A common topic for fantasy analysis is “Sleepers and Busts.” All too often, however, the lion’s share of attention is spent pointing out sleepers, while it’s far more important to avoid the busts that can sink your team over the course of the season. With that in mind, each year I write fairly extensive busts columns for each division. This is my list of NL West Busts. 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 come draft day.

Without further ado, here are the players in the NL West that I think are busts.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Level I

Jeff Kent – There are a number of reasons to downgrade Kent this year. He turns 37 in March, he’s already shown some signs of decline, particularly with his power, and most importantly, he’s moving from Minute Maid Park to Dodger Stadium. You’ll see this comment a lot in this section – Dodger Stadium regularly plays among the toughest parks in baseball to hit in, maybe worse than any park besides Petco Park.

Odalis Perez – I’m surprised the Dodgers invested as much into Perez as they did, given the shoulder problems that nagged at him over the second half of the season. While he’ll have the benefit of pitching in Dodger Stadium for half his starts, the other half haven’t always been pretty. Finally, he’s rumored to be a bit of a head case, bringing to mind the antics and rapid decline of a former Dodger sharing his surname, Carlos Perez.

Derek Lowe – There are mixed messages here. Lowe’s move to the National League and to Dodger Stadium in particular bodes well. However, he’s a pitcher that relies heavily on the groundball, and the defense behind him is a little shaky. Yes, Cesar Izturis is tremendous, but the Dodgers let Alex Cora go and replaced him with Jeff Kent, who even in his prime wasn’t a tremendous defensive player. At third base, they have Jose Valentin, who has good range but is a little erratic. Factor in Lowe’s postseason heroics, and there’s a strong likelihood that he’ll be overpriced come draft day.

Level II

Jayson Werth – I’m always wary when a player is diagnosed with an injury that often needs surgery to repair, and instead opts for the rehab route. Generally, it’s only a matter of delaying the inevitable need for surgery, and meanwhile the player’s performance suffers while he tries to play through the injury. This applies to Werth, who has a partially torn ligament in his elbow. He has begun throwing just recently. Yes, Albert Pujols was able to play through the injury in 2003, and Luis Gonzalez played until August with the injury last year, but Gonzo’s performance declined as the year progressed. Werth added a minor wrist injury to the list in the Dodgers’ first spring training game, although it’s only expected to keep him out for a couple of games.

Kaz Ishii – He’s perilously close to being a Level III bust for me – I just can’t have a guy that walks that many batters and consequently always threatens to destroy my WHIP on my staff. Factor in that he’s not even a sure thing to make the Dodgers’ starting rotation, and he becomes even more of a risk to own. That he pitches in Dodger Stadium (and will have a number of starts in SBC Park and Petco), he’s left-handed, and can be hard to hit when he does find the strike zone can make him redeemable for those who are risk-takers. That almost certainly won’t describe me.

Jose Valentin – His batting average has plummeted to the point where the value of his power has been cancelled out. Moving from Cellular One Ballpark to Dodger Stadium only exacerbates the problem. You can only use him if you’re punting batting average.

Level III

Paul BakoDioner Navarro isn’t really ready for the majors, so Dodger fans are likely to see a steady dose of Bako and Dave Ross to start the season. Ross at least has some power potential. Bako doesn’t really have any redeeming offensive qualities.

San Francisco Giants

Level I

Moises Alou – Compare Alou’s season last year with his two previous seasons. Yes, he has a long history of hitting for power, but last year, at age 38, he took a quantum leap up in power and in health. Neither are good bets to repeat this year, at his age, his health risk, and the move from Wrigley to SBC Park doesn’t bode well, although it would be worse if he were left-handed.

Level II

Edgardo Alfonzo – Alfonzo is a good bet to miss at least 20-25 games every season, and his power output is decreasing steadily – those seasons of him hitting 25+ homers are long gone. Factor in the presence of Pedro Feliz pushing up behind him, and there’s a very real threat of him losing enough playing time to hurt you significantly in the counting stats as well, leaving you with only an empty batting average.

