Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: AL busts
Our annual bust column always irritates readers because no one likes to read the downsides of the players they're drafting. But we owe it to you to attack some of the biggest names in fantasy.
A player can only qualify as a bust if he's widely considered intriguing -- for example, Alex Rodriguez, plagued by hip surgery, PED allegations, can't be considered a bust if he goes undrafted in most leagues. But Jacoby Ellsbury, Joakim Soria, Kyle Farnsworth and Ivan Nova looked like busts a year ago, and sure enough they were. They entered the season amid great fantasy fanfare, then failed to match the hype.
And now, a disclaimer: You'll notice a couple of our breakout candidates making this list as "dishonorable mentions." Why? These young players have immense talent, but the hype means they may be overrated. You're likely better off avoiding their elevated draft positions.
Here's a team-by-team look at the main bust candidates for 2013 in the American League.
• Bust -- RP Jim Johnson (29 years old): It's hard to consider him a true bust candidate, but the risk rises because he's an Orioles closer (in recent years, we've seen things that were once certain implode at that position, especially early in the season). Johnson has only one full season at the position, albeit a dominant one. But if you look closer, Johnson was marginal in the second half of the season (4.02 ERA, .290 batting-average against) after being an All-Star in the first half (1.21, .151). If he's more like his second-half self this season, you might see someone like Brian Matusz challenge his position.
• Dishonorable mention -- 3B Manny Machado (20): We realize Machado is on our list of potential AL breakout stars, but remember -- hype can make for unrealistic expectations, and a high draft position may be tough to live up to. He could erupt this season, or he could wind up back in Triple-A, flailing at off-speed pitches. You have to wait until 200 players are off the board before considering this raw talent.
Boston Red Sox:
• Bust -- RP Joel Hanrahan (32): Hanrahan's second-half slide wasn't entirely his fault -- the Pirates simply collapsed as a playoff contender, and the chances for a save were sliced in half. However, Hanrahan is now in one of the highest-profile closer spots in baseball, charging in from the right-field bullpen in Fenway with the Dropkick Murphys' "Shipping up to Boston" blaring over the P.A. It's hard to know how he'll handle the pressure-cooker situation away from quiet Pittsburgh. Also, if Andrew Bailey can finally prove he's healthy, he may become a potential closer in his own right.
• Dishonorable mention -- OF Shane Victorino (32): The first year for a free-agent signee often tends to be a tough one, and Victorino is coming off a second half in which he hit just three homers and drove in 18 runs. If he doesn't surpass those awful totals in the first half of the season with Boston, it could get ugly quickly for the Red Sox's biggest offseason signee.
New York Yankees:
• Bust -- SS Derek Jeter (38): As all the Yankees crumble around him, you have to be wary of Jeter's age and injury potential, especially coming off a broken ankle. In fact, short of becoming a part-time DH, you probably shouldn't bank on him playing more than 115 games this season. He is going to be drafted as a full-time star, as required by his name.
• Dishonorable mention -- SP Hiroki Kuroda (38): Holding up as a starting pitcher in your late 30s is a lot harder than Kuroda made it look last season -- just ask Andy Pettitte. The Yankees' hype isn't quite the same as it was in years past, but Kuroda is no longer an unknown in fantasy, either.
Tampa Bay Rays:
• Bust -- RP Fernando Rodney (35): If Rodney was ten years younger, we would call his 2012 season a breakthrough instead of a fluke. His 0.60 ERA last season is too good to ignore, though, so he is going to go off the board among the top-five closers. You're better off letting someone else take him at that rate.
• Dishonorable mention -- OF Wil Myers (22): The talent is definitely there, but his appropriate draft day price is still unknown. Someone will probably take him before it's warranted, since he is likely to open the year in Triple-A. There have been better slugging prospects who have taken years to hit their stride, namely a guy like Alex Gordon.
Toronto Blue Jays:
• Bust -- 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (30): Encarnacion won't last long in most fantasy leagues coming off his 42-homer, 110-RBI breakthrough, but this late-bloomer needs to show some year-to-year consistency at that level to be a trustworthy first- or second-round pick. However watch out for of injuries and errors -- some of the reasons why he didn't break out until age 29.
