I don't want Carl Crawford on my Fantasy teams this year.
Of course, saying it now is different from saying it three weeks ago, when I first intended to say it. Now, with Granderson (broken forearm) and Teixeira (strained wrist) expected to miss at least a month with their respective injuries and Crawford's elbow showing it's still not completely whole after Tommy John surgery in August, those three are on just about everyone's bust lists.
And consequently, some people's sleeper lists.
So as much as I want to pile on the pessimism for those players, I feel like, to some degree, I'd be stating the obvious. And frankly, I'd rather use this space to open Fantasy owners' eyes to some possibilities they may not have considered before, even if it puts me at greater risk of being wrong.
That's not to say all of these choices are earth-shattering. Some you may have heard before. But obvious or not so obvious, all of them pass the money-where-my-mouth-is test in that I'm just not drafting them in my leagues.
And now, you'll know why.
Note: The numbers in parentheses reflect average draft position on CBSSports.com, assuming a 12-team league.
Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs (Roto: Rd. 3, H2H: Rd. 5)
So you like Castro, do you? Then answer me this: Why?
Because he's gotten better every year? OK, except his slugging percentage dipped last year, and his batting average and OPS were both career lows.
Because he steals bases? Yeah, he had 25 last year, but he was also caught 13 times. He won't keep getting the green light if he continues at that rate.
Because he's young and talented and, therefore, has to get better? Fine, but you could say the same thing about Ian Desmond, Asdrubal Cabrera, Elvis Andrus, Everth Cabrera, Andrelton Simmons, Jean Segura and a number of other shortstops that go much later in drafts.
Take a closer look at the numbers, and you'll see Castro has been the exactly the same -- and exactly what the scouts projected him to be -- in each of his three years in the big leagues: a potential 15-homer, 20-steal type who at his best can hit .300, but whose lack of plate discipline subjects him to fluctuations in batting average like he had last year, when he finished behind Derek Jeter in total points.
Are those contributions useful at shortstop? No doubt. But are they so rare that you should passing on Jason Heyward, Adam Jones and Allen Craig for him? I don't see it. In order to live up to his price tag, Castro has to take a step forward this year. Considering he has yet to do so in three years (and pretty much fulfilled his potential right of the gate), I'm not counting on it.
Gio Gonzalez, SP, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 5, H2H: Rd. 4)
Haven't we seen this story played out already? The wild lefty with a penchant for strikeouts finally quells the walks just enough to meet the potential everybody thought he had all along? You know, like Oliver Perez in 2004 or Jonathan Sanchez in 2010?
How'd that work out for them?
The difference for Gonzalez, of course, is that he was still a pretty good pitcher prior to last year, so maybe "bust" isn't the best label for him. But his walk rate of 3.4 per nine innings last year wasn't so great even if it was an improvement over the rest of his career. Wildness is still a part of his game, and if history holds, it's bound to make a comeback at some point.
Again, he was still pretty good as a 4.1-walks-per-nine innings guy in 2010 and 2011, pitching deep enough into games to record 15-plus victories and pile up plenty of strikeouts. But a rise in WHIP would make him basically Yovani Gallardo, who's a good 10 spots lower in the rankings.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 4, H2H: Rd. 5)
As quickly as negativity typically builds for a player who happens to spend some time on the DL in back-to-back seasons or who shows even the faintest signs of regression, I can't for the life of me figure out why everyone is so forgiving of an outfielder who has missed 80-plus games two of the last three years and whose steals continue to decline at an alarming rate.
Maybe the steals thing is easy to overlook because the starting point for Ellsbury's decline was an astronomical 70 in 2009, but he hasn't had 40 in a season since then. And last year, in between injuries, he was on a 30-steal pace.
Who needs more than 30 steals from a power guy, you ask, presumably referring to the 32 home runs Ellsbury hit in 2011? So far, that's the only year in which he's hit even double-digit home runs, and his four in 303 at-bats last year don't suggest an encore is in store.
Plus, while nobody would call Ellsbury old at age 29, that's the same age Carl Crawford, a player with a similar skill set and similar propensity for injury, took a turn for the worse. Maybe it's an unfair comparison since Crawford ended up needing Tommy John surgery not long afterward, but the bottom line is the risk-to-reward ratio just doesn't add up for me with Ellsbury.
Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 3)
Halladay's decline last year from Fantasy first-rounder to bench fodder was so swift and sudden that, if you're like me, you assumed there had to be more to it, and the sore shoulder that sidelined him for about two months midseason provided a convenient excuse.
"Oh, he was hurt. That's why his velocity dropped and, in turn, why his numbers suffered. He's still probably one of the best pitchers in the game, but just to be safe, let's bump him down a tier, putting him right there with James Shields and Johnny Cueto. Yeah, he might even be a value then. That'd be great."
