For some, $30 in fantasy earnings is the rarified air that makes a player elite. By this admittedly arbitrary standard, first base in the AL is not the place to shop if you are looking for an elite player. Miguel Cabrera ($30) was the only first baseman who reached this threshold in 2016. Edwin Encarnacion finished second at $26. Chris Davis exemplifies the challenge power hitters face in fantasy. His 38 home runs, 99 runs, and 84 RBI were worth $21, but his one steal and .221 batting average pushed him all the way back to $15. Cabrera and Jose Abreu were the only Top 10 AL first basemen to hit higher than .269 and provide more than one dollar of earnings from AVG, while no AL first baseman stole more than nine bases. It is difficult for three category players to earn more than $30, particularly if one of those categories isn’t stolen bases.

The expert market treaded conservatively at the position, with only one relative shot-in-the-dark based on prior performance. Table One lists the 10 most expensive AL first basemen in 2016, based on their average salaries in the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars AL-only leagues. Position eligibility in Table One is based on each player’s status at the beginning of last season.

Table One: 10 Most Expensive AL First Basemen, 2016







Miguel Cabrera





Jose Abreu





Chris Davis





Edwin Encarnacion





Eric Hosmer





Carlos Santana





Albert Pujols





Byung-Ho Park





Mark Trumbo





Mark Teixeira








Except for Trumbo, all the $20+ earners at first return in 2017, along with new first baseman Hanley Ramirez. This is a stable albeit aging core. Hosmer is the only returning $20+ earner who is under 30. Unlike last year, when the AL saw an influx of second-tier talent at the position migrate from the NL, this offseason has seen virtually no movement. Travis Shaw was the only double-digit earner in either league to switch leagues, moving to the Brewers via trade. Brad Miller is the only significant player besides Ramirez who gains first base eligibility, assuming you don’t want to use him at shortstop.

After breaking onto the scene in 2014 with a $34 season, Abreu has been one of the most expensive players at the position, with an average salary of $37 in 2015 and $32 last year. His earnings haven’t lived up to the expectations, as Abreu has slipped from $34 to $27 to $22. The biggest variable at first is the free agents who are currently unsigned. Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Adam Lind, and Brandon Moss are all available and seem more suited to the junior circuit, where they could split time between first base and DH. Otherwise, the position is one of the most stable ones in fantasy. There were no breakout hitters who came out of nowhere to return significant value at first in 2016. The early best bet for a breakout season in 2017 is Greg Bird, assuming full health.

While he isn’t quite the hitter he was in his prime, Cabrera remains the safest bet to earn $30 or more at first. Encarnacion, Ramirez, and Abreu are the next best things, and as long as the market doesn’t chase they should be there for you in the mid-to-high-$20s in non-keeper leagues. Since 2014, only Nelson Cruz and Encarnacion have more home runs than Davis. As documented above, Davis’ batting average hurt his fantasy teams considerably. The bad AVG should keep Davis’s price from soaring into the $30s like it did last year. Even if Davis merely splits the difference between the .221 he hit last year and the .262 AVG he put up in 2015, there is considerable room for an earnings jump in 2017. In auction leagues, Davis will go somewhere between $20-25, depending up on how squeamish fantasy managers are about that batting average.

While my bid limits have not been finalized, Hosmer and Santana are the only other first basemen I’d be willing to pay $20 or more to obtain. Hosmer has earned at least $20 in three of the last four seasons. He is the type of player who typically is undervalued because he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but Hosmer quietly swatted 25 last year. A breakout is unlikely, but few are likely to pay more than $20 for him because of the multiple 30+ home run hitters available at the position. Santana was overrated for some time but now finds himself slightly underrated due to the presence of so many strong hitters at first. Encarnacion is likely to sail into the $30s in many auctions, but the difference in home runs and RBI isn’t worth the price difference in AL-only between him and Hosmer and Santana. Cleveland’s lineup is strong, but Encarnacion isn’t moving from a weak offense to a strong one.

Despite a drop in his overall numbers, Albert Pujols keeps hitting home runs. His age and chronic plantar fasciitis make it difficult to go into the $20s for Albert. On the other hand, Pujols was the fourth best AL first baseman in 2016. You don’t want to overthink it and ignore Pujols entirely but there are many younger and healthier options who offer less risk than Pujols does. It is likely that Pujols’ teammate C.J. Cron will get most of the reps at first base even when Pujols is 100 percent and ready to play.

After Cron, first base drops off precipitously in the AL. As noted earlier, there are a few first basemen who are unsigned who could impact this assessment, but even if all the options listed above land in the AL, there is a good deal of variance between the top/middle of the positional pool and the rest of it.

First base is stronger in OBP leagues. Encarnacion, Santana, Davis, and Joe Mauer were all worth an additional $3 or more than they were in AVG leagues last season.

Listed below are some first basemen who will be drafted mostly if not entirely in AL-only leagues.

