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Free-agent market thin at first base

Free-agent market thin at first base

Last year, the first-base class of free agents had a first-class front-runner in Mark Teixeira.

This time around, it's more of a contender-by-committee situation, with talent available but no Type A headliner to pull in anything close to what Big Tex commanded on his joyride to the Bronx.

Carlos Delgado was on the "A Team" a few years back, but after hip surgery and a down year in New York, he's Type B and a possible question mark in the areas of mobility and bat speed at the age of 37 (38 in late June).

And speaking of question marks, Nick Johnson, another attractive free-agent option because of his high on-base percentage (career .402), just can't seem to stay healthy for a full 162-game season.

Meanwhile, Adam LaRoche (Type B) and Russell Branyan (not ranked by Elias Sports Bureau) should get plenty of looks.

LaRoche just turned 30 and has hit more than 20 homers and driven in more than 75 runs in each of the past five seasons, and Branyan hit 31 long balls for Seattle last year despite missing the last month with back problems.

Under the rules of the Collective Basic Agreement, players may file for free agency the day after the conclusion of the World Series, which was last Thursday, and continue to do so for a 15-day period. Their 2009 teams retain negotiating exclusivity for the same term, after which, beginning Nov. 20 this year, other teams can enter the picture. Here are the first basemen:

Head of the class

Delgado, (4 HR, 23 RBIs, .298 AVG), Type B: He hit 38 homers and drove in 115 runs while slugging .518 in 2008, but then got hurt and played in only 26 games this past season. His production during his career figures to get him the best deal of any first baseman, even if his health for 2010 remains to be seen.

Johnson, (8-62-.291), Type B: "Moneyball" and stats-driven teams love him and would love him a whole lot more if he could play in more than the 171 games he's appeared in over the past three seasons. Then again, his fragility is what keeps him relatively affordable. He made $5.5 million in 2009.

LaRoche, (25-83-.277), Type B: You can't argue with his consistency, even if he isn't a perennial MVP contender. The Braves could bring back LaRoche, who hit .325 with 12 homers in the 57 games played after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 31, nine days after Boston got him from the Pirates.

Fernando Tatis, (8-48-.282), Type B: For the second straight year, Tatis was a useful bat off the bench for the Mets, hitting eight homers in 340 at-bats, although his OPS went from .853 in 2008 to .777 last year. He turns 35 on Jan. 1, which might make his Type B status tough to swallow for some clubs.

Branyan (31-76-.251): This slugger flattered Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik, who said he was eager to see what Branyan, 34, could do with a full year of at-bats. Branyan didn't quite make it to that full year because of back problems but still hit 31 homers and put up an OPS of .867.

Aubrey Huff, (15-85-.241): If Huff is anywhere close to the 2008 version (32 homers, 108 RBIs, .912 OPS), he could be the steal of the free-agent class. If he's more like he was in '09 (.241 average, .694 OPS), he'll struggle for playing time.

Hank Blalock, (25-66-.234): Blalock got back on the power-hitter radar with 25 homers after two injury-riddled campaigns. He's played third for most of his career but could project better at first base for some teams. He'll still be under 30 years of age (29) in 2010.

Also on the market

Rich Aurilia (Giants), Jeff Bailey (Red Sox), Wilson Betemit (White Sox), Miguel Cairo (Phillies), Frank Catalanotto (Brewers), Tony Clark (D-backs), Darin Erstad (Astros), Nomar Garciaparra (A's), Jason Giambi (Rockies), Ross Gload (Marlins), Eric Hinske (Yankees), Doug Mientkiewicz (Dodgers), Kevin Millar (Blue Jays), Greg Norton (Braves), Robb Quinlan (Angels), Mike Sweeney (Mariners), Jim Thome (Dodgers), Chad Tracy (D-backs).

Ready to buy

The Orioles and Giants are looking for a corner infielder with pop, while the Red Sox are searching for a big bat and could end up with a first baseman (by trading for Adrian Gonzalez) if they move some other parts around. The Mets might be looking to get more production out of the position, the D-backs will look to upgrade here if their trade with Toronto for Lyle Overbay falls through, and the Mariners and Braves will be looking if they don't re-sign Branyan and LaRoche.

Window shopping

In addition to the Mariners and Braves, the Marlins could potentially go for a veteran bat at the position.

Potential 2011 class

Lance Berkman ($15 million club option with a $2 million buyout), Jorge Cantu, Wes Helms, Paul Konerko, Derrek Lee, David Ortiz ($12.5 million option, no buyout), Overbay, Carlos Pena, Albert Pujols ($16 million club option with a $5 million buyout), Ty Wigginton.

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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