Now, I'm beginning to think we didn't bump him down enough. In case you don't pay attention to such things, his spring line is awful, and his velocity has only gotten worse. Granted, spring struggles aren't out of the ordinary for established aces, but when the Phillies themselves are worried, having him tinker with his delivery under the watchful eye of pitching coach Rich Dubee, it's legitimate cause for concern. No little mechanical tweak is going to add 8 miles per hour to his fastball.
It doesn't mean you shouldn't draft Halladay. Even with last year's numbers, he was useful. Just understand that last year's numbers might not be so quickly forgotten.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Indians (Roto: Rd. 6, H2H: Rd. 7)
Coming into draft season, I could have gone either way on Kipnis. At the right price, the upside certainly justifies the downside.
But unfortunately, he's getting drafted at a point that pretty much disregards the latter.
In order for it to pay off, he has to realize his best-case scenario. Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Altuve are kind of in the same boat, at least in Rotisserie leagues, but Kipnis is the one who scares me the most. Not only does he have to rebound from a putrid second half that saw him hit .233 with a .651 OPS, but he has to continue stealing bases at the rate he did last season, when he finished with 31.
Nobody projected him as a 30-steals guy coming up through the minors. The most he had in a single season was 12. If he hits third for the Indians this year, his opportunities to run will naturally decrease -- and that's assuming his poor success rate in the second half last year, when he stole just 11 in 17 chances, doesn't artificially decrease them.
So basically, an unsustainably hot start last year inflated Kipnis' value to where it is now. Again, he has room to grow as a hitter, but based on how he finished last year, I wouldn't bank on him making the leap this year.
Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Angels (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 8)
Trumbo's back spasms in the second half last year serve as a nice little scapegoat for his .227 batting average and .630 OPS after the All-Star break. But judging from his skill set -- particularly the lack of plate discipline -- those numbers were as much a regression to the mean as anything else.
Trumbo's .306 batting average and .965 OPS in the first half were no doubt encouraging, but as a general rule, players who strike out more than every four at-bats don't offer much in the way of batting average. Yeah, there's Matt Kemp, but he's such an extraordinary talent that you can trust him to deliver an unreasonably high BABIP every year. Trumbo's .316 BABIP last year was in line with his minor-league BABIPs, and the result was a .268 batting average. He may have arrived at both numbers in a less-than-straightforward way, but judging from his minor-league track record, where he arrived is where he belonged.
So would a repeat of last year's numbers make him a bust? Based on where he's going, kind of. He ended up being only the 17th-ranked first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues last year. And as with any all-or-nothing slugger, there's always the potential for the batting average to collapse (see Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla).
Mike Napoli, C/1B, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 7, H2H: Rd. 9)
Prior to the 2011 season, when he looked like Mike Piazza with a .320 batting average, Napoli had hit .251 over his career. And of course, he hit .227 last year.
So which of those seasons -- 2011 or 2012 -- is the outlier? It shouldn't even be a question.
From what I can tell, two misconceptions are inflating Napoli's value now. One, some people are inclined to believe that the quad injury that limited him to 352 at-bats last year is also responsible for the low batting average. Maybe that explains why he didn't hit .260, but the decline from .320 has a much simpler explanation. Plus, it's not like his newly diagnosed hip condition is going to make him any more durable.
Two, some people assume that just because he's hit .306 with a 1.107 OPS at Fenway Park so far in his career, that's going to be his home split going forward. But it doesn't work that way. The sample, a full 62 at-bats, is too small. Theoretically, the Green Monster should complement Napoli's power stroke, but he was already playing at one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball. The move won't completely revolutionize him as a player.
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 10)
Bet you didn't know that. Oh really? Fine, then I bet most of your leaguemates don't, which is precisely why he seems to fit the mold of a sleeper.
But the reason I had to use points per game to assess him (as opposed to total points) is because he missed a large number of games last year -- the entire second half, basically -- with an Achilles injury. And he's having a hard time coming back from it at age 37, having yet to play this spring because of inflammation in both heels.
Which in and of itself is a reminder that 37 is practically ancient for a player whose athleticism has at times been called into question. Shoot, Ortiz looked like he was done for as a 33-year-old back in 2009. An improved approach against left-handers bought him a few more years, but this injury might be the nail in his coffin.
If an offseason of rest couldn't do the trick, I'm thinking it'll nag him off and on all season, costing him playing time and you the piece of mind you could have had with a top-30 starting pitcher at the same point in the draft.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B, Giants (Roto: Rd. 8, H2H: Rd. 9)
The Round Mound of Pound was a fitting nickname for Sandoval when he first broke into the big leagues, but lately, the emphasis has been more on the round than the pound.
