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Reality Check: Looking at first base for 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Once again, we break from the grind of September baseball to take a sneak peak at next year's rankings, focusing this week on the first base position.

It's a deep position made only deeper by the growing number of catchers who use it as sort of a semi-siesta, resting their legs without resting their bats.

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(Looking at you, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana.)

Would you actually play any of them at first base? Not if you could help it. But because the first base rankings would be incomplete without them, here they are, chest protectors and all, bumping out the players you might actually target at the position.

So even though you'll find 20 names here, you shouldn't expect to see recent up-and-comers Todd Frazier, Chris Carter and Brandon Belt. You shouldn't expect to see one-time mainstays Kevin Youkilis, Kendrys Morales and Mike Napoli. You shouldn't expect to see the steady but unspectacular Michael Cuddyer and Nick Swisher. You shouldn't even expect to see Mark Trumbo, who looked like a lock for the top 10 before falling flat on his face in the second half. There just isn't room.

You should expect to see serious production, though. In a 12-team league, nobody should come out of the draft bemoaning his first baseman.

Keep in mind that even though these rankings do reflect my personal preferences to a degree, they also account for perception. After all, they wouldn't do you much good if they weren't anywhere close to what you'd see on Draft Day. Any justification I have to stray from the rankings I'll mention in the text below.

Onward!

Top 10 first basemen for 2013:
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
2. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
3. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
4. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
5. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays
6. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers
7. Joe Mauer, C/1B, Twins
8. Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals
9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
10. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks

Don't like seeing Pujols at the top? I'll admit his slow starts each of the last two years have been a bit disconcerting, especially with him entering his mid-30s, but considering both times he rebounded with the same numbers you would have expected of him in his prime (he's batting .318 with 28 homers and a 1.014 OPS in 377 at-bats since May 16), you can't really say he's on the decline. His potential to sustain that pace over a full season makes him the cream of the crop at first base still. Even if he falls a little short, as has been the case this year, he's about on par with Votto.

And it's not like Votto has been the best first baseman on a per-game basis anyway. That honor, at least for right now, goes to Encarnacion, who trails only Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera in per-game production this season. He doesn't seem like an elite first baseman, but he's right on the border of that tier, separating Pujols, Votto, Fielder and (sigh) Posey from the rest of pack.

Wait, what happened to Miguel Cabrera? As things stand now, he'll be third base-only next year. Look, you can't have it all. Just embrace the eligibility at the weaker position and move on.

Gonzalez figures to be a hotly debated pick next year given how much he has disappointed this year. It's not all bad, of course. Since July 6, he's hitting .320 with 10 home runs and an .899 OPS in 222 at-bats. But even if he performed at that pace all season, he'd still be half a step back from where he used to be and a full step back from the Pujols-Fielder-Encarnacion class. In fact, I'm not sure he deserves to be as highly regarded among first basemen as Mauer is among catchers, but I give Gonzalez the nod in the rankings because of Mauer's durability concerns. And let's be honest: If Gonzalez rebounded with 35 homers next year, it wouldn't shock anybody. What's the ceiling for Mauer? Twenty?

Speaking of shocking people, if I told you Encarnacion, Votto and Pujols are averaging the most Fantasy points per game of this group, who would you guess is fourth? The answer is Craig, who I actually consider a bit undervalued here. He's been nothing but a stud since returning from offseason knee surgery in early May and nothing but a .300-hitting, .900-OPS guy since signing with the Cardinals in 2006. And with Lance Berkman talking retirement, whatever concerns remain about his playing time are about to disappear entirely. I don't know if the average Fantasy owner would select Craig over Teixeira, who has all the name value, but an assured .300 batting average vs. a .250-ish mark is an easy call for me.

One notable omission here is Billy Butler, who will likely be a few games short of retaining first base eligibility next season. Granted, he might regain it within the first few weeks, but his DH-only status to start the year could cause him to slip to his usual sixth- or seventh-round range even with his newfound power. Hypothetically speaking, he would rank ninth among first baseman, just ahead of Teixeira.

