- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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I was asked a few times back in March why I ranked players I had no interest in drafting or trading for in a particular spot. My answer generally was that just because I rank someone somewhere, it doesn't mean I have to draft said player in said spot. I'm an instinctive drafter, and one day, I might choose Mark Teixeira over Lance Berkman. The next day, who knows?
Anyway, someone with plenty of time on his hands studied a mock draft I was in and noticed I didn't follow my own rankings when it came to certain players. I passed on Johan Santana in the first round of one league, reached on a catcher in another, and, when it came to my third outfielder in yet another league, I disregarded a certain struggling Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder to take a shot on that other, younger Upton brother. I admit, it seems odd and very unlike me to choose uncertainty over veteran consistency. Of course, I have no complaints now!
But Andruw Jones is the perfect example of how I deviate from my own rankings. I didn't think the guy was completely toast, as he appears to be now, but I didn't want him on my team. I had to rank him, though. What would it have looked like to rank 50 outfielders and leave him out? It would have looked like I had forgotten him, which I hadn't. I'd just written him off. Totally different. I ranked him, but it didn't mean I had to select him. In fact, in my oldest league, a 16-team, 12-keeper format, I let Jones go. I didn't protect him at all, with more than 100 hitters kept. Hey, nobody would deal for him, I didn't want him -- why keep a bad relationship going?
So in that league, we got to the draft, and essentially, Round 1 was really Round 13, since we all had kept 12 players. Some of the keeper picks were a bit odd, but everyone can think what they want to think. People started wondering aloud, "Who is the pathetic owner who let Jones go?" Jones was a clear first-rounder in this draft, but I wasn't going to retake him with my pick. In fact, I didn't get the chance. He went just before me. That owner figured Jones couldn't be as bad as he was in 2007, right? He said later he had felt like he had no choice but to grab Jones there. Jones, a player who smacked 92 home runs from 2005 to 2006. He's 31. He easily could bounce back from a wretched contract season, right?
But he hasn't. And unlike some of the top strugglers so far, I don't think Jones is going to bounce back. Oh, sure, he'll hit some home runs and knock in some runs, but so will Richie Sexson. There's a reason Joe Torre batted his center fielder eighth the other day. Jones was his worst hitter in the lineup that day, save for the pitcher.
And I wouldn't trade for Jones, because again, I don't think things are going to get much better. He's hitting .159 with a token home run he mashed at Atlanta. That's it. He batted second Wednesday, in an effort to get him better pitches, I suppose, and he raised his average three points by getting one single in five at-bats. You could call it a bad start and I wouldn't disagree, but at what point is a bad start just, well, the real deal? His swing looks long, slow and robotic. His home park isn't exactly friendly to the long ball. The Dodgers have three other outfielders worthy of everyday play. Jones might not be.
Outfield isn't nearly as deep as it used to be in fantasy, which is why I made sure to get a few good outfielders in all my leagues. In past seasons, I concentrated more on middle infield. But really, how many new outfielders are just pouncing onto the scene? I've got Eric Hinske on a few teams. Could it be that he's one of the top undrafted outfielders in fantasy? How sad. Column for another day.
Anyway, Jones is done, and I'm pleased I don't have to deal with him in any league, at least as far as I know. If someone offers me Jones for Cla Meredith, for example, I might have to consider it, but the last thing a fantasy team needs is someone who probably will end up being a .220 hitter with moderate power. Every baseball player has value attached to him, and some of the players below are going to get better this season, but I'm still not interested in dealing for them. It either would cost too much or, after owning them for a month, I would just want to move them to someone else.
Players off to bad starts I won't trade for
Hunter Pence, Astros: I don't have him on any teams, either, because he was drafted too high this spring. My concerns about him were two-fold. One, he doesn't want to take walks, and eventually, after your rookie season, pitchers figure it out and make you lunge for pitches. Two, he didn't have a wrist problem just in 2007, he had injured his wrists before. So, Pence is hitting .260 after a hot streak this week that raised his average nearly 100 points and included his first home run of the season. He's not hitting anywhere near the top of the lineup, meaning he needs J.R. Towles and the pitcher to knock him in, and he's not stealing bases. When I wrote my 20/20 blog a few weeks ago and left Pence out of the discussion, his was the main name readers wanted included. Maybe Pence has flipped a switch and turned his season around, but I don't think this is going to end as well as people believe.
