- Shawn Peters
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It's May. Even if you accidentally doubled up on your leap year festivities, accidentally extending February to 30 days, it would still be May.
That means it is officially no longer "early."
Oh, sure, with five months left in the season, it's still early-ish, early-esque, or even early-adjacent. But with a full month of stats, trends, rampant quad injuries and roster moves under our roto-belts, we can no longer rely on the old saw, "It's still early."
What does this mean? It means that highly touted starting pitchers who have won only one game and are sporting ERAs that look like their hat size (yes, Justin Verlander, I'm looking at you) aren't going to win 20 or vie for the Cy Young this year.
It means that Nate McLouth, with his .342 batting average and seven dingers in April, isn't going to have to worry about playing time this season, despite never batting higher than .258 in any of his previous major league seasons. It means that if your team is in last place in strikeouts or in first in RBI, you officially have a need/strength.
In short, it means it's time to start trading if you haven't already.
Casing the joint
They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and then they try to sell you underarm deodorant. But the sales pitch doesn't devalue the truth of the statement.
The fact is, what a player does right out of the gate often colors our impressions of him unfairly. After all, if a player goes 5-for-50 at the plate in June, when he has 250 at-bats, his outstanding batting average of .300 will fall to a disappointing .267. But if he starts the season with a 5-for-50, he's batting .100 and he's starring on "America's Most Dropped."
However, there are players who have already turned around their bungled beginnings or, conversely, gone ice cold after torrid starts. For example, a few weeks ago I touted Michael Young when he was batting in the .230s, and now he's up to .315 and on pace to score more than 100 runs. Good luck getting him now.
However, there are several guys whose overall stats don't yet reflect the fact their seasons have done a U-turn in the past two weeks. Now if those U-turns take a player back onto a road they've traveled before in their career, it's a trend that could last the rest of the season. That's key, since in every trade, you're not acquiring what a player has done so far, but what you believe they'll do in the future.
Is there risk involved following trends like these? Of course. But if you wait another two weeks, the surging players will look too good and the secret slumpers won't be so secret anymore as those first two weeks become a distant memory. Right now we're in the sweet spot where a player's overall stats might only tell half the story.
With that in mind, here are ...
Three I'm Stealing
Jeff Francis, P, Rockies: He is owned in just under 40 percent of ESPN leagues, so you might be able to get him for free. But if he is owned, chances are his fantasy GM is looking at that 0-2 record, 5.01 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, and scowling at the Rockies ace. That's fine. Over his past three starts, Francis has allowed only 22 baserunners and six earned runs in 21 innings. That's a 2.57 ERA for the mathematically disinclined. In that span, his strikeout rate has returned to where it was in 2007 as well, so feel free to throw an offer his way before his overall ERA settles closer to 4.00.
Clay Buchholz, P, Red Sox: I might already be a little late here, but I still think there is value here. There are plenty of starters whose 2008 numbers look better than 1-2 with a 4.08 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. Offer one of them for the Sox phenom because his past two starts have been impressive. Against Tampa Bay on April 26, Buchholtz had his "no-hitter" stuff for his first 100 pitches or so, getting swings and misses with some downright nasty off-speed stuff. He has had one bad outing, which was his first career start at Yankee Stadium. In the long run, it'll be forgotten, but in the short-run, it might just make him obtainable.
Russell Martin, C, Dodgers: Martin was one of the first few catchers off the board in most drafts, but he started awful, batting .178 through April 14 with no homers or steals. Since tax day, though, he has raised his batting average to .292 with three homers and a steal. Still, there are nine full-time catchers with higher batting averages than Martin and six with more homers, so it's possible his owner hasn't noticed he has batted higher and scored more runs than any other backstop in his past 15 games. Getting him for anything below full market price is a felony.
Three I'm Dealing
Chone Figgins, 3B, Angels: I'm not giving him away or even selling him for 50 cents on the dollar. But if I get the hot-and-heavies from someone who sees the .313 batting average and eight steals through Wednesday, I'm listening. Figgins stole his first base in more than two weeks on Wednesday night, going 13 straight games without a theft. Worse than that, he only attempted one steal in that span. Figgins is a guy whose value is tied up in speed and batting average, and while his overall average looks good, he has dropped 80 points in the past two weeks due to a .232 mark in his past 15 games. If I can get a superstar return, I'm making the move.
Derek Lowe, P, Dodgers: For his first three starts of the season, D-Lowe looked like one of the best pitchers in the NL, with a 1.80 ERA and a respectable 16 strikeouts in 20 innings. Since then, he hasn't gone more than five innings in any start and he has allowed 25 baserunners in 14 1/3 innings while striking out only six. So far, all those base knocks haven't led to runs, as Lowe's ERA is still an attractive 2.88. But I'm selling high before all those men on base turn into crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
Kevin Youkilis, 1B/3B, Red Sox: I love Youk, but he's a better player in real life than he is in fantasy where he's a batting-average-dependent hitter at a power-rich position. Through Wednesday's games, the Greek God of Walks was still batting .304, but that's more than 80 points below where he was during mid-April. He has amassed only two extra-base-hits since then. He's hitting the ball hard at people, but he's got no power stroke working. He's owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, so someone will want him, even though there are a half-dozen guys who will give the same production.
Pulling the Job
I very well might have GTR'd myself this week, but I really believe Verlander is going to bounce back and be dominant again soon. His velocity isn't down and Detroit has turned things around a bit, so after Verlander's poor outing against the Angels, I made an offer. In fact, because I had Shane Victorino coming off the DL and wanted to activate him quick, I made a bad offer; the kind of offer that gets accepted too quick before I realized I could've offered less.
With Martin occupying my catcher slot and Ryan Doumit splitting time on my bench and an outfield slot, I knew I could afford to deal Doumit and some decent pitching for the chance the Tigers get their ace back. So I dealt Doumit and John Maine, whose WHIP suggests an ERA rise is coming, for Verlander.
In shallow leagues, sometimes you roll the dice. Like I said, I'm paying for what I think a player will do, not what he's done so far. But if it doesn't work out, I'm in trouble. After all, it isn't early anymore.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.