Grand Theft Roto: Make plans, not trades
Writers strive to accomplish two things when they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard for that matter. The goals are to write something original and write something true.
However, when the first week of the fantasy baseball season comes rolling around like a bunt down the first-base line, these two ideals come into direct conflict. I'd love to offer you some advice that is novel, new and utterly unprecedented, but in the interest of being honest and forthright, I'm forced to give you the same guidance I have given before when no one has more than 25 at-bats or 14 innings pitched.
Don't make any deals this week.
I know, it's like I'm kicking dirt on my own Grand Theft Roto credo only a week into the season, but it's too early to really know who is going to break out without a crystal ball or a plutonium-fueled DeLorean.
Sure, if you find someone willing to give you Alfonso Soriano for Xavier Nady because the Cubs' slugger went hitless in his first nine at-bats while Nady hit a pair of Opening Day taters, that's fine. Do it. Make the move and then take your trading partner to the nearest CAT scan facility to have his peanut-sized brain examined.
But if you're like the rest of us, playing in leagues where the other owners don't need the convenience of adult protective undergarments, you're not going to get that deal done.
Of course, just because there isn't enough information to make a deal yet, doesn't mean there isn't enough information to start making plans for the future.
Every year, you are oversaturated with the standard mantra of "sell high and buy low." What people never seem to point out is that many leagues are won or lost according to an owner's ability to asses which "high" players will stay that way and which "low" players aren't ever bouncing back.
After all, there were those -- some of whom go by monikers that rhyme with "The Shmalented Mr. Shmoto" -- who screamed "sell high" on Alex Rodriguez when he hit 14 homers in April of 2007. He hit 40 more and justified anyone who dealt for him. Likewise, swappers who saw Richie Sexson bat below his middle-school weight in April and figured better things were coming ended up getting five more months of sub-mediocrity.
So how do I decide what's a flash in the pan and what's the beginning of a season-long wildfire?
Three criteria leap to front.
First, are we looking at a bounce back candidate? Whether we're talking about recovery from injury or a change of teams, when a fading star gets on a roll early, there's reason to think he's capable of playing at a high level again. Think about Aaron Rowand's healthy 2007, where he parlayed an April OPS of 1.084 into a season that exceeded his career year in 2004. Tim Hudson's strong 2007 was also heralded by an April when everyone was talking about how he looked like the "old Tim Hudson." These are decent clues.
Second, we have former top prospects who were forgotten about when they didn't advance as quickly as most people would like. People who were late to the Brandon Phillips bandwagon in 2006 probably learned that lesson and were willing to "buy high" on Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton in 2007.
And finally, I'm willing to take a shot when a guy's playing time is all but assured, even if he slows down a bit. Mets' hurlers John Maine and Oliver Perez were great examples in 2007, as New York's roster made it clear neither were going to lose their rotation spots even if they didn't follow up their early success with more. Both of those pitchers had at least one month where they had an ERA of 4.50 or worse, but with no one nipping at their heels, they got a chance to regain early-season form.
Not surprisingly, the way a guy ends up on my avoid list is a mirror image of the above. Established players who struggle coming off injuries, prospects who have been over-hyped and any player whose replacement is chomping at the bit are all guys who I'm happy to "sell low" on because there are reasons to believe that low is their new altitude.
With these ideas firmly planted in my thieving mind, let's move on to …
Jeff Kent: Kent's nifty start of the season and his role as cleanup hitter fit a couple of the criteria I listed above, even though he just turned 40. There simply hasn't been a point in the past decade where 500 at-bats for Kent didn't translate into 25 homers and 100 RBI. Now he's on a team with injury woes at third, insuring that he won't be sitting just to get the utility guys a few cuts. Even if he gives you what he gave a year ago, 20 dingers at second is nothing to sneeze at.
Casey Kotchman: Here's a guy whose prospect status was elite a few years ago when he hit about .350 over the course of two minor league seasons. Since then he's been hurt, struggled a bit in the majors, had mono, and basically slipped under the radar. But a year ago he had a nice season -- a .296 batting average with 11 homers in just 443 at-bats -- and he's only 25. Of course he won't keep up the pace he set with five hits in his first 13 at-bats, but he is a slight power spike away from being a .300 hitter with 20 homer potential.
Carlos Marmol: Okay, maybe Marmol doesn't fit the specific profiles I laid out earlier, but I'm still dealing for him because Kerry Wood, the man who stands between him and many saves, is a poster boy for the guys I'm avoiding. Wood is always hurt, his role is brand new and his first outing as a closer went at well as Mariah Carey's movie career. Meanwhile, Marmol looks like he is picking up where he left off in 2007.
Kerry Wood: If anyone will pay for him like he's a legit closer on a top team, see my comments above.
Justin Upton: Four strikeouts in his first two games was not the way an overhyped kid wants to start out a season. Especially after he posted a .647 OPS in his first 140 major league at-bats. Arizona is going to compete for a playoff spot this year so there is no way the D-Backs brass is going to wait for Upton to develop in the bigs if they don't have to. As I mentioned earlier, Justin's big bro was rushed up and then needed to reclaim his prospect status. Could it be genetic?
Jon Garland: Eight innings and only one earned run with a win over the Twins in his first start of the year. All hail, Garland! Of course, he also pitched eight innings without getting a single strikeout despite facing a less-than-deep line-up. Market him to Kelvim Escobar's owner and see if you get a nibble.
I know I said not to deal this week, but at the end of the day, I get paid to make trades.
In a 10-team mixed roto league, I watched Chad Cordero leave the season opener with an injury, putting a dent in pool of closers. At the same time, my staff was anchored by Johan Santana and C.C. Sabathia with several youngsters backing them up -- Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Scott Kazmir and Yovani Gallardo -- so I could move a young gun. Utilizing the ESPN's new Trading Block feature, I found another owner who apparently wasn't so attached to Mariano Rivera, and after a few offers went back and forth, I was able to turn Gallardo and Shane Victorino into Rivera and my man crush from a week ago, Wily Taveras.
I figure I gained a half dozen steals and lost 10 homers in the swap from the Flyin' Hawaiian to Fast Wily. But Rivera is about as safe a closer as there is in the game while Gallardo is still all potential and slightly nicked up potential at that.
So was it a GTR, or just a solid early season swap? Let me know.
And until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com.
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