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Looking at First Base Across the A.L. East

Looking at First Base Across the A.L. East

by Cary Greene

January 10, 2022


In my first installment, I examined how each American League East team has positioned their rosters and we started with the catching position. In relation to what each team is spending and considering the production they’re getting and the amount of team control they have, the Blue Jays, the Rays and the Orioles were clear favorites, with the Yankees and Red Sox lagging behind. I thought it was interesting that each American League East team has relied heavily on its farm system to provide their catching. The same is not true for all teams with regard to first base.

Every team in baseball would love it if their farm system were able to produce productive, viable major leaguers and of course, if these players were capable of being starters – all the better because this would help keep a team’s payroll under control and give them a vast amount of financial flexibility to add needed free agents when and where it might make sense. Wouldn’t it be nice if your farm system could produce all-star level players? Unfortunately, not all farm systems are created equal and that’s precisely why many teams spend money to address positions of need.

Today I will continue the exploration of how each American League Rival has positioned their roster as I focus on first base. First base is an important position, more so than most baseball writers want to admit. There has been a trend for some time now where many teams will try stashing bad defensive players at first base, but Yankee fans know the value of a great defensive first baseman and providing he can also hit, the position can make quite an impact over the course of full 162 game season. This matters a lot to a baseball team intent on playing winning baseball.

There will no doubt be a flurry of moves made once the CBA is in place and teams begin signing free agents and making trades. We even have the major league portion of the Rule 5 Draft yet to unfold. The way things look today, at the time of this writing and during the deep freeze of winter, can change a lot once things thaw out and the action gets hot again.

**Using data from, and, I’ve compiled charts that rank each American League East team’s overall first base situation. The charts appear after each team’s narrative. I ranked each Division Rival based on advanced projections, 2021 WAR, 2022 Projected WAR, Years of Team Control at the position and the production relative to what teams are spending.


American League East teams must pay homage to the Blue Jays, who are the clear cut leaders at first base with Vladimir Guerrero flexing his offensive might, despite his defensive shortcomings and the Blue Jays can certainly thank their minor league system for successfully producing Guerrero. The 2021 All Star game MVP, Guerrero’s offensive worth almost blew up the Fangraphs computer system as he clubbed 48 home runs and drove in 111 RBI on the way to slashing .309/.394/.598 to go along with an OPS of .992! Guerrero also played in 161 games last season, recording 604 at-bats. Imagine if the Yankees had a player who was that durable (yet alone that good). Toronto will pay Guerrero Jr. $8 million in salary for the coming season and will enjoy three more years of team control after that, which may be very bad news for the Blue Jays division rivals.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s Toronto origin story is well documented, from former GM Alex Anthopoulos’s clandestine visits to the Dominican Republic to the lunch when the slugger’s mother pulled out his Canadian birth certificate. Thanks to a July second trade of prospects Chase De Jong and Tim Locastro (a name Yankee fans are familiar with) to the Dodgers for international bonus pool slots totalling $1.071 million, the Blue Jays were successful in signing Guerrero for $3.9 million and what a signing it has been! The Blue Jays front office has been tenacious to say the least and they have become a force to be reckoned with in the American League East. Clearly they have amazing plans both at catcher and first base, the two positions I’ve covered so far.

Toronto also can flex second baseman Cavan Biggio over to first base as needed and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can also play first base so Toronto doesn’t need to worry about devoting a roster spot to backing Guerrero Jr up, which helps the Blue Jays free up spending money to address other areas of need.

Clearly the overall value that Guerrero Jr presents, along with the Blue Jays ability to streamline the roster at this position, dwarfs the rest of the division, but now for the surprise. On a scale of 1 to 5, we’d have to give the Blue Jays a 10 both for this coming season and for going forward. They are very likely to work out an extension with Guerrero as well, so we might even pencil Toronto in as being the best team in the division at first base for the next decade, barring injuries of course. Guerrero Jr’s trade value is off the charts and his WAR is projected to be all-star level once again this coming season.

