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Tuesday November 24, 2009 8:07 pm

LaRoche leading first basemen in free agency

Adam LaRocheFirst base is one of the toughest positions to fill offensively, but one of the easiest defensively. The notion that first base is a “power hitter’s position” makes it difficult for the teams to find a right fit. If a first baseman isn’t hitting 30+ home runs, fans call for the GM’s head. With only two “Type B” free agent first basemen in this year’s free agent crop in Nick Johnson and Adam LaRoche – eight and 25 home runs respectively – it’s slim pickings for teams looking to upgrade.

Take a comparison of Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay to Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees. Overbay has a career .995 fielding percentage at first to Teixeira’s .996. Overbay has 44 errors in 8,609 total chances, while Teixeira has 35 errors in 9,341 chances. Offensively, Overbay had 16 home runs and 64 RBI in 132 games. In 2009, Overbay was paid just under $8 million while Teixeira made over $20 million. Sure, their situations and cities are unique, but clearly, in a sport where “defense wins games,” the premium is being put on offense at the first base position.

LaRoche may be the most valuable first baseman on the market right now, and while he said he hopes to return to Atlanta, it may largely matter on what his cost will be. Atlanta appears to be putting their focus on other free agents, and if LaRoche opts to sign with somebody other than the Braves before Dec. 1, Atlanta will be given a sandwich pick between the first and second round in next year’s MLB Draft. The Braves are in a good situation whether they sign LaRoche or not.

With over 150 free agents still available, the window of opportunity for many teams is still huge – at least at other positions. There are literally tons of available outfielders and pitchers, but when it comes to the right corner of the infield, the list of sought after players runs thin. The free agents listed as first basemen come from 15 teams, each of whom will be looking for something to fill the void. Does Russell Branyan have another season in him? Will somebody take a chance on Bobby Crosby? Will Hank Blalock actually leave Texas? It’s going to be interesting.

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