• Dishonorable mention -- SP R.A. Dickey (38): We just don't trust the knuckle-baller to sustain the ridiculous dominance he has displayed for the past couple of seasons. Breakthroughs just don't happen in your late 30s.
Chicago White Sox:
• Bust -- SP Chris Sale (23): Having made a transition from relief to the rotation, Sale's innings jumped at an alarming number last year, which makes him a potential victim of the year-after effect. The good news is his arm proved capable of approaching 200 innings, unlike some pitchers years older than him. The bad news it can lead to shoulder or elbow problems. This is a "do-not draft" arm, so be wary of his top-10 price among pitchers.
• Dishonorable mention -- 1B Paul Konerko (36): Anticipating his demise has been a fruitless endeavor for years, but the end may come sooner than later, as he turns 37 this season.
• Bust -- RP Chris Perez (27): Perez, who might not be ready for opening day due to a muscle strain, is coming off a 39-save season, but you can't ignore his high ERA. Also, rumors about a midseason deal have been floating around, which means you could be left with a mere setup man if he's not traded to the right team. Vinnie Pestano, 28, has been pegged as a potential heir apparent -- with or without a potential Perez trade. Pestano didn't have the saves but otherwise, he had better numbers than Perez.
• Dishonorable mention -- 2B Jason Kipnis (25): Kipnis has emerged as a burgeoning second base star, but his second-half numbers (.233-3-27) suggest he may be closer to mediocrity than stardom. Sure, a rookie will naturally slow down in his first full season, but his full 2012 numbers should be the expectation, not the baseline, for his sophomore year.
• Bust -- OF Torii Hunter (37): The career .277 hitter is a dangerous pick this spring, especially since his previous high before last season's .313 was just .289. He's not a consistent .300 hitter, not to mention his age makes him an extreme injury risk. He will at least need frequent days off and, with Victor Martinez healthy again as a full-time DH, Hunter won't get the easy day off in the field unless he's out of the lineup all together.
• Dishonorable mention -- RP Bruce Rondon (25): Recently, the closer's job has proved to be a veteran's position -- few rookies can handle the adjustment to the majors combined with the pressure of the stopper role. It also might make the Tigers go with a veteran reliever as a closer out of the gate -- with no guarantee Rondon will elevate to the job later. Therefore, don't expect instant stardom out of Rondon.
Kansas City Royals:
• Bust -- RP Greg Holland (27): Holland's arm, health or age, are all likeable, but you have to be a bit careful here. He is the best closer option now, but Kelvin Herrera has a lightning arm and former first-round pick Aaron Crow has some serious long-term potential, too. Holland will have to stay pretty effective to hold off those arms. Also, he has yet to hold the position of a full season closer.
• Dishonorable mention -- SP James Shields (31): He has never missed a start, so what's there not to like? Well, we need someone to potentially go bust for the Royals here: Let's go with a pitcher who was a solid mid-rotation fantasy starter for a top contender now pitching as the staff ace for an also-ran. He might stay as healthy and effective, yet lose as many as five victories off his average wins total (13.5 the past six years).
• Bust -- OF Josh Willingham (34): We shouldn't have to warn you about a player who is coming off a career year at the age of 33. His 35-homer, 110-RBI breakthrough will be tough to repeat, particularly in Minnesota's pitcher's park. Also, Willingham has spent much of his career struggling to stay healthy enough to get 500 at-bats. The warnings make him more of a late-round pick than a potential outfield bell-cow.
• Dishonorable mention -- SP Scott Diamond (26): Diamond was a surprise "ace" of the staff last season, but he doesn't throw hard and is dealing with bone spurs in his elbow. Bone spurs are often a result of your body overcompensating for weakness in the joint or ligament -- a huge warning sign. It is enough to avoid him all together in drafts.
