February 27, 2012
The NL's Shallow First Base Pool
To say that the first base pool in NL-only leagues is thin these days would be a rather massive understatement. Essentially, the league traded Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder and got only Michael Cuddyer and Adam Kennedy back, while also losing Ryan Howard for an undetermined part of the season due to his playoff-ending ankle injury. The offseason shuffling has made Joey Votto the best player at the position in the National League by a significant margin, on top of the honor of already being one of the three best fantasy options for National League players overall.
Frankly, the only thing saving the position in drafts this year is all of the multiple position qualifiers. Michael Morse, Lance Berkman, Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Lee, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Garrett Jones, Brandon Belt, Aubrey Huff, Ty Wigginton, Juan Rivera, and Adam Kennedy are all examples of players who qualify at first base and at least one other position. (The benefit of this is mitigated, however, by the fact that not all of them are actually going to be playing full-time, as things currently stand.) Also worth noting is that Yonder Alonso and Bryan LaHair, two players that are slated to be the first baseman for their respective clubs, do not qualify at the position on draft day. You could also throw in Mat Gamel and Jim Thome, neither of whom will qualify at first on draft day but will be spending time there during the 2012 season.
Here is how the Player Forecast Manager shows the first base talent pool breaking down:
In a 13-team NL-only league, at least 13 starting first baseman need to be taken, and let’s assume that an additional 10 teams fill their corner infield spot with someone that qualifies at first base. The table above represents 24 players, and only 14 of them project to get more than 500 plate appearances this season—and three of them are in the New York Mets lineup. By auction dollar format, Votto is the only player worth more than $20 and one of only two players at the position projected to hit more than 25 home runs this season. The PFM considers Freeman, in only his second season, to be the third best option at the position, while Cuddyer automatically jumps into the top five before taking his first swing in a Rockies uniform. Simply put, the first base spot in the NL is not the moneymaker we have become accustomed to.
In a redraft league, the decision is relatively easy; if you do not get Votto early, you can afford to wait for somebody later. Outside of Morse, nobody from this talent pool need be reached for, despite the positional scarcity issue, because nobody else stands out from the group that much. Morse is a four-category producer for the position, qualifies in the outfield, and has less risk than someone like Lee or Berkman (who share same profile but carry age risks with them). If I could sit back and grab someone like Ike Davis in a non-New York-based league or take another swing with James Loney, I would be happy with it.
In a keeper league, you have different goals. Freeman, Belt, Davis, and Rizzo remain attractive targets to acquire in this format. Freeman and Davis are at least guaranteed playing time out of the gate. Belt’s role is unsettled with the Giants, but his long-term potential is huge. Rizzo seems almost certain to open the season in Triple-A, since Dale Sveum has already said he is looking at Bryan LaHair to open the season at first base and hit in the clean-up role.
Another factor to consider when choosing your first baseman is to see what you already have on your roster. Over the weekend, someone asked me for advice on a trade they were contemplating in their 10-team, 5x5, NL-only keeper league. In the trade, he would acquire Lance Berkman, but he already had Sanchez, Goldschmidt, and Freeman on his roster. I liked the trade on its own, but for him to be able to roster four starting first baseman and thus corner the market on his leaguemates made me like the trade even more. He would be able to slot them at 1B, CI, OF, and UT and take away three of the 14 players at the position slated for 500 plate appearances, forcing the others to pick off the scrap heap at the draft. In my own league of the same format, I have Joey Votto, Todd Helton, Carlos Lee, and Bryan LaHair for a total of $60 and am considering keeping all four for the same reason I gave the inquiring owner, especially with the added benefit of having two players that can qualify at multiple positions and three hitters that are slated to hit in the middle of their respective lineups.
It is a new year at first base in the NL and one that has quite a bit of uncertainty for 2012. Past disappointments such as Loney and Sanchez are now going to be targets because of scarcity rather than want. The first expert draft in this format takes place this coming Sunday when the LABR draft convenes in Phoenix (our own Derek Carty will be taking part on the NL side, while I’ll be drafting Saturday night in the AL), so it will be interesting to see how the experts tackle this challenging talent pool and help set the tone for others as they finalize their own draft plans for March.