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NL First Basemen: Day Three

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.

15.  Derrek LeeCH CubsAge: 31B:R   T:R

Coming off a career year wherein Lee finished 3rd in NL MVP balloting, won his second Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger awards, made his first All-Star team, and led the league in BA, SLG, OPS, hits, doubles, and total bases, only mild regression seemed inevitable. Instead Lee signed a $65/5 extension in April and then broke his right wrist ten days later. He missed ten weeks on the DL, struggled at the plate for a couple of weeks in the middle of summer, and then returned to the DL in mid-July with further wrist inflammation. At least he returned for September, but he left the team in mid-month to tend to his ailing daughter, only seeing the field again as a pinch-hitter on the final weekend of the season. While Jada Lee hasn't recovered the vision in her right eye, Derrek Lee at least should enter camp free of further physical distractions. With Aramis Ramirez secured in the cleanup hole, Alfonso Soriano leading off, and some combination of Mark DeRosa and Ryan Theriot occupying the second slot, Lee appears perfectly positioned to rebound toward his 2005 level of dominance. Seeing anything less than a $30 campaign from him would surprise me considering his skills barely budged last summer despite his injuries.

16.  Olmedo SaenzLA DodgersAge: 36B:R   T:R

Simply one of the game's great lefty mashers, Saenz posted a .315/.393/.618 performance against southpaws in 238 AB over the past three years. The fact that his BA fell more than sixty points versus right-handed pitchers over that same plan explains why his fantasy value rises the less he plays. His current role suits Saenz perfectly since he'll see perhaps half his at-bats as a pinch-hitter, only occasionally starting depending on the Dodgers' opponents and the available alternatives. With Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, James Loney, and Marlon Anderson all prepared to play first base in LA and Nomar, Kent, Wilson Betemit, and Ramon E. Martinez able to cover third, Saenz could see his at-bats drop below 150 even though I anticipate little change his dollar value. He really only belongs on your reserve list as roster filler, though teams that blow their draft budget on stars won't suffer if they let a $1 Saenz cover COR for a month or two.

17.  Sean CaseyPIT/DETAge: 32B:L   T:R

Last April Casey collided with Cubs' first baseman John Mabry, fracturing his back in two places and losing six weeks to the DL. He returned for June, registered his normal superficially impressive stats for two months, failed to secure a contract extension from the Pirates, and then headed to Detroit at the deadline for Brian Rogers. The Tigers, tired of watching Chris Shelton struggled after his scorching debut, kept Casey in the everyday lineup despite his woeful .245/.286/.364 output. While a torn calf muscle sidelined him in the ALCS, Casey returned for the World Series and somehow convinced Dave Dombrowski that he merited a one-year extension at $4M. At least he should contribute a far superior BA and OBP compared to his 2006 AL stats, but he offers far less upside than Shelton or even Marcus Thames. However, I see some opportunity for a nice profit here considering the combination of his limited power potential and injury-plagued 2006. You might nab nearly $20 of value for scarcely half that cost depending on where you toss him in your auction.

18.  Craig WilsonPIT/NYYAge: 29B:R   T:R

While the Rays' Andrew Friedman conducted a clinic in dealing pending free agents and spare parts for real prospects and the Royals' Dayton Moore spent the summer reloading his club with young starters, Pittsburgh's Dave Littlefield traded Oliver Perez for a mostly mediocre 1B/OF while netting a couple of relief prospects for Sean Casey and Kip Wells. However, no deal proved a more egregious betrayal of the Pirates' ostensible rebuilding as the deal that sent Craig Wilson to the Yankees for Shawn Chacon, who cost more than Wilson despite failing to exceed replacement level in almost every year of his career. Wilson, finally freed from a club that perennially focused on his weaknesses rather than his strengths, flopped with the Yankees, but the one-year deal he signed with the Braves last week gives him a great chance to reemerge as no less than a solid platoon player. I expect to see both Wilson's best BA since his 2001 debut and another year of double-digit homers, making him a decent sleeper cornerman for $4-6.

19.  Ryan ShealyCOL/KCAge: 27B:R   T:R

Dayton Moore's masterstroke last summer liberated Shealy from Todd Helton's shadow on the Rockies, also netting Scott Dohmann for only Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista, two pitchers that clearly no longer benefited from their jobs on the Royals. Following Shealy's .284/.351/.568 performance with 15 HR, 55 RBI, and a 20:34 BB:K in 222 AB for AAA Colorado Springs(PCL), he immediately prospered upon his installation at first base in Kansas City. His failure to crack an .800 OPS actually might depress his value in the short-term, but since I see no reason Shealy shouldn't improve during his first full year in the majors, he appears a good target in every AL league. I expect him to spend the next few seasons hitting behind Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Mark Teahen, giving him an excellent shot at annual 30/100 contributions to your fantasy team. Plus, since unexpected struggles with left-handers limited him last summer, a rebound against southpaws could send his BA toward .300. Bid to $20 without hesitation for this budding power stud.

20.  Julio FrancoNYNAge: 48B:R   T:R

Illustrating Franco's age with vivid examples remains a crutch for columnists looking for a break, though simply reminding everyone that he turned 48 in August seems fair. I also can't ignore the fact the he debuted in the majors the same year as Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs, two years earlier than Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and before birth of 2006 teammates David Wright, Jose Reyes, Anderson Hernandez, Mike Pelfrey, and Philip Humber. While Franco only managed a .250/.318/.350 performance as a pinch-hitter, his .307/.337/.409 averages as a first baseman, combined with his respectable plate discipline, suggest that he could remain at his current level into his fifties. Of course, his age and bench role mean that Franco only owns scant fantasy upside, but I also see no reason to expect more significant regression. Feel free to employ him as low-risk roster filler when needed.

21.  James LoneyLA DodgersAge: 22B:L   T:L

Please refer to our Post-2006 Prospect Review: Los Angeles(N) for my comments on Loney.

First Base Week concludes tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Grab Derrek Lee if your league lets you have him around $30. Ryan Shealy seems a similar value around $20 in AL circuits. Owners in keeper leagues definitely also should target James Loney at anything shy of $10, however the other quartet of players here really look like little more than COR afterthoughts at best. Leaving the draft table with any of them as your starting first baseman places you at an unwelcome disadvantage compared to everyone else in your league.

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