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April 5, 2005

Fantasy Focus

AL Central Busts

by Jeff Erickson

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While wondering if Lloyd McClendon thought that Tike Redman was on the Alex Sanchez Power Program, or if incriminating pictures were involved in Redman's batting third on Opening Day, I remembered that I included Redman in my NL Central Busts column two weeks ago.

Just because Opening Day has passed doesn't mean that the following players aren't busts, or, for that matter, that all drafts have been completed. We'll finish off the rest of the divisions this week, starting today with the AL Central. Here are the categories we use to classify busts:

  • Level I: Useable players who 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 who 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 who I won't touch with a 10-foot pole come draft day.

Chicago White Sox

Level I

Orlando Hernandez: This is less a skill-level downgrade than it is a warning about his health. Counting on him for more than 110 innings or so is courting trouble, whether you're the White Sox or a fantasy owner. Sure, there's upside, much like there is with Tony Armas Jr., but with the way that most fantasy leagues require you to set your lineup a week in advance, you're going to risk carrying a dead spot on your roster more often than is advisable.

Juan Uribe: How often do you see players have a career year, or anything approaching one, in their first year away from Coors Field? Uribe is attractive based off of last year's numbers, the fact that he qualifies at both second and shortstop, and that manager Ozzie Guillen intends to emphasize the small-ball game more (resulting in more stolen bases). Still, Uribe's batting average gains weren't supported by any underlying improvement in his strike-zone judgment. Consistency remains an issue here as well--Uribe had wild month-to-month batting average swings in 2004.

Level II

Jose Contreras: Contreras had to be among the bigger disappointments of 2004, given his decent rookie season and dynamite spring training. Don't be among those betting on him returning to 2003 levels. His numbers after the trade to the White Sox weren't much better than as a Yankee, and his walk rate actually went up. He's now in a park that's less accommodating to his longball proclivities.

Joe Crede: Crede is much closer to losing his job than he is to "getting it" and turning in a high level of performance. In retrospect, we probably shouldn't be surprised at his failures--even in 2002 when he lit up the Triple-A International League and then posted an 826 OPS in 200 at-bats with the White Sox, his walk rate was below average. Over time, opposing pitchers have increasingly used his lack of patience at the plate to get him out.

Level III

Joe Borchard: If there's any credence to the rumor that GM Kenny Williams insisted on keeping Borchard over Jeremy Reed in the Freddy Garcia deal, he's hopefully seen the error of his ways. Borchard still has latent power potential, but odds are that he'll never realize that potential with his woeful plate discipline. At age 27, he's not really a prospect so much he is a future role player.

Cleveland Indians

Level I

Jake Westbrook: Westbrook's classification here only applies where you'd expect your league-mates to value him based on his 14 wins and 3.38 ERA in 2004. In many leagues, the league has collectively discounted those numbers to pay as little as $3 (subscription required) in auction for him. Monday's solid effort in the loss to the White Sox doesn't change his standing here.

Level II

Juan Gonzalez: The surprise winner over Ken Griffey Jr. in the "first on the DL" pool. Just because he was once successful in Cleveland doesn't mean he's a good bet to do it again.

C.C. Sabathia: Long ago, Mat Olkin wrote that Sabathia was a good bet to suffer an arm injury, having carried such a heavy workload in his initial years with the Indians. Mat drew a lot of grief from a local columnist for that remark, but I tend to believe Mat was on the closer side of the truth. A major injury hasn't hit yet, but Sabathia was sidelined briefly with a shoulder injury last year. Sabathia's current injury, an oblique strain, appears to be unrelated, but is troubling nonetheless. As Will Carroll's award-winning article in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2005--"The Five Injuries You Meet in Fantasy Hell"--warns, oblique strains tend to linger longer than initially projected. Officially, Sabathia is due back soon, but be wary of relapses.

Level III

Alex Cora: Cora will play less than he did with the Dodgers, won't hit for power, offers little speed and won't be helped by the change in ballparks as much as you might think. He might repeat what he did last year, but he's equally capable of hitting as poorly as he did in 2003.

Detroit Tigers

Level I

Troy Percival: 71-68-48-33. Those are Percival's strikeout totals from the past four seasons. The Tigers overpaid on the basis of his stretch-run performance. Don't make that same mistake.

Omar Infante: While it's possible that Infante could become a poor man's Jose Valentin, the fact that he had a decent 2004 campaign and that he will bat leadoff for the Tigers will serve to overrate him. He's a good candidate to wreck your batting average while you're focusing on his counting stats.

Level II

Jason Johnson: Johnson's best fantasy use is as an "innings-eater," drafted under the guise that he'll at least help you add strikeouts in 5x5 leagues and might luck into a non-inconsequential number of wins. That's of dubious value at best when you factor in Johnson's capability to wreak havoc on your ERA and WHIP.

Level III

Franklyn German: German's likelihood of ever fulfilling the Tigers' goal of turning him into a closer has shrunken to microscopic levels. Unless and until he demonstrates over a significant sample that he has conquered his control issues, his WHIP will leave you whipped.

Kansas City Royals

Level I

Jeremy Affeldt: Let's face it, the Royals are a bad team. In most cases, even the bad teams will provide 35 to 40 save chances in a season. They won't win very often, but usually when they do, it's not by a whole lot. Still, one has to believe that Affeldt won't be in line for a ton of save chances this year, and he's not a sure thing once he gets that save chance. This first assumes that Affeldt is healthy enough to pitch to begin with, an issue that's challenged him in the past.

Level II

Emil Brown/Terrence Long/Eli Marrero/Abraham Nunez/Aaron Guiel: So much dreck, so little time. Last year, the Royals wasted their corner outfield spots spinning their wheels under the "whoever is hot" plan, only to see the promoted players falter in their brief trial in the job before turning to the next victim. Their current set-up has the all the trappings of being the least attractive sequel since "Miss Congeniality 2".

Level III

Brian Anderson: Homerrific, even in Kauffman Stadium. He's far more likely to pitch close to his career norms than he is to approach what he did in 2003.

Chris Truby: Best rec.sport.baseball post ever? Don't become the fantasy league owner equivalent to one of the last four organizations Truby has played for (Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Detroit).

Mike MacDougal: Yes, MacDougal was once a closer. So was Heathcliff Slocumb. His former role with the club and the lack of viable alternative in the Royals pen behind Jeremy Affeldt have led some to believe/hope that MacDougal could be a closer-in-waiting, but he's shown nothing since the first half of 2003 to lend any sort of legitimate reason for that belief.

Minnesota Twins

Level I

Jacque Jones: Jones has consistently demonstrated a poor batting eye, with it finally coming around to hurt his batting average last year. He's past his peak year and probably in his final season with the Twins. If Joe Mauer is forced to DH a large percentage of the time, Lew Ford could eventually squeeze Jones out. He's a trade risk as well, for those of you in AL-only leagues.

Level II

Carlos Silva: Silva is way too hittable to expect a repeat of 2004's 14 wins. The Twins might end up having real problems filling in the bottom half of their rotation, unless Scott Baker and J.D. Durbin prove ready shortly.

Luis Rivas: At what cost are you willing to suffer to try to nab his 15 stolen bases? Nick Punto or even Juan Castro could end up displacing Rivas from the starting lineup and perhaps the Twins' roster altogether.

Level III

Joe Mays: Mays is more likely to start hitting the Pirates/Devil Rays/Royals circuit than he is to regain the magic he had in 2001 with the Twins. It's not just his Tommy John surgery recovery that will hold him back--his mediocre skill set will do the trick as well.

--

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

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