• Bust -- 1B Chris Carter (26): Finding a bust for the Astros is nearly impossible because they have so few proven commodities in the first place -- if a late-round pick doesn't pan out, then it's not a bust. Jose Altuve, Bud Norris, possible closer Jose Veras and Carter are the only Astros in SI.com's Top 300, so let's start there. The first two are more likely to outperform their draft position than fall apart, while Veras only has value because he might get saves. Carter, hoping to earn a job at first base, left field or DH, is a threat for 30 homers, but if he keeps whiffing and doesn't prove he's capable of solid defense, those 30 homers could be of the Triple-A variety.
• Dishonorable mention -- RP Jose Veras (32): Veras will be picked in drafts because he is the de facto closer for opening spring training. If he doesn't win that job, he'll be a waste of a pick and a roster spot. And if he does win that job, the odds of him holding the closer's role for the season and getting enough save chances to be fantasy-viable are fairly remote, too.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
• Bust -- OF Josh Hamilton (31): We don't have the guts to call our No. 1 overall player, Mike Trout, a bust coming off his legendary rookie year, so we will go with another high-profile outfielder in Anaheim: Hamilton. Free agents usually don't play up to their expectations in their first year -- ask Albert Pujols -- and we already have myriad reasons why Hamilton might disappoint (namely his history of substance abuse and health issues). Also, in 2012 Hamilton spent months as a fantasy pariah even in his contract year (June and July). If not for the warts, he should be a first-round pick in fantasy. To be extra cautious, you might want to avoid him in Round 2 as well.
• Dishonorable mention -- RPs Ernesto Frieri (27) and Ryan Madson (32): In this case, the reliever who wins the Angels closing position is likely to become a draft day bust. If Madson (elbow) was healthy and ready coming off Tommy John surgery, he would be the bust candidate, because Frieri could take his job. Right now, Frieri stands to be the closer to start the season, but a healthy Madson could take it from him. You're almost guaranteed to have to draft both -- not to mention Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs or Sean Burnett -- if you want the closer for the Angels, and no one has the roster space to warrant doing that.
• Bust -- RP Grant Balfour (35): We were already cautious of Balfour as a first-time, full-time closer for the A's -- who never seem to slot a full-season closer. Then, Balfour needed knee surgery, which puts him in jeopardy of missing the start of the season. When healthy, Balfour has good stuff and produces good numbers. But setup man Ryan Cook is the younger and more dynamic talent. When you pick Balfour, you have to pick Cook as well.
• Dishonorable mention -- OF Coco Crisp (33): Crisp has been a late-round roster-filler for years, but the A's are not a team that values the stolen base -- his primary fantasy asset -- and Crisp doesn't quite fit in with the youth movement. The A's younger outfielders with more pop could turn Crisp into a bench player.
• Bust -- SP Felix Hernandez (27): The people who are willing to pick him Hernandez the No. 1 overall pitcher -- trust us, there are some -- are the ones who will overlook the fact he is a 13- or 14-game winner year after year. No, you don't draft fantasy pitchers based on their win totals, but Hernandez just doesn't project to win 20 games like other top pitchers. Also, Hernandez had a curious elbow issue before he signed his big contract extension, which portends trouble. Hernandez is potentially the best pitcher in baseball, but he is also a potential bust at his draft day price.
• Dishonorable mention -- C Jesus Montero (23): We warned readers about Montero a year ago because he hadn't had a full season in the majors yet. Now, we have to warn you about him handling the rigors of the full-time catcher role for the first time; it can slow, if not cripple, a fantasy slugger. Yes, he is intriguing, but there's also a potential for disappointment if you're expecting immediate greatness. Hitting .260 with 15 homers in 135 games, mostly as a DH, is one thing -- doing it, or more, as a full-time catcher is something else.
• Bust -- 3B Adrian Beltre (33): Beltre's numbers the past three seasons have leveled off nicely, but there should be concerns about his age and how he might be affected by the loss of Hamilton. There's more heavy lifting for Beltre to do this season, and we can't be sure if he'll be the same dominant player he was the past three years.
• Dishonorable mention -- OF Nelson Cruz (32): This one is a bit obvious in light of his reported inclusion in the Biogenesis documents. If he is found to have acquired banned performance-enhancing substances, he might face a suspension. Even if he avoids that fate, can anyone be sure his past performances weren't PED-aided? This will be a telling year for Cruz, who is best avoided at his probable draft day cost.