As we continue around the infield, we will take a look at first base.
The Big Magilla is Albert Pujols. He will be head and shoulders better than anyone else who qualifies at the position and occupies the entire first tier by himself. If you are in a draft league, he is worthy of the first pick (regardless how your league values steals). If you are in an auction league, you will want to get him as a value and not overpay for him.
If you can’t land Phat Albert, the second tier consists of about seven guys who are mostly interchangeable: Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, Kevin Youkilis and Ryan Howard. All of these guys are power hitters who aren’t likely to help you with SBs.
If you miss out on the second tier, you can do well with the guys sitting in the third tier, but they all have warts: Adrian Gonzalez (crummy park, offense), Joey Votto (young and rather unpredictable), Carlos Pena (will you get the guy who struggled in the first half of 2008 or the guy who hit well in the second half?), James Loney (crummy park), Garrett Atkins (trade talk rumors, could be grabbed as a 3B), Derrek Lee (age), Adam Dunn (big swing, often misses), Casey Kotchman (can he fulfill his potential?) and Chris Davis (see Votto). Loney. Votto, and Kotchman are the guys I think who will take the next step in their advancement to becoming legitimate fantasy forces while Lee is becoming a victim of his age and will slowly watch his skills erode.
The real question in this group is Teixeira. Tex’s projected HR total looks a little low at 23 when he has averaged 35 for each of the last five seasons. Though I don’t doubt Tex’s power potential, I do question his desire and opportunities in 2009. He’s got a guaranteed contract for the next 8 years, so he doesn’t have to push himself. He’s never played home games this far north since high school and the weather will slow him in the first six weeks of the season. Yankee Stadium (new stadium has same dimensions as old) is tougher on right-handed hitters slowing his HR rate when he hits from the right side of the plate. Going to the A.L. East will provide tougher pitchers for him every night than he was used to in the A.L West or N.L. East. Yankees fans have a reputation of being tough on players not living up to their expectations and he’s used to very laid back crowds in Texas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Since Alex Rodriguez is hurt, Yankees fans will have to find another hitter to take their venom and Teixeira could be their victim of choice. By themselves, none of these reasons are worthy of projecting Tex any less than 30 HR’s for the season. But collectively, it makes me wonder if he’ll go deep as much in 2009 as he has in the past. Teixeira will still have a good batting average and drive in runs, but don’t look for a lot of bombs in 2009.
The depth is there for your fantasy team, but you have to figure out what you want and get him at the right time. The tough part is figuring out when to grab one and when to hold back, filling other positions. You DON’T want to be left holding an empty first base bag when all the second tier guys are gone. You don’t have to get Pujols, but the second tier guys are sure things while the third tier guys are a little sketchy in what they will give you.