Will Guerrero Jr be the American League starter in the 2022 All Star Game? Can he win an MVP?

Though the Yankees farm system has not produced a viable, major league first baseman since they drafted Don Mattingly in the 19th round back in 1979, the Yankees have done a very good job using trades and free agency to qualify as being the next best positioned team at first base in the division and that’s without the team making any moves like signing Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rizzo or trading for Matt Olson. (and no, Greg Bird is not a viable first baseman and neither is Tyler Austin!)

The combination of Luke Voit, who will give whatever his knees allow him to give at the position, DJ LeMahieu, and Joey Gallo allows the Yankees a ton of multi-positional flexibility and if Brian Cashman wanted to, he could steamroll right into the season and consider first base all but buttoned up. Sure, there is a chance that Luke Voit could bounce back in a big way this coming season, but even if he can’t play at all, DJ LeMahieu could be used easily by Cashman to plug the hole. Some will question whether or not using LeMahieu at first base is wise, because it greatly diminishes his defense impact and from a WAR perspective, I wouldn’t disagree, but the fact is, he “could” be used and therefore, we can’t diminish the Yankees flexibility at the position.

The plan for the future will probably involve LeMahieu moving to first base full time, towards the end of his contract but the Yankees would of course like to flex him as they’ve been doing, for as long as he’s athletic enough to continue doing precisely that.

The Yankees are set to spend $5.25 million on Luke Voit this season and between Voit, LeMahieu and Gallo, the Yankees have committed $29.75 million in total resources that can be used flexibly. When we consider the overall production that the Yankees will get for this spend, in relation to nailing down first base and also factor in the 9 total years of team control they have in place, Yankee fans should feel pretty good considering the shape the rest of the division is in at first base.

Still, Yankee fans want a left-handed, lineup balancing, power hitting first baseman and there are many rumors bouncing around the internet that link the Yankees to various first basemen, either via free agency or perhaps through a trade. If the goal is to flex LeMahieu all over the infield and depend solely on Luke Voit, then clearly that is a very risky proposition, hence the ongoing efforts of Brian Cashman to address Voit’s lack of durability and provide the lineup with some left-handed power and possibly, upgrade defensively as well.

Are the Yankees vastly better at first base than the next best team in the division? No. In fact, it’s a toss up really because the Rays are every bit as good as the Yankees are at the position presently. I gave the Yankees the nod because of Voit’s upside, if he can stay on the field, and LeMahieu’s flexibility. Projected WAR numbers indicate it’s somewhat of a tossup however between the value the Yankees get and what Tampa Bay gets. LeMahieu’s presence gives the Yankees a defensively superior solution whereas Choi gives the Rays a bit better offensive production. That said, the Yankee situation at first base isn’t as bad as many have come to believe it is.

Personally, I think the Yankees should absolutely use Voit as a platoon player at first base. I’ve suggested upgrading the Yankee offense by signing Kyle Schwarber, who is reasonably priced given the offensive production and balance he’d bring between Judge and Stanton in the middle of the lineup. I believe this offseason is a golden opportunity to insert a left-handed dead pull hitter into the heart of the Yankee lineup and as Scwarber proved this past season, his poor defense is more than offset by the fact that he clobbers the tar out of baseballs.

Many would like the Yankees to trade for Matt Olson but when we look at the prospect cost and the number of other teams that are interested in trading for him, I’m not sure the Yankees match up best with the A’s for Olson. Considering Billy Beane is the party handling any trades for the A’s, it might behoove the Yankees to come up with a backup plan, which brings us to Freddie Freeman. Is he a great fit? Yes, absolutely. Is he going to be very expensive? Mmmhmmm! Are other teams going to be in hot pursuit? Yep. The Braves want him back. He’s in high demand as well.

