The Top Busts column always fires people up. Inevitably, I’m going to diss someone’s favorite player or team. Red Sox, Mets, and Yankees fans get especially passionate about this type of thing. While I welcome your constructive feedback and criticism, I offer this clarification. I define busts as “players who will underachieve based on their average auction price or draft position.” Busts are not the same as bad players. They are not players I dislike on a personal level. Don’t send emails about how someone is going to “prove me wrong” and make me “eat crow.” I personally guarantee that some of these players will not be busts—that’s the nature of forecasting.
Whew! With that out of the way, let’s dive into the Top 20 players that I won’t be drafting on my teams this year.
1. Alfonso Soriano: Kind of a no-brainer, Sori is showing up on a multitude of bust lists this year. Despite the ballpark change, I’m still seeing him drafted in the late first/early second round. His power and batting average will take a huge hit in RFK, and the RBI opps and scoring opportunities will lessen as well. If he hits .252-24-80 with 29 steals in 2006, he’s a $10 player in a 12 team mixed 5×5 league. I have him tenth among second basemen, someone I honestly wouldn’t take before the 10th round.
2. Miguel Tejada: Does he bounce back from a lousy second half in 2005 (.738 OPS)? As a consistent, durable 30-year-old, many are betting he does by drafting him in the top 10 overall. What if he slips to .285-27-100 this year? Based on recent contact and walk rates, a sub-.290 batting average is entirely possible. He doesn’t steal bags and isn’t driving in 150 runs ever again. He’s a fifth rounder, a $17 player in my book. I can’t see how you get any positive return out of drafting him. Look for something like 2003 but without the 10 steals.
3. Armando Benitez: A declining strikeout rate, a scary walk rate, and knee bursitis are three of Benitez’s problems entering the 2006 season. He’s 33, which is when many relievers begin to fall apart. Three independent projection systems have his ERA this year over 4.00 and several call for a WHIP north of 1.30. There’s a fair chance he racks up 30+ saves anyway, but at the very least you should put Tim Worrell on reserve. He’ll be drafted ahead of the lesser-known Jose Valverde, but he shouldn’t be.
4. Bobby Jenks: Faith in the big guy seems shaken this spring. Spring training aside, I’ve always questioned whether he has the control to be a successful closer over the course of a full season. Unlike Benitez, Jenks doesn’t have a big contract reinforcing his closer role. Ozzie Guillen will be quick to turn to Neal Cotts if Jenks has several bad outings. I’ve seen him going around the ninth round, and that doesn’t agree with me.
5. A.J. Burnett: A possible reduced strikeout rate away from Dolphins Stadium and higher ratios make me wary of Burnett. And this was before possible elbow woes popped up. In a mixed league, he’s a $4 pitcher in my rankings. Sure, the potential is there, but you’ll have to overpay to get it. Just like the Blue Jays did.
6. Tim Hudson: A hit per inning, increased walks—you’re not getting 20 wins or a 2.70 ERA from Hudson ever again. More like a 3.90 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. To me, just another $4 pitcher. He’s just rotation filler, and his price will exceed that because of past performance.
7. Mark Mulder: I’m starting to see why Billy Beane sold high on these guys. A high WHIP (1.37?) and an ERA over 4.00 is in the cards for Mulder, whose indicators are all going in the wrong direction. Well, except for one—he’s getting more and more ground balls. I still think all those base runners will catch up with him and result in something close to 2004 but with fewer wins.
8. Robinson Cano: Even with a solid contact rate, Cano probably doesn’t have the eye to hit near .300. Something between .270 and .280 seems more likely. And to paraphrase Ron Shandler, he’s not going to increase his home run output if he keeps hitting so many ground balls. I’m not sure if Cano cracks my top 20 second basemen in a mixed league. Give me Mark Ellis any day.
9. Josh Beckett: The price for Beckett seems to have risen since last year in a lot of leagues, and that doesn’t compute. Even if he does manage 190 innings, his ERA might approach 3.80. The strikeouts and WHIP and solid but I wouldn’t consider taking him past $15 in a mixed league.
10. Mike Lowell: One of my “duh” picks for a bust, but I’m not down on him because of anything that happened in Spring Training. He’s just completely lost it, and he hasn’t had it for a very long time. Many have called him a great bounce-back candidate, a possible 90 RBI guy. The last time Lowell hit more than two home runs in a month? July 2004. No control of the strike zone and Kevin Youkilis/Hee Seop Choi ready to supplant him? Pass. Even for your super late-round miracle pick, there are better options than Lowell.
11. Jeff Francoeur: He’s only a bust in the sense that he set the bar so high with his 2005. A .265-25-90 performance with 10 steals would be a very respectable sophomore season for most 22-year-olds. But you might be better off in a non-keeper league with lame outfielders like Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders.
13. Brian Roberts: Not that he’s a bad player or anything. A .280 average, 12 home runs, 25 steals, and 90 runs is nothing to sneeze at from a second baseman. But unless you are relying on the steals, you can probably find 10 better options at the position. I’d drop out if the bidding hits $10.
14. Corey Patterson: If everything breaks right, Corey might hit .250. We’ve already seen what happens when it breaks wrong. Double-digit steals and homers are cool, and he certainly should come cheaply. Regardless, there’s no reason to use a roster spot on Patterson over, say, Mike Cameron or Aaron Rowand.
15. Bartolo Colon: I think Colon is a good pitcher: 3.70 ERA, WHIP under 1.25. Maybe even 17+ wins again. I just don’t want you to mistake him for your ace because of the Cy Young—too much of his value is tied to wins. Go after the Brett Myers/Doug Davis types instead.
16. Mike Mussina: He’s getting quite hittable. He’s no longer durable, and his ERA should touch 4.40 again. Still has a healthy strikeout rate and the New York offense, but the Yankee effect probably leaves Mussina overpriced in most leagues.
17. Jorge Sosa: The “duh” pick among pitchers, Sosa miraculously posted a 2.55 ERA against a 1.39 WHIP last year. While a useful NL-only 4.00 ERA guy, he doesn’t belong in any mixed-league rotation.
18. Jose Guillen: Maybe it’s folly to discount Guillen because of injuries, especially after a triumphant return in spring training. But there are a lot of .280-20 home run outfielders floating around without wrist and shoulder problems and a pitchers’ home ballpark. It seems like a lot could go wrong but upside is limited.
19. Francisco Rodriguez: Yes, he’s an unstoppable force in the ninth inning. But Will Carroll keeps saying his elbow is primed to burst, and many fantasy leaguers don’t seem to factor that in. At the very least make sure you own Scot Shields too, or you risk a Eric Gagne-like flop in the early rounds. If you must take a closer early, Chad Cordero and Huston Street are safer picks.
20. Chris Carpenter: I’m not down on Carpenter in general, I’m just worried about making him a second-rounder. He has a lengthy injury history and threw 262 innings last year. Seems possible he’ll miss a few starts and ultimately be outperformed by Brandon Webb. Bid cautiously on Carpenter—the chances of a repeat are miniscule.