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Deep Dive: Free Agent First Basemen/Designated Hitters

Plenty of top-notch hitters are available in this year’s class.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman is the class of this group of free agent first basemen and designated hitters.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the White Sox organization. Each position will break into five parts:

  1. Depth in the Rookie Leagues (Dominican through Arizona)
  2. Depth in A-Ball (Kannapolis through Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players
  5. Free-agent options

First base is arguably the deepest position in the White Sox organization — at least at the major league level. With one year and $22 million remaining on José Abreu’s contract, the team still has viable alternatives who could man the position for 2022 and beyond.

Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets acquitted themselves quite nicely in the outfield this year, but they are better suited at first base or DH. In addition, first base could be used as a place for Yasmani Grandal to take a short break from catching duties to rest his knees, while fellow backstop Zack Collins has also manned the position from time to time. Jake Burger, who spent most of 2021 at third base, can also contribute at this position as well.

Knowing this, one never knows when a position like this could be a need. Perhaps Sheets will be asked to play the outfield again this year? Perhaps Vaughn begins next year at Charlotte, or he gets traded during the offseason to help the team patch its deficiencies? Perhaps there’s a designated hitter in this group that’s simply too good to pass up? Solid hitters and intriguing DH options abound in this free agent class (designated hitters are lumped here, as most lack defensive versatility).

Without further ado, below are the first base and DH options available via free agency in order of bWAR (Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement). Ages below are as of April 1, 2022.

Free Agents

Freddie Freeman
Atlanta Braves
2021 bWAR: 4.7
Slash/power: .300/.393/.503 with 31 homers and 83 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Age: 32

Arguably the class of this group, Freeman walked 85 times for the Braves. It would be somewhat shocking to see him sign with a different organization.

Yuli Gurriel
Houston Astros
2021 bWAR: 3.7
Slash/power: .319/.383/.462 with 15 homers and 81 RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 37

The Astros possess a 2022 club option for $8 million, which they’ll most assuredly honor. The native Cuban led the American League in hitting this year.

J.D. Martinez
Boston Red Sox
2021 bWAR: 3.0
Slash/power: .286/.349/.518 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 34
Positions played: LF, RF

Martinez is yet another intriguing DH option who can play the corner outfield when needed. He led the American League with 42 doubles this year.

Brandon Belt
San Francisco Giants
2021 bWAR: 2.7
Slash/power: .274/.378/.597 with 29 homers and 59 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age: 33

Belt hit his 29 homers in just 97 games this year, but did fan 103 times.

Nelson Cruz
Tampa Bay Rays
2021 bWAR: 2.5
Slash/power: .265/.334/.497 with 32 homers and 86 RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 41

A true designated hitter, Cruz has continued to age gracefully.

Anthony Rizzo
New York Yankees
2021 bWAR: 1.7
Slash/power: .248/.334/.440 with 22 homers and 61 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age 32

Rizzo’s numbers with the Cubs and Yankees this year were eerily similar.

Ryan Zimmerman
Washington Nationals
2021 bWAR: 1.2
Slash/power: .243/.286/.471 with 14 homers and 46 RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 37

It’s possible Zimmerman spends his entire career with the Nationals.

Brad Miller
Philadelphia Phillies
2021 bWAR: 0.4
Slash/power: .227/.321/.453 with 20 homers and 49 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age: 32
Other positions played: RF, 2B, 3B, LF

Miller showed impressive power from the left side, and has more versatility than a more traditional first baseman.

Mitch Moreland
Oakland Athletics
2021 bWAR: 0.0
Slash/power: .227/.286/.415 with 10 homers and 30 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age: 36

Primarily a designated hitter, Moreland is best used on a platoon basis.

Derek Dietrich
Washington Nationals
2021 bWAR: 0.0
Slash/power: Did not play in the majors in 2021
Bats/Throws: L/R
Age: 32

Primarily a designated hitter, Dietrich was released by both the Yankees and Nationals.

Pablo Sandoval
2021 bWAR: -0.2
Slash/power: .178/.302/.342 with four homers and 11 RBIs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Age: 35
Other positions played: 3B

Kung Fu Panda was traded to Cleveland from the Braves for Eddie Rosario, but didn’t play a game there.

Danny Santana
Boston Red Sox
2021 bWAR: -0.3
Slash/power: .181/.252/.345 with five homers and 14 RBIs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Age: 31
Other positions played: CF, LF

Santana hit 28 homers for the Rangers as recently as 2019.

Khris Davis
Oakland Athletics
2021 bWAR: -0.4
Slash/power: .206/.273/.363 with 10 homers and 31 RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 34
Other positions played: LF

Typically a designated hitter, Davis struggled with both the Rangers and Athletics this year.

Todd Frazier
Pittsburgh Pirates
2021 bWAR: -0.4
Slash/power: .086/.200/.114 with four RBIs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 36
Other positions played: 3B

This could be the end of the line for the former White Sox third baseman.

Albert Pujols
Los Angeles Dodgers
2021 bWAR: -0.6
Slash/power: .236/.284/.433 with 17 homers and 50 RBIs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 42
Other positions played: 3B

The future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer still contributes power from the right side.

Yoshi Tsutsugo
Pittsburgh Pirates
2021 bWAR: -0.6
Slash/power: .243/.337/.467 with eight homers and 27 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/R
Age: 30
Other positions played: LF, RF

Tsutsugo played for three teams this year, including two playoff squads (Rays, Dodgers).

Jose Marmolejos
Seattle Mariners
2021 bWAR: -0.7
Slash/power: .160/.262/.311 with four homers and 12 RBIs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Age: 29
Other positions played: LF/RF

Perhaps he may find a minor league gig somewhere.

Including the designated hitters, this is a fairly intriguing group overall (of course, it does have its chaff at the end). Despite this group’s upper echelon, the White Sox likely will not choose a free agent from this group due to the presence of Abreu and less expensive in-house options like Vaughn and Sheets (not to mention Grandal, who could spend more time here when resting from catcher duties).