2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts

The time has finally come; the greatest time of the year, MLB Opening Day!  After a horrid PR and marketing blunder that lead to the baseball season starting on March 22 in Sydney Australia…. at 4AM EST, the MLB season is 2 games in the books…. while 28 teams are still playing spring games.  So as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks sit on their hands waiting for their next opponent to finish exhibition play we can take a moment to look over our fantasy baseball draft and see how we did.  Time to examine some sleepers and busts in the 2014 season.  Keep in mind that classification speaks to the players fantasy value and where they will or have likely been drafted and not their on field value.  Players listed may be fantastic additions to their team or even your fantasy team… just not worth being taken where they have been projected.

2014 Busts

Giancarlo Stanton OF Miami Marlins

Baseball fans coast to coast love the 6’6″ 242 LB right fielder of the Miami Marlins and he might be one of the best young players in the game.  He has been and will continue to be a part of trade rumors especially after his breakout campaign in 2012 where he posted a league leading .608 slugging percentage along with 37 HR in only 123 games.  Stanton is deservedly so known as a fantastic defensive outfielder with one of if not the best arms in baseball, and while this is a great skill to have when you man the right field corner in one of the biggest ballparks in baseball what does it mean to your fantasy team?  The answer to that question is absolutely nothing.  What does matter to your team is that Stanton has been riddled with injuries in his short career leading to him only playing in 123 and 116 games in each of the past 2 years.  Despite missing an average of 43 games in that time frame Stanton has still managed to strike out over 140 times each year; striking out on 33% of his at bats.  Also take into consideration that Stanton provides you little to no help stealing bases; Giancarlo has 17 career stolen bases including only 1 in 2013.  His track record of efficiency isn’t great either; he was thrown out on 2 of 8 attempts, 5 of 10 attempts, and 2 of 7 attempts in each of the previous 3 seasons with a career high of 6 swipes.  While stolen bases isn’t the most important category for a corner outfielder with a big bat it could have been a way for him to increase value while he finds that power stroke again.  Stanton also has his situation in Miami working against him; what I mean of course is the horrid team he plays for and the gigantic ballpark he plays his home games in.  Stanton has never surpassed 100 RBI in a season and I wouldn’t expect that trend to change as he continues to be penciled into a line up featuring Donovan Solano, Christian Yelich, and Adeiny Hechavarria.  Not to mention he plays in a division where he will regularly face pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Steven Strausburg, Zach Wheeler, Doug Fister, Julio Terhan, and Ervin Santana.  Giancarlo can add your team some depth and value if you are able to pass on him early and steal him in the middle rounds but as a 3rd round pick he will likely go far to early based simply on name recognition.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Jose Bautista, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce, Sterling Marte

Jose Altuve 2B Houston Astros

I have to admit I’m dumbfounded on this one… I just don’t get it… I just don’t see what other people see in this guy.  A quality player but absolutely nothing special about him; a slap single hitter who hits below .300 with no power who plays league average defense with a below average arm.  This is the “big prospect” teams are climbing all over each other to get a look at?  Altuve’s biggest strength is his speed and his ability to steal bases swiping over 30 bags in each of the past two seasons; while that looks impressive consider that Altuve was also caught stealing 11 times in 2012 and a league leading 13 times in 2013 making his net stolen bases far less impressive.  His run production is almost non-existent with 7 homers, 37 RBI, and 80 runs scored in 2012 along with 5 homers, 52 RBI, and 64 runs scored in 2013.  Don’t expect these numbers to skyrocket in a pathetic Astros line up; while not quite as bad as Stanton’s crew Altuve’s supporting cast is still destined to hold down the cellar or the AL West.  Jose will hit some doubles and sneak in a few triples but not nearly enough to make up for his lack of power as his OPS dropped .62 in 2013 to a well below average .678.  He can brag that he was 3rd in the league in singles last year….. but I’m not sure that is a stat you want to boast about.  If you are looking for some depth and a utility guy who can swipe a few bags, hit some singles, and throw in a couple doubles for you he will be a good pick up but by the end of the year there will be a lot of guys with more value drafted after him.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Brandon Phillips, Aaron Hill, Jedd Gyorko, Martin Prado, Daniel Murphey