Next 10 first basemen for 2013:
11. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Braves
12. Corey Hart, 1B/OF, Brewers
13. Carlos Santana, C/1B, Indians
14. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins
15. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox
16. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
17. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets
18. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Nationals
19. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies
20. Adam Dunn, 1B, White Sox

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My decision to address this position by groups of 10 breaks up the Goldschmidt-Freeman duo, which is unfortunate since that's probably the closest call at first base next year. It's a matter of preference, really. Both are young, high-upside players who have put up similar numbers in their sophomore seasons. The difference is the way they've arrived at those numbers. While Freeman has endured the usual ups and downs, Goldschmidt had a clear turning point in mid-May and has hit .306 with 16 homers and a .926 OPS in 95 games since. If he's been able to sustain that level of production for that long, who's to say it's not the new baseline for him? At age 25, he's probably closer to his big breakout than the 23-year-old Freeman is.

Morneau ... that's all about name value, right? Actually, I'm pretty encouraged by his performance this year. Though he's hardly back to MVP form, he's a different player from last year, when he was recovering from a severe concussion and wrist, knee, foot and neck surgeries, and he's continued to progress over the course of the season, batting over .300 since the All-Star break. With another year removed from all that nonsense, I'm not so sure he can't take another step forward. Given the shortcomings of the players behind him, it seems like a worthwhile gamble.

Yes, I include Konerko among those players. Yes, I know injuries are partially to blame for his recent lack of production, but at age 37, will next year really be any different? All I know is he's been outscored by both Hosmer and Davis (and Jordan Pacheco and Chris Johnson) since May 28, and I'm not into predicting turnarounds for players his age.

Frankly, I'm more likely to gamble on Hosmer or Davis even though I expect them to go a little later in drafts. Sure, their overall numbers aren't so great, but they have upside. Davis has shown his in recent months, rebounding from an early-season bout with valley fever to put up about the numbers everyone expected from him from mid-June on. Hosmer requires more of a leap of faith, but Jason Heyward's rebound from an inexplicably bad sophomore season gives me some reason for optimism. The reason I'd go with Hosmer over Davis in the middle rounds is purely a matter of upside. Davis is a nice player in a Corey Hart sort of way, but Hosmer could someday be elite. Here's hoping he shows signs of it next year.

After him, elite is no longer an option. LaRoche, Howard and Dunn are all built to meet needs, not fulfill dreams. Howard and Dunn are both all-or-nothing sluggers, and LaRoche ... well, he's just a safe contributor if you're not in a position to gamble. I know the skeptics will suggest I'm putting too much stock into what's shaping up to be a career season (or close to it), but LaRoche is the 10th-ranked first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues right now. Dropping him to 18th seems more than fair. Besides, if you go back and calculate his per-game production from some of his past seasons, it's about on par with what Gonzalez and Konerko have done this season. The reason you don't remember it that way is because players were generally putting up bigger numbers then. While offensive production as a whole has declined in the post-steroids era, LaRoche has remained about the same. Looking at it that way, this year's performance has some legs to it.

For the record, I'm down on both Howard and Dunn. Howard will turn 33 this offseason, so I'm not sure a few months of rest is all he needs to get back to hitting 35 homers every year. And Dunn, after an encouraging first couple months when his walks and batting average were more or less back to normal, has done nothing more than hit a few balls extremely hard in the three months since. Personally, I'd rather have the unranked Trumbo, whose late-season collapse I suspect is related to the back spasms he suffered in late July.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Caleb Joseph, Alejandro De Aza, Travis Snider out of Orioles' lineup
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) The Orioles will rest three starters in Sunday's game against Boston. 

Catcher Caleb Joseph, left fielder Alejandro De Aza and right fielder Travis Snider, who have combined for 36 starts this season at their respective positions, are all out of the lineup.

Ryan Lavarnway gets his fifth start of the year at catcher, batting eighth. Delmon Young is in right, batting fourth. It's his fourth start of the year but third in four days.

Steve Pearce will play left, starting for the third time this year. He's batting sixth. 

The Orioles are +100 money line underdogs at home against Boston. 


Nationals' Max Scherzer tests thumb Sunday, remains day-to-day
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:32 am ET) Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer tested his swollen thumb by throwing in the outfield Sunday but did not see any mound work, CSNWashington.com reports.

Scherzer said that his thumb is still sore and that he's unsure about whether he'll be able to make his scheduled start Tuesday.

"I can't say that, because I'm literally day-to-day," he said.

Scherzer did indicate that the thumb felt better Sunday, but it's apparent he won't pitch unless he feels 100 percent. He's just 1-2 over his first four starts but owns a 1.26 ERA and 29:4 K:BB ratio in 28 2/3 innings.


