One of the major subplots of the offseason has been the slow market for Edwin Encarnacion and the many other first baseman and DH types available. The glut of similar players means teams can wait out agents until demands are lowered, so Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Mike Napoli and Chris Carter are still unsigned, even though they collectively averaged 41 home runs and 108 RBIs.
It didn't help those players -- or the second-tier guys such as Pedro Alvarez, Mark Reynolds, Adam Lind and Logan Morrison -- that the Rockies signed Ian Desmond on Wednesday. Unless Colorado trades an outfielder, Desmond is slated to play first base.
Of course, power is also cheap these days. The 2016 season saw the second-most home runs ever hit, 701 more than in 2015 and an amazing 1,424 home runs more than in 2014. Teams are getting more power from other positions and don't have to rely on it as much from first base or DH. In fact, league-wide production from first base in 2016 matched the lowest for any season since 2000 with a 114 OPS+ (it was as high as 125 in 2009).
Despite the power numbers from this group, only Encarnacion is truly an elite hitter, and he'll be 34 next month. Trumbo and Carter have below-average on-base rates, and Napoli is 35 years old and had a poor 2015. Plus, there simply aren't that many openings at first base or DH, especially among contending teams. To further that point, let's go team by team at these positions.
Freeman actually led first basemen in both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR after a monster 1.067 OPS in the second half, so if you think he has reached a new, sustainable level of excellence, there's a case for him at No. 1.
He's still one of the game's premier hitters, ranking sixth in the majors in park-adjusted wRC+, but defense and baserunning count, and he grounded into 26 double plays, most in the AL.
THE NEXT LEVEL
He played a few more innings at third base and second base in 2016 and could still end up with some time at third, depending on how Mike Matheny utilizes Jhonny Peralta, Jedd Gyorko and Kolten Wong. Even missing some time last season, Carpenter trails only Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson in runs scored over the past four seasons.
Myers had an All-Star first half before fading badly in the second half with a .697 OPS. He gains value with his speed on the bases (28 steals) and good defense, but I think the jury is still out on his upside at the plate.
The Indians could deploy an arrangement similar to 2016, when Santana and Napoli shared first base and DH duties. If they sign a pure DH, Santana can play every day at first.
NOT AS GOOD AS THEIR REPUTATION
The White Sox are blowing things up, but it makes sense to keep Abreu and either wait until the All-Star break or until next offseason to see if he reclaims some value. His slugging percentage has dipped from .518 in 2014 to .502 to .468, even as offense has increased throughout the game.
Hosmer hit a career-high 25 home runs, but his .328 OBP and .433 slugging just aren't anything special for a first baseman. The major league averages were .338 and .453. He didn't win the Gold Glove for the first time four seasons, and the metrics back up that he had a bad season in the field.
WE'LL LIVE WITH THEM
He was a 3-WAR player in 2014 and 2015, but suffered the stress fracture in his back. If healthy, he's a middle-of-the-pack first baseman.
He'll move over from shortstop after a surprising 30-homer season. If he can reconcile the power with a better OBP, the bat will play at first base.
16. Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
Gurriel didn't impress in his 36-game stint with the Astros. His approach didn't lead to much power or walks even though he showed good contact ability. A.J. Reed and Marwin Gonzalez are still around as Plans B and C if needed.
Mauer can still get on base (.363), but the power is minimal. He still has two years remaining on his contract, but if Miguel Sano can't handle third base, the Twins might have to move him and turn Mauer into a DH or backup. It's a little sad, because if he'd remained at catcher we'd be talking about him as a future Hall of Famer.
FanGraphs projects a .263/.343/.486 line, which would be a huge upgrade from what Mark Teixeira gave the Yankees. Bird might need a platoon partner, but there's some upside here with his power and patience.
Could be a sneaky good platoon or could be a disaster, given that Vogelbach is unproven at the major league level, rates as a below-average defender and can't run at all. Rumors have the Mariners talking with Trumbo about a possible reunion in Seattle, although it seems like the Mariners would be more likely to spend that money on a pitcher, if they have money still to spend.
NOT EXACTLY ALL-STAR CANDIDATES
The Nationals were last in first-base production in 2016, but Zimmerman is making a lot of money and they're hoping for a rebound.
There's no reason for the Phillies to play in this market while rebuilding, plus it gives them another season to see if Joseph's surprising production as a rookie, including a .505 slugging percentage, is for real.
Shaw could also end up at third base, with Jonathan Villar sliding over to second, if the Brewers want to see what Thames can do after he crushed in Korea the past two seasons.
HE'S A WARM BODY
A good glove doesn't make up for seven home runs and a .316 OBP, but the A's aren't about to spend money at first base in what looks like another long season.
WARM BODY NEEDED
30. Texas Rangers
1. Nelson Cruz, Mariners
2. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox
3. Victor Martinez, Tigers
4. Carlos Beltran, Astros
5. Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays
6. Albert Pujols, Angels
7. Matt Holliday, Yankees
8. Jorge Soler, Royals
9. Corey Dickerson, Rays
10. Joey Gallo, Rangers
If Gallo isn't the answer at first base or DH, the Rangers could also move Shin-Soo Choo to DH and bring in a better defensive outfielder or play Rua and Delino DeShields Jr. in the outfield alongside Carlos Gomez and Nomar Mazara.
11. Byung Ho Park, Twins
Does he get a second chance?
IN THE MARKET
12. Orioles: They're notorious for waiting late to sign a leftover, as they did with Cruz in 2014 and Alvarez last season.
13. Indians: Rumored to have offered Encarnacion a three-year deal.
14/15. A's/White Sox: Won't be spending any money.
So who goes where? We haven't even factored in the possibility of Jose Bautista playing first base or DH, which makes sense, given his declining range in right field. Remember that teams signing Bautista, Encarnacion and Trumbo lose their first-round pick (unless it's a top-10 pick). Predictions!
1. Indians sign Encarnacion. I like this rumor even if it's hard to believe the Indians stepping up and spending $20 million a year. But Encarnacion might not get the four- or five-year deal he's reportedly seeking.
2. Rockies sign Trumbo, move Desmond to center field and trade Blackmon. Since they've already lost a first-round pick for signing Desmond, the punishment for signing Trumbo isn't as severe.
3. Orioles sign Carter. We know Dan Duquette loves power, and Carter might cost only $5-6 million.
4. Mariners sign Bautista to play first base, maybe some right field. OK, a crazy prediction, but something strange like this is bound to happen with one of these guys.
5. Rangers sign ... Mark Reynolds. Good defense, can platoon with Gallo.
This leaves Napoli as the odd man out. The Rangers have said they won't go after a high-priced free agent, although that doesn't necessarily refer to Napoli. Maybe the Blue Jays jump in and let Pearce play some outfield. If the Astros aren't sold on Gurriel, maybe they'll love Napoli's leadership on a short-term deal. He could end up in Kansas City as a DH. Or ...
6. Rays sign Napoli. Room in the budget? Only if the price is right. They do need some OBP, and Napoli can DH with Dickerson moving to the outfield/backup role.
7. White Sox sign Alvarez. I guess he has to go somewhere.
8. A's sign Lind.
Just don't ask me where Morrison ends up.