Carlos Gonzalez OF Colorado Rockies

Tough to call this guy a bust because he is an absolutely fantastic baseball player but considering his Yahoo ranking of 6th overall and 3rd outfielder behind only Trout and McCutchen he will likely underwhelm on your fantasy team.  Like many busts in both fantasy and reality Gonzalez will be held back by his inability to stay on the field but over-valued by his breakout season of 2010.  Fantasy owners are still trying to latch on to his 2010 season where he led the league with 197 hits, a .336 avg, 351 total baseas, and smacked 34 homers, 34 doubles, 117 RBI, and 111 runs scored while finishing 3rd in NL MVP voting and winning both a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove.  What you need to be realistic about is that he is now 4 years removed from this stand out season posting 26, 22, and 26 home runs along with 27, 31, 23 doubles in each of the past seasons while he played in 127, 135, and 110 games.  Gonzalez has been held under 100 RBI every year since 2010 and struck out 118 times in 110 games in 2013.  Carlos will have another solid year and post great numbers again; the numbers the past 3 years have been very good….. just not deserving of a pick in the top half of the first round as his 6th overall status would indicate.  Having a guy who hits 25 homers and 25 doubles could be a great asset to your fantasy team but you can find a lot more value in the first round.  Gonzalez should be a late second to third round pick but will likely be taken earlier.  Because of his high rating I included players in other positions in his draft value comparison below.

Players ranked lower with more value:  Bryce Harper, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Gomez, Chris Davis, Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Beltre, Joey Votto

2014 Sleepers

Alfonso Soriano OF New York Yankees

I know what you are saying already… SERIOUSLY??? ALFONSO FREAKING SORIANO??? THAT SCRUB?  Yes the former Yankee, former Ranger, former Nat, former Cub, and current Yankee Alfonso Soriano is an absolute steal as the 38th ranked outfielder on the board just behind Dominic Brown.  The Alfonso Soriano who hit 18 homers as a rookie then followed that up by being the only active player in major league baseball to hit 20 or more home runs every single year since 2002 including 34 and 32 in each of the past two seasons.  The Alfonso Soriano who is now back home in New York playing in the hitter friendly Yankee stadium surrounded in the line up by Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, a healthy Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, and Ichiro Suzuki who still has a little bit left in the tank.  The Yanks line up might be old but they have guys who can get on base and Soriano is a guy with a big bat who can knock them in.  Not to mention his great record in the AL east slugging .505 at Camden Yards, .492 at Fenway, .572 at Tropicana Field, and .529 at Rogers Center.  Soriano’s home run totals for the past 10 years are 34, 32, 26, 24, 20, 29, 33, 46, 36, 28 and his doubles those same years are 32, 33, 27, 40, 25, 27, 42, 41, 43, 32.  Not bad for the 38th outfielder off the board; a guy who doesn’t crack the top 200 on most big boards is it?

Jose Quintana SP Chicago White Sox

How did the Yankees and Mets ever let this guy get away?  You can ignore the outing giving up 9 runs while not recording an out this spring; be real, not only is this one game but it’s a spring game at that.  This kid is an absolute stud who is going to do nothing but get better this year and improve on the already impressive start to his career.  Quintana totaled 200 innings last season in only his second season in the bigs posting an ERA of 3.51 (down .25 from 2012) and an WHIP of 1.220 (Down .13 from 2012) over 33 starts with a K/BB rate of 2.93.  While he showed is durability starting 33 games in 2013 he also showed his consistency giving up more than 4 earned runs only twice in his 33 starts.  Quintana stepped out on the national stage last year on the 4th of July when he shut down the potent Orioles line up for 7 innings allowing 2 hits, no runs, and striking out 11 O’s.  This was just one of many impressive performances by a 25 year old with the potential to be an ACE.  Despite all this Quintana will go UN-drafted in most 10 team leagues and some 12 team leagues and most sports sites have him ranked between 250-300.  The 20th round is a pretty good place to find a guy with ACE potential who pitches most of his games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins.

