Teams will need to dig for free-agent first basemen
LaRoche, coming off powerful season, heads group that lacks usual star power
If you are looking for an Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, you've picked the wrong year to need a first baseman.
The free-agent market is void of superstars at a position typically associated with elite offensive production. But that doesn't mean there aren't a few first basemen out there who could help a team.
The best all-around player in the group is Adam LaRoche, who won his first Gold Glove Award this week. However, he is hardly what you'd call a defense-only player.
The left-handed-hitting LaRoche, who became a free agent when he declined a $10 million mutual option on Thursday, is a veteran who can hit, as he did all season for the Washington Nationals, belting 33 homers and driving in 100 runs for the second time in three years.
Meanwhile, two of the most intriguing free-agent first basemen are players who didn't play the position full-time this year.
Kevin Youkilis, whose $13 million option was declined by the White Sox earlier this week, was mainly a third baseman the past two seasons. But he played the best defense of his career as Boston's primary first baseman from 2006-10. Coincidence or not, Youkilis was also a better offensive player when he was at first base.
Perhaps that's because there's not quite as much wear and tear on the gritty Youkilis when he plays first, where he was a Gold Glove winner in 2007. Youkilis, who turns 34 in March, will be on a quest to prove that he's not on an irreversible decline.
Then there is Mike Napoli, who is primarily a catcher but can also play first base and carries a lot of wallop in his bat. Napoli has belted 20-plus homers in each of the past five seasons. Though he started just 24 games at first this year for the Rangers, he got 67 starts at the position in 2010 with the Angels.
The next tier: Carlos Pena was an elite run producer a few years ago, but he's struggled the past three seasons just to keep his average above .200. His reunion tour with the Rays last year didn't go as well as hoped, as he hit .197 with 19 homers, 61 RBIs and a paltry OPS of .684, which was the worst of his career.
After a very solid 2011 season with Tampa Bay, Casey Kotchman's stock dipped considerably in Cleveland this year, when he hit .229 with 12 homers and a .612 OPS. Kotchman is a strong fielder, but that's not enough to overcome low production numbers at a position like first base.
For years now, fans have been waiting for James Loney to come into his own. Perhaps it's never going to happen. Loney's 2012 season -- split between the Dodgers and Red Sox -- was the worst of his career. He hit .249 with six homers, 41 RBIs and a .630 OPS. Like Kotchman, Loney at least brings strong defense to the table. Loney is just 28 years old, meaning there's still a chance he could one day blossom into a better player.
The scrap heap: Shelley Duncan (Indians) has been a part-time player throughout his career, but he does offer some power. ... Nick Johnson (Orioles) has never been able to stay healthy and has just 200 at-bats in the Majors over the past three seasons. ... Lyle Overbay (Braves) is no longer an everyday player, but he could be a useful bat on someone's bench.