- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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If you play in a singular (AL- or NL-only) league, you face an annual dilemma: to spend one's FAAB or No. 1 waiver position early, or conserve it to use on midsummer's biggest cross-league trade target?
If you employed the latter strategy, you owe a thank-you card to Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers' new ownership group because they've given you a player -- maybe two -- who, after a mediocre crop of July 31 NL crossovers, warrants opening up that FAAB (free-agent acquisition budget) wallet.
In a classic salary-dump deal, the Dodgers acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, starting pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto from the Boston Red Sox for first baseman James Loney, outfielder Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan De Jesus, and starting pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster.
It's the kind of trade that, executed in the fantasy realm, might warrant a "veto" process, being that, from a rest-of-2012 angle it equates to Gonzalez and Beckett for table scraps. But take real-life considerations into account: The Red Sox are unloading the $262.5 million combined remaining on the contracts of Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford and Punto, plus their prorated salaries for 2012, on the Dodgers. The Dodgers, meanwhile, are sending an impending free agent earning $6.375 million this season in Loney, plus three players each with a minimum of five more seasons of team control, to the Red Sox. One of them, Webster, was Keith Law's No. 61 prospect in baseball before the season (although he subsequently failed to make Law's midseason top 50). It is not yet clear how much salary relief the Red Sox will send the Dodgers in the trade.
Gonzalez instantly becomes the NL's cross-league prize of 2012, ranking No. 11 among first basemen on this year's Player Rater after finishing second (2011), fifth (2010) and 12th (2009) in the previous three seasons. Often criticized for what has largely been deemed a "down" season for the 30-year-old slugger, Gonzalez had picked up the pace of late, batting .345/.378/.571 with nine home runs and 43 RBIs in 45 games since July 1. In the past 30 days on our Player Rater, he was the No. 6 first baseman and the No. 23 player overall.
If you've been sitting on a mountain of FAAB cash, or the top waiver position, Gonzalez is a must-get. You might think most owners' FAAB resources might have already run dry, but that's not necessarily the case. For an example, here are the remaining budgets in two of the most prominent NL-only expert leagues, the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) and Tout Wars. All owners in both leagues begin the season with $100 FAAB caps, although Tout Wars has a penalty system for poor performance in the previous year's standings, plus uses Vickrey bidding (winning bids are readjusted as the runner-up bid plus $1).
LABR: $83, $80, $26, $21, $20, $16, $9, $9, $9, $8, $4, $0, $0
Tout Wars: $81, $68, $54, $34, $31 (me), $27, $15, $11, $7, $6, $5, $5, $1
It's therefore impossible to put a specific price on Gonzalez in an NL-only league with FAAB. If I had either $83, the top remaining budget in LABR, or $81, the most left in Tout Wars, I'd bid $83 and $81, respectively.
Statistically speaking, Gonzalez, although no longer the prolific home run hitter he was two to five years ago, still possesses one of the most stable batting average/on-base skill sets in the game. He has batted .321 with an 8.5 percent walk rate since the beginning of 2011, .290 with an 11.7 percent walk rate in his career against National League teams and .274 with a 12.4 percent walk rate in his career at the five current ballparks in the NL West. Granted, a .212/.312/.364 lifetime triple-slash line at Dodger Stadium is mostly responsible for that "low" .274 number, but remember, that's a mere 45-game sample at the venue.
The Dodgers play the majority of their 36 remaining games within the division:
• 30 will be played in NL West ballparks.
• 19 will be played at Dodger Stadium.
• 24 will be played against NL West teams.
Expect Gonzalez to bat in the heart of the order, and, considering these skills, his RBI/run potential should be outstanding. This might be the new Dodgers lineup:
Beckett, in spite of his 5.23 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 21 starts that rank him 154th among starting pitchers on our Player Rater, might, for two reasons, also warrant a hefty FAAB bid in NL-only leagues albeit not one quite as healthy as Gonzalez's.
The first is that, at this late stage of the season, players with his track record rarely come across the free-agent wire, meaning teams that hoarded FAAB need to begin cashing in those chips. Unlike Gonzalez, who warrants "max FAAB bid" status regardless of what your maximum bid might be, Beckett's is a tougher read. The case could be made that, comparative to the scraps that sneak onto rosters after the 40-man roster expansion on Sept. 1, Beckett's speculative value warrants as much as the $80 or $68 bids that rank second in the aforementioned expert leagues. On skills, both seem like overbids, but the case can be made he's worthy of a $1 bid as much as an $80 bid, depending on your individual league's remaining FAAB budgets. Remember the worst-case scenario if you don't open your wallet: nothing else remotely valuable enters the league and you eat $68 come season's end.
