We’ve given you our Fantasy Risers for each division and have now moved on to Players to Avoid. It's important to note that we don't mean "avoid" in the literal sense – most, if not all the players will likely be drafted in standard fantasy leagues next year. Rather, we mean that, for whatever reason, their value next year will likely fall short of their cost on draft day. The National League East, National League Central, National League West and American League East have been covered and now it's time to look at the American League Central …
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Joe Mauer, 1B, Twins
I was bullish on Mauer heading into last season, as I always enjoy targeting guys who are eligible at catcher but don’t play the position. My multiple investments in the former MVP backfired, as Mauer had a career-worst season at the plate, batting .277/.361/.371 with just four home runs and 55 RBI across 518 plate appearances. And now, having spent all of 2014 as the Twins’ first baseman, the 31-year-old is no longer eligible at catcher for 2015.
Mauer should rebound at the dish in 2015. The career .319 hitter and three-time batting champ will surely see his average climb significantly after last year’s precipitous drop. The problem is that, with only first base eligibility, Mauer is suddenly a pretty run-of-the-mill fantasy option. If he hits 10 homers and drives in 75 runs, Mauer might not even be a starting-level first baseman in a 12-team league even if he bats .300. The name will probably get him drafted higher than he should be.
Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers
Martinez made an impressive return in 2013 after missing a season with a knee injury, but he took things to a new level in 2014 in his walk year. V-Mart set new career highs in average (.335), OBP (.409), slugging percentage (.565) and home runs (32) while also notching 103 RBI and 87 runs on his way to a runner-up finish in the American League MVP race. The Tigers rewarded Martinez with a new four-year, $68 million contract in November.
I fully expect Martinez to remain a productive hitter likely for at least a couple more seasons, but those drafting him in 2015 expecting him to come close to repeating his power outburst could be in for a rude awakening. It’s simply not likely to happen, as V-Mart hit six more dingers last year than he did in his first two years in Detroit combined. His 16.0% HR/FB rate in 2015 blows his career mark (10.7%) out of the water. Few players control the strike zone as well as Martinez (his 42/70 K/BB ratio last season was absurd), so a good average is expected. It’s just likely to be closer to his career mark (.306) than last season’s average (.335). V-Mart finished as the No. 4 fantasy hitter in 2014, but he was No. 66 in 2013 and that should be closer to your expectation.
Jeff Samardzija, SP, White Sox
There’s no doubt Samardzija has come into his own as a pitcher. The big right-hander finished with a sparkling 2.99 ERA over 33 starts last season between the Cubs and A’s, and he’s recorded over 200 strikeouts two seasons in a row. He even saw his walk rate fall all the way to 1.8 BB/9 in 2014 while still whiffing nearly a batter per frame (8.3 K/9). So why am I concerned about a guy whose arrow is clearly pointing up? One word: homers.
Samardzija has served up at least 20 homers in each of his three full seasons as a starter, and his 0.96 HR/9 ratio is higher than the league average over that stretch. Given that he’s going to one of the more hitter-friendly parks in the game after spending all of his career in either neutral or pitcher-friendly parks, that number is much likelier to go up than down in 2015. I’m still a big Samardzija fan, but he’ll probably be overdrafted for a guy whose ERA is likelier to be closer to 4.00 this season than 3.00.
Danny Santana, SS/OF, Twins
No one drafted Santana last season, but he wound up being a waiver wire gem, going on to finish as the No. 7 fantasy shortstop even though he played just 101 games. The 24-year-old sported a robust .319/.353/.472 batting line with the Twins while cranking seven homers and stealing 20 bases. Unfortunately, we’re simply not likely to see Santana coming anywhere near that slash line in 2015.
A career .273/.317/.391 hitter in the minors, Santana was able to put up his fantastic line with the big club even though he had an awful 98/19 K/BB ratio. The youngster can thank an absurd .405 BABIP for that, a mark that was tops in all of baseball for those accumulating at least 200 plate appearances. Santana’s home run total could also drop, as he went deep once every 61.4 plate appearances with the Twins after going deep once every 94.1 plate appearances in the minors. The shortstop will still have value with his ability to swipe a bag, but fantasy owners would be wise not to rely on him for anything else.
Edinson Volquez, SP, Royals
Like he’s done for many others over the years, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage was able to coax about as much as could be hoped for from Volquez last season. The veteran right-hander put up a 3.04 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 140/71 K/BB ratio across 192 2/3 innings for the Bucs, cutting his walk rate significantly with a career-best 3.3 BB/9 mark.
That Searage was able to work magic with Volquez shouldn’t have come as a surprise given his track record, but what would be surprising would be the righty repeating his success. The epitome of inconsistency, Volquez has always had great stuff and was an All-Star back in 2008, but overall he held a 4.75 ERA and 1.51 WHIP prior to last season. He did land in a pitcher-friendly stadium this winter and will have the Royals’ excellent defense backing him, but Volquez will also have to face a designated hitter instead of a pitcher and will no longer benefit from Searage’s tutelage. I’d be surprised if he’s much of a mixed league option.
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians
Chisenhall began last season in a backup role, but he forced his way into the lineup with a fantastic start, batting .393/.438/.619 with seven homers and 32 RBI through his first 53 games. The former top prospect looked to be well on his way to a breakout season at that point, but then the wheels fell off. Chisenhall hit an ugly .219/.292/.323 with six homers over 89 games the rest of the way, finishing with a much-improved but rather pedestrian .280/.343/.427 line with 13 longballs and 59 RBI.
Despite the fade down the stretch, Chisenhall will, unlike last year, enter the 2015 campaign as the regular third baseman. He improved greatly versus lefties in 2014, batting .294/.353/.376, which should mean he won’t be used in a platoon at the outset of the season. However, given his career .240/.286/.382 line against southpaws, it’s fair to question whether the strides he made will stick. Progressive Field is a good park for left-handed hitters, but Chisenhall’s flyball rate last season (38.4%) was actually a tick below his career average (39.2%), so he’ll need to pick things up in that regard if he ever wants to be more than a middling power threat. You shouldn’t rely on Chisenhall as your starter at third base in 2015 and even if it’s just a corner infield spot there are other options I like better.
Alfredo Simon, SP, Tigers
Simon was highly effective as a reliever for the Reds from 2012-13 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 99 appearances, but the club surely couldn’t have envisioned how good he ended up being last year when thrust into a starting role because of a Mat Latos injury. Simon nearly went 200 innings for Cincy, holding a 3.44 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while winning 15 games and making the All-Star team. Can he repeat the success in 2015? Don’t count on it.
After landing with the Tigers via trade this winter, Simon will be heading back to the American League where he posted a 5.18 ERA in his first four years in the majors. He’ll also, of course, now have to face the designated hitter rather than a gimme out in the form of the opposing pitcher. How Simon’s arm bounces back after throwing 108 2/3 more innings in 2014 than he did in 2013 remains to be seen, though we already saw signs of wear in last year’s second half with a 4.69 ERA. Finally, Simon simply wasn’t as good last season as his surface numbers indicated, as he benefitted greatly from a low BABIP (.265) and high LOB% (77.5%). Regression here is virtually a given.