for the Cubs in 2012. There was talk in recent weeks that the Cubs had an interest in Albert Pujols, but that obviously didn’t materialize. Now that Pujols is headed to California, who might the Cubs turn to to fill the void at first base?
Bryan LaHair appears to be the most likely in-house candidate, with Jeff Baker a close second. I can’t imagine that the Cubs would settle for either LaHair or Baker to start at first base for them in 2012, but anyone paying attention to the Cubs in recent years knows that not everything they do makes sense.
If the Cubs go the free agent route, Prince Fielder is the big name still left on the board. He’s looking for 8-10 years at $20 million-plus per year. That’s a lot of years and money for a guy who many feel will be a DH five or six years down the line.
Could Fielder be had on a four or five year deal? Fielder’s agent Scott Boras says “No way!” but many front office types believe that is going to be how things play out. A four or five year deal for the 27-year old Fielder sounds a lot better for the Cubs (or anyone else that signs Fielder) than a 10-year contract that is almost certain to become an albatross.
In a recent tweet, Peter Gammons opined that the Cubs do not have the cash to pursue Fielder. However, there appears to be ample evidence to the contrary. For instance, if the Cubs were truly in on Pujols and were not just trying to drive up his price, they must have had some money available. Also, it’s highly unlikely that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer would have agreed to join the Cubs front office if there was no money for them to work with. I think it’s safe to say that if the Cubs decide they want to pursue Fielder, the money will be available.
Some have speculated that the Cubs will bring back Carlos Pena for another year or two. Pena turned down the Cubs offer of arbitration, but that doesn’t mean he can’t come back as a free agent. He is looking for a two-year deal that will likely be in the $10-$12 million per year range.
Pena had a bit of a bounce back year in 2011. After a horrible year for Tampa Bay in 2010, the lefty hit .225/.357/.462 with 28 home runs and 80 rbi for the Cubs last year. It’s unlikely Pena will ever be a guy who hits for a high average, but over the course of his career, he has been fairly productive.
Another free agent that can play first base is Michael Cuddyer. He has been linked to several teams this off season, but the Cubs have not been one of them. Cuddyer is a versatile fielder who can play first base, second base and right field. He can also fill in at third base in a pinch. The Twins have already offered him a three-year, $24 million contract, and others have speculated that it’s going to take more money to land Cuddyer.
Other free agents include former Cubs Derrick Lee and Xavier Nady, Eric Hinske, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, and Conor Jackson. I have not heard any of them linked to the Cubs nor do I suspect that the JedStein (Hoy-Stein, The Jed, JedStein, Eerie Pythons, Jed-n-Stein, etc.) brain trust has any interest in any of them.
If the Cubs choose to obtain a first baseman via trade, the Angels are suddenly the most obvious trading partner. After signing former Cardinal Albert Pujols, the Angels find themselves with an overabundance of first basemen.
It is a near certainty that 28-year old Kendry Morales will be on the trading block. Morales played in only 51 games for the Angels in 2010 before he broke his ankle in a home plate celebration. The injury required surgery and sidelined the switch-hitter for the entire 2011 season. The Angels have said they are hopeful that Morales will be ready for 2012 spring training, and they are expecting an update on his condition after the first of the year. According to Cot’s Contracts, Morales made $2.975 million in 2011 and is arbitration eligible in 2012.
Mark Trumbo, 2011 AL rookie-of-the-year-runner-up, also appears to be odd-man-out following the Pujols signing. The Angels initially said that they do not plan on trading Trumbo, opting instead to give him a try at third-base. However, that is far from a certainty. Trumbo has never played third-base at the professional level and it is a bit of a leap to believe he could step in as the starter at the hot corner for the Angels next season.
In addition to spending time at third base, there has been talk about Trumbo getting at-bats as the DH and potentially as a corner outfielder. This is a possibility, but the Halos also have to find at-bats for Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu, all veterans who will be very difficult, if not impossible to trade, as well as hot prospect Mike Trout. In his rookie campaign, Trumbo hit .254/.291/.477 with 29 homers and 87 rbi.
When the Marlins thought they might be getting Pujols, Gaby Sanchez became a prime trade candidate. However, with Pujols going to the Angels, Sanchez likely is no longer on the trading block. Of course, that could change if Miami swoops in and snatches up Fielder. At this point, that appears to be an unlikely scenario.
The Rangers postured in the early off-season saying that they plan on having Mitch Moreland at first base in 2012. However, they appear to be emerging as a top contender for Prince Fielder and there are rumors that the Rangers have discussed a deal with Tampa Bay that would send Moreland to the Rays for rhp Wade Davis. If Moreland is truly available, the Cubs might be interested in talking to the Rangers. In 2011, the 26-year old lefty hit .259/.320/.414 with 16 home runs and 51 rbi.
Are there other likely trading partners out there? Who do you want to see at first base for the Cubs in 2012?