When I first started collecting baseball cards in 1987, first basemen ruled the Major League landscape. There were six young surefire Hall-of-Famers at first (or so we thought at the time): Will Clark, Mark McGwire, Mark Grace, Fred McGriff, Don Mattingly and Wally Joyner. Hell, maybe even John Kruk or Andres Galarraga had the potential if my friends and I were feeling optimistic.
Pretty funny now to think the only man who played first baseman in 1987 who’ll ever step foot in the Hall as anything other than a visitor would end up being Eddie Murray.
(Side note: Eric Davis’ 1987 has to be one of the most ridiculous statistical years in baseball history. Don’t believe me? How about 120 runs, 37 homers, 100 RBI, 134 strikeouts, 50 steals [caught 6 times], .399 OBP, .593 SLG and a Gold Glove, even though he only played in 129 games.)
Nowadays it seems like finding a first baseman for your fantasy team is difficult, let alone easily snaring a guy all the 9-year-olds think is going to the Hall like we did back in ’87. In truth, first base has quietly become one of the deepest positions in baseball once again, there just aren’t as many sweet-swinging lefties as in the past. Here’s a list of the top 1B candidates for your fantasy team, which will be useful unless you’re lucky enough to get Rick Reilly’s favorite clean athlete.
1. Albert Pujols, Cardinals (2008: .357 AVG, 100 R, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 7 SB)
Unless The Sporting News gets it from a source that Pujols also failed a drug test in 2003, Pujols is an absolute no-brainer. Actually, even if he ends up wearing the Scarlet “S” he’s still the pick here, although Reilly would be forced to take back his virtual MVP awards from 2002-2004.
2. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (2008: .308 AVG, 102 R, 33 HR, 121 RBI, 2 SB)
I’m going against the consensus opinion on this ranking, as most sites have some guy named Miggy listed as the best non-Pujols 1B in fantasy. First off, Teixeira is hitting third for the Yankees, which is a far better situation than hitting fourth on the Tigers at Comerica Field, no matter how the new Yankee Stadium ends up playing. Also, for all the talk about Miguel Cabrera’s second-half stats, check out both players’ numbers after the 2008 All-Star Break:
Cabrera: .302 AVG, 42 R, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 0 SB
Teixeira: .366 AVG, 48 R, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 2 SB
Teixeira was a better hitter than Cabrera, he just drove in fewer runs — moving from Anaheim to New York should remedy that.
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (2008: .292 AVG, 85 R, 37 HR, 127 RBI, 1 SB)
Having Magglio Ordonez in front of you is a good thing. Having Carlos Guillen and a 40-year-old, rapidly deteriorating Gary Sheffield behind you is not. Cabrera’s upside may be higher, but I prefer consistency when it comes to my higher draft picks and Teixeira’s one of the more steady performers in baseball. Taking risks is for the later rounds.
4. Ryan Howard, Phillies (2008: .251 AVG, 105 R, 48 HR, 146 RBI, 1 SB)
Howard’s BA decreased for a second year in a row after hitting .313 with 58 HR in 2006, so your thoughts on how valuable Howard will be in 2009 depend on whether you think his plate discipline will get back to where it was before (he only walked 81 times in 2008 after 107 free passes in 2007 and 108 in 2008). You know what, who cares? Walks don’t count in 5×5 fantasy leagues, and Howard should hit at least .260 with 45 homers and 135 RBI’s. Can’t argue with that.
5. Lance Berkman, Astros (2008: .312 AVG, 114 R, 29 HR, 106 RBI, 18 SB)
The Phil Mickelson of baseball (just without the man-mammaries) had a legendary second half collapse after starting out the year as an MVP candidate, but I’m not ready to give up on Berkman just yet. First of all, Carlos Lee’s broken pinky took away Lance’s protection for the last 45 games of the year. Secondly, Berkman was one of the latest to be overcome by the Home Run Derby curse. That’s right, he got a case of the Abreus. Berkman didn’t hit a homer for 22 games after the All-Star Break (and a third-place finish in the Derby) after hitting 22 homers before the Break. And unless Berkman got real old all the sudden, he’ll also give you more steals than any other 1B out there.
