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Hosmer, Santana at head of class for first basemen

Free-agent market brimming with options for clubs
MLB.com @feinsand

Round and round the first-base market goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

The market has moved slowly through the first month of the offseason, and while a handful of players have started to come off the board, none of them has been a first baseman despite that being the deepest position among this group of free agents.

Round and round the first-base market goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.

The market has moved slowly through the first month of the offseason, and while a handful of players have started to come off the board, none of them has been a first baseman despite that being the deepest position among this group of free agents.

"It's a big game of musical chairs," one agent said.

Hot Stove Tracker

Eric Hosmer is clearly the top name in the group, which includes seven players who started at least 110 games at first base in 2017 and two more who started at least 90 games.

Hosmer, 28, won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards in the American League last season and is likely to score a lucrative deal, thrusting him into a different stratosphere than the rest of his peers.

Carlos Santana is the consensus No. 2 first baseman behind Hosmer based on conversations with executives and agents, many of whom believe that Santana will ultimately offer a better value for his next team than Hosmer will based on the size of the contract.

"Hosmer and Santana, they've separated from the rest," one general manager said. "It's hard to make sense of the way the offseason has -- or hadn't -- unfolded to this point. Maybe teams will engage with the second-tier guys and try to put pressure on the two big guys."

Video: MLB Now on the top free agent first basemen

The "second-tier guys" include Logan Morrison, who hit a career-high 38 home runs last season, matching Justin Smoak for the most of any AL first baseman; Yonder Alonso, who made his first All-Star team in 2017; Mark Reynolds, who had his first 30-homer season since 2011; Lucas Duda, who had his third season of 27 or more home runs in the last four years; Mitch Moreland, who topped the 20-homer mark for the fourth time in five years; and Matt Adams, who hit 19 home runs in 314 at-bats for the Braves and recently joined the free-agent pool after being non-tendered by Atlanta last Friday.

Video: BAL@TB: Morrison mashes a solo homer to right

"There's depth there," a second GM said. "There's a lot of productivity on the marketplace. If you're in the market for a first baseman, it's a nice position to be looking for based on the numbers that are out there."

With no fewer than 10 first basemen available on the market -- and that doesn't include Todd Frazier, who is being marketed to prospective clubs as being able to play both first and third base -- there are plenty of options for teams seeking help at the position.

Of course, with so many first basemen on the market, that means their previous teams are likely either trying to re-sign or replace them. At least eight or nine teams appear to be in the mix for a new first baseman, and while the White Sox could help fill one of those vacancies should they opt to trade Jose Abreu, the rest are likely to turn to the free-agent market.

Video: Feinsand on Santana being best bargain in free agency

Santana, who turns 32 in April, may be the outlier. His power and ability to get on base make him a desired option, and his improved defense makes him a bit more intriguing. Advanced metrics DRS and UZR rated him as above-average in each of the last two seasons.

"Hosmer is going to out-price himself from a lot of teams, so a lot of teams are trying to land Santana," said a second agent who doesn't represent either player. "If they don't get him, they'll look at Morrison, Alonso, Duda and maybe Moreland."

Both GMs agreed that Hosmer isn't holding up the market, because some of the teams seeking first-base help aren't looking to shell out a nine-figure contract.

Among the teams believed to be in the market for a first baseman are the Angels, Indians, Padres, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, Rockies, Cardinals and Royals, while the Mets could also bring in a veteran to compete with -- and possibly light a fire beneath? -- 22-year-old Dominic Smith.

Hosmer and Santana figure to land the biggest and lengthiest contracts, but the rest of the group are likely looking at deals ranging from one to three years. With more players available than starting jobs, the dominoes could begin falling rapidly once the first player or two come off the board at the position.

For those that are looking at one-year deals, a strong 2018 could set them up for next offseason. Although the 2018-19 free-agent market is loaded with as much talent as any class in recent memory, very little of it is at first base.

"Opportunity matters," the first GM said. "Hosmer and Santana, they're going to get paid for what they've done in prior years. The other guys, this isn't their big contract. You have to think about not only the current contract and the dollars associated with it, but also the opportunity. You have to look at what gives you the best chance to be rewarded on your next deal."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana