By Ryan Carey
In the next couple of weeks, draft season will really start to kick into high gear. I myself have a pretty full slate of drafts dotting my calendar the rest of this month, and like all of you I continue to try and evaluate the marketplace and form opinions and strategies so I can attack my drafts calmly. This requires seeing things clearly, and not blinding yourself to only what you want to see sometimes. So with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some players who I am either intentionally avoiding or just downgrading due to their rising price tags. These are all quality players, and I could make just as many arguments for them as I can against them. Many of them will be drafted at a point where if they don't deliver everything you are hoping, you could be in for a long season. You may like all of these guys, but if you do, at least I can make sure you consider the downside involved ahead of time.
C - Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox - It's all going to come down to the health of Napoli's hip this season. I actually like how his power will potentially play in Fenway Park, and playing 1B will give him a chance to stay in the lineup, but there is no denying the fact that he has a degenerative hip condition that cost him a ton of money this offseason. The condition is avascular necrosis and often is linked to steroid use. I'm not suggesting Napoli is a juicer, but sorry, it's another red flag. There is plenty of risk here, because his season could go south at any point. Napoli hasn't been a target of mine yet, and I don't really expect that to change anytime soon.
1B - Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - The number that people get fixated on with Trumbo is 32, or in other words, the number of home runs he hit last year. While the power is undeniable, so is the fact that he tanked in the second half last year, especially in the final two months when he struck out 72 times in 192 at-bats and barely managed to keep his average over the Mendoza line. Some point to a back injury he sustained at the end of July as the cause of his struggles, while others will argue that pitchers had figured him out and were exploiting the holes in his big swing. The best course of action is to keep your expectation reasonable. Draft him for the power, but don't expect the guy who was hitting .348 at the end of May last year.
2B - Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians - Look, I love Kipnis, and truth be told I expect him to have another solid year as the Indians' starting second baseman and likely number three hitter. But I have to take my fan's hat off for a second and at least point out the fact that he is another player who really struggled in the second half last year. After sprinting out of the gate with 11 homers and 20 steals in the first half, he stumbled to 3 and 11 the rest of the way. There was of course an injury here as well, this time a neck injury, so it's possible he can put those struggles behind him this season. The real problem I am seeing lately is that his price just continues to rise. If you think you are going to lay back and get a discount based on that second half, forget about it. The key again here is to project his numbers correctly. I expect a slight power uptick but a potentially significant speed dip. I'm not saying don't draft him; I just think you have to start planning not to be able to land him in your drafts unless you're willing to reach.
SS - Derek Jeter, New York Yankees - First off, I'll tip my hat to the Captain for the great season he had last year, after everyone was writing him off. He silenced a lot of naysayers by hitting .316 and belting 15 home runs, both his highest totals since 2009. His stolen bases dipped below 10 for the first time in his illustrious career, and after breaking his ankle in the playoffs last year, it's a pretty safe bet that he won't be reversing that trend this year. Jeter is a great player and role model, but he will also be 39 this year and will not come close to the 730 plate appearances he tallied last year. That means his counting stats will take a hit as well. He's riskier than he ever has been, and there is enough young talent available at the position to place your bets somewhere else this year.
3B - Will Middlebrooks, Boston Red Sox - Brett Lawrie and Eric Hosmer are the obvious cautionary tales when looking at Middlebrooks heading into 2013. Middlebrooks, like Lawrie, hit the ground running last year, smacking 15 home runs in just 75 games before a wrist injury cut his breakout short. The danger of course is the dreaded sophomore slump, and Middlebrooks seems like a prime candidate looking at the pretty sub-standard walk-rate (4.5%) he posted last year. He is still an intriguing target to wait on at 3B, but as draft day gets closer, his draft day price continues to rise as people start chasing that 30-homer upside. In a mock recently, I tested out drafting him in the 8th round only to realize there were plenty of other decent options going much later. I have pretty much decided he's not someone I am going to chase at this point. I'll either grab my starting 3B early or I will likely be content to wait for Mike Moustakas, who I have been drafting five or six rounds later.
OF - Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Hamilton is one player I can pretty much safely say I will not be drafting this season. Again, he is one of the best hitters in all of baseball, but it is the combination of everything that we tell ourselves to avoid in an early-round pick that will make me pass in pretty much any format this year. Injury risk will always be a factor with Hamilton, and now he goes to a worse ballpark and has the baggage of the big free-agent contract on top of it. I'm not saying he won't be good again. I am just saying I am letting someone else shoulder the risk, because there are safer players to take at the point in the draft where Hamilton's numbers and ADP say he should go. Eventually, the value will look too good to pass up, and someone could indeed get back great second-round value. It just won't be me.
See ya, CC
OF - Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers - I think it's fitting to list him after Hamilton, since the former's departure will thrust Cruz into a more crucial spot in the Rangers' lineup. I frankly am just not sold that he will be up to the task this year. He finally stayed healthy last year (for the first time), and the big numbers didn't really materialize. In fact, his homer total dipped to 24. He won't give you double-digit steals anymore, and he won't win you any batting titles either. I just don't see the upside anymore and would rather get a more stable commodity for my OF2/3 if I can.
SP - CC Sabathia, New York Yankees - He's been a great pitcher for a long time, but the cracks in the armor are starting to show. He's logged a ton of mileage on that arm of his, and he is not a small man. His arm was barking last year, and at the point he is being drafted, I am firmly deciding he will not be on my teams this year. Can he still go out and have a good year? Sure he can. But for me, beyond the worries I have about age, mileage and conditioning, the once potent Yankee offense looks like a shell of its former self. I think it's going to be a long year in the Bronx. I'm looking elsewhere for the top of my fantasy rotations this year.
RP - Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox - Honestly, I have other names that I could use here, like Chris Perez, Fernando Rodney or Jim Johnson. But I think if you took a poll and asked which American League closer scares you the most, Hanrahan would come in first hands down. His save totals the last two years obscure a shaky skill set that is not ideally suited to Fenway Park. The Sox also have a lot of other candidates in their pen, so the leash could be pretty short if too many of the fly balls he surrenders end up as souvenirs.