Big names to avoid on draft day
Sky-high expectations the main source of disappointment
Last year, I wrote that Alex Rodriguez was no longer worth the No. 1 overall pick. I also said that Barry Bonds' days as a 35-plus home run hitter are over. According to me, Mark Buehrle, Todd Helton, Brad Lidge and Mark Prior were all 2006 busts.
Granted, I wrote all of that in December, well after the season ended, but still!
Now my editor is asking me to write about busts before they happen. Sheesh!
There are obviously different degrees of busts. For instance, Mark Teixeira blasted 33 homers with 110 RBIs in 2006. While that's a pretty nice stat line, since he was drafted in the first or second round of most drafts, that wasn't good enough. As a matter of fact, he hit 11 fewer homers than the year before, with 34 fewer RBIs. That is a bust.
Consider any player who delivers far less production and value than you'd expect from a player with his draft ranking to be a bust. So it could be a first-round pick who delivers like a fifth-rounder (Teixeira) or a fifth-round pick who delivers like a 15th-rounder. A bust could even include a No. 1 overall pick (Alex Rodriguez) who doesn't live up to his billing.
Calling Captain Obvious
The following list of players should be selected in the middle or later rounds, but because of their names or previous fantasy stature, they'll probably be drafted much earlier. Don't be misled.
Randy Johnson, SP, ARI: The Big Unit won at least 17 games for the sixth time in eight seasons in 2006. He has 4,544 strikeouts in his career, and he's headed back to the team with which he won the World Series in 2001. Unfortunately, he's not bringing the Yankees offense with him. The Yanks had easily the best lineup in the Majors last season, and no one received better run support than Johnson, who managed his lofty win total despite recording the second-highest ERA of his career. He'll also no longer have the benefit of the automatic Mariano Rivera as end-game insurance.
Eric Gagne, RP, TEX: Nine saves, 25 strikeouts, 15 innings. That sounds like the first couple months of Chris Ray's tenure in Baltimore. Instead, it's what Gagne has produced over the past two seasons because of elbow surgery and back problems. Granted, he converted a Major League-record 84 consecutive saves from 2002-04, but that was in Los Angeles, not Texas. The stage of the draft in which you should be considering Gagne is littered with questionable closers (like Brad Lidge and Ryan Dempster), so taking a chance on Gagne isn't a horrible idea. Just try to handcuff him with his setup man, Akinori Otsuka.
Barry Bonds, OF, SF: Elbow troubles. Knee problems. And the chase of sport's most prized career record: 755 home runs. This year's decision to draft Bonds is a little easier than last year's, since he's finally coming off a subpar year in which he was essentially healthy -- or at least as healthy as he's going to get. He's still probably better in rotisserie than head-to-head formats because he continues to be in and out of the lineup, which kills you in H2H. Draft him as your third or fourth outfielder, and hope for 30 homers.
Todd Jones, RP, DET: What's not to like about a closer with 37 saves on an American League championship squad? Only five pitchers had more saves than Jones last season. All five of them are being drafted in the first eight rounds in most leagues, while Jones is lasting until the 14th and 15th rounds. He's closer to 50 years old than 25 and he has one of the game's most promising arms setting him up in the eighth inning in Joel Zumaya, who will surpass him as closer at some point.
J.D. Drew, OF, BOS: Drew has spent way too much time in the trainer's room during his career. Does he have great potential? Certainly. Will he love hitting in Boston's lineup? Of course. Will he be able to dent the Green Monster with doubles? Absolutely. Many are pointing to his 146 games last season as a sign that he can remain healthy for extended periods. But really, when 146 games played is your career high after nine Major League seasons, that's not something to brag about. Drew hit only 20 homers in 2006 -- sure, he was in cavernous Dodger Stadium, but he only hit eight homers on the road in 69 games. Let others deal with getting him in and out of the lineup, and take a chance on a more consistent player.
Let the e-mailing me with complaints begin!
Call me the devil's advocate. The following players are extremely talented, but they are also unlikely to live up to the expectations generated by last year's outstanding numbers.
Alfonso Soriano, OF, CHC: Let me count the ways:
1. Fonsie loses his second-base eligibility this season for the first time in his career. Obviously, he's still a very valuable player as an outfielder, but not as valuable as when you could slot him in your second-base spot.
2. His career season in '06 (.277 AVG, 46 HRs, 95 RBIs, 119 R, 41 SB) was phenomenal, no question, especially considering he played half of his games in one of the toughest offensive parks in baseball. Do we expect those same numbers this year? Do we expect better numbers? The law of averages would say he's going to come back to earth this season, if only just a little bit. Sure, that could still mean 34 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 steals -- but it's still a dip.
