So much of the pre-draft focus heading into every baseball season is on identifying potential breakout stars and trying to secure big-time value at small-time prices, but avoiding one-year wonders, not letting household names overshadow an impending decline and learning the folly of simply paying for last year’s numbers is every bit as crucial to any fantasy team’s success.
Below are 22 names to stay clear of on draft day, including overvalued stars, young players not ready to reward the hype and mediocrities coming off fluke seasons. And don’t say I didn’t warn you, because reading our list of “busts” last year would have saved you from team-wreckers like Chase Headley, Josh Hamilton, Brandon League, Derek Jeter, Wade Davis, Ryan Ludwick and Josh Willingham.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Cano is a great player, but moving from New York to Seattle will hurt anyone’s raw numbers. Not only will he likely see fewer RBI opportunities in the middle of the Mariners’ lineup, but the ballpark swap is a rough one for a left-handed power hitter. Last season he was clearly the top fantasy second baseman, but don’t be surprised if he has some serious competition this year in what has become a deep position.
Bartolo Colon, SP, New York Mets
Colon has a 3.32 ERA in 507 innings since making a remarkable comeback at age 38, earning him a two-year, $20 million deal from the Mets this offseason. Switching to the NL and a pitcher-friendly home ballpark should help, but at this point, he simply pumps low-90s fastballs for strikes and relies on the defense behind him to make all the plays with just 5.5 strikeouts per nine innings over the past two years.
Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Davis could have a great 2014 season and still come nowhere close to approaching what he did in 2013. Not only did he lead the league with 53 homers and 138 RBI, his 1.004 OPS was the highest of his career by 175 points. It’s certainly possible that Davis has found a new level of sustained performance, but in general, fantasy owners will be better off trying to find the next Davis than over-investing in a repeat.
Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland A’s
Donaldson was legitimately one of the top 10 players in the AL last season, but he was essentially in his first full season at age 27 and was playing way over his head if you place any trust in his track record. Not only did he hit just .241 with a .687 OPS in 75 games for the A’s as a rookie in 2012, he’s a .270 hitter with an .840 OPS in 252 games at Triple-A. Decent numbers, but he shouldn’t be a top-five third base target.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Houston Astros
Fowler comes with the standard leaving Coors Field disclaimer, especially because his road numbers with the Rockies were unimpressive. He hit .241 with a .694 OPS on the road compared to .298 with an .880 OPS in Colorado and at age 27 it’s hard to project a ton of remaining upside considering he hasn’t cracked 20 steals since 2009 and has never reached 15 homers.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Freeman will have a hard time coming close to his 2013 production because both his .371 batting average on balls in play (compared to a pre-2013 mark of .317) and his .454 batting average with runners in scoring position (compared to a pre-2013 mark of .241) will lose a bunch of air this year. When that happens, owners who spent big on him at first base will be left with 20-25 homers and non-elite totals.
Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Gallardo pitched well down the stretch to quiet a lot of concerns, but there’s still reason to be worried. Not only did his strikeout rate drop to 7.2 per nine innings after being 9.0 or higher in each of the previous four years, but his average fastball fell to 90.7 miles per hour from 91.8 in 2012 and 92.7 in 2011. He’s leaking velocity after big workloads through age 27, and his control has always been iffy.
Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees
After spending nearly all of 2012 on the disabled list, Gardner had a nice bounceback season, staying healthy and hitting like his usual self. Unfortunately, he wasn’t his usual self on the bases, attempting 32 steals in 145 games after trying 62 in 2011 and 56 in 2010. Gardner’s bat will never be good enough to make a huge fantasy impact alone, and at age 30 his days of running crazy may be over.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Rickie Weeks falling apart and Gennett hitting .324 as a rookie led to a change at second base in Milwaukee, but the 24-year-old’s track record suggests he’ll come back down to earth considerably. Gennett is a decent enough all-around player and should post solid batting averages, but he slugged just .409 in the minors—including a measly .371 at Triple-A—and isn’t much of a stolen base threat.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets
Moving from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field will likely cost Granderson’s some homers, and at this point, that’s where nearly all of his fantasy value comes from. He hit just .229 last year and has topped a .250 batting average just once since 2009. And while he still runs effectively, at age 33 his steals upside is minimal. Not quite Adam Dunn territory for having only one dimension, but think twice about whether he’s worth it for 30 bombs.
