|There's still somethings about Freddie Freeman that stops me from embracing him. (lovemybraves.com)|
Oh yes, fantasy baseball is coming. The ESPN rankings summit has taken place, Yahoo announced the game will launch this Thursday, and I even received my precious Baseball Prospectus in the mail Friday evening. The planning stage for serious fantasy gamers is well underway.
Last year, I did a round by round breakdown of players I liked, and that worked pretty well. At this point though, I'm not sure if I'm ready to dive that deep just yet, but I did spout out my Top 25 back on November 1st. While that list has changed, I think I will still need some time to break down the elite of the fantasy baseball world, then round up some sleeper/value picks, and then I will be ready to go round for round.
With all this positivity going around, it's only natural that for every positive there needs to be a negative. So using ESPN's rankings by position, why not fill out a fantasy line-up of players that I don't want? These are all players that ESPN did rank that I will not be drafting in 2014. Harsh to make those judgments at this point, but whether I think a player will regress or if it's just that I don't trust him, these players all will have a red flag next to their names in my 2014 Drafting Bible (not for sale). Let's spread some hostility, shall we?
C - BUSTER POSEY, SF (ESPN FANTASY SUMMIT RANK: 1)
Nothing against Buster, but spending on catchers just isn't my thing. The position has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years accruing players that can hit for average, power, and drive in some runs in the process. Along with those that can (Posey, Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, Brian McCann) the position is also buoyed by players that we think can do this at some point (Matt Wieters, Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana). All in all there are at least 10 servicable catchers in fantasy. You could even make a push for 12 if you wanted to. This shows me that while every position and player has a value, it's not worth being the first to dip your hand in the pot. The only exception would be if you need a player that brings a certain asset to the table. If you need average (Mauer, Perez), a couple SB's (Molina), or pop (Santana, McCann) then it is a strategic advantage to make a push for a player that can fulfill these needs, but if you have a balanced squad, then feel free to fill up the rest of your roster first.
1B - FREDDIE FREEMAN, ATL (RANK: 6)
The process of Freddie Freeman winning me over is a slow one, but it is happening. I still can't fully trust the 4th year Brave. For as steady as Freeman has been his last two years, it's that steadiness that causes me unrest. You can basically jot him down for 20-25 homers, but everything beyond that can go either way. He does make steady contact with the ball. He's slightly improved his LD% and his GB% each year, but that hasn't really translated much to his numbers. His high BABIP gives me pause in that he could hit over .300 again in 2014 or fall in line around .270. Thus far in Freeman's career it has been tough to tell if he's treading water or gaining steam, but as the 1B position continues to evolve in baseball if Freeman can't produce those power numbers he isn't worth his rank.
The main thing I can say about Freeman is that a year ago I read someone say he's a better hitter than Jason Heyward. I laughed. As I sit here today, I can't say whoever wrote that is all that wrong.
2B - BRANDON PHILLIPS, CIN (RANK: 5)
Brandon Phillips. Eighteen home runs and 103 RBI last year. He'll have to battle to be a top 10 2B in 2014. As a Phillips owner last year in my main money league, he certainly was a bright spot, but it was pretty clear how he was getting his numbers. After being dropped to 4th in the Reds' line-up, he had the 2nd and 4th ranked players in OBP ahead of him in Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo which put him in the enviable position of having to just put the ball in play to pump up his stats.
Aside from Choo departing for Texas this off-season and Votto vowing to work on driving in more runs, Phillips' more advanced numbers show a player continuing to decline. You can basically go down the line. His failed to reach double digit steals for the first time since he came to Cincy, his K% was his highest in 5 years, his ISO is the lowest it has been since he was a full-time player, and his wOBA was a horrid .307. His hope is that he can get similar opportunities in 2014, but that's a lot of risk for such a high ranked 2B.
SS - JEAN SEGURA, MIL (RANK: 7)
Segura was one of the bigger fantasy surprises last year. After coming over from the Angels in the Zack Grienke deal, Segura has certainly made Jerry Dipoto look foolish. Greinke hopped a bus to the Dodgers and Segura looks to be one of the best young shortstops in baseball. The trade really didn't make any waves when it happened, but Dipoto would certainly want a mulligan on this one.
