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March 16, 2005

Fantasy Focus

AL West Busts

by Jeff Erickson

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Earlier I wrote about NL West players I thought would be busts this season. Today we'll cover the AL West, and in the process highlight one especially potent job battle. As a reminder, I like to break down the players that I list as "busts" in three different levels:

  • Level I: Useable players that will be overpriced/overvalued on Draft Day. I wouldn't be opposed to owning them, just not at their going rate in most leagues.

  • Level II: Players that have a major flaw that would dissuade me from owning them, barring special circumstances; or, players with an existing injury that lessens their value.

  • Level III: Players I won't touch with a 10-foot pole on draft day.

Without further ado, here's a look at the AL West.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Level I

Dallas McPherson: McPherson ranks near the top of most prospect lists out there, including BP's (#4 overall) and RotoWire's (#6 overall). The Angels opted to not pursue Troy Glaus this offseason to give McPherson his shot. So why do I think he's a potential fantasy bust this season? Let's start with his health. He came down with a herniated disk in his lower back that required an epidural. The timeframe given for his recovery last week was two to four weeks. Unless the treatment is successful at the short end of the timeframe, he's probably looking at starting the year on the DL.

My next concern is with McPherson's defense--he's not quite Garrett Atkins-bad at the hot corner, and by many accounts he made strides at the position last year. Nevertheless, he's still considered a bit of defensive liability. It's what prompted Mike Scioscia to start Alfredo Amezaga (!) instead of McPherson in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox last year. Finally, there's the potential that he could be squeezed out of playing time, both by Robb Quinlan in the short term and by Chone Figgins in the longer term, once Adam Kennedy recovers from his knee injury. There are too many risk factors involved here to pay full price for McPherson.

Darin Erstad--The good news is that in 2004 Erstad posted his highest OPS since his monster year in 2000; the bad news is that said OPS was 746. At 31, Erstad is looking more and more like a liability. He has a weak bat at an offensively critical position. That's a bad mix no matter how you slice it. About the only saving grace here is Erstad's 16 stolen bases, but with his hamstring a ticking time bomb, there's no guarantee that he repeats that performance. If Casey Kotchman comes on strong this summer at Triple-A Salt Lake, a trade to another organization may be a possibility, although Erstad's contract probably will make it prohibitive for another team to add him. Perhaps the more likely yet less attractive scenario is to see Kotchman getting sent elsewhere.

Level II

Casey Kotchman: Don't get me wrong, I love Kotchman as a prospect, but once again, playing time is a huge concern for him. Take a look at the depth that the Angels have assembled for their DH slot. Assuming that the starting outfield of Garret Anderson, Steve Finley and Vladimir Guerrero remains healthy, those left to fight over the crumbs of playing time include Juan Rivera, Jeff DaVanon, Robb Quinlan and Kotchman. There's not a bad option in this bunch. You could add Kendry Morales to the mix, but he's almost certainly targeted for Salt Lake, if not Double-A Arkansas. I just don't see how Kotchman, barring Erstad's next eviscerated hamstring, is going to get into the lineup on even a semi-regular basis.

Jarrod Washburn: Perhaps the most comical part of Washburn's injury-shortened 2004 campaign was when he had the audacity to tell the Anaheim papers he was waiting to hear about his selection to the All-Star team. Truth be told, he hasn't pitched all that well since 2002, and thankfully, this past season Washburn finally lost the "staff ace" title. With his ordinary stuff and poor peripherals, he should remain as far away from your squad as you can keep him.

Kendry Morales: As with Kotchman, there's no place for him to play. Morales' visa problems getting here from the Dominican Republic have precluded him from even having the opportunity to win a spot in spring training. There are some doubts that he's ready for major-league pitching anyhow, as shown in Clay Davenport's excellent article discussing the level of play in Cuba's Serie Nacional.

Level III

Maicer Izturis: Again, I have few complaints about the player here, but Izturis went from one organization that signed a free agent at his position (Cristian Guzman) to a four-year deal to another organization that did the same with Orlando Cabrera. Second base isn't an option here either, with Figgins the Opening Day starter and Kennedy on the mend.

Oakland A's

Level I

Erubiel Durazo: This is only a minor downgrade here. My concern with Durazo is that he qualifies only at the DH/utility slot in most leagues, having played just four games at first base last season. I prefer to have a little bit more flexibility with that slot, to avoid having to start the likes of Scott Hatteberg at one of my corner slots. Many, if not most leagues require a player to have played 20 games at a position last year (or 10 games this year) to qualify there. Other players this year that may be limited to DH/UT-only slots to start the season in your league include Travis Hafner (11 games at 1B), Glaus (19 games at 3B) and Frank Thomas (four games at 1B).

Jason Kendall: There's been some talk by the A's that Kendall will continue to run with the same impunity that he did with the Pirates. I don't buy it. Kendall's poor conversion rate (69 stolen bases in 118 attempts since 1999) bodes ill, given the A's organizational philosophy. Kendall also won't be batting leadoff any longer and could be batting third or lower, limiting the number of situations where it makes sense for him to run. Don't bid on him expecting a repeat of his 11 stolen bases last year.