Kyle Seager 3B Seattle Mariners

In 2013 Kyle Seager burst onto the scene in Seattle and is now considered one of the top third baseman in the American League…. well not so much.  Seager plays baseball in the American north west far away from Boston, New York, and Los Angeles and much of his accomplishments have flown under the radar.  Yahoo currently has Seager rated as the 140th best player and the 16th best third baseman in the league behind Pablo Sandoval who hit 14 and 12 homer runs in each of the past two years and Manny Machado who will start the season on the DL coming off of major knee surgery.  Seager who is 26 years old has hit 20+ home runs and 30+ doubles in each of his first two full major league seasons with a respectable .260 average.  Additionally Kyle seems to be developing as a hitter as his average increased only a point from 2012 to 2013 but his OBP jumped .22 from .316 to .338.  This is a direct result from better plate discipline as the young hitter continues to grow and improve; always good to see young hitters trending up.  While run production was low for Seager in 2012 and 2013 with 79 and 62 runs scored and 69 and 86 RBI I would expect these numbers to improve with the Seattle additions of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart.  Seager’s home/road numbers are his only downside they include .228 13 HR, 34 2B, and .635 OPS at home and .289 avg, 32 HR 46 2B, .836 OPS on the road in his career.  Seager is a fantastic player who is still performing despite being held back by Safeco Field.  The bonus for Seager could be his current contract status; Kyle is in his final year of pre-arbitration status and is set to enter arbitration in 2015.  While a contract year can always inspire a player to be at the top of his game in the case of Seager it could also mean a trip to the trading block considering the hefty salaries they have taken on in the past few years.  If Seattle decides to move him after falling out of contention he could end up on a competing team which means getting him out of that horrible ballpark where he has posted those drastic home/road splits.  If you have him as a utility option might be a good idea to rotate him out on long home stands but as the 140th ranked player and 16th third baseman he will be a steal in the middle to late rounds.

Other players who could be late round adds or could be un-drafted with upside:  Miguel Gonzalez, Chase Headley, Alejandro De Aza, Kendrys Morales, Corey Hart, James Loney, Brandon Belt.

Manny Machado disrespected?? Not even close.

As we prepare to begin another exciting season of major league baseball players are working hard to get into game shape; managers and GM’s are shaping the 25 man and 40 man rosters, and front office executives are tying up all the behind the scenes paperwork necessary to start a season.  One of the responsibilities the front office must take care of this month is assigning salaries to pre-arbitration players; here in Baltimore this has set off a firestorm of debate about young Manny Machado, who was offered a salary of $519,000 up only $24K from last season.  In addition to this salary Manny was offered a $100,000 bonus should he repeat as the leagues Platinum Glove winner (an award given to the best defensive player regardless of position; Manny won both the Platinum Glove and the third base Gold Glove in 2013).  Many fans, writers, bloggers, and radio hosts have taken to the air waives voicing their displeasure and claiming this is another cheap move by a cheap owner…the owner who just ponied up 50 million for Ubaldo Jimenez, and 8 Million for Nelson Cruz after spending 91 Million to retain Adam Jones last year.  A reason for this debate is this news about Manny’s salary comes shortly after the LA Angels offered their superstar Mike Trout a salary of $1 million to play in 2014; so the question is raised… is Manny underpaid and unappreciated in Baltimore?  As always we need all the facts to know the truth; facts that will be left out by radio hosts who want to use anything they can spin in a negative way to self promote regardless of what effect it has on a team trying hard to re-connect with its fan-base.