6. Prince Fielder, Brewers (2008: .276 AVG, 86 R, 34 HR, 102 RBI, 3 SB)
84 homers over the last two seasons, but always the subject of trade rumors. I’m guessing it’s because he fights with teammates and talks too much about his eating habits. He’ll always hit for power, though.
7. Justin Morneau, Twins (2008: .300, 97 R, 23 HR, 129 RBI, 0 SB)
Can you believe he’s only 27? Kind of weird that won the AL MVP just two years ago and I almost ranked him behind Kevin Youkilis. A healthy Joe Crede would help Morneau greatly, although that may be too much to ask.
8. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox (2008: .312 AVG, 91 R, 29 HR, 115 RBI, 3 SB)
I’m a believer in Yook’s 2008 power surge…sort of. His eye didn’t get worse (Youkilis’ OBP was .390 for the second year in a row), so you know he wasn’t just swinging his ass off every time at the plate. Great eye, great lineup, but can he possibly hit 29 home runs after combining for 29 homers in 2006 and 2007? Remember, this is a guy who hit only 30 home runs in 1,407 minor league at-bats.
9. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres (2008: .279 AVG, 103 R, 36 HR, 119 RBI, 0 SB)
We all know the guy can hit, but can he withstand the lack of protection from San Diego’s incredible shrinking lineup? I mean, David Eckstein? Seriously? Even the Giants scoff at the 2009 Padres batting order.
10. Joey Votto, Reds (2008: .297 AVG, 69 R, 24 HR, 84 RBI, 7 SB)
Cincinnati is kind of a fun little sleeper pick, one that could either end up like last year’s Rays or Indians. If the Reds break out and contend in the Central it will likely be in large part to Votto, who’s hit for average and power at every level. A potential 30 HR/10 SB guy.
11. Chris Davis, Rangers (2008: .285 AVG, 51 R, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB)
Davis’ power numbers are silly (91 homers in 355 professional games) and so are his walk totals (20 in 315 plate appearances last year with Texas). Someone in your draft is going to reach and draft him far too early, then pat themselves on the back all night.
12. Carlos Pena, Rays (2008: .247 AVG, 76 R, 31 HR, 102 RBI, 1 SB)
His average will be only slightly better than awful, but he’s a guaranteed 30 homers and 100 runs batted in. Actually, hitting behind Evan Longoria for a full season probably means Pena’s good for at least 125 RBI’s.
13. Derrek Lee, Cubs (2008: .291 AVG, 93 R, 20 HR, 90 RBI, 8 SB)
Utterly disappointing last year, Lee stopped hitting home runs, stealing bases and became the only real bummer on a Chicago team that rollicked through the regular season. He won’t kill you in any one category, but don’t depend on him to anchor your team either.
14. Carlos Delgado, Mets (2008: .271 AVG, 91 R, 38 HR, 115 RBI, 1 SB)
Only 31 homers away from 500. If he gets there in 2009 he’s at least worthy of being ranked this high. Tough to trust him fully, though.
15. Adam Dunn, Nationals (2008: .236 AVG, 79 R, 40 HR, 100 RBI, 2 SB)
Anyone else get the feeling the Nats are going to be fun this year, a team that scores an ungodly amount of runs while losing 90-95 games? Either that, or Elijah Dukes and Dunn will get into the bloodiest locker room fight in baseball history, ending with Dunn’s head going through a flat screen TV.
16. Victor Martinez, Indians (2008: .278, 30 R, 2 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB)
As a fantasy first baseman, he’s a great catcher.
17. Aubrey Huff, Orioles (2008: .304 AVG, 96 R, 32 HR, 108 RBI, 4 SB)
What the hell happened last year? Anyway, Ty Wigginton will probably take away at-bats.
18. Pablo Sandoval, Giants (2008: .345 AVG, 24 R, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 0 SB)
Beats settling on Conor Jackson or Casey Kotchman, who I’m convinced are the same guy.
19. Jason Giambi, Athletics (2008: .247 AVG, 68 R, 32 HR, 96 RBI, 2 SB)
Reunited, and it feels so good…unless his body falls apart from roids.
20. Garrett Atkins, Rockies (2008: .286 AVG, 86 R, 21 HR, 99 RBI, 1 SB)
Solid over the past couple years, but Atkins might be on the (fantasy) waiver wire by June without Holliday around.