Schwarber might be the player to target, before someone else grabs him. The Yankee lineup is still way too right handed and I don’t believe Gallo does a good job at all of protecting the man in front of him so he’s not suited to bat cleanup. Schwarber absolutely is. Signing Schwarber encourages the Yankees to use Stanton more in the outfield as well and I’m all for that because it opens the DH spot for Voit, who can platoon as well with Schwarber.

Yankee fans should also be on the lookout for both Austin Wells and Josh Breux, neither of whom is likely to stick at catcher by the time they hit the minor leagues. Most scouts outside the Yankee organization project both to be first basemen or designated hitters and while neither is an uber-prospect, the Yankees have some a few solid bats trying to advance through the system, with Wells by far being the most likely to make it to the big leagues.

There are also two other names in the Yankee system for fans to keep an eye on. Let’s not forget, this past June, the Yankees announced that they had received hulking first base prospect Connor Cannon from the Giants to complete the Mike Tauchman for Wandy Peralta deal they had made. Cannon’s raw power grades an 80 out of 80 which is Babe Ruth like, but before we get too excited, his injury history is gruesome as he’s had two major knee surgeries and is rated 20 out of 20 for his running. The Yankees also traded with Philadelphia back in mid-November, sending righty reliever Nick Nelson and catching prospect Donny Sands to Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for left-handed Low-A prospect T.J. Rumfield and lefty Joel Valdez. Both Cannon and Rumfield are a very long ways away from being major leaguers of course.

Luke Voit’s trade value has plummeted due to concerns about his knees and LeMahieu’s value is massively negative due his low production and high contract. Joey Gallo’s value has also dropped quite a bit from last year due to declining team control and poor performance. I’m ranking the Yankees ahead of Tampa but make no mistake, as things presently sit, the Yankees are paying through the nose for the value they are getting at first base. I’m against trading Voit not because I think he’s going to get 539 plate appearances as projects, but rather, I don’t believe the Yankees could get much in return if they did deal Voit. I think at this point, given the three years of team control still attached to him, the Yankees should just hang on to him. Teams like Voit’s bat and some might be willing to roll the dice on his knees, but he’s getting expensive and that’s going to cut into any potential return on a trade, unless the Yankees pay part or all of his rising salary. Should the Yankees sign a free agent first baseman like Freeman or trade for an all-star type like Olson?

Tampa Bay is, as mentioned, very even with the Yankees at first base. The Rays have managed to take care of first base by being fairly creative. In 2018, Tampa got the better of the Brewers in a trade for Ji-Man Choi. Milwaukee received Brad Miller, who Tampa had DFA’d. The bulk of the first base innings will go to Yankee Choi, who is a Yankee castoff as well, but the Rays will also likely use Yandy Diaz and Jonathan Aranda at the position.

Also during the 2018 offseason, Tampa jumped in on a three-team trade with the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners, acquiring Díaz and minor league right-handed pitcher Cole Sulser from Cleveland in exchange for first baseman Jake Bauers (to Cleveland) and cash considerations (to Seattle).

Choi is set to earn $3.2 million this year and is under control for an additional year and Diaz is set to earn $2.5 million in arbitration and he provides Tampa with three years of total control so at some point, Tampa will need to address first base going forward and fortunately for them, they also have 23 year-old left-handed hitting utility infielder Jonathan Aranda in-house. Aranda is set to begin the season in Durham, their Triple-A affiliate. Aranda also plays second (his best position) and third base so he gives Tampa the typical versatility that the Rays look for. Tampa is hoping Aranda could be part of the Rays longer term solution in their infield. Thus far, he’s been an elite hitter in the Rays System, Last year he slashed .330/.418/.543/.962 across two levels, High Single-A and Double-A.

For the coming season, the Rays will platoon the left-handed Cho, who hit .245 against righties last year with the right-handed Diaz, who hit .288 vs lefties and this allows Kevin Cash to create situational matchups as games progress towards the later innings, which is something he loves to do.

