Last week we took a look at my first batch of sleepers you might consider when prepping for your 2012 drafts and auctions, so this time, let's look at some of those guys on the other end of the spectrum.
Now, I have to say I derive little pleasure in dissing players, although we all have to acknowledge that most players do indeed have their off years. Look no further than the disappointing Adam Dunn of last year. However, one thing to always remember is last year's dog is as unlikely to repeat a bad season, as is this year's break out likely to continue improving at a high level.
It is, after all a hard game.
That said, who am I looking at this year to either avoid, or at least not pay premium for? Well, the first player on the list is Ichiro Suzuki and it pains me to say so, as Ichiro is such a great all around player and hitter, and is surely a Hall of Famer to be. And, it is not just his big drop off from 214 hits to 184 (or .315 average to a .272 one) but Ichiro looks to be slowing down at age 37. Over spring games his bat looks slow, although that could be attributed to just being early and hitters getting their timing down. But, in addition to age, I have a hard time slotting Ichiro to pick up much hitting in the three hole and sadly, 175 hits, while great for most players, is a disappointment for the great Seattle right fielder. He can still hit .275, and still steal 30 bags, but I would not expect much more (though I am rooting for him) hence I would not pay for more.
I actually paid seven unexpected dollars for Ryan Vogelsong at LABR, although I really had the slot targeted for Mark Beuhrle (who wound up going for $4 more). Now, there is no way I see the right hander repeating his surprising 13-7, 2.70 season over 179.2 innings at AT&T last year. First Vogelsong's previous career high in innings was 133 in 2004--the only other time he logged over 100 frames--and second the right hander has had his bouts with injury. That said, I think he will earn the $7 I spent, tossing maybe 150 innings, with a 4.20 ERA, 100 whiffs, and a WHIP around 1.30, and lots of this compliments of pitcher friendly AT&T Park. Just be realistic: don't expect Vogelsong to do better, and take what he gives you. And, the price he cost me at LABR was not bad, so again, be prudent not to let a bargain get past you.
Changes are in store for the Cardinals, and while they have a handful of fine young players, things will be different. Of course Tony Larussa is gone, but don't underestimate new skipper Mike Matheny at the helm. Rather, expect that both Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman are running out of gas. Surely Berkman reopened eyes, making believers once again of those who had written him off. And, moving to first base to replace Albert Pujols will save some wear and tear on the now 36-year old but it also means Berkman loses some serious lineup protection. If he drops off to .270-20-70, that will be fine, but it will also be quite a drop from his stellar 2011 season. It is also realistic.
As for Beltran, who will turn 35 shortly after Opening Day, the 142 games in which he played last year were the most since 2008 for the outfielder who hit .300-22-84 over 580 at-bats, but in the outfield, which is where he will have to play while Berkman mans first, Beltran has lost his range and speed. Which also impacts his ability to run in St. Louis, and again without a dominant hitter to protect Beltran or Berkman, or even Matt Holliday, chances are the Cards don't quite recapture the 2011 magic they had. And, veterans Beltran and Berkman will unfortunately be part of the lesser equation.
The question is can Chase Utley stay healthy? Well, truth is the second sacker managed 159 games in 2008 and 156 in 2009, but in 2010 could only bag 115 (.275-16-75) and in 2011 that number dropped to 103 along with his totals of .259-11-44. Well, the keystone man is already experiencing knee issues in spring training, and though Utley still has some pop, and probably the durability to handle 100 games, don't count on much more. That said, when Utley is on--and he does not turn 34 till December--he is arguably the most productive second baseman in the National League. Still you want to underpay or draft hoping at worst Utley can repeat his decent enough 2010, rather than pay too much with unreasonable expectations and numbers closer to 2011.
I am writing about Jason Bartlett, who has always been an undervalued and as such useful fantasy player, but I have the same fears with Jimmy Rollins, and also sure fire Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, all of whom are shortstops with fading skills. Actually, putting Jeter, who is 38 years old on this list is not so much an indictment as acknowledgement that like Ichiro (and even Jeter's teammate Alex Rodriguez) are simply getting older and cannot continue to produce as they did in their prime. Rollins .268 average for 2011 was his best over the past three years, and the 34-year old is another example of the daily shortstop grind wearing on a player's body. Bartlett, who never on par with his mates in this paragraph, did log his second most hits (136) of his career last year, but conversely logged the lowest average over his eight years of play. Similarly, his OPS of .615 is almost 100 points lower than his career average. First, as the Padres rebuild, the question is how long is Bartlett even in their plans? Second, even if he does play, a few bucks is the most you want to invest at this juncture (and that will be likely based upon his speed).
Looking next to a couple of Cubs, but first a preface. Now, over the years Chicago to the North Side should have taken a hint from teams like Tampa, Kansas City, and now Seattle and San Diego, in jettisoning their elder stars and simply biting the bullet and drafting wisely rebuilding from within over a few years. With Theo Epstein now driving the business, the chance is this will happen, but in the mean time the team is first looking to perennial minor league slugger Bryan LaHair to drive first base. Now 29, Lahair has been manning first at the Triple-A level since 2006, and he does have .297-123-453 totals over that span, but he also has 273 walks to 583 strikeouts. Over 65 major league games, Lahair is .262-5-16 over 65 games, and with Anthony Rizzo in the wings, those numbers are just not going to cut it.
Lahair's potential partner on the right side of the infield is set to be Darwin Barney, the 26-year old keystone man, and though Barney was much of a surprise in 2011, his durability and skill set don't point to a solid full timer. Barney did total .276-2-43 last year, with nine steals, but he also posted a fairly anemic .313 OBP, a .353 slugging average, and just 43 RBI and 66 runs despite 146 hits and 571 plate appearances. More important, Barney hit .301-1-32 over the first half, while his totals dropped to .238-1-12 after the break suggesting NL pitchers figured him out, he was weary from the long season, or both.
Let's see, Casey Kotchman got 500 at-bats last year, and collected 153 hits. In fact he hit .306 and belted ten homers. And, he only knocked in 48 runs, while scoring just 44 as a member of the playoff Rays team? Just how is that possible? I mean, Darwin Barney, noted just above drove in 66 runs despite just a pair of homers and an OPS of .666, as opposed to Kotchman's .800 like total? It is all smoke and mirrors. Trust me. Don't spend anything on the guy, who will have trouble holding his job, let alone a bat.
Now, I have to say Mike Morse is quite a hitter. In fact, I have purchased him for various teams and reserve lists more times than I would like to admit, so I guess you could say I am partially scorned, having passed on Morse last year. There is one very valid point about major leaguers Morse makes: they all have at least one big year in them, so bear that in mind when bidding.
That said, Morse managed 522 at-bats in 2011, while since 2005, he has only managed 1140, meaning almost half his entire career's worth of big league at-bats were earned in one season, despite seven years among the majors and several starting gigs being handed to him. He can hit: he simply cannot stay healthy. Period. Don't be jaded about this. Just be practical, and let someone else take on the risk.