Steve Pearce – Blue Jays (AL-only earnings in 2016: $9)
The recent re-signing of Jose Bautista muddies the waters somewhat for Pearce, but Justin Smoak, Ezequiel Carrera, and Melvin Upton aren’t the stiffest competition for playing time at first base and left field. Pearce is sometimes viewed as a platoon player, but while his numbers against lefties are phenomenal, Pearce has an .811 OPS with 29 home runs in 605 at-bats against righties since 2014. He isn’t young (Pearce turns 34 in April), but don’t be surprised if Pearce finds his way into full-time at-bats for the Jays.

Joe Mauer – Twins ($11)
Burying Mauer at the end of these AL-only articles makes me sad. From 2009-2012, Mauer earned $88 as a catcher. Only an injury-riddled 2011 kept him from averaging $25 per season in earnings. Mauer isn’t useless in fantasy, but his $11 season was only 14th best among first basemen and 27th among corner infielders in AL-only. There is a place for this kind of your production on your roster, but it is as a third corner infielder and nothing more. With two years and $46 million left on his behemoth of a contract, Mauer will play every day if he is healthy, so he should be able to cobble together another $10-14 campaign in 2017. Mauer’s best fantasy quality is as a safe batting average play.

Dan Vogelbach – Mariners (-$1)
Blocked at first base while with the Chicago Cubs by Anthony Rizzo, Vogelbach received a reprieve when the Cubs flipped him to the Mariners last summer for Mike Montomgery. The Cubs got a World Series ring (you may have heard about that), while Seattle got a potential left-handed hitting masher in Vogelbach. Ignore Vogelbach’s 2016 fantasy earnings; these are the product of a 1-for-12 stint with Seattle. The Mariners have Vogelbach penciled in to platoon at first with Danny Valencia. Vogelbach has hit at every level, and while he did tail off in Seattle’s system prior to his promotion, he put up numbers that were well above average. My colleague Ben Carsley called Vogelbach an “MLB-ready bat who could hit .280 with 20 homers.” This feels optimistic to me, particularly in batting average, but Ben is savvier on prospects than I am. Vogelbach is only a sleeper in mixed formats. In AL-only keeper leagues, someone will chase him into double digits. That someone won’t be me.

Kennys Vargas – Twins ($4)
Vargas is one of those players everyone liked as a trendy sleeper a couple of years ago, but who has now slipped into virtual oblivion. The 26-year-old DH/first baseman had another campaign where he mashed a bunch of home runs between the minors and majors but failed to gain a foothold at the major-league level. If Vargas does finally stick, the upside is a 20-25 home run season with a .260 batting average. The Twins’ history with Vargas suggests that he has little if any room for error, so the downside is a slow start and another fun summer eating garbage plates and country sweet wings in Rochester while patiently enduring the locals’ maddening affinity for saying “paaaaaahp” instead of soda. At their respective prices in redraft leagues, I’d rather take the flier on Vargas than Vogelbach for what amounts to the same short-term upside.

Byung-Ho Park – Twins ($3)
Plenty of fantasy excitement surrounded this Korean import last winter after he signed a four-year, $12 million deal with the Twins. Proponents gushed about Park’s back-to-back 50+ home run seasons in the KBO, while detractors wistfully shook their heads at his prodigious strikeout rates and said there was no way Park would be able to survive against big league pitching. Score one for the detractors in 2016. The 30-year-old first baseman started April with a bang, with six home runs in 73 plate appearances, but then saw his OPS tumble in May and crater in June before his demotion to Rochester.


The power potential is still enticing. Park’s 12 home runs in 244 big league plate appearances make him worth monitoring, but Park is a low-end auction flier or reserve pick.

A.J. Reed – Astros (-$1)
Few prospects had more buzz from a fantasy perspective than A.J. Reed did. He had all of 237 plate appearances above A-ball, but the University of Kentucky product was a polished hitter and it seemed likely that Reed would find his way to Houston at some point during the season. Sure enough, Reed tore through Triple-A and made his way to the Astros in late June and then…tanked. Everything fell apart for Reed, who looked lost at the plate and completely overmatched by major league pitchers. It is far too early to give up on him, but with another winter of aggressive acquisitions by the go-for-it now Astros front office, Reed is slated to start 2017 at Triple-A regardless of what he does in Spring Training. Talent almost always finds a way, but barring injury Reed is blocked. I’d still take a stab on him for a couple of bucks in a redraft league. Another half a year in the minors could be a blessing in disguise for Reed’s long term prospects, but it doesn’t help us fantasy managers in the here and now.

Trey Mancini – Orioles ($2)
Twenty-four hours ago, Mancini’s fantasy prospects looked way better than they do now. With Trumbo reportedly agreeing to terms with the Orioles on a three-year deal, there is no room at the inn for Mancini, who will likely return to Triple-A and wait for an injury with the big club. His bat could survive in the majors, though there is some debate among the prospect cognoscenti about how proficient Mancini would be against righties and if his slow bat would be exposed in a prolonged major league stint. He is a DH-only in leagues that only use major league games played. With no room on the big club and his lack of a fantasy position, Mancini is nothing more than a reserve pick in keeper leagues.

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