First thing to understand in this debate is how baseball contracts work and how young players entering major league baseball through the draft are paid.  The nature of MLB contracts can be very confusing and difficult to understand so i will paraphrase based on language pulled from the CBA and found on MLB.com.   When a player is drafted through the first year player draft the team has the ability to negotiate a contract with the player; the player can sign with that team or not; players who do not sign are still eligible for NCAA athletics (this is not the case in football) so many players drafted out of high school or as underclassman choose to attend or return to college.  With the exception of a few top picks (Dylan Bundy is one, Bryce Harper is another) most players sign to play for the league minimum; in 2014 this amount is $500,000.  The primary incentive to sign top picks is a signing bonus; while some players will receive major league contracts, Dylan Bundy received a 5 year 6.23 million dollar deal, most players like Machado will receive a signing bonus, Machado’s was $5.25 Million dollars; Mike Trout’s signing bonus was $1.215.  This first period of a players career is considered “pre-arbitration” and their salary is set by the team, they have no negotiating power.  Once the player has achieved 3 years of MLB service time (Look up super 2 status for more exceptions to the rule in the interest of time I’m leaving it out but Manny will not be eligible for super-2 status) they enter the first of 3 arbitration years.  In this period a player will be able to negotiate 3 separate one year contracts with their team; if an agreement is not made an arbitrator will decide the salary.  The team and the player will each submit an offer and the arbitrator will decide which of the two the player will play for.  Once the player completes the 3 arbitration years he will become a free agent and able to sign with whatever team he chooses.  In the case of Manny Machado he is currently entering his 3rd year with the team, second full year; he has one more year before he is eligible for arbitration so he will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018.  So now that we have looked into the basic (Very basic this can get far more complicated) overview of MLB first year player contracts we can take a look at precedent for Manny’s salary.

First we must dismiss the notion that Manny is Mike Trout; Manny is a very good young player and has one of the brightest futures in major league baseball; Mike Trout is the absolute best player on the planet.  Despite being beat out by Miguel Cabrera for MVP in each of the past two years Trout’s youth, defense, and speed put him on top of the mountain.  Manny at 21 years old is coming off of a solid year in which he totaled; 189 Hits, 51 Doubles, 14 HR, 71 RBI and a line of .283/.314/.432.  In addition to this, as noted earlier, Manny won both the Gold Glove and the Platinum Glove and was voted to the AL All-Star team as the first reserve third baseman behind Miguel Cabrera.  Now lets compare this to Mike Trout’s first full season in the majors at age 21; Trout playing in 139 games (to Manny’s 154) totaled 182 hits, 27 doubles, 8 triples, 30 HR, 83 RBI, a league leading 49 stolen bases while being caught only 5 times and a line of .326/.399/.564 with a league leading OPS+ of 168.  This performance landed Trout on the MVP ballot in which he finished second to only Miguel Cabrera.  This stand out year from Mike Trout earned him a big pay day right?  Well sure if you consider $510,000 ($9,000 less than what Manny will earn a year later in 2014) to be a big pay day.  To earn the bigish money and the million dollar salary Trout came back in 2013 and built on his impressive rookie year (oh year forgot to mention he won rookie of the year in 2012… AND was second in MVP voting) leading the league again in runs scored with 109, 190 hits, 39 doubles, 9 triples, 27 HR, 97 RBI, 33 Stolen bases, and a league leading 110 walks.  His batting line for the season was an outstanding .323/.432/.557 and while his OPS+ didn’t lead the league in 2013 he improved on his 2012 performance with a stellar 179.  Oh yea forgot to mention he was second in MVP voting again…. behind Miguel Cabrera again…and ahead of the Chris Davis guy who hit a few million home runs in 2013.

