Cockcroft: The Swap Shop

Originally Published: June 7, 2005
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN Games Fantasy Edge

I can't help but think that all this Roger Clemens trade talk is going to amount to something. Though he and the Astros deny the Rocket might be moved, does it really make sense for him to play out his final season on what could be a last-place team?

If Clemens is indeed moved, it would do wonders for his fantasy value, since he'd almost assuredly be headed to either the Rangers, Red Sox or Yankees. That's bad news for Clemens' NL-only owners who don't retain his services if he switches leagues – few formats still keep this antiquated rule – but it's great news otherwise because it would mean a big boost in run support for the right-hander.

While Clemens leads the National League with a 1.67 ERA – only Kenny Rogers' 1.62 is lower among qualified major-league starters – he has also received the third-worst run support in the majors (2.44). That's the main reason he has just four wins, despite 10 quality starts in his 12 turns this season. Could things improve on a better offensive team?

Team R/G (Rank) OPS (Rank) Clemens' career at home ballpark
Astros 3.65 (30) .692 (29) Minute Maid Park: 15-6, 2.63 ERA, 1.027 WHIP, 28 GS
Rangers 5.65 (1) .810 (2) Ameriquest Field: 2-1, 3.64 ERA, 1.286 WHIP, 7 GS
Red Sox 5.46 (2) .798 (3) Fenway Park: 100-55, 3.19 ERA, 1.167 WHIP, 199 GS
Yankees 5.20 (5) .775 (7) Yankee Stadium: 53-22, 3.55 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 101 GS

Two whole runs a game, the differential between the Astros and Rangers thus far, is a noticeable difference. Texas has been held to just three runs or fewer 16 times in 55 games, Houston 29 times. Sure, Clemens' ERA and WHIP might rise by a full run or more if he returns to the American League, but there's a good chance he'd be a nine-game winner right now if he had spent the entire year in Boston, New York or Texas. He's going to be an interesting second-half pitcher if he indeed changes uniforms.

Speaking of trade talk, few things are more frustrating in fantasy leagues than having your closer traded by his major-league team to a team that demotes him into a setup role. As an owner of Mike Williams and Scott Williamson in 2003 -- Armando Benitez wasn't on my team, but he was also dealt that summer -- I can attest to the frustration of having to build an entirely new saves strategy at the July 31 deadline.

If you're worried about your closers changing teams next month, keep an eye on veteran relievers on sub-.500 teams. The Devil Rays, Indians, Mariners, Pirates and Tigers could each begin shopping their closers' hefty contracts in the seven-plus weeks before the deadline. Could any of these guys wind up closing on a different team? Let's take a closer look at the closers in those cities, along with their possible replacements:

Closer (Team) ERA WHIP BAA Replacement? ERA WHIP BAA
Eddie Guardado (SEA) 1.64 0.864 .190 J.J. Putz 3.44 1.309 .240
Danys Baez (TB) 2.39 1.291 .202 Chad Orvella 3.00 1.333 .182
Ugueth Urbina (DET) 2.73 1.291 .214 Kyle Farnsworth 2.66 1.225 .230
Troy Percival (DET) 3.38 1.050 .191 Franklyn German 2.49 1.246 .234
Bob Wickman (CLE) 3.60 1.400 .253 Rafael Betancourt 2.96 1.098 .194
Jose Mesa (PIT) 4.22 1.594 .282 Mike Gonzalez 3.27 1.318 .203
AVERAGE RELIEVER 4.27 1.417 .259

That average reliever rate is an important one, especially as it pertains to Mesa, one of the two closers most fantasy owners believe will assuredly be dealt before July 31. Would another team really insert a pitcher with league-average totals into its closer role? Probably not. If you're a Mesa owner, you have to be concerned that he not only has been outpitched by Gonzalez this season, making him a risk to lose his job if he stays a Pirate, but that he seems destined for a setup role if he switches teams. Gonzalez is a wise addition in NL-only leagues, especially for Mesa's owners. Even if Gonzalez doesn't get a save for the remainder of the year, he can still contribute in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts in a setup role.

Baez is the other name most likely to be moved, though the odd thing about him is that he's been so erratic as a closer – 7-for-12 in save chances – despite the other nice numbers. Though contending teams like the Braves and Diamondbacks could look to acquire him or one of the other closers to fill voids in the same role on their teams, there are at least as many contenders with better, more established finishers ahead of them. Baez seems pretty likely to be traded this summer, and he's pretty likely not going to close wherever he lands.

You'll notice the four Tigers relievers in the above chart, which demonstrates how many quality arms are currently in the team's bullpen. Based on the team having signed Percival to close this past winter, he seems likely to stay put with Urbina being dealt, but it's not out of the question both pitchers could be moved. If that occurs, Farnsworth and German become more intriguing fantasy options than just helpers in ERA and WHIP.

Most people believe the Royals will move Mike Sweeney this summer, though his hefty contract – his five-year, $55 million extension runs through 2007 – might make that more difficult. The Rangers are the most-rumored destination, and that could be phenomenal for the slugger's fantasy value. Sweeney's owners should keep in mind he's a lifetime .351 hitter with six homers, 24 RBI and a .990 OPS in 34 games at Ameriquest Field. However, keep in mind that when anyone talks about high-priced talent on the trade market, they point to the Yankees. New York wouldn't be as promising a destination – Sweeney is a lifetime .220 hitter with one homer, 12 RBI and a .557 OPS in 24 games at Yankee Stadium, and don't forget that Jason Giambi and Tino Martinez are still there to steal at-bats from him.

TRISTAN'S MAILBAG

Got a question or comment? Send them right here, and I'll address them in my column every week. Note: Please be sure to include your full name, city and state with your submission to be considered.

Bryan, North Andover, Mass. Todd Helton is not having a stellar year so far. He is hurting my offense for some of my teams, but should I trade him or wait until the All-Star break and see if he has gotten hot?

Tristan: Waiting on Helton until the All-Star break seems like a fine idea, because I have a feeling he's going to get things turned around by then. Losing Clint Barmes atop the Rockies' lineup will hurt Helton's RBI total, but that shouldn't really affect how he performs in batting average and home runs. Helton is probably just starting the downside of his career, though even if he accumulates numbers at around 90 percent of his career rate, he would essentially bat .300 with 20 homers the remainder of the year. He's also got the upside to far exceed those totals, so be patient.

Jonathan, Boston, Mass. I'm looking to trade Dontrelle Willis for an outfielder. I'm in a head-to-head points league, and he is the No. 1 pitcher. What kind of outfielder would you expect in return? I've tried guys like Miguel Cabrera and Hideki Matsui, but no one seems to think Willis is for real. I have no problem holding onto him all season, but I'd like to upgrade my outfield.

Tristan: If you can't get an outfielder like Matsui, who has struggled in the power department all year, then your league might not be willing to offer up fair value in exchange for one of this season's biggest breakouts. After all, Willis is ranked 11th on our Player Rater, Matsui 91st. That's a huge differential, no matter how much you believe Willis isn't as good as his numbers and Matsui is better than his. I like what Willis has done with his mechanics, and I think he can easily win another 10-12 games with an ERA in the 3.00 range in his remaining starts. If you can't get someone like Carlos Lee, Scott Podsednik (for those who need speed) or Gary Sheffield in exchange, then I'd stick with Willis.

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