The Rays also have another intriguing player in their deep farm system, right-handed masher Heribito Hernandez, who’s raw power grades out at 6)! Hernandez was stashed in Charleston last season and he will presumably start the season in Double-A, though he will need to cut his strikeout numbers down and shore up his defense if he’s going to become a viable option for Tampa by 2023.

Tampa is only spending $6.25 million on first base this coming season, so based on the production of the righty-lefty platoon they’re deploying, they are getting a lot done for not a lot of money. Choi is beginning to get expensive for what he is but Diaz is a solid player. Aranda projects more as a second baseman as well, so Tampa’s future at the position is decidedly worse than many of their rivals. This may cause the Rays to be content with a lefty-righty platoon going forward, seeing as how they are getting massive value from other parts of the roster. Should Tampa use their excellent farm system to upgrade at first base or should they remain content with the platoon of Choi and Diaz, for now?

As things presently sit with the Boston plan at first base, Bobby Dalbec is once again going to be counted on to start the season, unless the Red Sox bring in some short term help. On the plus side, Dalbec only makes $575,000 and is under team control for the next five years. It should also be noted that he really came on as the season went along last year and considering he’s a right-handed power bat who started to show some upside, Boston’s Chaim Bloom will be all too happy to probably hang onto Dalbec and incorporate him as part of the team’s plans going forward.

One wonders, in today’s game, what does a player have to do in order to be considered good? Dalbec wound up smashing 25 home runs last year to go along with 78 RBI’s! Unfortunately, his actual slash line was “only” .240/.298/.394 with a .792 OPS. Dalbec isn’t a very good fielder, though he’s far from horrendous, he manages to negate a lot of his offensive upside because he’s just not there yet defensively and that hurts his WAR. That said, WAR isn’t everything. Dalbec may ultimately have a future as a DH based on the beast the Red Sox will be soon be promoting as their first baseman of the future.

Boston has a monster prospect, the left-hand hitting 6’4” 252 pound Triston Casas, set to begin the season in Triple-A with Worcester affiliate and Casas is flat out a stud first base prospect who is an exceptionally good defensive player who possesses a gun for an arm, tremendous hitting ability and oodles of raw power. If you want a Yankee prospect to compare Casas to in terms of present trade value, use Anthony Volpe and then add a pinch of pepper and a quarter teaspoon of salt.

While Casas is finishing in Triple-A this season, Dalbec will be center-stage with Plawecki backing him up a bit. The Red Sox might do a short term deal with a veteran, left-handed first baseman as they wait for Casas to come up and take over. There is a very strong chance that Boston will be number two on the American League first base list by as soon as the end of this season as Casas is that good.

If Dalbec can pick up where he left off last season, I’d bump Boston ahead of the Yankees and the Rays because their near future upside at the position is pretty outstanding. That said, we’ll give Luke Voit/DJ LeMahieu and Ji-Man Choi/Yandy Diaz the nod for now – also factoring in the Yankees two catching prospects Austin Wells and Josh Breaux and Tampa’s Jonathan Arnada and Heribito Hernandez but to be clear – Casas is an infinitely better first base prospect than can be found in any division rivals cupboard, it isn’t even close.

The Red Sox are second only to the Blue Jays in overall value at first base, with Dalbec having very solid trade value and Casas being extremely valuable. 2022 is a huge year for Casas and if things go as Boston hopes, they could easily become infinitely better at first base as soon as the All-Star break. Should the Red Sox bring in some short-term help to start the season?

The light spending Orioles would have to be widely considered to have the fifth best plan at first base in the American League East. It’s highly affordable and actually has some excellent upside and sustainability to it. The plan features a triumvirate of right-handed mashers all in various stages of development. Clearly Baltimore is counting on first base to provide offense and power. It also is evident that Baltimore has been “stashing” positionless players, each of whom has very good raw power, at first base.

