McCutchen and others who are stuck in the mud

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The other day when I was prepping for my fantasy baseball draft, I noticed that Andrew McCutchen was going for $16 in auction drafts.

It seemed like a reasonable price, maybe even a tad low. McCutchen was pretty good for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011. He batted .259 with a respectable 23 homers and 89 RBIs.

Add in his 23 stolen bases and you have a decent fantasy prospect, especially at only age 25. McCutchen is just entering the prime of his career.

Yet it seems unlikely that McCutchen will ever carry the distinction of being "fantasy elite." None of the experts are projecting a monster year in 2012. We all just think McCutchen will be the same old, .260, 25-homer guy. Nothing more, nothing less. Always "pretty good," never "elite."

And we all know why. It's because McCutchen wears a gold "P" on his hat. The Pirates' lineup hasn't been any good since Barry Bonds was skinny. With so many other easy outs in the lineup, everyone can just pitch around the talented McCutchen. The guy probably gets 10 good pitches to hit all year.

McCutchen with 100 RBIs? It will never happen, experts will tell you, mostly because that would require the Pirates to score at least 100 runs.

Call it team discrimination, but it is what it is. It reminds me of a quote from the fifth season of "Entourage" when Ari told Andrew Klein, "You're like LeBron James if he was playing in Spain."

McCutchen is great, but he'll never be thought of as a top-tier fantasy player while he's in Pittsburgh. It's like he's stuck in the mud. As my colleague Steve said a few days ago, "If McCutchen was in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, he'd be a $30 player."

We're not saying to avoid drafting McCutchen. We're just saying his lack of protection in the Pirates lineup could hinder him from true fantasy greatness.

McCutchen isn't the only one. There are plenty of great hitters trapped in the middle of horrible lineups.

Here are some more players who will be trying to get out of the mud this season:

Carlos Quentin, Outfielder, San Diego Padres - We already know how pitcher- friendly Petco Park is, which doesn't bode well for Quentin. But what's even worse is his new lineup. Just look at who Quentin will be surrounded by in San Diego: Jason Bartlett (.245), Orlando Hudson (.246) and Will Venable (.246). The Padres' team leader in home runs last season? Ryan Ludwick with 11. If Quentin's recent knee surgery (he'll probably be out until May at the earliest) wasn't enough to scare you away, the fact that the light-hitting Chase Headley (four home runs in 2012) will be batting in front of Quentin should.

Buster Posey, Catcher, San Francisco Giants - With the exception of Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco's lineup was anemic last season. Melky Cabrera should help a little bit, but the Giants' overall lack of offensive weaponry could prevent Posey from having the comeback year San Francisco fans were hoping for this year.

Carlos Santana, Catcher, Cleveland - Santana actually hit as many home runs as Boston's Adrian Gonzalez last season (27). You'd think that their RBI numbers would be similar, too. Not so much. Santana had 38 fewer RBIs (79) than Gonzalez (117) in 2011. That's no coincidence. Boston's lineup is stacked. Cleveland's is not.

Paul Konerko, First Baseman, Chicago White Sox - Konerko (.301, 31 HRs, 105 RBIs) and Quentin (24 HRs, 77 RBIs) accounted for most of Chicago's offense last season. Now half of that duo is gone, leaving Konerko with a lineup of misfits and underachievers. When Alexei Ramirez is considered a team's second- best hitter, odds are, it's not very good. In this shaky lineup, 100 RBIs seems like a reach for Konerko.

Josh Willingham, Outfielder, Minnesota Twins - Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau were useless last year. Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel are both gone. And that's about it. Willingham doesn't have much to work with in Minnesota, but, then again, he didn't have much in Oakland either and he still had a pretty good year (.246, 29 HRs, 98 RBIs). The jury is still out on Willingham.

David Wright, Third Baseman, New York Mets - Jason Bay looks like he's over the hill and Jose Reyes's departure will definitely hurt. Lucas Duda and Ike Davis have potential, but it would be a stretch to call them stars. It all adds up to a very mediocre Mets' lineup, with injury-prone Wright hitting right in the middle of it. Look on the bright side, Dave. At least New York has great restaurants.

Hunter Pence, Outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies - Philadelphia had a tough year swinging the bats in 2011 (.253 team batting average after hitting .260 the season before). This year won't be any easier for the fragile Phillies. Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco seem to be in the latter part of their careers. Raul Ibanez is on the Yankees now. Without Chase Utley (knee) and Ryan Howard (Achilles) in the lineup for the first couple months of the season, Hunter Pence will have to carry the Phillies offense. We're not sure he's up for it.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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