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NL Third Basemen: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Third Basemen with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
B = Bats.  T = Throws.  Age = Player's Age as of October 1, 2006.
Proj. = Rotohelp's projected 2006 stats and fantasy values for each player.
2006 = Each player's final 2006 stat line and fantasy values.
AB = At-bats.  H = Hits.  BA = Batting Average.  HR= Home Runs.
RBI = Runs Batted In.  SB = Stolen Bases.  R = Runs.
Pos = Position qualification based on 20 appearances or max. # of games in 2006.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement; aRAR = RAR adjusted to
consider a player's 2006 defensive rating in Scoresheet fantasy baseball.

We ranked players by position 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 all players in the league where they began the season.

1.  Miguel CabreraFLO MarlinsAge: 23B:R   T:R

The best young hitter in baseball next to Albert Pujols, Cabrera, who just turns 24 this April, appears set to enjoy an extremely productive run of seasons. While he hit seven fewer homers and drove home two fewer runners, increases in his batting average, runs, and steals helped him maintain extremely solid roto value. More importantly, Cabrera boosted his walk rate from .10 to .15, his contact rate from .80 to .81, and upped his doubles from 43 to 50 in nearly forty fewer at-bats, demonstrating welcome skill growth without allowing any splits of note to develop. He posted a .998 OPS in both halves and a platoon split of only three points of OPS. With the Marlins' lineup only likely to improve over the next few seasons, Cabrera ranks among the safest fantasy bets in the game. Feel free to push $40 in any league with even a modicum of inflation.

2.  David WrightNYNAge: 23B:R   T:R

Wright's five-category fantasy contribution and impressive patience makes him an excellent option in any format, although we really hope that Willie Randolph will elevate Wright in the Mets' batting order soon. Despite negligible skill evolution, he still seems due for a true breakout within the next couple of seasons, and if you sense any hesitation at your draft table, snap him up without a second thought. Yes, he's four months older than Miguel Cabrera and remains strikeout-prone, but anyone with the potential for a .330-40-130-30-110 season merits significant attention in any league, as well as more interest at $40 than Cabrera courtesy of his superior speed skills.

3.  Garrett AtkinsCOL RockiesAge: 26B:R   T:R

I don't know why I expect Atkins, who reached the majors with a .317 career average in more than two thousand minor league at-bats, to regress to a .280 mark in his sophomore season. Yes, he entered the season as merely a transitional member of the Rockies' rebuilding project, theoretically only keeping third base warm for Ian Stewart because of questions about Atkins' power projection. The budding All-Star soundly quelled doubters by dropping his ground-fly rate from 1.54 to .99, enabling him to take full advantage of Coors Field to finish among the top five NL hitters in BA, hits, doubles, and RBI. While he crushed southpaws and excelled against all pitchers at home, he still posted an OPS well above .900 both against right-handers and during road games. Given his positive skill trends across-the-board, an outstanding second-half performance, and his new role as the lynchpin of the Rockies' offense in the #3 hole, Atkins should take another step forward quantitatively. Expect nothing less than a strong echo of his 2006 fantasy value with a small chance for a bump of a few bucks.

4.  Chipper JonesATL BravesAge: 34B:S   T:R

Reworking his contract in November of 2005 guarantees that Chipper will remain with the Braves through 2008 even with Andruw Jones almost certain to depart after this season. The good news is that Jeff Francoeur's developing power will keep Chipper nestled in a comfortable lineup slot, where the veteran can employ his excellent hitting skills to maximum effectiveness when able to take the field. Injuries remain Chipper's primary foe as he hasn't exceeded 475 at-bats since 2003. Foot problems troubled him throughout the first half last summer, and then oblique issues limited him to 138 AB after the break. I want to endorse these pure hitting skills, but with a likely BA drop diminishing Chipper's highest category contribution, bidding much beyond $20 involves plenty of risk even before considering that he invariably will miss four-to-six weeks, forcing you to FAAB a replacement from the weak pool of available third basemen.

5.  Aramis RamirezCH CubsAge: 28B:R   T:R

Recipient of the second major contract in a year-long Cubs' spending spree headed toward a half billion in total contracts if Carlos Zambrano lands his expected extension before the season starts, Ramirez's $73/5 deal appears fairly reasonable given his stats to date and anticipated future performance. He emerged as the sole Chicago regular to remain productive while avoiding the DL in 2006, nicely improving his plate discipline and quantitative numbers despite spending the year behind OBP sinkholes Ronny Cedeno and Neifi Perez. The presence of Alfonso Soriano and Mark DeRosa in front of Derrek Lee gives Ramirez a shot at a .300-40-140 campaign, which easily warrants bids approaching $30 in most leagues. He enters his tenth major league season in April despite only turning twenty-nine in June, so don't be surprised if Ramirez begins a string of forty-homer summers. Owners seeking pure power should target him in all leagues.

6.  Ryan ZimmermanWAS NationalsAge: 22B:R   T:R

While the Nationals remain a franchise in near total disarray, Zimmerman remains a superb centerpiece for the long-term rebuilding of the team. Yet with Alfonso Soriano and Jose Vidro gone, no position prospects of note between potential starting outfielder Kory Casto and 2006 first rounder Chris Marrero, and an outfield more likely to feature Nook Logan and Alex Escobar than OBP assets Chris Snelling and Ryan Church, Zimmerman enjoys little support from his teammates in his quest to avoid a serious sophomore slump. The 2005 first rounder only turned 22 in September, and while I see a lot to like in his skills, his fantasy value easily could slip into the teens next summer. Sharing the offensive load with Nick Johnson and Austin Kearns at least will mitigate some of the dropoff for Washington, but unless a clear leadoff hitter emerges, I don't see sufficient available baserunners for Zimmerman to post much more than 90 RBI. Only bid to $20 if looking to add a long-term asset with the expectation of a slight loss in 2007.

7.  Scott RolenSTL CardinalsAge: 31B:R   T:R

Despite nicely rebounding from the shoulder injury that short-circuited his 2005 season, Rolen failed to reemerge as the All-Star slugger from previous seasons. At least a half-dozen NL third baseman appear better gambles this year, so though I expect to see at least one more $30 campaign from the Cardinals' second-best player, I see little reason to push much past $20 for him right now. Without any inclining of skill growth or other pending improvement, the usual bids near $30 for Rolen only appear logical if his spring training performance suggests that the extra year of recovery from his health problems will lead to better stats despite his worrisome second-half breakdown.

Third Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Bloated injury histories may create bargain out of Chipper and Rolen, but neither of these veterans possesses any significant fantasy potential. Conversely, drafting Cabrera, Wright, or Atkins adds a third baseman to your squad barely reaching his prime at worst. I see little downside to investing upward of $30 in one of these young studs, and with the wealth of high-upside options available among NL third basemen, only roster veterans at obvious discounts.

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