Level II

Scott Hatteberg: Hatteberg's on-base ability doesn't really translate into fantasy production. If he hits like he did last year (15 HR, 82 RBI, 87 R), he'll be useful as your third corner infielder, but there's a significant risk that he'll drop back to 2003 levels. If he does that, Dan Johnson might even displace him.

Mark Ellis: While second base in the AL is admittedly a weak position, Ellis is just as weak a fantasy candidate. Not only is he trying to recover from a severe shoulder injury, he also has to hold off two contenders for the starting job in Keith Ginter and Marco Scutaro. Even if neither factor above existed, Ellis on his merits wasn't a tremendous offensive player--his batting average will hurt you, and he doesn't offer enough power or speed to compensate for that.

Level III

Seth Etherton: Etherton was claimed by the A's from the Reds over the winter and might start off in long relief, with an eye towards potentially starting if one of Dan Haren, Joe Blanton or Dan Meyer fails in their first trip around the league. There's too much working against Etherton to think that he will succeed. He's trying to return from major arm troubles (what Reds pitching prospect isn't?), in his case his shoulder. He hasn't yet established himself at the major league level, and now he has to make the transition to the AL. I'm generally wary of NL pitchers moving to the AL, more so when they're less-established.

Seattle Mariners

Level I

Richie Sexson: Will Carroll's Team Health Report on the Mariners hasn't come out yet, but I have to imagine that if Sexson doesn't have a red light, it's certainly at least orange. The track record of players coming back from dislocated shoulders like Sexson's is less than encouraging. Factor in that Sexson won't hit for tremendous average or run at all, and is now playing in a pitcher's park and there's a good chance that you'll end up overpaying for his power potential.

Level II

Eddie Guardado: I was already wary of Guardado to begin with, given that he's another player that opted not to have surgery on his torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder after he was originally advised to have it. More often than not in situations like his, it's a matter of delaying the inevitable. Now that he has a hamstring injury that's going to keep him out for three weeks, there's no real opportunity for us to evaluate his progress in rehab. He'll probably begin the year on the DL.

Ryan Franklin: Franklin endured poor run support for the second consecutive year, but unlike 2003, run support wasn't the main culprit for his poor record, as his ERA rose. He was mediocre at best throughout 2004, allowing more than 10 H/9IP and a 106/61 K/BB ratio. His days in the rotation likely are numbered.

Bucky Jacobsen: The damage in Jacobsen's surgically repaired knee was worse than anticipated, and his rehab, once expected to take five months, is now projected to last eight. Jacobsen is out for all of spring training and probably won't be game-ready until May. He's not guaranteed a spot in the lineup even when healthy, with Raul Ibanez likely starting as the DH on most days.

Level III

Pokey Reese: Unless you're in a Scoresheet or Strat league, Reese's superlative defense is going to do very little to help your fantasy squad. From an offensive standpoint, at best you can hope for a modicum of speed with no power and a poor batting average. While I'm not terribly high on Jose Lopez, at the same time I think the M's would have been better served just to plug Lopez in the lineup and see if he'll sink or swim.

Scott Spiezio: Spiezio's three-year deal in December of 2003 looked silly at the time, and Chris Kahrl said as much, but now that he's buried at any conceivable position that he plays, it's downright wasteful. Spiezio might not even be the Mariners' top backup option at first or third base.

Texas Rangers

Level I

Alfonso Soriano: I've seen Soriano go as high as fourth overall in some drafts this year, including in one expert league. I think that's a bit of wish-casting that he'll return to his stolen-base ways this year. I personally have him rated around 15-19th overall on my mixed league 5x5 rankings. He doesn't yet trust his hamstring, and until he does, he won't be able to run freely and it could affect his performance at the plate as well. As Will Carroll's article in this year's RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2005 details, muscle strains, and hamstring strains in particular, tend to be chronic. Ken GriffeyJr's hamstring gets more attention, and deservedly so, but this is a serious concern.

Level II

Kenny Rogers: I got lucky with Rogers in ToutWars last year, getting his 18 wins for $1. There's a good reason why he was available so cheaply. His peripherals all indicate that he should have allowed more runs than he did, and he was the beneficiary of expansive run support. Note also that he posted a 5.46 ERA after the All-Star break.

Ryan Drese: Drese posted an astonishing 3.26 ERA in 107.2 innings in Arlington in 2004. It's going to be damn tough to reproduce that home ERA with poor K/BB and K/IP ratios, however. His numbers after the All-Star break (4.72 ERA, 1.60 WHIP) paint a better picture of the real Drese. He's a league-average starter in a tough pitching environment. Don't get fooled.

Level III

Chan Ho Park: As has been documented many times elsewhere, A-Rod's astounding contract isn't what stopped the Rangers from competing before his trade. If you want to look for a real culprit, start here. Park's wonky back is reason enough to dissuade you from drafting him, but if that isn't enough, a quick look at his track record at the Ballpark in Arlington should finish the deal. You can't draft a pitcher who is unusable in his home park.

--

Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," head every weekday at 2 p.m. ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  AT&T Park,  Hamstring,  Year Of The Injury

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