Spring training approaches, meaning draft season is on the way as well. Now's as good of a time as any to unveil the latest in Fake Teams' series of draft rankings, our tiered model. This is a format I have used for a few seasons now, and have continued to tweak and refine, in the hopes of giving you even more accuracy every spring.
There are five different tiers. Five-star players are the best, and one-star players are your more fungible fantasy assets. For the sake of easy understanding, star rankings generally come down to their auction values and the number of categories they should contribute to. A five-star player is expected to be worth at least $30 of production and contribute in all five categories, a four-star player worth at least $20 and good for four categories, three-star players are $10 and up (and, you guessed it, three categories), two-star are your single-digit buys that you hope to get value out of, and one-star are the kind of guys you throw $1 at and hope to get something out of. But if not, hey, it was just $1.
Organizing players like this allows you to differentiate between the remaining assets at your draft, and make the proper decisions in terms of timing. If the last four-star first baseman just went off the board, and you need a first baseman, but all of a sudden you see there are 10 very similar three-star first basemen still on the board... what's the rush? Try to find a four-star player at another position instead, as these rankings, constructed out of projected dollar values and categories, work across position. That's why you would have seen Buster Posey as both a three-star catcher and three-star first baseman in the 2011 rankings, even if he has more value as a catcher: he's a three-star player, as position was already taken into account in the creation of the star rating.
This also allows you to throw all of the positions together into one huge list, ranked by tier, and be able to see a loosely-organized but complete list of every player's fantasy value on draft day. And, since Fake Teams already has rankings that come at you from different angles than this, my hope is to just give you one more tool and viewpoint with which you can work on succeeding with this year.
Pujols remains the king at first base, even after his "worst" season in his career in 2011. Moving from pitcher-friendly Busch to the more neutral Los Angeles of Anaheim should help his numbers out, even with the switch to the more difficult league. Miguel Cabrera, if he actually is going to stick at third base (or at least earn eligibility there) might actually be the most valuable player from a fantasy perspective in 2012.
Adrian Gonzalez was the most-valuable first baseman last year, and another year removed from shoulder surgery should mean he'll be as good or better in 2012. Joey Votto was slightly disappointing in 2011, but not enough for me to want to remove him from the five-star tier. If he bumps his homers back up to 2010 levels, he's an easy five, but even if he doesn't, he barely missed this tier last season anyway.
Fielder's excellent 2011 season but him just under five-star value, and with a tougher hitter's park and in the tougher league, I have a hard time thinking he'll top that campaign. Four stars it is, even if you ignore that he hasn't put together two dominating seasons in a row, ever. Taking that into consideration makes this four-star status even easier.
Carlos Santana gets a huge boost to his value by virtue of lining up behind the plate, but he is first base eligible, and racks up plenty of plate appearances because of it. He's borderline, as a four-star candidate, but I think he'll just make it in terms of value.
Morse and Konerko both have the sticks to sneak into the four-star tier, but I'm much more comfortable targeting them for the $15-18 range instead. Michael Young's value lies in his playing time, but neither his bat nor his at-bats were a hindrance in 2011. Lance Berkman might not replicate his 2011 exactly, but, except for the injury-plagued 2010 season, he's always good for this level of production. Mark Reynolds is someone I wouldn't want on my real team, but if the Orioles want to play him every day, by all means, enjoy the $12-15 he produces.
Eric Hosmer didn't do a whole lot last year, but with a full season to play and a partial 2011 under his belt, he's a good bet to squeeze out at least $10, along the same lines as Freddie Freeman in 2011, even. Cuddyer bounces around in terms of his production, but he now has Coors to buoy his bat, rounding out a strong bottom to the three-star tier.
Dunn's 2011 was horrific, but it just feels unlikely he'll be valued any lower than in the $5 range at draft day. That's probably a smart buy, as long as you draft some insurance, too. The same can be said for Justin Morneau: there is huge potential here if his concussions finally stop bothering him, but if they don't, you don't want to be caught paying top dollar for him again, either. Carlos Pena moves back to Tampa Bay, and he didn't quite make the three-star tier when in a hitter-friendly park for lefties. I see no reason to give him a bump after leaving.
Lucas Duda has a powerful bat, and the fences at Citi Field are moving in. I expect we'll see Ike Davis outperform a lot of projections because of this, too, making both of these guys possible three-star players -- until we see how the fence plays, there's no reason to guarantee more from them than two-star production.
Carlos Lee is a shadow of old, but he's certainly capable of being a two-star first baseman. Ryan Howard might actually be much better than this ranking suggests, but given we don't know how long he will be out -- or if his Achilles will continue to bother him when he does return -- and I'm therefore not about to depend on him. Mike Carp and Justin Smoak should provide offense out of Seattle; were they not stuck there, I'd consider both of them for higher ranks. Reality keeps them from getting that.
I like some of these players more than others -- Gaby Sanchez could sneak into the two-star level, Todd Helton might have another useful Coors-aided season in his veteran bag of tricks, Brandon Belt might actually get to play in San Francisco at some point, Mark Trumbo at third might not end up requiring a disaster task force to clean up. Generally, though, after you get past those names, these are the kinds of players you're going to want to throw $1 at in AL- or NL-only leagues, not your mixed formats.