A.J. Griffin, SP, Oakland A’s
Griffin has 21 wins with a 3.60 ERA and 235 strikeouts in 282 innings through age 25, but his inability to keep the ball in the ballpark is scary. He served up a league-high 36 homers in 32 starts last year, which is very tough to do calling Oakland’s ballpark home, and Griffin also allowed 10 homers in 15 starts as a rookie. Among the 123 pitchers with 200-plus innings since 2012, his fly-ball rate is third-highest.
Jose Iglesias, SS, Detroit Tigers
Iglesias is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball and hit .303 as a 23-year-old rookie, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he has an impact bat. For one thing, Iglesias managed just three homers, five steals and 15 walks in 109 games, so it was an incredibly empty .303. He also hit just .244 in 222 games at Triple-A with the same lack of power and speed.
Chris Johnson, 3B, Atlanta Braves
This one is pretty easy. Johnson came into the season as a 27-year-old career .276 hitter and then made a run at the batting title by hitting .321 thanks to an MLB-high .394 batting average on balls in play. That will come crashing down in 2014, and his lack of power and poor strike-zone control remain, leaving Johnson as someone to avoid on draft day.
Joe Kelly, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Kelly was masterful down the stretch after moving into the rotation, going 9-2 with a 1.91 ERA in the second half. He now has a 3.08 ERA in 31 career starts through age 25, but a measly 6.0 strikeouts per nine innings and mediocre control are warning signs. St. Louis has a ton of potential rotation options, many of whom possess more long-term upside than Kelly, so don’t be surprised if he winds up back in the pen.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Moving from Texas to Detroit figures to take a chunk out of Kinsler’s overall stats. For his eight-year Rangers career, Kinsler hit .304 with an .898 OPS in Texas’ hitter-friendly ballpark compared to .242 with a .710 OPS on the road, which is one of the more extreme splits you’ll see without Coors Field involved. Toss in the fact that he’s 32 years old with declining stolen base efficiency, and he’s likely to underwhelm.
James Loney, 1B, Tampa Bay Rays
Loney got off to a hot start for the Rays before turning back into his usual punchless self, finishing with a sub-.800 OPS for the sixth consecutive season. Tampa Bay obviously liked his all-around game, re-signing Loney for $21 million after getting him for just $2 million last offseason, but from a fantasy point of view he simply doesn’t have the power necessary to be worth targeting.
Jake Peavy, SP, Boston Red Sox
Peavy is a former Cy Young winner and posted a nice winning percentage last year between the Red Sox and White Sox, but his raw stuff has deteriorated to the point that it’s no longer special and he hasn’t topped 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings since 2009. Toss in the fact that he’s 33 years old with plenty of health issues in recent seasons, and there are better targets even among the recognizable name set.
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Lost in his big RBI total is that Phillips wasn’t actually all that good in 2013, hitting .261 with 18 homers for a .706 OPS that’s his lowest in eight years with the Reds. He made up for that and then some by hitting .340 with runners in scoring position, but the ability to hit like Miguel Cabrera with men on and Miguel Cairo with the bases empty isn’t actually an “ability.” Without the RISP magic, he’s mediocre.
CC Sabathia, SP New York Yankees
Offseason elbow surgery was followed by a career-worst season, including an AL-high 112 earned runs allowed and just 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings. At age 33, he has an awful lot of mileage on his left arm, and Sabathia’s average fastball velocity has dipped from 93.8 miles per hour in 2011 to 92.3 in 2012 and 91.1 in 2013. He’s still capable of being a valuable pitcher, but Sabathia is wearing down.
Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York Yankees
Teixeira was injured and ineffective in 2013, but even if he’s fully healthy this year the ship has sailed on him being an elite first baseman. For one thing he’s 34 years old, but beyond that he hit a combined .252 with an .831 OPS from 2010-2012. Not bad, certainly, but there will be less expensive—and because of the wrist problems, less risky—ways to find 30 homers at a high-offense position.
Juan Uribe, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
With his swing-from-the-heels approach and amusing uniform fit, Uribe is fun to watch when he’s playing well, but just don’t count on it happening again in 2014. He wasn’t just bad in 2011 and 2012, he was among the very worst players in baseball, and expecting him to continue swimming in the fountain of youth at age 34 is some wishful thinking. There are better bets with better upsides.
Jered Weaver, SP, Los Angeles Angels
Weaver has certainly never relied on overpowering velocity to thrive, but at some point he’s going to run out of fastballs. Last year his average fastball clocked in at 86.5 miles per hour, down from 87.8 in 2012 and 89.1 in 2011. He still managed a 3.27 ERA, but failed to crack 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings for the second year in a row and appears to be skating on some very thin ice at age 31.