Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 1/11/12

Do you all get the feeling that I write one of the pieces every single week? Its probably because I do!

When we last spoke about the Indians on-going search for a middle of the order bat, things seemed to be veteran first baseman Carlos Pena. With the turn of each calendar day inching us closer and closer to Spring Training, some sort of decision has to be made. There are three first base options in free agency that appear to be targets for the Indians: Pena, Derrek Lee (whom we also discussed last week), and the latest to be linked to the Tribe – Casey Kotchman.

According to Jon Heyman on CBS Sports, “Pena and Kotchman are the most likely offensive options for the Indians.” Include Lee, and you could truly make a case for all three to be the Indians best move. All three are plus-defenders, with Pena and Lee both former Gold Glove winners. Pena, 33, has the most pure power, averaging 34 homers over the past five seasons. Kotchman, 28, is the youngest of the three and is the best contact hitter (just 66 K’s in 563 plate appearances in 2011). Lee, 36, is the one right-handed bat of the trio and still has pop.

All three have their shortcomings as well.

Pena is a windmill in a lineup full of strikeout guys. I wrote it last week, but it has to be repeated – Pena has averaged 158 K’s in each of the past five years. He also has serious issues hitting left-handed pitching. He is a career .210 hitter against southpaws, including a horrific .133 (16-120) last season for the Cubs. So if you bring in Pena, its in a strict platoon situation. Of the three, he would cost the most.

Kotchman was a one-time top prospect in the Angels system who was traded to the Braves in 2008 as part of the Mark Teixiera trade. He was dealt twice more, in 2009 to Red Sox for Adam Laroche, and in 2010 to the Seattle Mariners for Bill Hall and a player to be named later. He has always been more of an “average/OBP” guy than a run producer. Kotchman’s best RBI season came in 2008 with the Angels and the Braves when he had 74. He had a a lull in his career while trying to find a permanent home. 2011 was a renaissance season for him when he took over for Pena, ironically, as the Tampa Bay Rays first baseman. He hit .306 with an OBP of .378 and an OPS of .800 – all career highs. However, he had just 10 homers and 48 RBIs in 500 at-bats. That is not inspiring to me considering the Indians lack of power. He would, however, come the cheapest of the three options – his peak career salary was in 2010 when he made $3.5 million.

Lee is known as one of the best clubhouse guys in the game. That said, he is clearly at the tail end of his career at age 37. His best power years are behind him. After hitting 35 homers for the Cubs and Braves in 2009, injuries robbed him the last two years. Yes, he hit 19 last year with the Pirates and the Orioles and finished strong in Pittsburgh (.337/.398/.902/7 homers/18 RBIs in 28 games), but how much does he have left? The Indians expressed early interest in Lee after he declined arbitration with the Pirates (which would have netted him at least the $7 million he made last year), but reports are that the Lee camp’s feelings were not mutual.

So where does this leave us?

I’m guessing that the Tribe will end up getting that veteran to play first base on a one-year deal for 2012. I cannot see them entering the season with the Shelley Duncan/Carlos Santana/Matt LaPorta triangle of options. Though the talk has quieted down a tad, I still think the Indians will kick the tires on Houston’s Carlos Lee, if his price can come down a bit more. Of these four options, here is how I rank them in terms of who I think fits best with this team:

1. Carlos Lee – Played 79 games at first base in Houston last year. Averaging over 100 RBIs in each of the last five seasons. Houston desperately wants to dump the final year of his $18 million contract. Most importantly, he is RIGHT-HANDED.

2. Carlos Pena – Yes, he is a strikeout machine. Yes, he cannot hit lefties. But his power in undeniable and he can pick it at first. Will be a big help with the bevy of ground-ball guys in the rotation.

3. Derrek Lee – I think the savvy vet has one good season left in him. Would provide that 2007 Trot Nixon-like presence in the clubhouse. Again, right-handed makes him more exciting to me.

4. Casey Kotchman – I don’t buy him. He’s coming off his best year in a career that hasn’t lived up to expectations. He is a contact guy  who plays solid defense which makes him attractive, but I think he has maxed out as a player.

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