The next part of the series on the AL East looks at the position of first base. Now, David Ortiz is not going to go here, because he primarily plays DH, I’ll get that out of the way first.
The one thing you quickly notice is that many teams do not have a solid back-up option. For several teams, a utility-type player may be their back-up. For others, it is likely a corner outfielder.
Toronto Blue Jays - Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Dan Johnson - Yes, I did not choose Chris Davis and the Orioles first. Encarnacion has been a starter in the major leagues for the better part of eight years, the first three-and-a-half with the Reds. Now, Edwin at this point plays just as much DH as he does first base, and also plays 3B as necessary, like last year when Brett Lawrie was hurt. Encarnacion has always been a decent hitter, but his power numbers have surged the past two years, making him a fearsome part of the Blue Jays lineup. His defense is less than stellar, both in terms of range and the numbers of errors he makes, but most first basemen aren’t great with the glove. In Lind the Jays have a capable backup who used to be a starter, and often is the DH for the team. Lind is better defensively than Encarnacion, but is more of an average hitter than the power hitter that is craved in the AL. However, he has averaged 26 HRs in a 162-game season in his career, so he certainly can swing the big stick. Johnson has played around the AL East at this point, and likely won’t make the team.
Baltimore Orioles – Chris Davis, Steve Pearce - Chris Davis came onto the scene with a massive year last year, with an Orioles record 53 HRs, which led the majors and a major-league leading 138 RBIs. He also finished third in the MVP race, behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. But, Davis has only experienced that kind of success over the last year. His 2012 campaign was not bad, but was certainly nothing compared to 2013. Many feel like Davis figured it out last year, and if that is the case all of baseball should watch out. But to expect the same numbers this year would be a lofty goal. He also continues to struggle with strikeouts, a common problem among power hitters. But something many don’t realize about Davis is his defense. Davis is underrated at the bag, but has good range and can pick balls with ease. As for why the Orioles are second, in Pearce they have someone who has a hard fight just to win a spot on the team with competition from Nolan Reimold, Henry Urrutia, Francisco Peguero and more for a utility OF position. I don’t think Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar stays with the team, but if he does he could be the backup corner infielder, and Ryan Flaherty can always play 1B too. But let’s face it, Davis isn’t getting many days off. Last year he played first base in 155 games.
Boston Red Sox - Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, Brandon Snyder - No longer primarily a catcher due to his hip issues, Napoli puts the Red Sox in third in the rankings. He had one of his best years last year, coming off his worst year in 2012 with Texas. But Napoli was a key contributor on the World Series winning Red Sox. Never a big RBI guy, Napoli has power, but won’t put up Davis-type HR numbers. He also isn’t an on-base percentage guy like James Loney, so he is more a middle of the road first baseman. Also limited on defense, Napoli has some good options behind him. Nava is not a natural first baseman, but both he and Carp are corner outfielders who can also play 1B. Neither would be great on defense, but both are a decent option at the plate. Nava has only had one good year with the Sox, and it came in 2013, but the Red Sox still like the potential he brings to the team. Snyder will likely not make the team, but did play in 27 games last year for the Red Sox.
Tampa Bay Rays – James Loney, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce - James Loney experienced a resurgence last year for the Tampa Bay Rays, and he was rewarded for it with a new contract. Another guy who makes almost all the starts at 1B, Loney is quite a capable defender. As a hitter, he doesn’t have the power that typically plays in the AL East, but is a great doubles hitter and a very patient hitter as well. He fits the mold of the gritty Rays quite well. Rodriguez, as the utility-man on a team full of them, sees most of the other starts at 1B, but Joyce can also play there when he isn’t DHing or manning an OF position. Joyce presents some hitting when he is in the lineup, Rodriguez is a guy who is used more for his defense.
New York Yankees - Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson - Sorry Yankee fans, the Yankees come in last at first base. Let’s face it; you have no idea what the Yankees are going to get from the Big Tex. Last year, he was only able to play 15 games, struggling to a .151 average. The year before he played 123 games to a .251 average with 24 HRs and 84 RBIs. With Kelly Johnson as the only option behind Tex, the Yankees need a good year from the big first baseman. His range is practically gone, so he is going to have to do his damage with the bat. And honestly, I don’t think he can do it. Johnson may not make the team, but if he does he may end up starting at first base if Tex can’t stay healthy. Not a natural first baseman by any means, Johnson would be nowhere near an adequate first baseman in the AL East, but the Yankees may have to live with him if Tex isn’t healthy.