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AL First Basemen: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League First 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.  Justin MorneauMIN TwinsAge: 25B:L   T:R

One of the least deserving MVP candidates in years, Morneau not only barely ranked ahead of Paul Konerko among AL first baseman but finished the season far removed from teammates Johan Santana and Joe Mauer in actual value, not to mention the gap separating Morneau from the best player in the league, Derek Jeter. Of course, while Morneau didn't deserve the hardware, he still posted great numbers in 2006, taking particular advantage of the OBPs of Mauer and Mike Cuddyer to finish second in the league in RBI. The problem facing Morneau now is that while his skills supported a better BA than his .239 mark in 2005, they also portend a sharp decline from his 2006 BA, which will drag down all his other numbers. Even mild downturns from Nick Punto, Mauer, and Cuddyer also will sharply reduce Morneau's RBI opportunities, so although I certainly don't consider him a bad player, I expect him to finish 2007 closer to $20 than $30. Counting on anything more than a .300/30/100 season strikes me as overly optimistic given his limited skill growth last summer.

2.  Paul KonerkoCH White SoxAge: 30B:R   T:R

One of the most consistent power bats in baseball, Konerko didn't miss a beat after signing a five year extension for $60M, even increasing his OPS to a career-best .932 mark. However, a drop in his walk rate from .14 to .11 places him at severe risk for corresponding BA erosion this year, and with Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye unlikely to replicate their MVP-caliber performances, Konerko appears surprisingly exposed in the lineup. I consider $25 a fairly hard ceiling on his value despite the near certainly that he'll smack another 35 homers and 100+ RBI.

3.  Lyle OverbayTOR Blue JaysAge: 29B:L   T:L

While giving away David Bush, Gabe Gross, and Zach Jackson for Ty Taubenheim and Overbay still strikes me as a big win for the Brewers, Overbay at least gave the Jays a career year. The club rewarded him with a four-year contract for only $24M last week, and although his sharp decrease in patience concerns me, I suspect the security of a long-term deal will enable Overbay to relax at the plate, perhaps approaching the .300/.400/.500 upside suggested by his skills. I see a lot to like here, so despite the fact Overbay never will hit thirty homers or exceed 100 RBI by any significant amount, he remains an amazingly safe first base option, easily worth the $20-25 investment required to obtain his services in most AL leagues.

4.  Mark TeixeiraTEX RangersAge: 26B:S   T:R

With just two years until he hits free agency, Tex appears ready for a couple of seasons that will solidify him no less than a $100M contract. He turns 27 in April, and after four seasons in the majors, now owns the best skill set of his career. In 2006 he hit career-best marks of a .14 walk rate, 3.97 #P/PA, and a .97 G-F. While a slight dip to a .80 contact rate dropped his BA to his career norm and sapped several extra-base hits, Teixeira's second-half resurgence provides plenty of reason to suspect he'll approach a .291/.394/.604 performance this year. I still consider him the best AL first baseman in almost all fantasy formats, as well as ranking in the second tier of all first basemen with Ryan Howard and Lance Berkman, behind only Albert Pujols. You'll regret letting Tex go for less than $30, and depending on your league and inflation, pushing several bucks beyond that level just might make sense.

5.  Ben BroussardCLE/SEAAge: 30B:L   T:L

Obtaining Shin-soo Choo and a second prospect for Broussard qualifies as an absolute coup for the Indians, who obtained a comparable hitter with better defense at a far reduced cost. Broussard unsurprisingly collapsed in Seattle, though his performance still didn't justify the Mariners' insane decision to acquire Jose Vidro while retaining Broussard as a $3.5M backup. Of course, Broussard still possesses plenty of potential in the right situation, and as long as he avoids most left-handers, he could post $15 every year as a part-time first baseman or designated hitter. The problem with his current role is that he simply may not receive the playing time to produce more than a few bucks of value, so unless he heads somewhere like Atlanta or San Francisco during spring training, he won't merit more than endgame COR consideration despite his potential to emerge as a great keeper for 2008 if he lands a starting job by next spring.

6.  Richie SexsonSEA MarinersAge: 31B:R   T:R

Sexson nearly repeated his 2005 season as he merely traded five homers for four doubles and somehow walked twenty-five fewer times, resulting in irritating RBI and Run decreases. He isn't going to approach .300 any time soon, and considering his abysmal second half, even a repeat of his 2006 stats would please me. Yes, Sexson offers the virtual certainty of 30-40 homers and 100-130 RBI, but he adds little in any other category. We generally avoid one-dimensional power hitters with no BA upside, and while I won't recommend you automatically follow our lead, pushing past $20 for Sexson just makes no sense to me.

