Derrek Lee or Adam LaRoche? Adam LaRoche or Derrek Lee?
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At least three teams – the Nationals, Orioles and Padres – are pursuing both free-agent first basemen, major-league sources say.
LaRoche, 31, is expected to command a multi-year deal. Lee, 35, might only require one year. The Padres would appear longshots for both – they are unlikely to pay a first baseman close to the $6.3 million they would have paid Adrian Gonzalez, whom they traded to the Red Sox.
The Orioles possess at least two advantages in their recruitment of LaRoche, who has averaged 25 home runs and 87 RBIs the past six seasons. The team recently acquired one of LaRoche’s good friends, third baseman Mark Reynolds, and its new bench coach, John Russell, managed LaRoche with the Pirates.
The Nationals, beaten out by the Cubs for free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena, need a strong left-handed hitter such as LaRoche to replace Adam Dunn. Their two leading sluggers, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and right fielder Jayson Werth, are right-handed.
The Nats, however, also are considering Lee, a right-handed hitter who could fit for several other clubs as well.
The Rangers could add a right-handed hitting first baseman such as Lee to pair with Mitch Moreland. The Rays need to replace Pena, and journeyman Dan Johnson, a left-handed hitter, is the only first baseman on their roster.
The Blue Jays, too, lack a bonafide first baseman, though they could use Adam Lind at the position and perhaps sign a designated hitter who also can play first.
The Diamondbacks “likely” are out on Lee after signing free agent Xavier Nady to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on Wednesday, a source said.
Lee is coming off surgery in November to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. The injury may have contributed to his decline from 35 homers, 111 RBIs and a .972 OPS in 2009 to 19 homers, 80 RBIs and a .774 OPS last season, which he spent with the Cubs and Braves.
LaRoche spent last season with the Diamondbacks, who declined his $7.5 million option. Though his OPS dropped from .843 in ’09 to .788 in ‘10, he was one of only 14 players last season to finish with at least 25 homers, 35 doubles and 100 RBIs.
The list includes the top four finishers in the AL MVP race and the top two in the NL.