Commentary

The Big Rotowski: Finding trade targets from my rankings

Updated: May 13, 2008, 3:22 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

We are not the Borg.

While we at ESPN Fantasy try to give you consistent overall themes -- don't overpay for saves, strikeouts are the great ignored pitching category, never believe Barry Zito when he says he's got his troubles figured out -- we necessarily vary on opinions about players. And of course, we're all positive we're right, and everyone else is living in delusional clouds of Aaron Cook worship.

But even in our differences, we can teach you something. Last week, we gave you our average player rankings for the rest of the season. Averages are good because they give you a sense of the way the fantasy community writ largely values players. But you have to take it from there.

Because clearly no one's exact personal ratings are reflected by a list of averages. Rough edges are smoothed, sharp corners are rounded. Maybe I'll take a chance on a young pitcher, boosting him in my personal rankings, but others won't, and his average will wind up lower than I'd have liked. But that's great information, because you know what that tells me? That's a player I should trade for.

Thus I'm dedicating this Rotowski to finding players whom I ranked substantially higher and lower than the group did last week, with the idea that "current conventional wisdom" is represented by the average rankings, and "they don't know what they're talking about" is represented by mine. First, here's a list of the 20 players with the biggest positive rankings gap, and therefore players I think make good current trade targets:

Player
Pos
My Rank
Avg. Rank
Difference
Joe Saunders, LAA
SP
184
285
101
Manny Corpas, COL
RP
236
334
98
C.J. Wilson, TEX
SP
142
234
92
Lastings Milledge, WAS
OF
175
261
86
Rafael Soriano, ATL
RP
206
289
83
Hiroki Kuroda, LAD
SP
192
274
82
Jason Kubel, MIN
RP
214
292
78
Rafael Betancourt, CLE
RP
183
250
67
Andruw Jones, LAD
OF
162
225
63
Randy Wolf, SD
SP
217
279
62
Heath Bell, SD
RP
279
338
59
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, TEX
C
218
277
59
Andy Sonnanstine, TB
SP
264
320
56
Brian Fuentes, COL
RP
152
208
56
Jorge Posada, NYY
C
132
187
55
Hank Blalock, TEX
3B
161
215
54
B.J. Ryan, TOR
RP
141
194
54
Billy Butler, KC
DH
117
168
51
Francisco Cordero, CIN
RP
93
141
48
Wladimir Balentien, SEA
OF
257
303
46

One clear pattern here is that I value some of the "shakier" closers at a higher level than my comrades do. The reason I agree with the "not paying a lot for saves" philosophy before the season is that once closer situations shake out, it tends not to be terribly expensive to acquire serviceable ones. Is C.J. Wilson the greatest thing since Jeff Russell? Probably not. But he's 8-for-9 in save chances, and no one else in the Rangers' pen is pitching well at all. I'm not giving up the moon for Wilson, but the point here is: I shouldn't have to.

The same can be said of B.J. Ryan, who appears healthy enough for the time being, and Francisco Cordero, who has just six saves but hasn't blown one.

Neither Rockies closing candidate is being valued highly enough; I happen to think Brian Fuentes will keep the job, which explains why I rank him almost inside my top-150 list, but I also think there's enough of a chance that Corpas reacquires the gig (Remember: Fuentes is expensive and about to be a free agent) that he shouldn't be discarded.

Sure, it appears that Joe Borowski will return and take back his saves gig from Rafael Betancourt, but heck, I had Betancourt ranked higher when he was strictly a middle reliever. I don't believe Borowski will last the season as Cleveland's closer.

I've clearly ranked Soriano as though I think he'll get another crack at the fireman's role; John Smoltz will be the closer by June, but what happens when the Braves can't find a starter in July? It says here Soriano is a good throw-in for a trade while he's still working to get off the DL.

Another lesson? Don't forget injured players. Just because Jorge Posada and Hank Blalock aren't front of mind right now doesn't mean they won't play well when they return. Posada took batting practice last weekend, and I still think he'll be back before June. Tell his owner in your league that you'll take Georgie off their hands … at a discount, of course. As for Blalock, he'll almost certainly be back before June 1, and he was hitting .299 with an .824 OPS when he tore his hamstring. He's someone else I'd feel comfortable acquiring on the cheap.

Finally, I'll also call out a few surprise starting pitchers in whom I believe, but others don't. Joe Saunders has gotten very good run support (more than five runs a game) and has benefited from a low (.250) batting average against on balls in play. But historically, his strikeout rate is actually higher than it's been so far in '08 (6.50 in '06, 5.79 in '07, 3.98 this year), and his walks have stayed about at their usual level. He's also inducing grounders and limiting homers at rates that are consistent with his growth over the past couple of seasons. To me, all this means that while he's going to see that 2.48 ERA and 1.12 WHIP climb a bit in the short term, he's a legitimate seven-inning guy most nights who should see his strikeouts climb a couple per game. In other words: I believe. And briefly, I'll also give a shout-out to Randy Wolf, who has built on his good first half with the Dodgers from '07. He has struck out 40 in 45 1/3 innings, although he got roughed up again Monday. His biggest issue will be his health, which is why I wouldn't pay a mint for him. But if he stays in the rotation, 12 wins and an ERA under 4.00 is a real possibility.