Jack Cust, A's: I knew his batting average would hurt my teams, but I thought he'd find a way to get more than two or three hits per week. Cust is the ultimate three true outcomes guy, meaning most of his plate appearances end up with a home run, walk or strikeout, but he has just one homer, and that came in the third game this season. I wonder how much longer the A's, as powerless as they are, will keep playing Cust or even employing him. They just re-signedFrank Thomas to be the DH, so if Cust is to play, it'll be in the outfield. All that said, Cust still could hit 25 home runs, but he can't wait much longer to start hitting, and if I want him on my team, chances are he's a free agent in leagues now.
Felix Pie, Cubs: Kenny Lofton sits at home watching Cubs games, wondering when Lou Piniella finally will have had enough and instruct his people to give Lofton's people a call. It can't be long now. Reed Johnson has done a fine job, really, making contact and covering ground in center field, but the Cubs need a better leadoff hitter, don't they? Especially since this looks like a 90-win team to me. No matter whom the Cubs get, it's looking bleak for Pie, who hasn't hit at all in the bigs. His home run off Jorge Sosa the other day had to help his confidence and earned him the start the next day. However, Alfonso Soriano's return beckons, and Johnson isn't the one who will sit when that happens. In fact, if Matt Murton would just hit for some power, I wouldn't be shocked if Kosuke Fukudome moved to center field once in a while. Either way, Pie remains too raw to play everyday. He should be a good one for some team in 2010, but don't expect much this season.
Wily Mo Pena, Nationals: I'm really not sure why people think Pena is going to suddenly become a monster power hitter. Sure, he can produce tape-measure shots when he makes contact, but every time I watch him at the plate, it seems like a pitcher is fooling him with off-speed stuff. Elijah Dukes, who can't replace Pena until he comes off the DL and proves he's better, is better. He has some plate discipline and 20-homer power, and he steals bases. Pena does have power, there's no doubt, but even if healthy, I think the Nationals will realize that's not enough.
Players off to good starts I won't trade for
Milton Bradley, Rangers: He's going to break your heart. I don't really question the ability this guy brings, but what do you think is going to happen to a player who, in his ninth season, has managed to play more than 101 games one time? He's going to get hurt, throw a fit that gets him suspended, or like he did last season for the Padres, do both on one nifty play. Bradley is hitting .328 and taking walks. Trade him now. The Rangers are a mess, mostly on the mound, but the losing will invade the clubhouse and the fiery Bradley doesn't seem like someone who can handle losing very well.
Luke Scott, Orioles: One of my sleeper picks from March, Scott got off to a nice start in batting average, but that's not why I drafted him. We need 25 home runs. I have doubts Scott can keep his average over .300 much longer, so unless he turns some of those doubles he's hitting into homers, he's not going to help fantasy owners much. Scott has scored six runs in 19 games, a woefully low number that speaks to the lack of run producers at the bottom of the Baltimore lineup. I don't think things are going to improve much. From watching Scott so far, I feel like I'm watching Mark Teahen. Where's the power?
Xavier Nady, Pirates: We've seen hot starts from Nady before, and still his signature season was last year, with 20 home runs and 72 RBIs, plus 23 walks against 101 strikeouts. Nady defines the term "sell high" to me. I don't see why, at age 29, he will all of a sudden have a 30-home run season, when his career slugging percentage is .446. Sure, if you take last year's numbers and extrapolate them over 162 games, it's 30 home runs. But 125 games was also Nady's career best, not because he hasn't had chances before, but because health and performance have been problems. I can see a career season, but 22 and 80 is about it. Each time I've received a trade offer with his name in it over the past two weeks, I've wondered, does that other owner think this is my first year playing fantasy?
Jason Kubel, Twins: Another popular corner outfielder in fantasy circles because so many people think the power is about to blossom, but watch Kubel play and you might think different. It's a shame, really, because if you watched this guy perform before he badly ruined his left knee in the Arizona Fall League in 2004, he looked like a future star. I watched him play at Double-A New Britain, where many young Twins were being showcased, and he was an exciting player with speed, power and plate discipline. Kubel still isn't all the way back. He has a few home runs so far, but he doesn't work counts at all and gives away too many at-bats, especially against left-handed pitching. He no longer possesses speed, and the Twins don't seem to want to play him in the outfield. Michael Cuddyer should return to right field soon, and Kubel will go back to playing some, but not all the time, and that's with Craig Monroe being the main obstacle to playing.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
Eric Karabell goes over a number of outfielders he doesn't believe will rebound from a slow start or keep up the pace from a hot start.