As the offseason approaches, MLBTR is taking a position-by-position look at the upcoming free agent class. Today, we’ll focus on first base, a group with a few well-regarded veterans coming off quality seasons at the top.
Top of the Class
José Abreu (36*)
Abreu is coming off arguably the best season of any impending free agent first baseman. Even as he’s gotten into his mid-30s, he remains one of the better hitters in the game. Abreu carries a .304/.377/.445 line over 652 plate appearances, and he’s tied for the American League lead with 176 hits. He only has 15 home runs and is almost certain to finish with the lowest home run total of his nine-year MLB career, but he’s collected 36 doubles. Abreu also hasn’t lost much, if any, bat speed. His 92.1 MPH average exit velocity and 51.7% hard contact rate are both in line with the best marks of his career and near the top of the league overall. He’s hitting a few more ground-balls than before, but there’s no indication his physical abilities are dwindling.
Even heading into his age-36 season, Abreu will be one of the better offensive players on the market. Over the past three years, he owns a .289/.365/.489 line, ranking 14th in on-base percentage and 26th in slugging among 118 qualified hitters. He’s tough to strike out, has posted slightly above-average walk rates in each of the past two years and still has excellent batted ball metrics. He also hasn’t gone on the injured list in four seasons and has drawn plaudits for his clubhouse leadership in Chicago. The only real concern with Abreu is his age, but there’s already proof of concept he can remain productive beyond his prime-aged years. The White Sox issued him a qualifying offer back in 2019, meaning he’ll be ineligible to receive one this offseason.
Josh Bell (30)
Bell has shown the ability to carry a lineup at his best. He hit 37 home runs with a .277/.367/.569 line for the Pirates in 2019, and he mashed at a .301/.384/.493 clip over 437 plate appearances with the Nationals earlier this season. Yet he’s also been prone to extended down stretches, and he’s headed towards free agency amidst a sharp downturn in production. Since the Padres landed him at the trade deadline, he’s hitting .191/.310/.280 with only a trio of homers in 45 games. He also had a rough 2020 season and started slowly last year before catching fire in the second half.
Even with some inconsistency, there’s a lot to like about Bell. His overall .265/.355/.452 line dating back to the start of 2021 is a fair bit better than the .254/.331/.440 league mark for first basemen. Bell is a switch-hitter with excellent plate discipline, and he consistently draws walks in over 10% of his plate appearances. He has three 25-homer seasons on his resume and typically rates near the top of the league in average exit velocity and hard contact percentage, although his batted ball metrics this season have been right around league average. Bell has shown a promising combination of power and patience in years past, and he’s not a prototypical strikeout-prone slugger. His 15.6% strikeout rate this season is nearly seven points lower than the league mark. He looks like an impact bat when everything’s clicking, but he’ll hit the market coming off a rough couple months. Because of the midseason trade, Bell is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer.
Trey Mancini (31)
Mancini made an incredible comeback from a battle with colon cancer that cost him the entire 2020 season. He’s hit at a slightly above-average level in each of the following two years, compiling 39 total home runs with a .251/.326/.418 line. Mancini’s production in each of the last two years has been roughly the same: average strikeout and walk rates with slightly better than par batted ball metrics and power output. Mancini’s over-the-fence pop was down during his first few months with the Orioles this season, but that’s certainly in part due to the changing dimensions at Camden Yards that weren’t friendly to right-handed hitters. Mancini is more a solid hitter than an impact one, with his .291/.364/.535 showing in 2019 looking increasingly like an outlier. He does most things well, though, and he was a beloved clubhouse and community presence in Baltimore. Mancini probably wouldn’t have received a qualifying offer regardless, but a midseason trade to the Astros officially took that off the table.