2023 Fantasy Baseball Top 5 MLB Free Agent First Baseman
Published: Nov 15, 2022
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
In this year’s free agent class, shortstop and starting pitching will get a lot of publicity as the most enticing of the positions but don’t sleep on the available free agent first baseman. Anthony Rizzo, José Abreu, and Josh Bell all finished inside the top 15 first baseman in WAR in 2022, so it goes without saying that these three headlines are the available first baseman in this MLB free agency class. What will Rizzo’s 2023 fantasy baseball value look like if he doesn’t return to the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium?
Will José Abreu actually play for a team other than the Chicago White Sox? Could the 30-year-old switch-hitting Josh Bell turn out to be one of the best signings in MLB free agency this offseason? In the latest installment in our MLB free agent rankings series, we’ll highlight the top five MLB free agent first baseman and the names that fantasy baseball managers will want to keep a close eye on heading into the 2023 fantasy baseball season.
Top Five MLB Free Agent First Baseman
2022 Stats: .224/.338/.480, 32 HR, 77 R, 75 RBI, 6 SB
Rizzo’s 2022 season was undoubtedly his best since 2017, highlighted by his first-time double-digit barrel rate (10.9%) and second consecutive season with a 40+ percent hard-hit rate. Even if he’s not going to be a guy that hits around .270 any longer and he’s closer to .230, he runs a little bit for the position, posts a respectable OBP thanks to a quality walk rate, and there’s still enough power in that bat to bank on at least 20+ round trippers each season.
If he were to leave the Yankees, his power numbers may take a slight dip away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, but on the road in 2022, he still posted a respectable .465 SLG and .790 OPS that were within earshot of his marks at home (.492 SLG, .840 OPS). Rizzo should get a nice chunk of change in free agency because many teams could use his services, but recurring back issues were a pest in 2022, and the last time I checked, he’s not getting any younger.
2022 Stats: .304/.378/.446, 15 HR, 85 R, 75 RBI, 0 SB (157 Games Played)
It was a season of trade-offs for Abreu, as his batting average jumped over 40 points from 2021, but his home run total was cut in half. In fact, his 15 home runs last year was the lowest mark in his entire nine-year career. Most of his Statcast metrics were similar to years past, but there was a reduction in his launch angle. However, the big number is that his 9.6 HR/FB rate was an outlier compared to his career (18.7 HR/FB% career average), and even if his power dwindles a bit as he continues to age, a repeat in that department in 2023 seems unlikely.
For what it’s worth, per Baseball Savant, his expected home runs by park in his home stadium was 19, and overall it was 17.7. Abreu should remain a quality, albeit not sexy fantasy bat in 2023, but all the guy does is produce, and a floor of a .275+ batting average and 20+ home runs should be expected.
2022 Stats: .266/.362/.422, 17 HR, 78 R, 71 RBI, 0 SB (156 Games Played)
Bell is an incredibly intriguing player to watch this offseason for a myriad of reasons. Through the first 103 games of his 2022 season, he was hitting .301 with 14 home runs and a 2.5 WAR. Then, he goes to San Diego, and his numbers cratered, as he hit just .192 with three home runs in 53 games with a -0.5 WAR. Consistency has often eluded Bell, but in spurts, he showcases excellence at the dish. He hits a ton of ground balls, which isn’t ideal, so if he isn’t having a little bit of luck in terms of his HR/FB rate, that 50+ percent ground ball rate is menacing.
He posted his best marks in overall contact rate since 2016, his lowest swinging strike rate since 2016, and his 8.3-degree launch angle was his highest since 2019. Consistency in terms of production may be unpredictable from year to year with Bell, but the switch-hitter is as durable as they come, playing in 140+ games in each year since 2017 (sans 2020, because that doesn’t count).
2022 Stats: .239/.319/.391, 18 HR, 56 R, 63 RBI, 0 SB (143 Games Played)
Does recency bias affect Mancini’s contract this offseason? Perhaps. A fan favorite in Baltimore, Mancini was dealt at the deadline to Houston, and in 51 games in the regular season with the team, he struggled, slashing just .176/.258/.364 with 22 RBI in 51 games. The eight home runs were fine, but outside of that, not great. He was very bad in the postseason, to say the least, hitting .048 and striking out one-third of the time. Mancini spent his entire career in Baltimore, so perhaps the trade and new scenery messed with his head, or at least that’s what optimists will lean into.
For regular playing time, he’ll likely need to go to a non-contending team to get regular at-bats, and while it may hurt his counting stats, he’ll get more plate appearances, and over the course of the season, flirt with 20+ home runs. If he goes to a contender, regular at-bats might be tougher to come by for Mancini, who turns 31 in March. The best case scenario for Mancini seems to be a short-term deal with a non-contending team, rebuild that confidence, then get traded (again) at the deadline to a better situation.
2022 Stats: .213/.326/.350, 8 HR, 25 R, 23 RBI, 1 SB (78 Games Played)
Belt likely won’t attract a huge market, given that he turns 35 in April and has been limited to just 175 over the last two seasons. His career-high 29 home runs in 2021 seems to be quite the outlier, and we now have back-to-back seasons with a 27 percent or higher strikeout rate after being below that threshold every year since doing so back in 2014. He doesn’t really hit southpaws like he used to, and teams will have to determine how much Belt still has left in the tank. Did his knee issue(s) hold him back last season, or is Father Time winning out with Belt? Durability has always been an issue for Belt, and that could keep his price tag, and length of the deal, down a bit.
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