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NL First Basemen: Day Two
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.

Jeff Conine335102.3043332421O
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39B:R    T:R996.56.5

Shoulder surgeries last winter left Conine with his lowest homer total since before becoming Mr. Marlin in 1993. A reverse platoon split further decreased his utility to Florida, however an unexpected BA surge pushed him near double-digit value despite his diminished quantitative output. Returning to Baltimore may enable him to echo these numbers for one more year, but given his overall skill trends, gambling more than a minimal amount on a part-time Conine does not make much sense.

Adam LaRoche451117.25920780531
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25B:L    T:L990.1-0.9

Although I expect Atlanta to find a platoon partner for LaRoche, the Braves may see how their developing first baseman performs in a full-time capacity after dispatching top prospect Andy Marte, the best alternative to LaRoche in the organization. I at least see a few positive trends here, positioning LaRoche for a leap forward following his 26th birthday in December. He needs to register significant improvement this summer or risk ceding his job to Jarrod Saltalamacchia over the next couple of seasons. I do not see LaRoche as the All-Star masher Atlanta wants behind the Joneses, but with intriguing power potential, he warrants bids to the teens in the hope of a .280/25/90 breakout.

Mark Sweeney22165.2948404311
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35B:L    T:L9812.511.3

The quietly productive Sweeney somehow remained an offensive force despite moving from Colorado to San Diego. He ranked among the game's top pinch-hitters, performing especially well in the first half in which he registered .292/.411/.517 in 120 AB. His two-year deal with San Francisco now gives him the first opportunity of his career as a regular, likely platooning with Lance Niekro at first base. Of course, Sweeney may remain more effective in a limited role, but given his skills, I see no logical reason he for him to not thrive as a starter. Feel free to bid several bucks on someone quite capable of compiling a $15 season if given 400 AB.

Olmedo Saenz31984.26315630391
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 35B:R    T:R773.50.1

Somehow Saenz actually avoided the DL all season, earning a two-year extension in December despite obvious skill erosion and no guarantee of any regular playing time. All of the Dodgers' free agent signings leave Saenz as little more than a capable pinch-hitter. I suspect any injuries suffered by Bill Mueller or Nomar Garciaparra simply will result in the promotion of Willy Aybar or James Loney as Los Angeles begins to phase in their cresting wave of prospects. Treat Saenz as little more than reliable roster filler capable of earning perhaps a couple bucks of profit on a Dollar Days ante.

Julio Franco23364.2759424301
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 47B:R    T:R765.24

I never expected to agree with the logic behind awarding a forty-six-year-old pinch-hitter a two-year contract, however Franco moves to the Mets on a big league contract that insures the club will not need to deploy Chris Woodward at first base. Franco at least still possesses relatively respectable skills, albeit little overt power potential and therefore only minimal quantitative upside. Do not bother employing him as more than roster filler since his at-bats could drop toward 150 as long as Carlos Delgado stays healthy.

Brad Wilkerson565140.24811578761O
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28B:L    T:L68-6.3-5.1

We nearly jumped for joy upon learning of Wilkerson's trade to Texas. We own him in a sim league and spent the year trying to comprehend how his homer total dropped from 32 to 11 despite virtually no change in his skills. In retrospect, he suffered from back, forearm, and shoulder injuries throughout the season, and his production against right-handed pitchers cratered. He now takes his 4.21 #P/PA and .66 G-F to a Ranger lineup where he should hit leadoff ahead of All-Stars Mike Young, Mark Teixeira, and Hank Blalock, presenting Wilkerson with a superb opportunity to quadruple his roto value this summer. The change in parks alone gives him an extra twenty points of BA and a couple of home runs. I consider him a mortal lock to push $20, and although I do not deem him a dynamic sleeper due to the obviousness of his likely rebound, his upside still merits going that extra buck in most leagues.

Daryle Ward407106.26012630461
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30B:L    T:L66-5.6-9.9

An extremely forgettable season for Ward effectively ended with Brad Eldred's promotion in mid-July. While Ward compiled a .274/.336/.463 performance in 281 AB in the first half, he slumped to a meager .230/.270/.278 output after the break. His disappearing production and consistent platoon split kept him from finding more than a minor league deal this winter, and even a contract with the Nationals does not insure much time in the majors for him this year with Larry Broadway nearly ready to replace Nick Johnson. Given the difference in parks between PNC and RFK, only teams with a dire need for power should consider Ward a viable option this year.

Xavier Nady32685.26113432401O
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26B:R    T:R66-2.4-3.9

Omar Minaya severely erred in dispatching Mike Cameron in one of the winter's earliest deals for Nady, who offers nothing that Victor Diaz does not provide. Waiting just a few more weeks would have allowed Minaya to offer Cameron and pitching to the Red Sox for Manny Ramirez, perhaps Minaya's primary goal since taking control of the Mets. Although Nady enters camp as the likely starting right fielder, Diaz could win the job, Lastings Milledge will receive a long look in camp, and Minaya could acquire a veteran like Aubrey Huff or Jay Payton at any time. However, due to the BA boost awarded anyone departing PETCO for Shea Stadium, Nady could earn $15-20 if he exceeds 400 AB. We need to remember that he ranked among the top college hitters for a couple years and still owns plenty of power potential. Consider him a solid bargain anywhere in single digits.

First Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: While Brad Wilkerson ranks as a blindingly obvious candidate to return to his former level of production in Texas, a couple of younger veterans discussed above merely qualify as strong sleepers. Both Adam LaRoche and Xavier Nady could double their 2005 values without significant effort, making them both excellent targets for your corner hole in NL leagues.

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