The No. 15 first baseman in our consensus rankings hit 53 home runs a year ago, and has averaged more than 37 a year over the last three. He's tied with a guy who hit 30 homers and drove in 92 runs last year.
The unanimous No. 1 catcher is eligible at first base, and he could only manage 10th place. The two guys just after him were first-rounders or close as recently as a year ago. Move down to our 21st-ranked first baseman and you find last year's NL batting champion.
The position includes relocated third basemen (Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Zimmerman), multi-eligible guys (Buster Posey and Todd Frazier), and any number of old Yankees who can't find anywhere else to play.
What I'm saying is, there are a lot of first basemen right now. The following chart shows the 2014 wRC+ of the 10th- and 20th-best players at each position (*30th and 60th for outfielders):
|No. 10 wRC+||No. 20 wRC+|
The 20th-best first baseman last year was a better offensive player than the 10th-best second baseman and shortstop, and at least comparable to the equivalent at the other positions. It's not that first basemen, top to bottom, are great; it's just that there is so much competence.
You think I'm building this all up to tell you to wait on first base, don't you? If the 20th-best guy at the position is the same as another position's sixth, why leap early? Why not wait and draft Chris Davis, or Lucas Duda, or Justin Morneau?
But that's what you get for thinking you can predict me, you big ol' wronghead. Because while the lower tiers of first basemen are better than their other-position counterparts, the top first basemen are really good. Like, I-ranked-Miguel-Cabrera-sixth-at-the-position good.
"Aha!" you're thinking. "He put a twist in! After all that boosting of the lower-level first basemen, he's going to tell us to dive in early! What a trickster!"
And again, dear presumptive reader, you are incorrect.
The thing about first base - this has been true for several years, actually, but with the uber-elite Albert Pujols-type seasons now less likely, and the next tiers closer to that top one, it's true now more than ever - is that you let the position find you.
If you're hanging out, looking for a second baseman, and you feel like you can either take Ian Kinsler now or sit back and settle for a Daniel Murphy type, you kind of have to jump on Kinsler. If you have a shot at Buster Posey, but waiting will land you Yasmani Grandal, maybe you take the premium guy.
At first base, though, there isn't an obvious dropoff. You could get by with Paul Goldschmidt or Edwin Encarnacion as your starter, or you could eke out a living with Carlos Santana or Adam LaRoche, provided you get a Robinson Cano type earlier when the opportunity arises.
In short, you want to have some sort of strategy for your middle infielders, your catchers, your pitchers. A guy you want, a backup in case that falls through. A round in mind, or a dollar amount to spend. But for first base, you just let it find you. When there are a lot of options, all you want is to be flexible. There are so many ways to go right.