The trade deadline is a few weeks away, so the rumor mill is about to heat up. To prep you for the coming trade season, we're providing a primer on who the top available trade targets could be as get closer to July 31st.
Most of the top playoff contenders have a quality first baseman right now. Maybe that's why those clubs currently lead their respective divisions or have their hands on a wild-card spot.
But a couple of postseason hopefuls could use an upgrade. Teams that are on the fringes of contention could especially use some help at a position that typically provides some middle-of-the-order power to a lineup. Getting some help at first base might be the difference in making the playoffs for those clubs. So who looks to be available over the next few weeks?
Probably not available but it couldn't hurt to ask
Justin Smoak – Giving up on Smoak was going to be a tough call for the Mariners. He's only 26 years old and in his third full major league season. But after hitting .236 with one home run in April, it was beginning to look like it might never work out for Smoak in Seattle. Yet could he now be turning himself around and developing into the hitter that the Mariners could build around? Smoak hit .265 with an .888 OPS in June, the sort of performance Seattle has been waiting to see. If the power comes next, this could still be the Mariners' first baseman of the future.
Kyle Blanks – What kinds of numbers could this 6-foot-6 slugger put up if he stayed healthy? What if he played his home games somewhere besides Petco Park? After missing almost all of 2012 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, Blanks is showing what he can do with regular playing time. In 223 plate appearances, he's batting .270 with a .786 OPS, eight home runs and 32 RBI. But is there really a place for Blanks in the Padres lineup once Yonder Alonso returns from the disabled list? If first base isn't open in San Diego, nor a corner outfield spot, is he better off being traded?
Logan Morrison – The Marlins have to keep somebody, right? And is there anybody to play at first base if Morrison is dealt away? With three arbitration seasons still ahead, Morrison is the sort of lower-cost talent that a team like Miami should keep around. But a young left-handed bat with 20-home run power under team control for three years and rather inexpensive would be appealing to other clubs as well.
Take my (overpaid and/or ineffective) first baseman, please!
Chris Carter – If there's one player on this list certain to be traded, Carter is probably the guy. He's not a part of the Astros' future with Jonathan Singleton a step away from the majors. Brett Wallace is also available to play first base in Houston. Yes, Carter could break Mark Reynolds' MLB record for most strikeouts in a season. He already has 115 Ks in 314 plate appearances. But he also has 17 homers and 44 RBI, numbers that could boost a lineup in need of some power. Could he move four hours aways to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington? How about subbing for Mark Teixeira with the Yankees? Carter could play left field for the Giants as well.
Kendrys Morales – Morales is a free agent after the season, so the Mariners should trade him if there's any interest. Yet he's also been one of Seattle's only consistent run producers and should be brought back next year. Morales is batting .282 with a .785 OPS, 20 doubles, 11 homers and 48 RBI. Though he's played mostly as a DH this season, first base could belong to Morales in 2014 if the Mariners ditch Justin Smoak and let Michael Morse go. Seattle will likely try to make sure they have at least one reliable slugger in its lineup, but they could re-sign Morales after trading him too.
Paul Konerko – The White Sox first baseman just went on the DL with a lower back strain, which could kill any interest other teams might have in him. Konerko also isn't having a great season, batting .249 with a .682 OPS, seven homers and 30 RBI. He's also due what remains of his $13.5 million for this season. Does Konerko prefer to play out his final season with a playoff contender or with the team he's been with for 15 years? A team looking for some right-handed pop such as the Rangers or Yankees could be interested. Maybe the Giants too.
Michael Morse – Morse is currently on the DL with a quad injury and he's played most of this season in right field with the Mariners. But he's a free agent after the season and is relatively inexpensive compared to some of the other first basemen available. Staying healthy is a bit of a problem for Morse, but he's two seasons removed from hitting 31 homers with 95 RBI. The Pirates could put him at first base and move Garrett Jones back to right field. How much fun could a guy like Morse be in New York with the Yankees?
Well, at least they have a pulse
Justin Morneau – Morneau is in the final year of his contract, making him an ideal rental player for a playoff contender. Wouldn't he be a nice fit at first base for the Pirates, for example? What about the Athletics? The Yankees have always seem interested in Morneau, and his left-handed bat would surely love Yankee Stadium. But Morneau curiously isn't hitting for much power this season, managing only four home runs and a .396 slugging percentage. If he's not hitting for power, how much use could he really be for another team?
Carlos Pena – Wasn't Pena basically signed to eventually be traded? Sure, the Astros needed someone to play designated hitter during their first season in the American League. But Houston could play someone else in that spot now. Pena could be a nice left-handed bench bat on a playoff team. His .218 average and .703 OPS demonstrate that he's really not an everyday player anymore. But eight home runs and 13 doubles show he still has some extra-base power that could be useful.