Jerome Williams – I have mixed emotions regarding Williams. On the one hand, I try to remain patient with young pitchers. All too often it takes a few years for a pitcher to really “get it” at the major league level, and Williams still is only 23 years old. With his minor league pedigree and his major league ballpark, there still is cause for hope. On the other hand, his lack of dominance at the major league level is a clear cause for concern. His strikeout rate declined again in 2004, and his persistent elbow problems limited him to 129+ innings last year. In re-draft leagues, I’m going to sit on the sidelines when his name comes up in my auctions, but in keeper leagues I’ll pay a little closer attention and consider a bid if the going rate stalls early.

Level III

Mike Matheny – Matheny’s name almost always comes up at the end of the draft/auction as a filler player, under the justification that “at least he gets at-bats.” Honestly, this is never enough for me to want to draft the likes of him – I think his accumulated at-bats actually hurt your batting average more than his potential runs and RBI can help. I’d much rather have Yorvit Torrealba and his upside potential and fewer plate appearances for my $1 catcher than Matheny.

Kirk Rueter – When it comes to soft-tossers, Jamie Moyer is more the exception than the rule. They have a smaller margin for error, and they tend to age poorly. At age 34, Rueter has already started that descent in value, posting a 4.73 ERA last year, despite pitching half his games in SBC Park; once he got out of the safe confines of home, his ERA skyrocketed to a whopping 5.31. With Jesse Foppert, Brad Hennessey and Matt Cain pushing from behind, Rueter could be on a short leash.

San Diego Padres

Level I

Ryan Klesko – My colleague Chris Liss and I have debated whether Klesko belongs on this list. I think his name value will still force him to be drafted too early or for too much, depending upon league format. He thinks he might come in undervalued. Either way, I’m persuaded that he won’t hit for power (at least in terms of homers), he won’t stay healthy and won’t run like he did in the past.

Level II

Brian Lawrence – There’s precious little in the way of positive trends to recommend Lawrence. His strikeout rate remained low in 2004 for the second year in a row, and he became more hittable last year, despite the move to Petco Park. He’s had three consecutive years of 200+ innings, so this isn’t a case of Lawrence needing more exposure to major league hitters. As Dan Quon, our Padres beat writer, wrote in Lawrence’s outlook, the early comparisons to Greg Maddux aren’t really apt.

Sean Burroughs – Burroughs is still only 24 years old, but we’re starting to get impatient with his development at the plate, at least in the power department. Instead of becoming one of the top third basemen in the game, Burroughs is in danger of becoming the next Dave Magadan. Playing in Petco and recovering from knee surgery won’t help.

Level III

Justin Germano – When I look at Germano, the comparison I keep coming back to is Jeriome Robertson when he was with Houston. Germano might be a little bit better than that, but the point here is that Germano’s minor league performance doesn’t necessarily portend success at the major league level. I don’t think he has the repertoire to pitch well at the major league level, even in Petco Park. Germano might be a marginal competitor for the fifth starter’s slot, but it’s a better bet that he’s going to become increasingly familiar with Triple-A Portland again this year.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Level I

Troy Glaus – On a team full of risks on potentially overvalued guys, Glaus stands out among their frontline players as valuable yet risky. His surgically repaired shoulder prevented him from playing in the field last fall in the playoffs, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to throw like he used to at third base this year. He is currently being limited to DH duty in spring training, and probably won’t play the field until the mid-point there. The other problem with Glaus is a long-standing one – his batting average isn’t likely to be better than .250 or so. If you draft him for his power, you need to draft another high-average player just to cancel out the effect he’ll have your batting average.

Jose Cruz Jr. – Cruz is another batting average killer, and he no longer provides the power to mediate the effects of his average. His last big power year came in 2001 with the Blue Jays. Borrowing again from our player outlooks, there’s more downside than upside here.

Luis Gonzalez – Gonzalez is returning from season-ending elbow surgery and may be brought along slowly in spring training. I disagree a little here with our Diamondbacks’ beat writer, Gus Papadopoulos, when he writes in his outlook: “Let others in your draft discount him based on his injury-affected 2004 numbers; you shouldn’t.” I think some sort of discount is in order, given his age and likely decline in production to begin with. As his placement in this category indicates, I’d still take him on my team, but I’m not willing to pay sticker price on him.

