Opening Day 2014 is going to be unusual, probably for a number of reasons, but foremost among them is this: for the first time in 16 years, someone other than Todd Helton will be manning first base. It's gonna be weird seeing another, presumably un-goateed face at the position. And while it was fitting, emotional, and often magical to see Todd play one last season at his customary spot, it was hard to ignore the fact that he wasn't particularly productive anymore (and his replacements Jordan Pacheco and Ryan Wheeler were even worse). While that was unfortunate for the 2013 squad, at least it means that there is an obvious area where an upgrade can be acquired for 2014.
Now that the Carlos Ruiz pursuit has slowed (thankfully; signing him would have created more problems than it would have solved), the Rockies have been inquiring into other first base options. They have supposedly checked in on the Mets' Ike Davis, a good buy low candidate. On the Free Agent front, they have reached out to Justin Morneau, James Loney, and Mike Napoli. Each of these names is intriguing. I'm sure more in-depth articles about each candidate will be forthcoming in the long, cold days ahead, but here I'll provide a snapshot of what these players look like now, and what they might do in 2014. Possibly in a Rockies uniform.
Morneau is a scary proposition. He has missed huge chunks of time in recent years due to injuries, mostly concussion related. After these injuries, he's struggled to hit as well as his early years as a Twin. In 2012 and 2013, both full seasons, he's managed only a 108 and 102 wRC+ respectively. Defensively, he's probably average, maybe a little below.
We wouldn't be getting the Morneau who won MVP in 2006 by swatting 34 homers and hitting .321. But we would be getting a guy who can still hit for some power and be a solid left-handed bat to add to the lineup.
Morneau has just played through a large contract that has been paying him $15 milion a year, and he has not been a very good return on that deal. It's tricky to guess what teams will value him at this off-season. He's aging, injury-prone, and no longer a difference maker, but he still has some significant upside.
Ah Loney, he of the career .945 OPS at Coors Field in 217 at bats (that feels low to me). Despite the nightmares he's given Rockies fans, he's always been a light hitter for a first baseman. He spent four mostly unremarkable years with the Dodgers, never putting up very good numbers except when playing the Rockies. They finally got frustrated enough with Loney to ship him off to the AL East in part 1 of their "Acquire Every Big Contract in the World" plan.
In 2013, though, the Tampa Bay Rays worked their usual voodoo magic on him, and he put up his best season as a pro. Tampa Bay is a tough hitting environment, but he hit to the tune of a 118 wRC+ and accrued 2.7 WAR.
He was paid only $2 million last year, a pretty good bargain. He'll be wanting more after his solid campaign. Loney won't set the world on fire in 2014, but he won't be outrageously expensive, he plays good defense, he isn't even 30 yet, and he loves to hit at Coors. I could definitely talk myself into taking a chance on him.
Napoli is pretty awesome. He has always hit the tar out of the ball, including a mammoth 2011 (.320/.414/.631). In 2013 he transitioned permanently to first base, where the numbers absolutely loved him. He's patient, and hits for power; a good combination. He strikes out a lot, but that hasn't adversely affected his game to date.
Of course, all these awesome things about Napoli are well known by everyone, and he's going to make a lot of money this off-season. He turned down the Red Sox' qualifying offer of $14.1 million, suggesting he wants multiple years. Also, he has some weird degenerative hip disease; it didn't slow him down in 2013, but who knows how it'll play out in the future.
I don't expect the Rockies to be serious players for Napoli, but I guess stranger things have happened. They would probably need to shed some payroll elsewhere, maybe in a trade of Dexter Fowler. But that's complete speculation.
Troy Renck also has blurbs about each of the guys mentioned above. Synergy!
Congratulations to 2013 MVPs Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen. Both guys are really great. Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer showed up on some ballots.