The other reason is that Beckett's fantasy prospects should actually increase with a new environment. Consider that: He has a 3.31 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his career against NL teams, compared with 4.20 and 1.22 against American League teams, although he has made 74 more appearances against those AL foes. Narrowing that scope, Beckett had a 4.68 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 88 starts within the AL East division in his Red Sox career, but he has a 3.57 ERA and 1.22 in 16 career starts in the NL West's five ballparks, plus a 3.55 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 25 career starts against the Dodgers' four division competitors.
Although Beckett's velocity indeed has been in sharp decline -- his fastball has averaged 91.5 mph this season, down from 93.5 from 2009 to 2011 combined, and not once in a single start since the All-Star break has it averaged higher than 91.7 mph -- he might be able to finesse his way more easily through the NL West than the AL East. Barring Chad Billingsley's landing on the disabled list with the elbow tenderness that forced him from Friday's start, Beckett will bump either Aaron Harang or Joe Blanton (probably the latter) from the rotation, settling as a matchups candidate for his new NL-only owners.
Crawford, meanwhile, is out for the season after Tommy John surgery on his left elbow Thursday. He might be ready for spring training but could begin the 2013 season on the disabled list. Keeper/dynasty-league owners should check their rules regarding in-season pickups because Crawford might command a low FAAB/waiver price that could be carried over into next season in some formats.
Punto is a .200/.301/.272 hitter this season, .247/.324/.325 for his career. You don't want to bid on him. He's the epitome of the desperate scrape for a rare stolen base.
Then again, AL-only owners probably don't want to bid on league crossover Loney, although they might have to, considering how little might be remaining on the wire. His statistics have been in sharp decline as he has moved through his prime years, as what was once a .919 OPS by Loney in 96 games in 2007 has dropped to a career-worst .646 this season. He's a platoon player at this stage of his career, lacks the requisite pop of a first baseman and might in fact have a difficult time consistently fending off right-handed Mauro Gomez, a powerful 28-year-old. Any bid on Loney more than likely will be an overbid.
Here's a quick look at the four prospects the Red Sox acquired:
Jerry Sands: Once considered one of the better prospects in the Dodgers' system a little more than a calendar year ago, Sands has failed to impress through 70 big league games thus far. Although his minor league splits are somewhat balanced this season, the Dodgers tended to regard him as a platoon mate, something he might wind up as in Boston. Frankly, the Red Sox should take an extended look at him ahead of Loney at first base, meaning he might be the sneaky FAAB bid of the bunch.
Ivan De Jesus: He has a fantasy impact comparable to that of Punto, except that he's 10 years younger than Punto and isn't as good at getting on base. The Red Sox could consider DeJesus for a utility infielder role, but AL-only owners shouldn't.
Rubby De La Rosa: He's three appearances into his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, having tossed nine shutout innings combined, and, with the Red Sox now in rebuilding mode, could get a brief audition in September. More likely, he'll have an outside shot at a roster spot during spring training.
Allen Webster: He has a 3.55 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 27 games (22 starts) for Double-A Chattanooga this season, and his 57 walks in 121 2/3 innings show a disturbing lack of command. In Webster's defense, he has a 2.25 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 14 starts since June 1, but he's more of a 2013 midseason promotion candidate than someone of imminent assistance.
Fantasy owners need to keep two final factors in mind as a result of the trade:
• The Dodgers, as a result of the lineup illustrated above, become a far more challenging lineup for opposing starting pitchers. Taking their seasonal 4.03 runs-per-game average or .251/.317/.369 hitting rates as a team undercuts them; they have averaged 4.67 runs per game with .259/.316/.387 rates in the month of August and only improve offensively going from Loney to Gonzalez at first base.
• In contrast, the Red Sox become a less threatening matchup for opponents. Although this team has averaged 4.88 runs per game, third-best in the majors, with .268/.324/.435 triple-slash rates for the season, the Red Sox have averaged 4.77 runs per game with .271/.317/.425 rates since Aug. 1. They also just traded the No. 12 first baseman in terms of wins above replacement (Gonzalez) for the third-worst first baseman (Loney). They also have lost both Crawford and Will Middlebrooks to season-ending injuries (plus now-traded Crawford).
Tristan H. Cockcroft discusses the fantasy implications of the Red Sox-Dodgers trade, and how it has a major impact on teams in NL-only fantasy leagues.