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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:
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.  Albert PujolsSTL CardinalsAge: 26B:R   T:R

An oblique strain cost Pujols three weeks in June, effectively costing him the NL MVP even though he outperformed Ryan Howard the rest of the season. Of course, Pujols still finished with career-best marks in homers, RBI, and slugging percentage. Continued development of his walk, contact, and ground-fly rates portend continued overall improvement for baseball's best batter, especially since he posted these outstanding power numbers despite batting only 535 times after totaling either 590, 591, or 592 at-bats in each of his first five seasons. With the addition of Adam Kennedy solidifying the top of the Cardinals' order, Pujols, who just turned twenty-seven last week, appears on the verge of a string of .325-50-150 seasons. Bid to $50 in any standard league for the most consistent power threat in the game.

2.  Ryan HowardPHI PhilliesAge: 26B:L   T:L

I can't imagine Howard hitting anywhere but cleanup after his explosive sophomore campaign, and although he didn't deserve the MVP, his overall skill growth provides plenty of reason to expect continued excellence from the young slugger. His walk rate shot from .10 in the first half to a stunning .29 mark after the break, buoyed by thirty-seven intentional passes on the season. While his contact rate remained just below .70, definitely indicating a high likelihood for his BA to fall below .300, I find no reason to expect any substantial power outage. Yes, Howard still could lose as many as a dozen homers after this career year, but feel confident when bidding hits $30 that you should see no less than a .290/40/120 season from him.

3.  Lance BerkmanHOU AstrosAge: 30B:S   T:L

Although Berkman suffered through a few minor lower-body injuries in 2006, he otherwise appeared completely recovered from his knee problems two winters ago. Yes, he still struggles against southpaws, and his plate discipline could edge upward a little more, but I consider him one of the safest bets in the game as one of the top ten pure hitters in baseball. The new Astros' order should feature Chris Burke atop the order and Carlos Lee hitting behind Berkman, providing welcome upgrades over the inconsistent production Houston received from those two lineup slots last year. Bid to $30 or more for Berkman with confidence that you're adding a .300/40/120 masher to your roster, along with at least some potential for a .330/50/150 season within the next couple of years.

4.  Adrian GonzalezSD PadresAge: 24B:L   T:L

Always considered a solid hitter with the potential to develop more power as he matured, Gonzalez apparently only needed an everyday job in the majors to begin excelling at the plate. The first pick of the 2000 draft only turns 25 this May, giving plenty of room to continue improving at the plate. Texas badly erred by giving up on him so soon, and while PETCO will limit Gonzalez's roto contributions in upcoming seasons, he still seems a good bet to total at least $20 annually as he approaches his prime. I view Gonzalez as an extremely solid investment in keeper leagues, as well as a reasonable pick in single-season leagues anywhere under $25, though if you slot him at first, you'll need extra power at an up-the-middle position since 30/100 looks like a hard ceiling for him at the moment.

5.  Nick JohnsonWAS NationalsAge: 28B:L   T:L

Johnson probably left upward of $24M on the table by signing his $16.5M/3 extension with the Nationals last spring as clubs like the Orioles and the Angels should have started bidding on him at $40/4. Instead he exchanged his first shot at free agency for a guarantee of lifetime security, a reasonable tradeoff given his health history. The best news here is that Johnson reached 500 at-bats for the first time, but a collision with Austin Kearns broke his right leg with only a week left in the season, an injury that might prevent Johnson from returning until this May. I don't anticipate any overt ramifications from the injury on his stats, and I still see the foundation for a .300/30/100 contributor here. Unfortunately, Johnson's repeated DL trips force a devaluation of that upside to the more reasonable hope of just a strong echo of his 2006 stats, again leaving him around $20.

First Base Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: You already know that the vast majority of auctions will see Ryan Howard hit salaries far beyond his worth. Albert Pujols similarly will cost a ton, though unlike Howard, he appears a far safer bet to reach a $40 value in 2007. Yet the best bet for a bargain among last season's best NL first basemen looks like Adrian Gonzalez, who by virtue of his age and the new pieces added by the Padres, stands a real chance to see continued improvement. Expect no less than a repeat of his 2006 stats this summer before a true breakout in 2008, most likely approaching $30.

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