Since 60 outfielders were bought in the CBS Sportsline expert auction, I thought I'd break this article into two parts.
$35+: Carl Crawford $40, Grady Sizemore $37, Vladimir Guerrero $36, Alex Rios $35.
Something to keep in mind as I write all of these recaps is that $40 is even more of a premium price in 5x5 than it is in 4x4. In 4x4, six hitters cracked the $40 barrier in 2006 and 2007, with 11 total earning $35 or more. In 5x5, only Alex Rodriguez broke $40 with his amazing 2007, earning $45, and seven total earned $35 or more. Paying $40 for a player, then, almost ensures that you're going to take a loss on a player.
With that being said, there is something to the notion of paying an elite player a little extra and taking a small loss. Crawford certainly fits this bill. He's the closest thing to a near lock in the A.L. to get 50 SB, and he'll contribute across all other four categories. If he hits 20 HR, that's gravy. Sizemore is being paid for an expected up tick in stats, but that's OK, too. He's also a five-category contributor, and his K/BB trend line, along with his 11 SB bump last year, mean that he could be a Roto monster in 2008. 30/40? I bought Vlad for $36. In retrospect, I might have been better off with Crawford. But my gut tells me that Vlad still has another big year in him, and even if he doesn't start running again, I'll gladly overpay a little for a guy whose poorest BA over the last five years is .317. Rios is the player who doesn't belong in this group. He put up virtually the same OPS as Sizemore, and could be a 35 HR hitter if he can put two strong halves together. However, I don't see Rios stealing more than 20, and think his value is ultimately limited in 5x5 to around $30.
$29-31: Bobby Abreu $31, Curtis Granderson $31, Nick Markakis $31, Ichiro Suzuki $30, Torii Hunter $29.
With the exception of Suzuki, this group of players contributes a little something across all five categories. Abreu might be the riskiest of the five. He had his worst full season of his career last year, and will be 34 years old this season. He's not washed up by any means, and his strong second half probably indicates that a bit of a bounce back season is likely, but he can't be counted on to automatically hit .300 anymore. The runs opportunity in New York does add value. Granderson put up his break-out year last year at the age of 26. He's got 40 SB potential, but it's doubtful that he'll run that much in a Tigers line-up that relies more on power than speed. I wouldn't be on Granderson getting much better, but he was awfully good last year and should keep up a similar level of performance. Markakis is the player here with the biggest growth curve at the age of 24. With Miguel Tejada out the door and Brian Roberts possibly on the way out of town, I'd worry that the runs and RBI for Markakis drop, though, possibly suppressing his value. His Post All-Star numbers (14 HR, 61 RBI, 9 SB, .325 BA, .550 SLG, 289 AB) could be a sign of things to come. Every year the touts have been grinding down Ichiro, and every year he goes out and performs. He became a bit of a Punch and Judy hitter Post All-Star, even by his standards, but that's part of a trend that started in 2006, not an indicative slip. Even if you think he's going to decline this year, you still have to pencil him in for a .310 BA with 30 SB. Hunter is the overpriced option in this group. Even at his best, he's more of a $20-25 5x5 player, who doesn't do quite enough to vault himself into the $30 ballpark.
$25-28: Manny Ramirez $28, Nick Swisher $26, Vernon Wells $26, Magglio Ordonez $25.
I've got a bad feeling about Manny at this price. If he's healthy all year, he should outperform this bid, even without any speed. But Manny was banged up last year and will be 36 years old in 2008. Even when he was on the field and relatively healthy, his production was down. He might bounce back, but he is a risk. Swisher is the antithesis of Suzuki: a player the touts love even though his OBP doesn't translate well to typical leagues that use BA. Swisher might very well hit 35 HR like he did in 2006, but keep in mind that he only earned $18 in 5x5 that year. Wells is probably one of everyone's favorite bounce back candidates for 2008. His shoulder should be fine for 2008, and we have to assume that was the primary culprit behind his lousy 704 OPS. Even if the batting average doesn't return, I'd bet on the power coming back. Ordonez looks like a bargain, but try this experiment. Take his .363 batting average, push it down to .300, and see what it does to his value last year. The result is a $9 drop, from $38 to $29. I'm not saying Magglio won't hit better than .300, but the odds are heavily against him hitting .363 again. $25 might be a bargain, but not a huge one.