7.  Jason GiambiNY YankeesAge: 35B:L   T:R

Adding Doug Mientkiewicz and Josh Phelps to the roster demonstrates New York's commitment to slot Jason Giambi at DH permanently. Considering his general fragility, I don't complete disagree with that move, though this reminds me of Chicago's issues with Frank Thomas as Giambi owns a .277/.431/.588 output in 600 AB at first over the past three seasons while only managing a .219/.382/.451 line in 517 AB at DH. His skill set isn't going to change at this point, so realistically the Yankees just want to stem his inevitable as much as possible. Hitting behind Damon, Jeter, Abreu, and ARod at least guarantees that Giambi only needs to stay healthy to smack another 100 RBI, but with his BA lodged near .250 over the past four years, he realistically barely qualifies as a $15 player. Unless you can cushion this acquisition with multiple .300 hitters elsewhere in your lineup, let someone else run the risk of paying $20 for less than $10 of stats if his wrist surgery doesn't fix Giambi's biggest bugaboo from 2006.

8.  Kevin YoukilisBOS Red SoxAge: 27B:R   T:R

Slotted at first base and then left alone, the Greek God of Walks totaled 91 free passes, providing the Red Sox with a .385 leadoff OBP that the club desperately needed. With his 4.42 #P/PA and .66 G-F, I anticipate further power development from Youkilis this summer as he returns to the #2 hole between either Julio Lugo or Coco Crisp and the monster heart-of-the-order of David Ortiz, Manny, and J.D. Drew. Youkilis could total both 100 runs and RBI, so if he avoids the second-half malaise that seemingly plagued the entire lineup, he could hit $20 without difficulty. Consider Youkilis a good roto investment anywhere around $15, a value that increases in direct proportion to how heavily your scoring system leans towards sabermetrics

9.  Greg NortonTB Devil RaysAge: 34B:S   T:R

Fresh from spending all of 2005 stuck at Triple-A with the White Sox, Norton parlayed an NRI with Tampa into the best year of his career as he spent time at first, DH, and both outfield corners. The problem Norton now faces is that the expected return to form of Jonny Gomes, coupled with the additions of Delmon Young, Akinori Iwamura, Elijah Dukes, and B.J. Upton to the roster, leaves precious few at-bats for journeyman certain not to play a role in the club's approaching playoff run. Norton barely appears assured of a roster spot, and he likely only will remain with the Rays until a 2007 contender offers a decent young pitcher in exchange for his services. While he might smack another dozen homers while holding a decent BA, I see no reason to treat Norton as more than an endgame COR option for clubs running short of cash.

10.  Nick SwisherOAK AthleticsAge: 26B:S   T:L

With the defensive acumen to handle any outfield position or possibly develop into a Gold Glover at first base, Swisher appears Oakland's most valuable asset right now given his age, bat, and defensive flexibility. He continued developing right on schedule, compiling a skill set featuring a .17 walk rate, 4.10 #P/PA, and .74 G-F, with a .73 contact rate his only obvious problem. While he hit seventh in the playoffs, his combination of OBP and power makes him a perfect #2 option for new manager Bob Geren, so we could see an increase in at-bats push Swisher over 40 homers and 100 RBI. Of course, his strikeouts also leave him vulnerable to some regression. He also appears locked around $20 due to his low BA. However, I generally consider Swisher a solid candidate to continue improving after only turning 26 in the fall.

11.  Robb QuinlanLA AngelsAge: 29B:R   T:R

A healthy Quinlan returned to his lefty-smashing ways as he managed a .326/.356/.536 output in 138 AB against southpaws, a performance that insures he'll remain in the lineup against most left-handers this summer, most likely as the platoon partner for Casey Kotchman or Kendry Morales. Of course, with continued skill erosion placing his high BA in severe jeopardy of a significant decrease, Quinlan could easily finish 2007 closer to $0 than $10. He also could echo this campaign very strongly. We generally avoid players with this much inherent variation in their limited skill sets, so although Quinlan won't hurt you for a buck or two, he also lacks the upside offered by the vast majority of first baseman available in the endgame of most drafts.

First Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: First base in the American League remains an amazingly tough position to fill. Grabbing Tex for about $30 isn't a bad idea, though if the bidding on him goes through the roof, the list of useful options dwindles quickly. Konerko and Overbay aren't for about $25, Youkilis and Swisher look good for $20, and then unless everyone in your league dislikes Morneau for 2007 as much as we do, spending more than $15 for anyone else on the board doesn't appear a wise move. Looking at crossovers like Ryan Shealy or players returning to the infield like Aubrey Huff and Casey Blake appears far preferable for overpaying one of these other guys.

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