2009 Fantasy Baseball Preview: First Basemen

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If you do a detailed search for rankings of first basemen for your 2009 fantasy league, the only consistent thing you’ll see is: 1. Albert Pujols, STL.

After King Albert, first basemen ranked 2 through 7 is a toss up. Some fantasy pundits believe Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera is the next best 1B after Pujols, while others still feel that Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard deserves the No. 2 spot. One of the Yankees’ big offseasons signings, Mark Teixeira, is also getting some love behind Pujols, while Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, Minnesota’s Justin Morneau and San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez are floating anywhere from No. 4 to No. 7.

What’s the deal? After Pujols, how do you value the first basemen that fall 2 through 7? By home run totals? By age? In the case of Fielder, by the size of their waistbands? First and foremost, you can’t go wrong with any of the first basemen in the top 7, if not the top 10. They’ll all give you good to great home run and RBI totals and if you’re lucky, a couple will even hit .300 and produce 100 runs.

In an effort to sort out the mess, here’s the way we see the top 7 for first basemen in 2009:

Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
There’s no debate – Pujols is still the Ferrari of first basemen. Sure, you’ll have to worry about him breaking down throughout the season, but word is he’s healthy and he has always been consistent. There’s no reason he won’t accomplish what he did last year (.357-37-116-100) and there’s no reason to believe he’s slowing down at 29. He’s a stud – there’s not much else to say.

Miguel CabreraMiguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Many owners expected Cabrera’s move from South Florida to Motown to be an instant hit from the start but much like the Tigers themselves, Miguel struggled early on. But unlike Detroit’s miserable season, Cabrera wound up finishing with solid numbers, hitting .292 with 37 home runs and producing 127 ribbies and 85 runs scored. Now that he’s got a full season in the AL under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t top the .300 mark in average this year and come close to the home run, RBI and run totals he produced a season ago. A healthy Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield would go a long way in helping Cabrera put up big numbers in ’08, as well. Added bonus: he still qualifies as a third basemen, too, which gives him more value than Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeria, Justin Morneau and Prince Fielder.

Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Teixeira could make a case for being No. 2 behind Pujols, but not unlike other fantasy pundits, we believe that Cabrera could have an MVP-type season this year in Detroit. Teixeira won’t match Howard’s home run or RBI totals, but he could bat close to 50 points higher with much fewer strikeouts. Teixeira will also benefit from playing in a loaded Yankees’ lineup and at 28 years old, he’s in the prime of his career.

Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
After signing a three-year, $54 million contract in early February, Howard doesn’t have to worry about his future until 2012. Howard is what he is at this point; he’ll hit 45-plus home runs, produce 140-plus RBIs and score 100-plus runs. His average will also hover in the .260-range and he once again won’t be afraid of the K (he had 199 strikeouts in ’08). Some feel as though Howard is still the second best option at first base after Pujols, but we favor Cabrera’s potential and Teixeira’s balanced numbers more. Still, Howard’s a beast and if you’re able to grab him early in your draft, you could focus on players that can hit for average later on.

Justin Morneau, Minnesota Twins
Morneau is just clutch ain’t he? Not only does he hit for average (.300), but his high RBI totals also make him a fantastic catch and he has 25-plus home run potential. He’ll also chip in close to 100 runs, 50 doubles and has a solid 76-walk to 85-strikeout ratio. We’ll give him the nod over Fielder because while he can’t match Prince’s home run potential, Morneau trumps him in all other categories and is only two years older.

Prince FielderPrince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
What happened? After a fantastic 2007 campaign, Fielder ditched the meat for an all-veggie diet and his numbers dropped last year. He’s still going to hit 40 home runs and produce 100-plus RBIs, but his average will likely top out around .280 and he won’t hit many doubles (30) or triples (2). At 25, he still has loads of potential, but if you draft him you’re essentially banking on him hitting 40 home runs again, which is certainly doable in a hitter-friendly Miller Park. If he doesn’t come close to that dinger total, however, chances are you’re going to be left a little disappointed. The good news is that according to recent reports, Fielder has reported to spring training in good shape. Maybe the two-year, $18.5 million contract he signed in late January motivated Prince to slim down and keep his weight in check.

Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego Padres
Gonzalez is the San Diego Padres offense. If he didn’t play on such a bad team and in a pitcher’s park, he might make the leap over Fielder in the rankings. Still, his 36 home runs, 119 RBIs and 103 runs cannot be ignored and his .279 average is better than guys like Howard and Fielder. We’ll give Gonzo the nod over Lance Berkman, who is still a quality player (.312-29-106-114) but slumped down the stretch last year after a hot start and is seven years older.

Here is our official ranking of first basemen. Remember, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner and Jim Thome qualify as DH’s only.

1. Albert Pujols, STL
2. Miguel Cabrera, DET
3. Mark Teixeira, NYY
4. Ryan Howard, PHI
5. Prince Fielder, MIL
6. Justin Morneau, MIN
7. Adrian Gonzalez, SD
8. Kevin Youkilis, BOS
9. Lance Berkman, HOU
10. Joey Votto, CIN
11. Derrek Lee, CHC
12. Chris Davis, TEX
13. Carlos Delgado, NYM
14. Carlos Pena, TB
15. Aubrey Huff, BAL
16. James Loney, LAD
17. Pablo Sandoval, SF
18. Conor Jackson, ARZ
19. Paul Konerko, CHW
20. Adam LaRoche, PIT
21. Casey Kotchman, ATL
22. Mike Jacobs, KC
23. Ryan Garko, IND
24. Lyle Overbay, MIL
25. Todd Helton, COL

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