For Segura, his hot start was only overshadowed by his stat line gradually declining month after month after month. It might be fatigue or it might be the league figuring out Segura. The power was never sustanable, but the kid can steal 40+ bases and score 100 runs with an average that can skip up to .300. That's rare enough, but if those are the only stats I'm gunning for, I'd wait for Everth Cabrera ranked one spot lower. Overall though, shortstop is one of the positions I'd like to be more aggressive at in 2014. Unless I need speed, I'd be looking to secure Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, or Ian Desmond far above Segura. So while the 7th overall SS ranking isn't far off, I doubt I'll be trying the waters with Segura.
3B - BRETT LAWRIE, TOR (RANK: 10)
This is just a no with Lawire. He has the talent, but as a Top 10 3B? Zero chance I end up with him in virtually any league. He is mildly intriguing as a 2B, but I feel there are plenty of players out there at 3B that can contribute all Lawrie can and you won't be spending as much money or drafting as early. His numbers last year, when he was healthy, mirror his disappointing 2012 season. There's obvious room for growth, but I would not be pleased to have Lawrie in my starting line-up.
OF - CARLOS GONZALEZ (RANK: 3)
We have all read the Cargo narrative at this point. When he's healthy he's dominant. One of the best fantasy players in the game. But his nagging injuries always sprout up and the DL soon follows. We also know that in this advanced, big picture world we live in that when drafting Cargo you factor in his stats along with the replacement level stats of the player you'll be adding to fill up all those DL trips. So Cargo is still certainly a Top 10 overall talent, but I can't value him that much higher than the oft-injured Jacoby Ellsbury, or more "unknown" quantities like Yasiel Puig, Carlos Gomez, or 2014 NL MVP Bryce Harper. Also, that Braun guy is back in the mix. What Cargo brings to the fantasy field makes him elite, but his doctor's bill keeps me away from investing heavily in him.
SP - DAVID PRICE (RANK: 8)
This was the hardest player to pick for me. I didn't want to go too far down the list of starting pitchers, so I dug my feet in against Price. What this really boils down to is a small portion of concern about Price's health and the large portion having to do with him pitching in the AL East. Stupid, I know, as Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past several years and has resided in the AL East. For my SP1, I'd always prefer to go for an NL pitcher, and there are comparable players to Price in that regard.
For more about Price himself, he did sustain his first significant injury last year with a triceps injury. Price came back and pitched great with 3 CG after the injury. The triceps is a pitching injury of note as that ties to the elbow and forearm, which is a big uh-oh for pitchers. The Rays certainly didn't seem to have any issues tossing him out there, so my apprehension is quelled a little bit.
The biggest question with Price is that for him to get the value you need from the 8th overall pitcher, you need the 200 K's, you need the low 3 ERA and the low WHIP with a baker's dozen or more of wins. Price's K/9 did drop from 8.74 to 7.28 which correlated to a drop in his overall velocity compared to the past two years. On the flip side, he had an amazing 1.30 BB/9, which puts him right near the top of the leader board. Is this a change in how Price throws? Will he try to be the old Price and blow away hitters, only to realize he doesn't have that same zip anymore? Or is he in the process of becoming the next Cliff Lee? How Price has changed as a pitcher will play a big role in 2014, but as of right now, I'm not sure what guy I'm going to get.
RP - CRAIG KIMBREL (RANK: 1)
Let me just say that it is hard for me to say if I pay for saves or not. I'm not a fan of investing heavily in closers, but I also realize there is value to every player in fantasy. Craig Kimbrel is the lone closer I can confidently say I would consider taking early on, but my early probably isn't as early as another guy's early. It's not a stretch to say that Kimbrel was not only the most valuable reliever in the game, but also the 12th most valuable pitcher in the game. He is young, strong, and has been brought along the right way by Atlanta. While it's easy to nit-pick the other elite closers: Kenley Jansen (health) and Aroldis Champman (walk rate), Kimbrel's main concern is his odd track record of starting slowly (meaning an xFIP of over 2.20 and a K/9 under 15). With the questionable offensive talent this year, along with the depth of starting pitching, I think sure thing players like Clayton Kershaw and Craig Kimbrel will be drafted higher than ever. Probably higher than their value warrants. So while I love Kimbrel, he won't be around for when I'm ready to take him.