So now that we have dismissed the myth that Manny Machado should be treated like Mike Trout, despite the fact that he was treated like Mike Trout, we can take a look at how a few other per-arbitration players have been treated over the past few years.  To compare and save time I’m going to use the stat total extra base hits; this will give Manny credit for his 51 doubles but also give credit to guys who may have hit 35 or 40 doubles and backed that up with 30+ home runs; in 2013 Manny had 68 extra base hits.  The first name that is always mentioned when discussing young player extensions is Evan Longoria; in 2008 the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a contract extension that could max out at 44 million or 9 years depending on his service time despite the fact that he had played in only 6 major league games (they later doubled down on that deal locking him up for 15 years and 144 million dollars).  People misrepresent this deal to say they paid Longoria big money buying out his pre-arbitration and arbitration years but the reality is Tampa structured the deal to build his arbitration into the first 6 years.  Based on this contract Longoria was set to make $500K in 08, $550K in 09, $950K in 10, $2-2.5 Million in 11, $4.5 million in 12, and $6 million in 13, 2011 salary was based on if he would have been arbitration eligible or not.  So they essentially paid him a slight upgrade in 10 then $2.5, $4.5, $6 million respectively for his 3 arbitration years; that money isn’t spectacular for a player of Longoria’s caliber, the only real benefit he received was the long term security of knowing he was guaranteed that money.  For 2014 and beyond Longoria’s contract was set for option years, those were later extended in the second contract he signed but in the 2008 deal which is often referenced he was guaranteed nothing beyond 2013. This 2008 deal, which is so often discussed when debating extensions for young players, guaranteed Longoria 6 years at just under 15 million.  So in his first 2 years how did he compare to Manny?  In 2008 he has 60 extra base hits, 85 RBI, and posted a batting line of .271/.343/.531 with an OPS nearly 100 points higher than Manny as he won the AL Rookie of the Year.  Not to mention that anyone who follows this team or any team in the AL east knows Longoria is far from a slouch with the glove, Manny he is not, but certainly a plus defender winning gold gloves in 2009 and 20010.  So how was Longoria compensated following his rookie of the year campaign in 08?  $550K……He did receive an upgraded salary of $950K in 2010 after racking up 77 extra base hits, 113 RBI, 100 runs scored, and a line of .281/.364/.526 and an OPS of nearly .900 for the second consecutive year.  Longoria also received this compensation entering his 3rd full season at the age of 24; Manny is entering his second full season and is 21 years old.

How did some other players compare?  Well sticking comparable players, quality defenders at third base with good power (gap power for doubles or home run power) and other intangibles such as leadership and work ethic how about we take a look at David Wright.  In 2005 David Wright had just completed his first full season in the majors in which he scored 99 runs, had 70 extra base hits, had 102 RBI, stole 17 bases and posted a batting line of .306/.388/.523; his compensation in 2006 based on these numbers was $374K or the 2006 equivalent of Manny’s $519K.  For another comparable player how about we take a look at the best short stop in baseball, Hanley Ramirez, Hanley came into the league with Florida (now Miami) in 2006 after playing in only 2 games in 2005.  His numbers for 2006 include:  119 runs scored, 74 extra base hits, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .292/.353/.480.  After he was paid a total of $402K the following season he followed up his Rookie of the Year season (yes another Rookie of the Year) with 125 runs, 212 hits, 83 extra base hits, 81 RBI, 51 stolen bases, and a batting line of .332/.386/.562.  The following year he was compensated with a salary of $439K.

The reality is we can continue breaking down player after player who have been through this system in the past we will find over and over again that what the Orioles did with Manny’s salary this year was right on par with what every team does with their budding super stars.  In fact the platinum glove incentive provides Manny the ability to increase his salary on a scale greater than players who came before him and accomplished more than him.  Sure Manny is, in his own words, disappointed; we all get disappointed at times in our lives and in our careers.  I was disappointed in 2012 when the Ravens went to the Superbowl and I wasn’t selected from the random ticket lottery to buy tickets.  That doesn’t mean the Ravens did anything wrong or disrespectful; that doesn’t mean that as a good fan who supports the team and spends money on tickets and other products that I feel slighted by the team.  It simply means that I was disappointed because I didn’t receive something that I thought I might.  Time to stop misusing half truths and blowing this out of proportion… time to move on.  Manny will get his pay day… he will likely get more than one pay day; in 2014 the Baltimore Orioles did nothing to disrespect Manny Machado.