Going into 2012, Overbay is long gone and Lee is a free agent. The Pirates obviously would like to have Lee back, but only at the right price, and it remains to be seen whether Lee would like to come back to a Pirates squad that appears to still be rebuilding. Lee's great play down the stretch (.337/.398/.584 for a .982 OPS) probably priced him out of the Pirates' price range, meaning they'd have to drastically overpay to bring him back. The problem is also that, at 37, he's no spring chicken, and his total line on the season was just .267/.325/.446 (good for a .771 OPS and only about 1.4 WAR). There's doubts as to whether Lee could keep his hot bat up for the entire season, and whether his production would be worth the price.
As with other positions around the diamond (Catcher, 3B, SS, SP), the Pirates have some tough decisions coming up this offseason at First Base. Lyle Overbay was brought in to provide a solid veteran and defensive presence, but in reality was an over-priced flop, and released at the trade deadline. Derrek Lee was acquired to play 1B for a playoff push. He hit great and played his usual solid defense, but had trouble staying healthy for a Pirates team that utterly collapsed down the stretch. Garrett Jones split time between 1B and the outfield, playing reasonably well in a platoon role from the left side of the plate. Steve Pearce, a RH hitter, saw some time at 1B, but had trouble staying healthy all year and was mostly a non-factor. Matt Hague played decent but not spectacularly at AAA.
In-house, we obviously have Garrett Jones, who will be with the team in some capacity next year. But Neal Huntington's moves this offseason could affect whether that's starting at 1B or RF, platooning, or on the bench. It appears likely the Pirates will go with Alex Presley and Jose Tabata at the outfield corners next season, meaning Jones could find himself at 1B again. Jones hit for a.243/.321/.433 line good for a .753 OPS (good for about 1 WAR) hitting mostly in a platoon role in RF with Matt Diaz, though he played more 1B down the stretch when Lee was hurt. Jones' hitting wasn't spectacular, but it wasn't very bad either (good for a 103 OPS+). Jones is useful because he is versatile enough to play 1B and the OF corners, and hits decently and for good power when he faces RHP. As a full-time starter, he is obviously overmatched, but when platooned with a RH hitter, he is effective and cost-effective.
Other options in-house are not particularly appealing as starting options. Steve Pearce was injured most of the year, and only put up a .515 OPS in 105 PA. He is versatile in that he can also play at 3B and the OF corners, but his time with the Pirates is likely over. He does hold a career .829 OPS against LHP, though it's only in 182 PA. He could be a cheap RH hitting platoon partner with Jones next season if the Pirates want to give him one more chance, but he'll be 29 and arbitration eligible, making this unlikely.
The only option in the high-minors close enough to help is Matt Hague, who hit for a .309/.372/.457 line from the right side of the plate good for an .829 OPS at AAA in his age 25 season. While this is decent, it also isn't particularly impressive, either. He also had a reverse-platoon split (he hit better against RHP than LHP), meaning he isn't exactly the perfect platoon partner for Garrett Jones or a similar lefty first baseman. If the Pirates really believe Hague can hit MLB pitching (especially LHP), than he could be a cheap platoon partner. But the fact that he wasn't called up in 2011 (even with Overbay struggling and Lee injured) and didn't dominate AAA means he may need more time in the minors.
So what to do? In a perfect world, the Pirates could sign an Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder to lock up 1B for the next several years, but that just isn't an option for the Pirates at this point in time. The next tier of free agents involves players like Lee who are older but still decent producers, but might still require significant compensation to lure them to Pittsburgh. The next tier is more guys like Overbay, who were once decent contributors but now are either ineffective or old, but could still be bargains if the price and situation are right.
I think the Pirates should get creative at 1B this offseason. Check around the league and look for players blocked or out of favor with their current teams (think Yonder Alonso or even, yes, the Great Lars Anderson). If someone of this caliber can be acquired at a decent price, try to make a move. If not, though, don't overpay. The next option would be to scour free agency and the waiver wire for the RH hitting equivalent of Garrett Jones. Say what you will about the current front-office, but getting Jones was one of their best (and in my opinion, underrated) moves. Jones may not have turned into the 35 homer per season monster many hoped, but he is definitely a cheap and useful hitter who was acquired for nothing. Finding a RH hitting equivalent and platooning him with Jones would make an effective, and cheap, tandem.
If that fails, maybe signing a veteran RH 1B like say, our old pal Xavier Nady, could work. Obviously, I don't want the Pirates wasting 5 million on Nady or an Overbay-caliber free agent and giving him the bulk of the starts at 1B. Any free agent brought in would have to be both cheap and utilized correctly (platooned to complement Jones).
What do you guys in the comments think? Are there any wild-card scenarios I haven't considered? Any other good trade targets?? Or should the Pirates pick up Ryan Doumit's options and put him at 1B??? I'm only kidding... or am I?