Continuing on the tour of the NL East, today we visit First Base...
Atlanta Braves- Troy Glaus
I've always been a fan of Troy Glaus, and in bringing him to Atlanta for the 2010 season, I think the Bravos took the type of low-risk chance that could wind up paying huge dividends for them. A third baseman his whole career, injuries limited Glaus to only 14 games in 2009, but he has played well over 130 games more than he hasn't in his big league career. While the days of 40 home runs and 100 RBI are probably in the past for a myriad of reasons, Glaus' arrival gives the Braves a legitimate offensive threat at first. If he hits .265 with 25 home runs and 90 RBI, I think the Braves would take that. And they should, after drawing dead with the likes of Casey Kotchman in recent years, save for that stretch when they rented Mark Teixeira.
Offense- 3.5- gives power and production from a power spot... not a premier slugger anymore, but still productive
Defense- 3.0- range shouldn't be an issue given his history at 3B, and 1B doesn't have to throw as much as other positions
Florida Marlins- Jorge Cantu
Cantu seems to have finally found a home at first base for the Marlins, after spending the early part of his career playing all over the infield with the Rays and Reds. Still only 28, Cantu posted his second 100-RBI season, reaching the century mark in 149 games in 2009. While his home run number dropped almost in half (29-16) from 2008, his 40 plus double seasons will continue to drive in runs for the young Marlins, particularly with the angularity of the outfield at the Marlins' home stadium, whatever it's called now. Cantu looks like he should be able to run a little, but can't, but he's more than adequate defensively and still finds himself at third every once in awhile for the Marlins. Cantu is a good bet to produce along his average season, which is about .285 with 20 home runs and 90 RBI.
Offense- 3.5- good stick, drives in runs, can be impatient, which is characteristic of most of the Fish
Defense- 2.5- average utility type player... doesn't kill your team, but isn't spectacular either
New York Mets- Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy, still only 25, has lived a few lifetimes in his Mets' career already. He came up as a 23-year old in 2008 to join a cast intent on gagging down the stretch for the second straight season, and he actually hit well, finishing with a .313 average in 131 at bats. Murphy had a decent second season in 2009, leading the Mets with 12 home runs in splitting time between the outfield and first base. But here's the rub. Daniel Murphy can't catch. Murphy made 10 errors in 101 games AS A FIRST BASEMAN, giving him a lower fielding percentage than even (gulp) Ryan Howard. He was even worse in the outfield, throwing up a fielding percentage of only .950. Those fielding percentages just can't happen, and they're only mitigated if you're a major run producer (like Howard) or you have a shutdown pitching staff that doesn't need the defensive help (and come on, what pitcher doesn't throw better in front of a good defense). I can't prove it, obviously, but I think Murphy carries the struggle with the glove to the plate. Hitting is difficult against Major League pitching, but there's a comfort there that you have through every level of baseball: find the release point, pick up the rotation of the ball, locate where it will cross the plate, swing or don't. A natural third baseman, the Mets are so starved for a decent bat (which I think Murphy can be), that they've ruined him defensively by throwing him all over the diamond in unfamiliar spots. And under the bright lights of the big leagues and the harsh glare of New York, that can't be a great combination. The good news/bad news routine is this: good news- Murphy led the Mets in home runs in 2009. Bad news: he hit 12, also known as a good two weeks for half of the Phillies' lineup.
Offense- 2.5... one of the Mets better hitters in '09, but that's not saying a whole lot
Defense- 0.5... terrible... you have to catch the ball at some position to be an effective player for an NL team
Philadelphia Phillies- Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard is the best run-producing lefthanded stick in baseball today. Period, end of story, thanks for coming. The only competiton to the crown in all of baseball plays 1B in St. Louis and 3B in the Bronx, but from the leftside, Howard is it. He is the anchor and RBI machine of the NL's best offensive team. He certainly does have his kryptonite, as pointed out recently by Tom Verducci, but he's reached 45 home runs and 135 RBI each of the last four seasons, missing the 140 threshold only in 2007 when a DL stint left him with a mere 136. No one hits them harder, farther or to the opposite field with the ferocity that Howard does, and when the guys before him have names like Rollins, Polanco and Utley and the guys after him names like Werth, Ibanez and Victorino, you can be sure he will get plenty more RBI chances in 2010. The two biggest knocks on Howard have been his weight and his defense, two items he has attacked head on the last two offseasons, losing a ton of weight and working hard with Phillies infield coach Sam Perlozzo to improve his defense. And this AFTER winning a World Series and getting a big raise. That tells you all you need to know about the player referred to by legendary Phils broadcaster Harry Kalas simply as "The Big Man."
Offense- 5... his numbers don't lie, and as scary as letting Utley or Werth beat you might be, teams would still rather take their chances than giving in to Howard
Defense- 2... still below average, but working hard to make it better... a great player refusing to be 'just good enough' says a lot about his makeup
Washington Nationals- Adam Dunn
Dunn is a lot like Jim Thome, in that he's the type of guy that you can reliably predict each of his plate appearances as one of three outcomes- a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. In fact, for his career, Dunn has come to the plate 5417 times, and homered (316), walked (913) or struck out (1433) in 2662 of those plate appearances, or 49% of the time. While it is surely aggravating to watch someone with those ratios and wonder what could be if he would just put the ball in play more, this attitude also minimizes some of Dunn's true value. While only a .249 career hitter, he reaches base at a .398 clip, and his OPS is a stellar .903. Dunn is what he is, and might be the most predictable first sacker in the division... he hits 40 or so home runs, drives in 100 or so runs, walks a ton and strikes out more. An outfielder for most of his career, Dunn is probably anchored at first for as long as he's in the NL, as a move to the AL would almost certainly render him a DH.
Offense- 4... low average combatted by high secondary numbers and extraordinary run production, mostly for bad teams
Defense- 0.5... he wears a glove... that's about it
First Base Wrap Up
Best First Baseman- Ryan Howard
Best Offensive First Baseman- Howard
Best Defensive First Baseman- Troy Glaus, if I have to pick one
Worst Offensive First Baseman- Daniel Murphy, leave the trouble with the glove out of the batter's box
Worst Defensive First Baseman- Murphy... hey, Adam Dunn can catch
Potential to be the best value- Glaus... if he stays healthy
Best in Five Years- Howard... his production is virtually unprecedented, and he's still young
Up next, Second Base...