3. Was last season a result of Soriano playing in a contract year? That has definitely been the case in the past, when a player has a huge season with one team, signs a gazillion dollar contract with another and then goes on to experience a drop in production (a la Carlos Beltran in 2005).
4. This is now his second full season in the National League. Pitchers -- and pitching coaches -- will know him better this year. It's possible that NL arms have already caught on to him as Soriano hit only .204 with three homers and 11 RBIs last September, though he did have a similar dip during his last month with the Rangers in 2005.
5. He's now with the Cubs. They haven't won the World Series in 99 years.
With all of that said, understand that I'm not telling you to skip him in the first round. But I'm seeing an awful lot of drafts with him in the No. 2 spot behind Albert Pujols, ahead of Jose Reyes and Ryan Howard. That's not wise. Consider taking him a little later in the first round, if he's still there.
Carlos Beltran, OF, NYM: Don't forget that this Mets slugger also had a rough final month of the 2006 season, in which he hit only .203, mostly due to a bruised knee. He'll be back for more in '07, but his roller-coaster stats over the past three seasons -- including his drop in steals -- have to be a concern. He has a total of 35 steals over his two seasons with the Mets, which is less than what he did in each of his previous two campaigns with the Royals. Beltran is a great talent, but again, he's going in the latter part of the first round, when a second-round draft choice might be more reasonable.
Carlos Lee, OF, HOU: Here's another example of a player who came through with a career season (.300-38-116-102-19) while playing for a multi-million dollar contract. Minute Maid Park a solid hitters' venue, and having Lance Berkman in the lineup is a big help. But Ameriquest Field is a power hitters' park as well, and Lee slugged only nine homers over 236 at-bats after being traded to Texas last season.
Jered Weaver (SP, LAA), Justin Verlander (SP, DET), Cole Hamels (SP, PHI): Each of these '06 rookies came through with superb stats, likely helping their fantasy teams toward the top of the heap in pitching. But the second seasons are usually a little tougher than the first. Opponents have had an entire offseason to break them down. They've also had an entire offseason to hear how great they are. Each of these players is being drafted somewhere between the seventh and 11th rounds. Go with the more reliable, consistent pitchers in that same area of the draft, like John Lackey, Jason Schmidt and Chien-Ming Wang. Remember the sophomore slump Felix Hernandez experienced?
J.J. Putz, RP, SEA: No other position sees more players rise and fall as quickly as closers. Putz pitched lights-out baseball once he took over the job from Eddie Guardado in 2006, but has he shown enough in the past few years to indicate that he's ready to continue his dominance? Many closers learn the ropes as middle relievers and setup men, but Putz wasn't a great -- or even very good -- middle reliever in '04 and '05. He basically struck out less than a batter per inning, and his combined ERA was over 4.00. Last season, he's suddenly striking out almost 1.5 batters per inning, and his WHIP was incredible (0.92). Don't invest too highly on him at this volatile position.
Gary Matthews, OF, LAA: Is there a better example of a player expected to drop off after signing a fat contract because of a career year than Matthews? He doesn't do any one thing really well, and he's leaving the cozy confines of Ameriquest Field. Only PETCO Park allowed fewer runs per game than Angel Stadium last season. That can't help his rotisserie numbers.
Salomon Torres, RP, PIT: Again, we're talking about a career middle reliever who will be handling closing duties this year. Torres was out of this world in the role after Mike Gonzalez went down with a shoulder injury last August, which prompted the Pirates to deal Gonzalez for the much-needed big bat of Adam LaRoche this past offseason. But Torres also finished with a substandard 1.46 WHIP for the year, and the Pirates aren't expected to get him too many save opportunities.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, BOS: The Japanese import is going in the fifth and sixth rounds of many drafts before he has even pitched one inning in a Major League uniform. Even Ichiro Suzuki, possibly the greatest Japanese import to enter the Majors, was drafted in the 11th and 12th rounds of most 2001 drafts in his rookie season. Matsuzaka is a talented pitcher, no doubt, but how will he do against the powerful lineups of the American League East? Fenway Park was the fifth-easiest AL park to score runs in last season, and he'll be immediately thrust right into the league's biggest rivalry. Consider going with Scott Kazmir, Curt Schilling or even John Smoltz instead. Sure, Matsuzaka is being touted as an incredible talent, but the risk of using a fifth-round pick on him is just too great.
Jonathan Papelbon, P, BOS: Boston's standout rookie closer from last year will take his shot in the starting rotation. Without question, Papelbon put together a remarkable year for the Sox in '06, ringing up a 0.92 ERA in 68 1/3 innings. But a shoulder injury ended his season early, and the Red Sox believe that moving him to the more rigid schedule of the rotation will be better for his health. He's still an unknown as a Major League starter, so don't draft him any earlier than the 10- to 12-round range.
David Gonos is a senior fantasy writer at CBS SportsLine. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.