When it comes time to look for power in the American League, first base is the place most fantasy players go for surefire fantasy studs. This season is no different, except for the new face at the top of the AL rankings. As Christopher Kreush noted in yesterday’s NL Beat, Albert Pujols’ signing with the Los Angeles Angels was the biggest story of the Winter Meetings. Pujols figures to be the first name off the board in AL drafts this spring, and it is hard to argue against anyone taking the perennial MVP candidate to start things off. How good is Pujols? He had a “down” year for him and still posted a .299/105/37/99/9 line in 2011. He actually looked human at times, walked far less than normal and hit the ball on the ground more often than ever before. That was the main reason for the dip in power, and if he doesn't reverse that trend, he’s no lock to get back up to 40 homers. He’s not getting any younger, so it is possible we could see those stolen bases begin to erode even further. Still, he’s Albert Pujols, and most fantasy players won’t be looking to nit-pick when getting the chance to finally have him on their AL-only squads. The biggest question that you will face this year, is how much are you willing to invest in the position? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but even if you miss out on the top tier, there is plenty of depth here if you choose to wait.
Now let’s take a look at the rest of my rankings at First Base:
Miguel Cabrera, DET – After an off-season of off the field questions, Cabrera went out and had another dominant season. He hit .344 to claim his first batting title while hitting 30 home runs for the fifth consecutive season. His batting average upside and his consistency set him apart from the rest of the field and it wouldn't surprise me if some drafters opt for him over Pujols. There is still a 40 HR/Triple Crown season waiting to arrive.
Adrian Gonzalez, BOS – Last year’s big arrival to the AL scene didn't disappoint as the move from Petco to Fenway helped him hit a career high .338. The only thing that didn't materialize was the power that many were expecting, as his 27 homers were his lowest total since his first full season in 2006. He had a big spike in GB%, up to 46.7%, which was the main culprit for the power outage. He also may have altered his swing somewhat coming off shoulder surgery. With the table setters he has in the lineup, he’ll drive in plenty of runs and ranks just below my Top 2, but you shouldn't plan on more than 30 homers and don’t expect him to hit .330 again.
Mark Teixeira, NYY – If you miss out on the elite options at the position but still want to make sure you get premium power production, Teixeira is your guy. Actually, I think he is a bargain this year, as he likely has the best chance of any of the top options to outperform his draft day price. He hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs for the eighth straight year, so you know what you are getting here. Yankee Stadium’s short porch keeps his 40 HR upside intact. What makes him a potential bargain is his BA, which sank for the fourth straight year to a career low .248. While I don’t expect him to hit .300 again, I do think it’s reasonable to hope for a return to the .270-.280 range.
Eric Hosmer, KC – The rookie hit the field and never looked back, hitting .309 with 21 HR and 13 SBs. He’s only 22, so in a keeper league, there aren’t many better choices than this. The stolen bases will help buoy his value, but any power spike will likely take another year to emerge. He’s an exciting player, but don’t get caught overpaying for numbers that may not come until 2013.
Paul Konerko, CHW – For the second straight season, Konerko proved the naysayers wrong by once again staying healthy while being one of the few bright spots for the White Sox. U.S. Cellular Field means another 30 HR season is attainable as long as he can stay on the field. He's a solid option if you decide to wait until the big guns are off the board.
Adam Lind, TOR – Lind was well on his way to recapturing the promise he showed in his electric 2009 campaign. He had many of his owners giggling after his monster first half. Then the bottom totally fell out on his season. His second half swoon makes it hard to know what to predict for him, but he still profiles as a young slugger in a nice lineup. I think if you keep expectations low, then there is room for profit here. At worst, he should be able to deliver a repeat of last year’s numbers.
Mike Carp, SEA – Carp finally got a shot in the second half last year and he was a pleasant surprise to those who grabbed him off the waiver wire. He hit .286 with 12 HR, 46 RBI and 15 doubles. If the Mariners don’t sign any free agents, Carp should be able to get the bulk of the at-bats at first base as well as seeing some time at outfield and DH. If that happens, he will be a cheap power source capable of mashing 25 homers and potentially a risk worth taking on draft day.
Mark Trumbo, LAA – Trumbo took over for an injured Kendrys Morales last year and provided more than the Angels could have hoped for by mashing 29 HRs with 87 RBI and 9 SBs. The biggest question facing Trumbo is where he will play in the wake of Albert Pujols' arrival. The Angels say they are committed to keeping him and will even give him a look at third base. He also could be traded, but I think the Angels would rather see Bobby Abreu head out the door. Pay for the power and hope he stays in the AL.
Justin Morneau, MIN – 2011 was a season to forget for the former MVP. He never fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in 2010 and added a litany of nagging injuries on top of that last year. There is no denying that he can produce if he’s healthy, but he is not for the risk averse. It was recently reported that he was still suffering post-concussion symptoms, which will likely drive his price down to the point where he makes a worthy gamble on draft day.
Mitch Moreland, TEX – He’s an unexciting player, but as of this writing, he is still the likely starter on a World Series team. He’ll provide average power and production while struggling to hit .260. He profiles better as a CI, and the Rangers still may make a splash in free agency.
Adam Dunn, CHW – This is a case where you let the numbers do the talking. Dunn hit .159 with a paltry 11 HR, 36 R and 42 RBI in 2011, all career lows. It ended a seven-year streak that never saw him hit fewer than 38 dingers. The only people who were happy were the Nationals, who let Dunn walk away to Chicago. Dunn is as good a candidate to bounce back some as any, because it is unlikely he will be as awful again. Hold your nose, grab him late and pray for 25 homers.
The rest of the pack includes:
Kendrys Morales, LAA - He will try to recover from the broken foot that has now cost him almost two years. I’m not buying, but I can see him as a late round gamble.
Brandon Allen, Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta, Chris Parmalee - All three are former top prospects who have failed to fully emerge at the major league level. Allen might have the best shot at regular at-bats. Parmalee could see action if Morneau misses more time.
Free Agents include: Prince Fielder, Carlos Pena, Derrek Lee and Casey Kotchman. One of the last three likely winds up in Tampa Bay. Fielder could still end up in Texas or Seattle. If so, I'd slot him in behind Gonzalez.