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NL First Basemen: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League First Basemen with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.  B = Bats.  T = Throws.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2005.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider a player's 2005 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Derrek Lee594199.33546107151201
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:R    T:R514989.9103

Only the Cubs' general atrociousness kept Lee from winning the NL MVP in a year where he spent most of the season challenging for the Triple Crown while matching or exceeding Albert Pujols's numbers in almost every category of note. Of course, Lee's historically lower baseline, coupled with some second-half erosion, suggests he should slide toward his career norms this summer. However, RBI improvement could balance part of his BA/HR decline with the Cubs virtually certain to employ superior OBP threats at the top of the lineup. Nothing here prevents me from recommending Lee as a good option even if bidding crests slightly above $40.

Albert Pujols591195.33041117161291
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:R    T:R494879.387.4

Pujols received the NL MVP virtually as a lifetime achievement award after four years of finishing just behind Barry Bonds. The amazing part of his performance was that he suddenly added serious speed without an overt decrease in any of his other abilities. A lower double total and some regression in his contact rate concern me, however his overall output over the past few years ranks among the best stretches of the best players in history. Having just turned 26 last week, Pujols appears prepared to maintain this level of excellence indefinitely. He deserves bids in the $40-50 range more than any other player in baseball.

Carlos Delgado521157.301331150811
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:L    T:R272647.347.3

Elbow problems sporadically bothered Delgado throughout the year, even causing him to spend a couple weeks on the DL in August, but Toronto clearly should have kept the veteran slugger, who shrugged off the injury to post another strong season despite exchanging the SkyDome for Dolphins Stadium. His move to the Mets this fall should lead him to trade a little power to maintain a .300+ BA, an impressive accomplishment for an aging slugger. You will not see much profit in bidding around $30 for Delgado, but given his overall situation and solid skill foundation, he deserves that fantasy salary for the virtual certainty of a .300/30/100 season.

Todd Helton509163.32020793921
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32B:L    T:L272753.566.5

The recent revelation that Helton suffered from a back injury all year long nicely explains his power outage, especially when combined with a calf problem that cost him a couple weeks and elbow issues that required minor surgery this week, making plenty of excuses for his RBI output dropping for a fifth straight season. The good news is that Helton still owns one of the best skill sets in baseball, clobbered the ball in the second half, and produces simply outstanding stats when playing at home. An expected quantitative rebound will push him back toward $35 and improvement from the rest of the Rockies' young offense similarly should boost his numbers. Helton returns to the status of a must-own in national contests and a very valuable asset in any other league.

Chad Tracy503155.30827723731O
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:L    T:R252431.442.2

Returning to third base as the undisputed starter could lead to scary value for Tracy, who turns 26 in May as he heads into his third big league season. He finally grew into his power skills down the stretch, hinting at an upside in the neighborhood of .320/40/120 sometime in the next few years. Tracy hitting third in an Arizona order that soon will include Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, and Justin Upton creates an outstanding opportunity for anyone who can roster Tracy this spring. Consider him as a solid investment anywhere below $30.

Lance Berkman468137.29324824761O
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29B:S    T:L212136.832.9

Berkman missed the first month of 2005 after tearing his ACL while playing unauthorized flag football in November of 2004. His knee continued to bother him the entire season and required minor surgery earlier this week to finish repairing the injury. Considering he only suffered minor skill erosion despite the injury, I view his second-half averages of .291/.419/.575 as a reasonable baseline for evaluating Berkman's 2006 upside. Spending the year at first base also will allow him to concentrate on offense, likely resulting in the reemergence of Berkman as one of baseball's best hitters.

Tony Clark349106.30430870471
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33B:S    T:R211935.733.5

Few players handled pending free agency with less dexterity than Clark. Rather than acknowledging Conor Jackson as imminent heir to the Arizona first base job, Clark foolishly signed a two-year extension shortly after the Diamondbacks promoted Jackson, which essentially leaves Clark on the bench until he turns 36. He even owns a no-trade clause for this season, limiting Arizona's options to move him. I expect an injury somewhere like Minnesota to fix this problem with Clark moving to a true contender before his resurgence dissipates, but with no less than a reasonable chance of him spending another year in Phoenix, he simply does not deserve more than fairly minimal bids. Jackson may own the best batting skills of any rookie in the game, and only a complete meltdown by the youngster will allow Clark back into double digits.

Sean Casey529165.3129582751
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31B:L    T:R202013.417.4

Departing the Reds for his hometown Pirates places Casey in a rather unenviable position, seemingly only set at first base until Brad Eldred gains a few more months of minor league seasoning. He looks like a prime candidate to switch clubs at the trading deadline, though I conversely will not be surprised if a couple of good months lead to another extension for the traditionally overrated veteran. Most fantasy players recognize that Casey offers little more than a quality BA boost, especially since leaving the GAB for PNC will cut his power output. Hesitate before bidding into the teens for a such a one-dimensional player.

Nick Johnson453131.28915743661
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27B:L    T:L161620.116.6

Barring the swift sale of the Nationals to an ownership group that hires a GM like Paul DePodesta, Johnson probably will not remain with the club past the trade deadline. His .408 OBP and good glovework could make him a perfect fit for the Red Sox or any other team looking for a quality #2 hitter. Of course, simply playing at least 130 games for the second time will make the season a success for Johnson, who only merits more than $15 in deeper leagues that allow you to stash an alternative on reserve.

Adam Dunn543134.2474010141071O
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:L    T:R161831.927.5

Hopefully, the Reds will cease considering dealing Austin Kearns or Wily Mo Pena and instead focus on Dunn, who absolutely must receive either a long-term contract or a new address by the trade deadline. With plenty of upside in these skills and an established baseline of .250/40/100, Dunn could explode as he enters his power prime. Boosting his contact rate from .66 to .69 while only losing a little power suggests a .280/50/120 campaign looks surprisingly plausible. Bid well into the $20s for the quantitative output here and hope that the pending BA rebound will leave him with a neutral average at worst.

Lyle Overbay537148.27619721801
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28B:L    T:L131514.322.5

With developing plate discipline and a much nicer home park, Overbay appears set for a career year after joining Toronto. In the middle of an order that features him as the primary left-hander offsetting Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, and Shea Hillenbrand, Overbay will remain an everyday player with significantly improved RBI opportunities. Of course, all the publicity afforded him this winter could lead to bidding wars on draft day, but if he slips under $20, Overbay could net you a small profit.

Ryan Howard31290.28822630521
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:L    T:L131319.919.9

Two months of clobbering the International League resulted in a .371/.467/.690 output for Howard with 16 HR, 54 RBI, and a 39:66 BB:K in 210 AB for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre(IL). Fortunately for the Phillies and Howard, a Jim Thome injury cleared first base in the second half, allowing Howard to compile a stat line that won him the NL Rookie of the Year in just three months of work. Although he only managed a .68 contact rate and 1.46 G-F, his tremendous power potential placed in Citizens Bank Park makes .275/30/100 a reasonable minimum performance for Howard. Continued development will elevate him among the game's best power hitters, and with plenty of RBI opportunities provided by Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, and Chase Utley, Howard absolutely merits bids to $25 based on his likely stats alone. Owners willing to gamble on his .300/50/125 upside should feel free to push even higher.

First Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: If you cannot land one of the top six studs to anchor your club, wait until an obvious bargain emerges rather than splurging on anyone else. Obtaining a first baseman that contributes both qualitatively and quantitatively remains the preferred course of action, but especially in keeper leagues, try to find someone you can deal for that upgrade during the year rather than settling for a middling $15 player unlikely to turn a profit.

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