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Following a 2014 season that did not see a single first baseman crack $30 in earnings in standard NL-Only 5×5 scoring formats, 2015 saw the return of a few elite fantasy performances at the position. Paul Goldschmidt ($41 earned) and Joey Votto ($32) returned to the $30 club, and Anthony Rizzo, who led all NL first basemen with $28 earned in 2014, proved that his breakout season was no fluke as the left-handed slugger launched 31 home runs with 101 RBI and 17 steals on his way to $32 in fantasy earnings. However, heading into 2016 drafts, only three other first-base qualifiers cracked $20 in earnings, and one of those players was Buster Posey, whose 46 games played at first base this past season will qualify the backstop at this position for the fourth consecutive year.

As we look forward to the upcoming baseball season, similar to last year, based on the current NL first-base landscape, you will certainly want to grab yourself a top first baseman. Below is a chart reflecting the top 10 most expensive NL-only first sackers in terms of salary in 2015. Please note the “Price” column is the average cost of that player in the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars expert leagues, as prepared by our own Mike Gianella:

Rank

Player

Price

5×5 Earnings

+/-

1

Paul Goldschmidt

$39

$41

+2

2

Anthony Rizzo

$31

$32

+1

3

Freddie Freeman

$29

$17

-12

4t

Todd Frazier (1B/3B)

$27

$26

-1

4t

Adrian Gonzalez

$27

$22

-5

5t

Buster Posey (C/1B)

$26

$27

+1

5t

Joey Votto

$26

$32

+6

8t

Brandon Belt

$22

$21

-1

8t

Mark Trumbo

$22

$6

-16

10

Lucas Duda

$21

$16

-5

Again, much like last year the pool of NL first basemen heading into this season is chock full of uncertainties, making for a lot of difficult decisions from a ranking perspective. Once a usually reliable source of senior-circuit fantasy stats, Todd Frazier is now headed to the junior circuit, but he would not have qualified at first this season regardless. You will also find Mark Trumbo, Adam Lind, and Yonder Alonso have switched leagues, cutting a few more options for NL-only players. Ryan Zimmerman will qualify at first base in drafts this season, but has only 156 games combined the past two seasons and continues to be an injury risk; the same goes for Wil Myers in San Diego.

Following his breakout 2013 season where he netted $32 in fantasy earnings, Freddie Freeman’s fantasy stock soared and he averaged a $30 salary in 2014 and 2015. However, the Braves’ first baseman has not been able to recapture that magic from 2013 and has returned only $41 earnings combined in these deep formats the past two years. There also appear to be several platoon situations at the position across the league (Pirates, Cardinals, Rockies to name a few), limiting the number of full-time options. Justin Bour was a pleasant surprise last season, and turned out to be waiver-wire gold, but his dramatic splits—all of his 23 career home runs have come against righties—project him more as a platoon player than a regular. These are the questions that complicate valuations at this position, and possibly will inflate the values of the upper-tier options a tad, because of the counting-stat security they provide.

As for those upper-tier options, Paul Goldschmidt seems to be a safe bet to put up $30+ in earnings if he stays healthy, and Rizzo and Votto should be solid options to invest heavily in as well, especially in OBP leagues. A long-time favorite of mine is Adrian Gonzalez, as nobody is as consistent a fantasy earner at this position (eight consecutive seasons with at least $22 earnings in both 4×4 and 5×5 standard formats), posting an average stat line of a .292 AVG, 28 home runs, and 103 RBI while playing in 159 games a season. I will always target players who provide this level of consistency and pay a little extra for that stability, but I would have Gonzalez just outside the upper echelon of senior-circuit first basemen. In auction formats, these are the only four players (along with Posey) that I would invest $25 in, and I would push Goldschmidt to $40.

For the mid-level options, Brandon Belt and Lucas Duda seem to be safe bets with some upside and could be $20 players again. Belt has produced two $20+ fantasy seasons in in standard NL-only 5×5 formats in the past three seasons, and Duda had a slight drop-off in fantasy production last season, but his OBP and SLG were slightly better than his 2014 season where he launched 30 bombs and earned $22 in 5×5. Bringing back Freeman into the discussion, while he should not warrant the bids he received the past two years, he still earned $17 last year in just 118 games and his line-drive rates the past two seasons show he makes solid contact, which could result in another $20 season if he can avoid the injury bug. The concern the Braves will trade the 26-year-old this season as they continue the rebuilding effort is legitimate, so you need to take that into account when preparing your valuations.

The trade element should come into the equation with Ryan Howard as well, but don’t sell the veteran short. He has hit 46 home runs and driven in 172 runs the past two seasons, averaging $13 in earnings in 2014-2015. He is not a bad gamble later in drafts on the cheap, as he could still return a positive ROI even in limited time. As for the Brewers’ new first baseman Chris Carter, bid at your own risk: He may hit 25 home runs, but it will come at the cost of a terrible AVG, and I’m not sure his game will translate well in the National League.

When all is said and done, you will certainly want to grab a top first baseman in your drafts if possible, as recent history and the current landscape of the position suggests you might be better off paying a little more for those top options. From a 4×4 vs. 5×5 valuation perspective for the first-base position, typically the current NL first basemen hold a little more value in 4×4. In OBP leagues, Votto, Goldschmidt, Freeman, and Rizzo get a modest bump in value.