Now let's look at the opposite list: 20 players I ranked lower than the average among ESPN.com fantasy experts:

Player
Pos
My Rank
Avg. Rank
Difference
Carlos Delgado, NYM
1B
320
206
114
Frank Thomas
DH
NR
236
105
Juan Pierre, LAD
OF
244
160
84
Randy Winn, SF
OF
325
242
83
Clay Buchholz, BOS
SP
251
176
75
Josh Willingham, FLA
OF
233
159
74
Carlos Gomez, MIN
OF
230
157
73
Moises Alou, NYM
OF
332
260
72
Luis Castillo, NYM
2B
314
244
70
Kazuo Matsui, HOU
2B
255
186
69
Mike Napoli, LAA
C
308
240
68
Ken Griffey Jr., CIN
OF
242
177
65
Joey Votto, CIN
1B
225
162
63
Jack Cust, OAK
OF
NR
281
60
Mike Jacobs, FLA
1B
259
200
59
Mark Teahen, KC
OF
310
251
59
Corey Patterson
OF
NR
282
59
Nick Johnson, WAS
1B
NR
283
58
Xavier Nady, PIT
OF
228
171
57
Mark Buehrle, CHW
SP
270
214
56

In some cases, this list is just picking on guys when they're down. Presumably, no one is banging down your fantasy door to acquire Mike Napoli or Mark Teahen. But there are a few instructive players here. I absolutely would sell high on Xavier Nady. Yes, it's heartening to see him take a walk now and again, which has contributed mightily to his .399 OBP. But do you know what else has contributed to his OBP? A whopping .398 batting average on balls in play, which means he's been lucky. (His career batting average on balls in play is .315.) He's a career .272 hitter (entering this season) who's clubbing .340 in '08. I have no doubt we're not dealing with an MVP candidate here, which is what Nady's stats look like at the moment. Sell him.

My ESPN mates are also quite a bit more bullish on the future prospects of Juan Pierre than I am. Yes, for the moment Joe Torre is finding at-bats for Pierre. For much of April, Torre sat Matt Kemp and let Pierre play, and now it appears Pierre is the choice over Andre Ethier. But it's still early. It says here that eventually Torre will realize his best chance to win comes with an outfield of Kemp, Andruw Jones and Ethier, leaving Pierre as a true fourth outfielder. I know he has stolen 13 bases, and I know his batting average (currently .281) won't hurt you. But he'll give you nothing else, and if he's not playing every day, the steals and runs will be extremely limited. Deal him to someone in your league who's desperate for steals and is pretty sure it's 2003.

It's ironic that suddenly now I'm the Carlos Gomez detractor. This spring, I wrote a piece endorsing Gomez as a fantasy option in '08; I said his speed "… makes him draftable in all AL-only leagues under the sun, and worth a flier in mixed leagues." He's been terrific so far, hitting .268 with 21 runs, 13 RBIs and 16 steals. Now (ever the contrarian), I'm spinning it around: I think this is the absolute best Gomez is going to look in '08. He's another guy who's been extremely lucky (.354 batting average on balls in play, compared to .281 with the Mets last year), and if his average comes down to, say, .240 or so, he won't look so hot. I'm not saying he's valueless, because 50 steals is a real possibility. But 50 steals combined with next to no power and a .240 average isn't as beneficial to your fantasy team as you might think. If you could get someone like Dustin McGowan for him (who's within 10 spots of him in the ESPN amalgamated ratings), I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Use the new Trading Block link on your fantasy baseball team page to communicate your trade desires with other owners in your league!
Finally, let's talk Clay Buchholz. There've been countless articles warning you not to confuse a player's career prospects with his anticipated rookie output, so I'm not going to go that route here. I love Buchholz's eventual upside, and I've loved how he's looked in a few of his outings this season. But what happened to him in Detroit last week can happen any time: 10 hits and five runs in four innings. Unfortunately, he followed it up by allowing eight hits and seven runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Twins on Monday night. As with any rookie starter, when the ball gets rolling downhill, it really rolls. All I know is that Bartolo Colon is still lurking at Triple-A, and the Red Sox are going to give him a chance in their rotation before June 1. It's possible Buchholz stays in the rotation, and someone like Tim Wakefield or Jon Lester gets bumped. But it's also possible Buchholz continues to suffer very typical start-to-start growing pains. Don't get me wrong; he's worth owning. But if I could trade him for Billy Butler? Sign me up.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports.

You can e-mail him here.

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