Winning Ugly: Overlooked Outfield Options for 2015

“Luck is the byproduct of design.” Worn-out phrases like this one are cited and restated by fantasy baseball champions when they are receiving their trophies, collecting their winnings, and being doused with yoohoo at the end of the season-long grind. The guy who finished seventh never says this. While he and the rest of us view the winner with envy and issue half-sincere congratulations, we think about how Henderson Alverez or Delmon Young ruined our lives. Surely a Henderson Alvarez no-hitter on the season’s final day is not the “byproduct of design,” right champ?

For all the work that we put into picking our team, choosing our waiver targets, and playing the game all year long, we find ourselves facing circumstances that we could not have planned for and would not have imagined. At the end of April 2006 I’m thinking to myself, “There’s no way I’m trading Jonny Gomes!” Well in that case I was right, because I had to drop him.

Unforeseen circumstances are not limited to in-season play; the can give us a wallop right there at the draft table. If you read my column last week, you know I’m looking to spend big on the right outfielder or two early. And, as you’ve read elsewhere on the site, there are plenty of appealing outfielders in the middle rounds. Nevertheless, your carefully laid plans could go off the rails. You could find yourself with a spot or two to fill much later than you planned and all the sexy choices like Souza, Saunders and Joc Pederson went a little earlier that you expected. I’m here to tell you, all is not lost.

Now, I wouldn’t go into a draft targeting any of these guys. In fact, you will scoff at some of the names listed here. At the very least I hope one of you throws up in your mouth a little bit as you think about these names crossing your lips. A lot of them have burned fantasy owners for several seasons. A couple may have burned you. Swallow hard and go back for more, here are five bargain opportunities to target near the end of the draft.

Desmond Jennings – A couple of years ago we had hoped for Jennings to develop into a perennial 20 home run/40 stolen base outfielder. These expectations are lofty for anyone (Where are these perennial 20 home run/40 stolen base players?) and Jennings never justified the pick we spent on him. This year, we won’t need Jennings to reach numbers he’s never attained to justify his price. You can pencil him in for double-digit home runs and double-digit steals which is just fine for the 58th outfielder off the board. There is a possibility for over 20 steals, and with his playing time and slot at the top of the lineup assured, there’s upside in the runs category as well. His approach at the plate is lacking so his average might hurt you, but any player at this point in the draft will have his flaws. Still just 28, I think Jennings will be worth a flyer this year.

Coco Crisp – Similar to Jennings, he’s going a little bit later. Health with Crisp will always be a question and this is compounded as he gets older. I suspect the days of 30 steals are gone forever, but Crisp has always been more than a rabbit; I bet you forgot that he was a 20/20 man in 2013. If you get double-digit home runs to go along with 20-25 steals, you will profit. As long as he is healthy he will play and likely be at the top of the order, which means more opportunities for counting stats. There is a lot to like for someone who will be no better than your fifth outfielder.

Austin Jackson – Jackson had a rough season last year on all fronts. He wasn’t anything special in Detroit and then was even worse when he was shipped to Seattle. I’m not ready to give up on him yet. From 2010-2013, Jackson put up at least 90 runs. While he is no longer hitting on top of the vaunted Detroit lineup, this year’s Seattle lineup is looking better than it has in the past few years. 90 runs might not be likely, but 80 or so seems reasonable. And while Jackson only hit 4 home runs last year, he was good for double digits the previous three seasons. Still in his prime, I expect a decent rebound, maybe more if he can regain some of the patience he has shown in the past.

Khris Davis – The players I’ve recommended so far can help you primarily in the steals and runs without hurting you too badly in the other categories, especially since their playing time is assured. This is yet another reason why you need to make sure you have your power settled in the early rounds of your draft; while you can find speed later, there just aren’t too many options that offer power upside late in the draft. However, if you have a need and waited too long for a power bat (again, don’t do this) or are just a power glutton (this is fine), consider Davis. He had a bit of buzz last year but got off to a rocky start; by the end of the year Gerardo Parra was cutting into his playing time. Parra still looms, and Davis is prone to slumps so be aware of the risks. However, he can get you a cheap 20 home runs even if Parra cuts into his playing time. If things break right, he could get close to 30.

Curtis Granderson – When the Mets signed Granderson, it was actually lauded as a good signing in the NY/NJ sports talk radio world. The rest of us probably realized it was too much money for too long of a time. Granderson got off to a brutal start that dampened his overall numbers. Nevertheless, he still popped 20 home runs. That’s nothing to sneeze at in today’s game. The fences are coming in at Citi Field, so maybe we can get a few more home runs. There’s not much else for Granderson to offer, but at the 62nd outfielder off the board, what more do you need?

Now, I know what you’re thinking. We talk about going for upside at the end of drafts, and I give you a bunch of 2014 declining veterans and failures. That may be true on the surface; but remember, part of upside is opportunity, and these guys are mostly assured of playing time. It will take a good couple of months of really poor performance for someone like Jackson and Granderson to get benched. Okay, it’s not impossible that this happens, but it’s unlikely that they’re that bad.

And let me emphasize: Don’t read this and pick up just any veteran. I will always recommend passing on Nick Markakis, I don’t like Torii Hunter in Minnesota and I can’t see a Carlos Beltran bouncing back. There are some younger unproven outfielders who I like in the end game just fine, but these guys – while unsexy – offer the help you may need to round out your team toward the end of your draft. They are forgotten, but when the season ends they might have made a key contribution to your championship squad.