Sandy Leon replaces Ryan Hanigan at catcher for Red Sox
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:26 am ET) Sandy Leon is in the Red Sox starting lineup for Sunday's game at Baltimore, bumping Ryan Hanigan

Leon starts for the second time in four games and sixth time this season. 

The Sox are -105 money line favorites over Baltimore. 


Cardinals C Yadier Molina (knee) out of lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:25 am ET) Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is not in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against the Brewers.

Molina is dealing with knee soreness after taking a foul tip off his knee guard Friday. The team called up a backup catcher before Sunday's game to back up Tony Cruz, who is batting eighth Sunday while making his third start in the last four days.

The Cardinals are road favorites (-144) in Milwaukee Sunday, per VegasInsider.com.


David Ortiz out of Red Sox lineup
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:23 am ET) Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is not in the lineup for Sunday's game against Baltimore. 

Ortiz has started 14 of the team's 15 DH games, including nine straight. He'll be replaced Sunday by Hanley Ramirez, who moves to DH from left field. Utility man Brock Holt replaces Ramirez in left. 

The Red Sox are -105 money line favorites at Baltimore.


Dodgers considering DL trip for Yasiel Puig
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Dodgers manager Don Mattingly indicated Saturday that the possibility of sending right fielder Yasiel Puig (hamstring) to the disabled list has been discussed, the Orange County Register reports.

"If it’s the best thing, then it’s the best thing," Mattingly said. "Obviously, he’s very important to us. In a sense, it’s obvious that he’s not important to us if he can’t play. If you’re going to be banged up every third or fourth day or if he tries to run hard and extend, then we’re going to be better off letting him get healthy."

Puig missed significant time last week due to the hamstring issue but returned to the starting lineup Friday. However, he reinjured the hamstring trying to beat out a ground ball on the same day and was out of the lineup Saturday. Mattingly indicated that he'll leave the decision up to the team's medical staff.

"That decision does not come down to me. That decision is for medical," Mattingly said Saturday. "He played three days in San Francisco and did not have one issue. And he played the day game (Thursday). We talked about giving him the day game after the night game in San Francisco. Medical didn’t feel like he needed it. He played well, made some plays, didn’t look like he needed it. Then yesterday obviously he extended trying to beat that play out and it looked like it grabbed on him a little bit."

Puig has hit .279/.380/.465 with two home runs and four RBI in 43 at-bats.


Phillies' Freddy Galvis (rib) starting, 'feeling pretty good' Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(11:14 am ET) Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis is back in the lineup Sunday after leaving Saturday's game with a rib injury following an excellent defensive play.

"When I landed after the throw, my elbow hit my rib," Galvis said before Sunday's game, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "I am feeling pretty good now."

Galvis is batting eighth Sunday. He owns a .328/.381/.431 line with one home run and eight RBI in 58 at-bats.

The Phillies are favorites (-110) against the Braves Sunday.


Blue Jays' Jose Bautista getting acupuncture on sore shoulder
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(11:00 am ET) Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista has missed five games with a sore shoulder. He told the media that the injury was improving, and he's hopeful that he'll be able to play in Toronto's upcoming series with Boston. 

Bautista's treatment of the injury has included acupuncture on the shoulder, per TSN Radio. He remains day-to-day.


Blue Jays' Jose Reyes to have MRI on oblique
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(10:55 am ET) Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes has been playing through rib soreness for more than a week. Unsure if it's a rib injury or an oblique strain, Reyes has dealt with the pain, although it prevents the switch hitter from batting left handed. 

Reyes is out of Sunday's lineup, but he told Sportsnet that it wasn't injury related--just a day off to rest. 

While Reyes said the injury isn't getting any worse, he'll still have an MRI when the team returns to Toronto after its current road trip. 


Braves' Markakis, Simmons remain atop lineup Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(10:54 am ET) Braves right fielder Nick Markakis is leading off and shortstop Andrelton Simmons is batting second for the second straight game Sunday.

Both players saw their first appearances in those respective positions in Saturday's 5-2 win over the Phillies and will reprise their roles Sunday. In addition, lefty Kelly Johnson is batting cleanup for the first time this season, with first baseman Freddie Freeman slotting in third for the second straight day (and the third time this season).

The Braves are underdogs (+100) against the Phillies Sunday.


 
 
 
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