Level II

Brandon Webb – Did you know that Webb led the majors in walks allowed last year, with 119? Webb’s struggles with his command showed up in other areas as well. His hit rate jumped from 7.0 per nine innings in 2003 to 8.4 in 2004. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate dropped from 8.6 per nine innings to 7.1. There are reasons to be positive about Webb (a league-leading 3.55 groundball-flyball ratio, his successful rookie season, and the improved defense behind him in Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell), but I’m going to need to see some proof that his command has improved before I invest in him.

Alex Cintron/Matt Kata/Scott Hairston/Jerry Gil – Arizona’s crazy offseason spending spree included them signing veteran alternatives up the middle in Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell, effectively blocking all of their middle infield prospects. Gil probably belongs in the next group strictly on merit, but for writing purposes it was easier to group all of these at once. Hairston seems particularly buried – they’ve commented often on his poor defense and attitude, moved him to the outfield, and then made sure that their outfield spots are filled by veterans. I’m by no means sold on Counsell and Clayton (see below), but it’s hard to invest more than a reserve pick on anyone in this bunch. Cintron probably has the highest likelihood of anyone in this group at providing value.

Russ Ortiz – Ortiz has long been a “smoke-and-mirrors” type pitcher, always posting decent win/loss records despite consistently walking the ballpark no matter where he’s pitched. Now that he’s moving into Bank One Ballpark, he won’t be able to get away with his wildness nearly as much. He already hurts you in WHIP, but now he’ll probably hurt you with his ERA and won’t give you as many wins to lessen the pain.

Level III

Royce Clayton – Clayton’s glove is what will keep him in the lineup, particularly on a veteran-laden team. For you, however, that only means he’ll have more opportunities to wreck your batting average. Which batting average seems more likely to you? His career .257 average, the .228 average he posted with the White Sox in 2003, or the .279 (with precious little power) that he posted on Planet Coors last year? His only saving grace is his potential on the basepaths, but even that potential isn’t enough to justify a spot on my roster.

Tony Clark – Playing the role of the veteran backup behind Chad Tracy, Clark could get a decent share of playing time, either if Tracy struggles or if Troy Glaus’ shoulder forces him to the DL. That doesn’t mean you want him playing for you, even with his power potential. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Clark is instant death to your batting average if he gets a lot of playing time. Given that he can only play one position, an offensively loaded position at that, there’s precious little upside to be mined here.

Colorado Rockies

Level I

Garrett Atkins – Atkins is certain to get decent play in your leagues because of the Coors Field factor and his gaudy batting averages in the minor leagues. However, there’s a very real risk that if he gets off to a slow start, he’ll find himself either in a platoon, on the bench, or back to Colorado Springs. He doesn’t hit for a ton of power, and his defense will always be a mark against him in a coin-flip situation for playing time. Don’t be surprised if Desi Relaford or Luis Gonzalez finds a way to eat into his playing time, and if Jeff Baker is a consideration by the club by midseason.

Aaron Miles – Coors Field tends to make certain players overvalued come draft day. Miles is a good example. Yes, he’s the projected leadoff hitter for the team and has a modicum of speed, but he also doesn’t have great job security, both in terms of sticking in the leadoff spot or even in the starting lineup. Because he doesn’t hit for power, his value is dependent on getting on-base and scoring a ton of runs, posting a decent batting average and stealing his share of bases. The problem here is his batting eye – a .329 OBP isn’t getting it done, and if he doesn’t improve, he could quickly see himself batting seventh or eighth, when he’s in the lineup.

Level II

Jeff Francis/Joe Kennedy – Francis is one of the better pitching prospects in the game, and Kennedy is coming off a season where he actually pitched better at Coors Field than on the road. Do we finally have a couple of pitchers who are Coors-proof? I doubt it. Francis is going to have his share of bumps in the road while he learns to pitch at altitude (even when he was at Triple-A Colorado Springs, most of his starts were on the road). Kennedy has had shoulder surgery in the past, and his low strikeout rate to me indicates that his hit rate was a bit of a fluke. Expect regression to the mean with him this year.

Level III

Jason Jennings – Given the number of innings he pitched, Jennings may very well have been the least valuable fantasy player in all of baseball last season. While he’s better than his 2004 numbers indicate, he shouldn’t be within a zip code of any fantasy roster that doesn’t park-adjust their stats. Come to think of it, he probably shouldn’t be on an active roster in leagues that do adjust their stats to account for park-effects.

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