$20-23: Johnny Damon $23, Hideki Matsui $22, Delmon Young $22, Josh Hamilton $21, Jermaine Dye $20.
Damon kept his Roto value up by stealing plenty of bases last year, but his overall numbers plummeted. Here's yet another guy the touts have been grinding down ever since his huge 2004 campaign for Boston. I do fear the touts might finally be right and would hate to pay Damon in the $20s for steals and little else. Matsui is what he is at this point: a money in the bank $20-22 hitter who you might want to pay a little extra for because of his consistency. Young obviously has the potential to be a $35-40 someday, but that someday isn't here yet. Paying $22 is OK, but don't chase him to $25 or more and expect the big breakout yet. Everyone in Hamilton's corner chirps about his 40 HR potential in Arlington, but Hamilton's splits vs. lefties (in an admittedly small sample size) mean that he might struggle enough against southpaws to keep his BA down and his HR total between 25-30. Of course, he'll have to stay healthy, too. After a terrible first-half, Dye bounced back to his 2004-2005 levels of production, and that's where I'd price him factoring in for the fact that he won't run all that much anymore.
$16-19: Michael Cuddyer $19, Jacoby Ellsbury $18, Raul Ibanez $17, Rocco Baldelli $16.
The $19 price tag for Cuddyer is a perfect split between his $22 2006 and his $16 2007. His 2007 is a closer match to the rest of his career and, at 29, Cuddyer isn't a young pup with a significant growth curve ahead. I'd guess that Ellsbury is going to be the starting CF for Boston, but he's a risky play at $18. Despite the unexpected power burst during his September cup of joe, Ellsbury wasn't a power hitter in the minors. He might hit 10 HR, but I wouldn't pay for more. Ibanez was my second most expensive outfielder. He's boring, but he also earned $19 last year. Safeco suppressed his power last year, but that's not typical for Ibanez, so don't expect a downturn in HR due to the park. Baldelli makes Hamilton look like a safe pick. AB for AB, Baldelli's an incredible earner over the course of his career, but there's the rub: he's been on the DL more times the last two years than Super Dave Osborne. I like this price better in a freeze league where you've got weak freezes and need to take a risk.
$13-14: Garret Anderson $14, Coco Crisp $14, J.D. Drew $14, Jose Guillen $13, Adam Jones $13, Gary Matthews $13.
Anderson battled a hip injury in the first half last year, then proved he was healthy with a 13 HR, 65 RBI onslaught Post All-Star. He's not going to get 600 AB this year, but he could earn that $14 with 400-450 AB anyway. Crisp is great at that price if he's starting, but I think Boston is going with Ellsbury in CF if there isn't a trade. Drew was awful last year, although he still put up an 800+ OPS. That doesn't help us in Roto, but Drew is young enough to bounce back. Guillen at $13 should be a steal. Barring his injury marred 2006, he's put up 20+ HR, 75+ RBI, and 80+ runs with a strong BA the last five years. Like Drew, he's not old at 32, and should benefit from the move to K.C. Jones could be good at this price if starting, but he's a BA risk based on his poor K/BB ratio and will be in a pretty weak line-up. There is the risk he starts 2008 in AAA. Matthews was running like crazy to start last year, but then put on the brakes. He fell back to his pre-2007 production last year, but this is still a fair price for a guy who will play due to the big contract and produce enough to be a solid if not spectacular player.
$11-12: Melky Cabrera $12, Jack Cust $11, David DeJesus $11.
Cabrera seemed to regress last year as a real player, putting up the fourth worst OPS amongst qualifying A.L. outfielders. In Roto though, he put up $15 worth of earnings, and the bid here is a pretty safe place to put your $12, even if Cabrera doesn't see additional growth due to youth plus experience. Cust was one of the streakiest players I've ever seen, but I have to assume he'll have a job all year if he doesn't extend one of those streaks into a two-month swoon. Like Swisher, though, his value has to be curtailed in leagues that don't use OBP, and Cust is a greater risk to fall off the map and hit .220. DeJesus had a miserable season last year, getting more AB than he ever had before and wilting as a full-timer after the All-Star break. Unlike Cabrera, he's old enough that a performance spike would have happened if it was going to by now. I wouldn't mind owning DeJesus in single digits, but paying $11 for par performance is not what I'd be going for here.