As Grapefruit and Cactus League games near, we’re combing through each MLB division and identifying a handful of players who should be shied away from on fantasy draft day. You don’t need to avoid these players altogether like the title suggests -- at some point in a draft they will become good value picks -- but let another owner take the overly-early leap. D.J. Short covered the American League East and Ryan Boyer did the American League Central. Now to close out the AL, we head West …
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Coco Crisp, OF, Athletics
Crisp finished the 2013 season with a career-best 22 home runs and his slugging percentage of .444 was an eight-year high. A longtime fantasy-relevant outfielder drafted most commonly for his speed, he rewarded owners with a surprising burst of power. But therein lies the problem. Crisp finished with 49 stolen bases in 2011, 39 stolen bases in 2012, and then swiped just 21 bags in 2013. The swift decline can be blamed on chronic hamstring issues, but that doesn’t make the situation any less worrisome for fantasy prognosticators. Crisp is highly unlikely to match his home run total from a season ago -- his 12-year major league track record tells us that -- and he can’t be counted on to run more frequently with wheels that are now at age 34. Don’t be lured in by recent-past production on draft day. Instead think about what the future holds.
Jim Johnson, RP, Athletics
Johnson had a remarkable two-year run as the Orioles’ closer, leading the major leagues in saves in 2012 with 51 and finishing tied for the MLB lead (50) last summer with the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel. That’s a total of 101 saves in just two seasons, and Johnson also registered a cool 2.72 ERA and 1.15 WHIP across 139 innings during that span. But expecting him to remain a top-tier fantasy closer for a third straight season requires some faith. Johnson averages 93.8 mph on his fastball -- below average for a ninth-inning man -- and he struck out just 265 batters in total 400 frames during his eight-year run with Baltimore. He is not a dominant pitcher, despite what the lofty saves totals might tell you, and he’s entering a much more talented bullpen in Oakland than the one he left behind at Camden Yards. A few early slip-ups could lead to a quick role change.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Astros
Fowler was an exciting and valuable fantasy commodity during his time with the Rockies, but the offseason trade that sent him to Houston for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes will sap some of that number-producing potential. Fowler was a .298/.395/.485 hitter at home during his six years in Colorado and a .241/.333/.361 hitter on the road. That’s an .880 home OPS and a .694 road OPS over a six-year span -- too large of a split and too substantial of a sample size to be ignored. Fowler won’t be the first player to miss Coors Field. It is by far the most hitter-friendly stadium in the major leagues and his new home, Minute Maid Park, plays much more neutral. Leaving the Rockies’ lineup for the Astros’ lineup further damages his fantasy cause.
Hector Santiago, SP, Angels
Santiago performed well as a swingman for the White Sox in 2012 -- his rookie season -- and then carried that success into a full-time starter’s role in 2013, posting a 3.56 ERA (120 ERA+) and striking out 137 batters in 149 innings. Those numbers caught the attention of the Angels, who badly wanted an influx of young starting pitching and made a three-team, six-player trade this winter that netted them Santiago from the Pale Hose and a second left-hander, Tyler Skaggs, from the Diamondbacks. Santiago has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff and did a good job of preventing runs during his time in Chicago, but his control issues are real and don’t seem likely to suddenly vanish out in Anaheim. The 26-year-old southpaw has walked 113 batters in 224 2/3 career major league innings for a BB/9 of 4.5. That’s way too many free passes.
Fernando Rodney, RP, Mariners
Rodney had one of the best season-long relief performances in baseball history in 2012, posting a 0.60 ERA, 0.777 WHIP, and 76/15 K/BB ratio in 74 2/3 innings for the Rays while converting 48 saves in 50 opportunities. Those numbers never seemed sustainable, however, and he predictably fell back to earth in 2013, finishing the year with a 3.38 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 66 2/3 frames. Rodney did register a career-high average fastball (96.5 mph) last summer in Tampa Bay, but sustainability is also an issue on that front because he turns 37 years old next month and velocity usually diminishes with age. The Mariners signed Rodney to a two-year, $14 million free agent contract in early February to serve as their primary ninth-inning man in 2014, but Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen both have closer experience and will be lurking in setup duty hoping to vulture some saves. Or reclaim the job altogether.
Elvis Andrus, SS, Rangers
The Rangers’ young shortstop appeared ready to take a developmental leap in 2013 after finishing the 2012 season with a .286 batting average, a .349 on-base percentage, 31 doubles, and 21 stolen bases in 158 games. But it didn’t happen. Andrus got off to a slow start last year and never fully recovered, ending the 2013 campaign with a rough .271 batting average and .659 OPS, down from his .727 OPS in 2012. He stole a career-high 42 stolen bases, but the rest of his numbers didn’t fit his steep preseason fantasy draft stock. Andrus is a better value this year because of last year’s disappointment, but you’ll still see some reaching. He’s being drafted in some leagues before Ian Desmond, a much more well-rounded fantasy performer. And you could even argue that Everth Cabrera of the Padres is a better option for pure speed.
Chad Qualls, RP, Astros
The Astros signed Qualls in December to a two-year, $6 million free agent contract and will likely ask him to open the 2014 season as their closer given that Jesse Crain (calf, biceps, shoulder) is ticketed for a season-opening stint on the disabled list. But don’t spend a middle-round pick on Qualls with the expectation that he will remain Houston’s ninth-inning man all season long. The 35-year-old right-hander has a 4.58 ERA (85 ERA+), 1.42 WHIP, and 6.1 K/9 in 247 2/3 innings since the beginning of the 2010 campaign. He was pretty good last summer for the Marlins, but the larger sample size tells us that he’s on the decline. Houston will likely feature a carousel of closers in 2014. Don’t waste a draft pick on one unless you're in a really deep league.