Now let’s examine some deeper NL first-base plays who could make for interesting value targets. “Earnings” are based on Mike Gianella’s Rotisserie-style, 4×4 and 5×5 formulas, which he provided in his Retrospective Player Valuation article on November 10th.

Chris Johnson – Marlins
4×4 earnings: $4 / 5×5 earnings: $4

The veteran corner infielder was signed by the Marlins in January to provide depth at first and third. After splitting time last season with the Braves and Indians, Johnson should see a decent amount of playing time for the Marlins, backing up Bour and Martin Prado in Miami. A lifetime .280 hitter, Johnson was a double-digit fantasy earner from 2012-2014 and he should be available relatively cheaply, making him a decent pick to plug into your CO spot.

Mark Reynolds/Ben Paulsen – Rockies
Reynolds: 4×4 earnings: $8 / 5×5 earnings: $8
Paulsen: 4×4 earnings: $13 / 5×5 earnings: $12

Yes, Reynolds strikes out a bunch and his AVG makes even the hardened fantasy baseball veteran cringe, but when you average 26 homers per year over your career, you will have some value in our world. Headed to his sixth team in five years, Reynolds takes his 16.8 percent career HR:FB rate to Coors Field. He will probably be in a platoon role with Paulsen, but with his power he could be a cheap HR source at the CI position in deep formats. Paulsen was a pleasant surprise for the Rockies last season after his call-up in May. After putting up solid-if-unspectacular numbers in parts of three seasons in the PCL, the 28-year-old former third-round pick posted a .277/.326/.462 triple slash with 11 home runs in 116 games last year with the Rockies and was a nice waiver-wire find for his fantasy owners. Paulsen will be on the right side of the platoon and should be a productive corner play at a decent price.

Darin Ruf – Phillies
4×4 earnings: $8 / 5×5 earnings: $7

It’s a similar story to last year at this time with Ruf. Ryan Howard’s future in Philadelphia still remains in doubt, which could lead to Ruf emerging as the Phillies’ primary first baseman at some point in 2016. Ruf’s power is legitimate, as he has smacked 32 home runs over his 654 career big-league at-bats ( and launched 38 bombs in Double-A back in 2012). Ruf also qualifies in the outfield, and considering the current state of the Phillies outfield, he should also see time there this year to help accumulate at-bats if the Phillies struggle to find a taker for Howard. Ruf’s potential playing time and power make for a nice endgame play with upside.

Brandon Moss – Cardinals
4×4 earnings: $10 / 5×5 earnings: $9

The Cardinals agreed to a one-year deal worth $8.25 million with Moss this offseason, and the expectation is that he will be given the opportunity win their first-base job this spring. Since his breakout season with the A’s in 2012, Moss has seen a drop in his AVG/OBP/SLG each year, which is cause for concern. However, he did have major hip surgery following the 2014 season, which could have impacted his 2015 offensive stats. Following the deadline trade that sent the first sacker to the Cardinals last season, he compiled better numbers than he registered with the Indians over the first half of 2015, and the Cardinals always seem to have the magic touch in terms of organizational moves.

Here are some additional deeper 1B plays to target very late if you are nearing the end of your drafts and still need that CI to fill out your roster, or if your league allows for reserves:

Clint Robinson – Nationals
After posting a career .302/.381/.510 slash line over parts of nine seasons in the minors, the 30-year-old former 25th=round pick of the Royals back in 2007 was finally given an extended look by a major-league team last year. Robinson took advantage of the opportunity. The 6-foot-5 product out of Troy University was a key part of the Nationals offense while they dealt with injuries, and he hit 10 home runs with a .272/.358/.424 triple slash in 352 PA. He also showed impressive plate discipline with a 52-to-37 K:BB ratio over those 126 games. Robinson is scheduled to be the backup to Ryan Zimmerman at first, and considering Zimmerman’s track record for spending time on the DL, Robinson is great endgame play in these formats.

Michael Morse/Jason Rogers – Pirates
The Pirates’ M.O. under Neil Huntington has been to avoid high-priced free agents and replace with more affordable pieces that fit the chemistry of the ballclub. As such, the Pirates non-tendered former top pick Pedro Alvarez, and addressed their first-base hole by signing John Jaso and trading for Jason Rogers, while also keeping Michael Morse in the mix. Jaso, who will not qualify at 1B for the majority of drafts, will be the Pirates’ primary first baseman, so Morse and Rogers will duke it out for at-bats against LHP. While Rogers has hit lefties well (.295/.367/.439 in 2014 between the minors and majors), he has actually had more success against RHP in his brief MLB career, registering a .306/.372/.459 triple slash against starboarders in a small sample. Morse also has nearly identical splits (.278/.332/.456 vs. RHP and .273/.335/.472 vs. LHP) so it’s uncertain who Clint Hurdle will favor. That said, Jaso has averaged 90 games a season the past six years, so odds are he will see his customary DL stint in 2016. This makes both Morse and Rogers interesting endgame plays in deep NL-only formats.

Matt Adams – Cardinals
Following two impressive fantasy seasons in 2013 and 2014 where the slugging first baseman earned a combined $34 in standard NL-only 5×5 formats, a quad injury derailed the Slippery Rock product in 2015, limiting the big fella to just 60 games and five home runs. The reports early on are that Moss will be the everyday first baseman as the Cardinals head into spring training, which will drive down Adams’ value. But do not sleep on a player who mashed 32 long flies in a season-and-a-half prior to his injury-plagued 2015 campaign. Moss is a question mark as well this year, so keep Adams on your radar late in your drafts.