First base is pretty much the only position where you can get into the third tier and still find three players (and maybe a fourth) legitimately capable of giving your team 30 homers and 100 RBI next season. Of course most of those guys are likely to drag down your overall batting average, but sometimes that’s a trade-off you have to make because power is becoming harder to find. Major injury is another common theme in this tier.
Zach Sanders’ end of season player values were included for reference, though they were not the sole criteria used to create these rankings.
Carlos Pena – $7
Pena does not have a home for 2012 yet, but he found one at the winter meetings last winter and might do the same this winter. His batting ball profile has gone through some extreme shifts over the last two seasons, and late this year it was back to where it was during the 2009 season, when he hit an AL-leading 39 homers. A few more balls found grass for Pena this year (.267 BABIP after .222 in 2010), but he still hit in the low-.200’s (.227 to be exact) for the third straight year. His top of the line power (.237) and crazy good batting eye (16.7% walks) allowed him to remain valuable in the counting stats (28 HR, 80 RBI) and in OBP leagues (.357). Pena is a safe bet to stay on the field and produce 25+ homers and 80 or so RBI, but he’ll absolutely kill your team average.
Mark Trumbo – $12
If you weren’t in an OBP league last season, Trumbo was the best fantasy first baseman outside of the first seven names in these rankings. He hit for huge power (29 homers and a .223 ISO) and drove in the appropriate number of runs (87), and even stole nine bases. Trumbo was a killer in OBP leagues though, with his 4.4% walk rate and .254 average leading to a ghastly on-base rate of 29.1%. His minor league track record suggests that a few more free passes could lie ahead, but not an overwhelming amount. It’ll be interesting to see how the Angels fit him and Kendrys Morales into their lineup, but the latter has to get (and stay) healthy first. Trumbo will play somewhere, which could lead to the added bonus of position flexibility.
Ryan Howard – $17
The question with Howard isn’t production, he’s going to hit right around .250-.260 with 30+ homers and an ungodly amount of runs driven in over the course of a full season like clockwork. We just don’t know how much he’ll actually play in 2012. The ruptured achilles he suffered on the final play of the Phillies season is very likely to keep him out at the start of next season, but his actual return date is up in the air at the moment. Could be mid-April, could be late-May for all we know. A healthy Howard would have found himself in Tier Two, likely right behind Konerko. I fully expect him to produce at his usual rate once healthy, so he’s a rather intriguing DL-stash candidate.
Ike Davis – N/A
An ankle injury sabotaged what was a very strong start to the season for Davis (.302/.382/.543 with seven homers in 24 games and 149 plate appearances), a strong start that doesn’t come with any small sample size batted ball funny business. His .344 BABIP will probably come down a touch, but you’re still talking about a guy with a track record of drawing walks in the minors (11.9% as a big leaguer) and big left-handed power. The walls at CitiField are being moved in quite a bit this offseason — a 16 ft. wall at 378 ft. in right field is being replaced by an 8 ft. wall at 375 ft. — which figures to only help Davis’ production. The health of his ankle is still a question, but Ike is a prime candidate for a big breakout season in 2012.
Gaby Sanchez – $8
Sanchez’s season was cut into two pieces in 2011, with a .312/.392/.513 start (12 HR in 309 PA) being followed by a .224/.317/.350 finish (7 HR in 352 PA). Part of the reason is that his batted ball profile got back to normal, with all those early season line drives turning back into regular old fly balls over the course of the summer. Sanchez won’t hit for a ton of power (19 HR in each of his two full seasons) unless the Marlins’ new park ends up playing really small, so you’ll instead have to rely on his unspectacular batting average (.269 as a big leaguer) and RBI total (78+ in his two years) in traditional leagues. He does offer a bit more help in OBP outfits because he does draw plenty of walks, with his 11.2% rate in 2011 lining right up with his minor league totals. Sanchez is right smack in the prime of his career at age 28, so if there was ever a time for him to crank out a .290/25/100 season, this is probably it. There’s a non-zero chance he’ll be traded this winter, which could impact his standing among fellow first baseman.