Ryan Mountcastle is perhaps by far the team’s best overall option at the position. Mountcastle has bounced from shortstop to third base and now it appears his best position is first base, due to his relatively weak throwing arm and lack of range. Mountcastle can absolutely hit and he’s easily a better offensive first baseman than anyone in the American League East whose last name isn’t Guererro Jr. If he begins to improve his defense, which it stands to reason he will as he’s a former shortstop and while not athletic enough to stick at shortstop, he’s more athletic than many players who “wind up” playing first base. By the mid point in the year, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mountcastle is receiving All-Star votes and by season’s end, the Orioles might rank much higher in the American League East at first base thanks to Mountcastle.

Baltimore drafted Mountcastle out of high school with the final pick in the 2015 Draft. Mountcastle was the 2019 MVP of the Triple-A International league and he also made the Futures Game in 2018. He hits to all fields and makes very good contact which is always a good sign for a hitter with raw power. Plate discipline is his main challenge for the coming season and if he can cut down on his rising strikeout totals and start taking his walks, he has a chance to hit for both average and power. The drawback to Mountcastle is his poor defense. Granted, he’s really still just learning how to play first base, but his overall defense is even a shade worse that of Vladimir Guererro Jr. and he therefore makes Luke Voit look like a good defender!

Baltimore’s backup first baseman and full time DH is 29 year-old Trey Mancini, who is in the last year of arbitration and is set to be paid in the neighborhood of $8 million this season. Mancini, who missed the 2020 season after colon cancer surgery and chemotherapy, hit 21 home runs, fourth most, and his 71 runs batted in were tied with Austin Hays for second most on the team, behind the aforementioned Ryan Mountcastle.

Mancini’s comeback was remarkable, and he remains a productive player. But what’s his future with the Orioles?

For a franchise with a low payroll, a $7.9 million contract shouldn’t be a problem. The Orioles don’t have a single player with a guaranteed deal for next season and, with the retirement of Chris Davis, the money should be there.Mancini’s production was solid, and the guess here is that after a full offseason of rest and working out, he’ll come back stronger and healthier and have an even better season in 2022. Steamers is projecting 27 home runs for Mancini, with spikes in all of his numbers.

Having Mancini as the primary DH with some first base mixed in could mean a more potent lineup. With Cedric Mullins, Hays, Mountcastle and a healthy Anthony Santander, the Orioles should be better offensively. Indeed, the days of the Orioles being a pushover are slowly coming to an end thanks to their outstanding farm system. That said, I don’t believe the Orioles need to extend Mancini because they have a ton of talent coming up through the ranks and overspending for a DH doesn’t make a ton of sense when you have as many internal options as Baltimore has.

Keep in mind, the Orioles also have the son of former Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin on their depth chart and he’s a 6-foot-4, 225-pound beefcake namedTyler Nevin, who was initially drafted by the Rockies in the supplemental first round of the same 2015 Draft that produced Mountcastle. The Orioles traded for Nevin at the 2020 Deadline and they’re banking on his strong plate discipline and ability to make hard contact consistently. Nevin is actually a solid defender at first base and he’s also played third base and left field, but at this stage Baltimore is mainly developing Nevin at first base. Nevin will most likely start the season in Triple-A and Baltimore will look to continue to develop his bat and mine his raw power.

Mountcastle’s value is extremely good and in due time he’ll be a top tier American League first baseman. He’s not quite there yet but all eyes will be on him once the season gets underway. The Orioles future is bright at first base.

Will Mountcastle’s defense improve this season? Is Mountcastle a future All-Star? How much longer will be until the Orioles begin to contend in the Division>

I have ranked each American League East team’s catching, now I have ranked how each team is positioned at first base. How do you think Brian Cashman’s plan at the position stacks up to how the rest of the Yankees rivals in the Division are positioned?

Does Brian Cashman need to spend even more money to shore up first base or can Voit, LeMahieu and possibly Gallo be counted on over the course of a full 162 game season?


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