At times, he's shown he can still be that .300-hitting, .900-OPS guy who took the league by storm in 2009. But for the most part, he didn't show it last year. And he certainly didn't in 2010.
Why not? Too often he's just too big for his own good. When he's over his ideal playing weight, everything seems to slow down: his bat, his reaction time in the field, his foot speed, etc. And, of course, he's at greater risk for some of the aches and pains that have so drastically limited his playing time the last couple years.
A strict dietary and workout regimen helped him get in shape for his resurgent 2011 season, but this spring, he showed up indisputably big.
So he's a performance risk, an injury risk and, potentially, a playing time risk. When you reach the point in your draft where Sandoval is the best you can do at third base, you might as well wait three or four rounds and draft David Freese instead.
Dan Haren, SP, Nationals (Roto: Rd. 12, H2H: Rd. 7)
I'll admit that at age 32, Dan Haren probably shouldn't be so evidently on the decline, but that doesn't mean we should ignore that he is. Last year, his back hurt, his velocity dropped, and his ERA ballooned -- all telltale signs of a decline. So why the free pass?
"Well, the back issue caused the dip in velocity, which contributed to the high ERA, so if he's saying he's healthy, he should be back to normal, right?"
OK, but who have you known with chronic back issues -- not a one-time injury, but lingering pains -- that, once they started, eventually went away? Don Mattingly? Todd Helton? Your Uncle Chuck? The poor guy ...
I don't doubt Haren's back will feel better at times, but if he was miraculously healed, he wouldn't be having so many velocity issues this spring. In a March 15 start against the Cardinals, he was topping out in the mid-80s. The highest he's been hitting this spring is 90. Based on those results, how can you have any hope of him averaging more on his fastball than the 88.5 miles per hour he did last year?
Joel Hanrahan, RP, Red Sox (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 13)
If all was right for Hanrahan coming out of last season, his spring struggles wouldn't be such a big deal, but he's coming off a second-half performance in which his control disappeared on him.
It was especially apparent in September, when he issued 10 walks in nine innings. The result was a walk rate of 5.2 per nine innings for the season, almost triple his 2012 rate.
Hanrahan has had control problems in the past, so this latest bout, which seems to have carried over into spring training, probably isn't just a fluke. The pressure cooker of Boston likely won't do him any favors. If he gets off to a slow start, the fans and media will be calling for his head, and with Andrew Bailey, a former All-Star closer himself, and a rejuvenated Daniel Bard behind him, the Red Sox might feel compelled to oblige.
Carlos Beltran, OF, Cardinals (Roto: Rd. 13, H2H: Rd. 13)
Beltran turns 36 at the end of April. He has a history of knee problems. He missed half of 2009, most of 2010 and about a two-week period of 2011 with injuries, and even in the second half of 2012, he battled hand, back and knee issues.
The only thing more miraculous than him ranking 14th among outfielders in Head-to-Head leagues last year is the fact he played 151 games.
It won't happen again. Too many factors are working against him. Even healthy 36-year-olds typically don't play more than five games a week, and Beltran, as we've just covered, is rarely healthy.
And this year when he goes down, the most likely candidate to fill in for him is uber prospect Oscar Taveras, who might be the best player to come through the Cardinals system since Albert Pujols. Considering Beltran slumped to a .236 batting average and .742 OPS in the second half last year, that switch, whenever it happens, could easily stick.
Jonathan Broxton, RP, Reds (Roto: Rd. 16, H2H: Rd. 19)
Let's say Aroldis Chapman locks up the fifth starter role in spring training. Manager Dusty Baker, ever the friend to Fantasy owners, is doing his best to cast doubt on that front, but for the sake of argument, let's operate under that premise.
Broxton is still one of the riskier closers you could draft in Fantasy.
After continual meltdowns in back-to-back years with the Dodgers, he theoretically rebounded with the Royals and Reds last season, judging by his ERA and saves total. But look at the WHIP. Look at the hit rate. For that matter, look at a strikeout rate. Is a pitcher who averages 94.1 miles per hour on his fastball supposed to whiff just 7.0 batters per nine innings? Broxton's fastball is so straight and so flat that if it's not in the high 90s, like it was in his early Dodgers days, it's hittable.
And hittable is the last thing a closer can afford to be.
If Chapman thrives as a starter but Broxton falters as a closer, the Reds could easily turn to Sean Marshall, Jose Arredondo or perhaps even J.J. Hoover for ninth-inning duties. And if Chapman falters as a starter, well, what Broxton does won't even matter.
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