For those fantasy players who play in standard mixed leagues, the hot stove season is a time of excitement. These owners can just sit back and enjoy the player moves, secure in the knowledge that regardless of what happens there will not be a huge impact on gameplay. Sure some players will change jerseys, some jobs will be gained or lost because of moves, but by and large the player market remains the same.
Contrast that to fantasy owners in AL or NL-only leagues, who view the hot stove season with trepidation. They watch these same player moves closely, aware of the fact that superstars may become undraftable at the drop of a hat. Despite this risk, over the course of time these moves tend to balance out, with relatively equal numbers of players coming and going from each league. However, this season is different. To use a tired cliché, a “perfect storm” of destruction has afflicted the hitters of the National League. Similar to flipping a coin ten times and having it come up tails every time, seemingly every big ticket hitting item left the NL for greener pastures (and a ton of even greener cash).
No position was seemingly hit harder than the first base position in the National League. This position was traditionally held by perennial 1st round picks like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but both of those studs have packed their bags for the “other” league. Consequently, the position has understandably taken a huge hit in terms of talent. Fortunately, one superstar remains in the NL, one Joey Votto. In fact, Votto is the only player at his position drafted in the top 40. I would go so far as to say Votto is probably worth the #2 overall pick in such leagues (after Matt Kemp), because no position has a wider gap between the best and second best player than 1st base.
The fact that the second player on this list is Michael Morse should be very telling about the state of the position. However, that does not mean that your 1B position is “Votto or Bust.” Morse himself had a breakout season last year, and fellow youngsters Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman join him in the tier below Votto. I’d be perfectly happy starting any of these guys for my NL-only squads, especially at ADPs ranging from 50-70, but perceived scarcity may drive their price higher than I’m willing to pay.
As for the individual players here, who you will pick comes down to personal preference and team needs. Goldschmidt has the most raw power of the bunch, but his swing also probably has the most holes. Freeman, on the other hand, is a great contact hitter, but he may not surpass his 21 home runs from 2011 until he puts more meat on his rather lanky frame. Morse is a bit of a mystery, showing slightly above average power in a long minor league career, but when given the chance at the major league level he produced a nifty 31 long balls in 2011. He’s first on the list in ADP, but I see a higher ceiling with the other two guys. Again, just a matter of personal preference.
If high-risk high-reward veterans are more your speed than the youngsters above, then Ryan Howard and Ike Davis are your answer. Both face uncertain 2012 statuses due to ankle injuries (though Howard’s outlook is considerably bleaker than Davis’s), and both are coming at a substantial discount from their full health prices. Recall that Howard has been a power stalwart at his position for nearly a decade, and that Ike Davis had a nice 2010 and was off to a great start in 2011 before the Mets training staff struck him down with a bum ankle. You would do well to have insurance making one of these picks, but it could well win you a league if the cards break just right.
If you miss out on the above candidates, uninspiring veterans seem to be the rule. Guys like Adam LaRoche, Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, James Loney, Todd Helton, Aubrey Huff and Gaby Sanchez. Some of these guys may well outproduce players I have listed above, but it is a matter of ceiling and floor that lands them here. Berkman had a great 2011, but at his age fall off the cliff risk is a real possibility, lowering the floor for me. Even Gaby Sanchez, the guy from this group that I would probably like the most, has a pretty low ceiling, albeit with a higher floor.
This list has brought us past the top 12 1st baseman, so you’ve probably already seen the first baseman you will end up starting. Admit it, it’s not as bleak as you thought it would be, is it? That is not, however, to say that you will be happy with who you end up with. So what are you going to do if you find yourself staring down the barrel of James Loney? The answer lies on the final names on our list- guys like Mat Gamel, Brandon Belt and Anthony Rizzo. Gamel, seemingly out of chances in 2011, has been given one more chance to prove that he is not a bust as a top prospect. Rizzo and Belt flopped in their major league debuts, but I am not ready to take the bloom off the rose of these prospects. Belt’s 20-20 potential at 1B is very real and very rare indeed, while Rizzo’s power definitely plays now that he has left Petco for Wrigley. I would not necessarily start one of these guys, but I like them as late round picks in redraft leagues that have upside to pan out. Finally, a more creative manager may try to handcuff one of the injury prone guys above and hope for a setback.
I am not going to sugar coat it, losing Fielder and Pujols has left a huge gap in talent and turned it into a scarce position. Take consolation in the fact that every team is in the same boat in this deflated market. If you are lucky enough to land Votto, then smile and know that you are ahead of the game. If not, then 1st base may indeed prove an adventure. However, there’s nothing more satisfying than coming out on top of a challenging position- it’s part of why we play the game. Let’s just hope we all fare better than George Clooney in navigating this perfect storm.