Someone is going to play first base for the Brewers next year. That much I'm certain of. Who this someone is I have little clue. I have hunches and preferences, but until that player is chosen, I can't say for certain who is high on the Brewers list.
Last week we took a look at the likely top first basemen in free agency. That was rather easy to determine given that they're a known quantity. Their contracts are up and they actually are free agents (with the exception of Adam LaRoche who has a mutual option). Determining who might be available in a trade is much more difficult.
Through some reasoned guess work we can identify several possibilities, but it must be understood that none of these players are sure to be moved. I don't have any inside sources and in most cases I haven't read anything to suggest a player is being made available by their team. These are just guesses.
Adam Lind - I actually have read a couple of articles that suggest Lind could be on the move this winter. At the very least teams are calling the Blue Jays about him. His slash lines over the last couple of years are impressive (2013-288/357/497, 131 wRC+; 2013- 321/381/479, 141 wRC+), but deceptive. Much like Scooter Gennett, Lind simply can't hit lefties.
Of his 318 plate appearances in 2014, only 33 came against left-handed pitching. He has a career 53 wRC+ vs LHP. If the Brewers were to acquire Lind, they'd have to pair him with someone. Jason Rogers is an option and so is Mark Reynolds who can at least play a solid first and third base.
Given 2014's failed platoon and the 2013's catastrophe at the position, I have to wonder if the Brewers are going to feel apprehensive about cobbling together first base again. Lind does have an attractive price tag though(ignoring the cost in prospects to acquire him). He's under a team option in 2015 for $7.5 million and in 2016 for $8 million with a $0.5M buyout. If they had to platoon him the price is just low enough to make than an acceptable option.
Billy Butler - The Royals are one loss away from losing the World Series or two wins away from winning the World Series. If they do win, it might be hard for them to trade away fan favorite "Country Breakfast." Yes that really is his nickname. Yes I find it weird too.
Anyway, even if they do win, they're going to find themselves in a tough position. They have several players departing via free agency, the most notable being James Shields. As far as I know they don't have anyone his caliber to replace him in the rotation and they almost certainly can't afford to extend him. If they want to replace him they're going to need to trade for a pitcher or find some space in the payroll for one.
Butler is set to make at least $12.5 million next year, which is the final year of his contract (it's a team option). He can make up to $14.5 million based on incentives from previous years, but I don't know what they are or if he met them. If he's traded he also gets an "assignment bonus" but I'm not sure who pays that. I would assume the Royals would.
Butler had a down season in 2014 hitting a career low 9 home runs. His 97 wRC+ was the second lowest of his career. However in the 5 previous seasons he hit at least 15 home runs, his most was 29 in 2012. He also had very high OBP not dipping below .360 until this year. He's played in at least 150 games since he became a regular, but most of those came at DH.
Butler is an interesting option, if he can actually play first base for a whole season. His down year, DH label, and streaky power as a 1B/DH might drive down his price. If the Royals are looking for a salary dump, the Brewers could get a solid payoff for a buy low opportunity.
Justin Smoak - The Mariners sure do love their 1B/DH players. In 2014 they had at least 4 of them at different times. Currently still on the roster are Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, and Justin Smoak. Montero is untradeable and they might want to hold onto Morrison who was reasonably productive.
Smoak was a top prospect for a while and has unfortunately failed to live up to that distinction. In 2013 he put up a somewhat reasonable 238/334/318 slash line with 20 home runs and a 111 wRC+. However he split 2014 between AAA and MLB while putting up a 77 wRC+ with the Mariners.
I'm somewhat confused by his contract status. The Mariners signed him to a 1 year deal plus an option for 2015 at $3.65 million, but he's also listed as going into his third arbitration year in 2016. I assume that means he's still under club control for that year and they just locked in his 2015 price early. It's just uncommon to see a deal like that not covering all arb years or a year or two of free agency.
At this point the Mariners can't get much in return, but the acquiring club also can't hope for too much. If the Brewers were to get Smoak then they'd either have to believe there's something in his approach or swing mechanics they can fix or they're just desperate. Much like Lind, Smoak would probably benefit from a right handed platoon mate.
Chris Davis - Chris Davis had a tough season. Though his still hit for respectable home run power, he put up his worst season statistically since 2011. Then to top things off, even though the Orioles made the postseason he did not participate in part due to a suspension he received towards the end of the season for amphetamine usage. In previous years he attained an exemption for Adderall but couldn't for 2014, yet he continued using it.
Davis is entering his final arbitration season. He'll be due a raise from his 2014 salary of $10.35 million. That's a pretty high price tag for someone coming off a poor season and a suspension. It's possible the Orioles will want to cut ties with their former star slugger. However if he has a bounce back year and they sold low, it'll look rather stupid on their end.
Steve Pearce - Pearce seemed to come out of nowhere for the Orioles this year. Pearce had performed well for the Orioles last year off the bench but it wasn't until 2014 that the 31 year old got significant playing time. He rewarded the Orioles with a 293/373/556 slash line with 21 home runs and a 161 wRC+.
Pearce is also going into his final arbitration season but, having only made $850,000 in 2014, will be significantly cheaper than Chris Davis. The Orioles are going to have to decide if they believe in Pearce's break out season or if they want to sell high on him. Either seems a reasonable proposition.
Ike Davis - With Pedro Alvarez likely moving to first base next year and the emergence of Josh Harrison, it's possible the Pirates could look to trade Davis. The Pirates acquired Ike Davis early in the season. They traded the player they took with their 2nd pick in the 2013 draft and while he's not a big prospect, he wasn't just some organizational player.
The Brewers were interested in acquiring Ike Davis from the Mets last off season but were unwilling to part with Tyler Thornburg to get the job done. While he was better than the Mark Reynolds/Lyle Overbay platoon, Davis' 233/344/278 slash line, 11 home runs, and 108 wRC+ wasn't very good.
Davis earned $3.5 million in 2014 and has two arbitration years left. He'll be due a raise in 2015, but would still be reasonably priced. However, since the Pirates know they can't ask for a player the caliber of Tyler Thornburg they might choose to go elsewhere to find their trade partner.
Well, those are the first basemen that I thought had a reasonable chance of being traded. I thought of including Justin Morneau, Nick Swisher, and James Loney but I don't see their teams wanting to trade them. What do you think? If you could trade for one of these players, which one would you take? Did I miss anyone you think might get traded? Let me know.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
Contract details courtesy of Cot's Contracts