Grand Theft Roto: Going all in
There's a moment in almost all Vegas weekends when you feel like you have to do it.
You start making "hard way" bets at the craps table.
As you walk by the roulette tables, $20 bills fly out of your pocket, then land on your lucky number.
Every sports bet becomes a four-team parlay that pays 10-to-1 or better.
That's because you're hours from heading to the airport and your wallet is so light, it feels like it is affected by lunar gravity. With limited time and funds, you're looking to make a splash. There's no time to sit and grind out meager winnings.
Well, if the fantasy baseball season were a Vegas weekend, it would be Sunday midmorning right now, because with trade deadline only two weeks from today and only 10 full weeks left in the season, you can't slow play your hand. You need to go all in.
Imagine the fantasy owner who brags, "My team needed some help in RBIs, so I was able to trade spare parts for Jose Guillen. He had 66 runs batted in through Wednesday's games and there are only eight outfielders in baseball with more!"
Did our unnamed owner solve his roto-issues? Maybe but let's look closer. Guillen had 62 RBIs when June ended, so that means he has driven in only four in July, and now his back is acting up. Also, Guillen has never driven in more than 104 runs, so even if he matches it this season, that would only be another 36 runs batted in. And finally, Guillen's RBI total is only about 20 higher than guys like Jack Cust or Eric Hinske, neither of whom are owned in even half of ESPN leagues. That means he has produced approximately one more RBI a week than the guy the owner will end up benching to slot him into the starting lineup. So even if Guillen keeps up his pace for the season, and there's evidence he won't, it might only end up providing a net increase of 10 RBIs.
So is the message that I hate all Kansas City Royals (as I was accused of a year ago)? No.
The takeaway is that you can't just do a small upgrade and expect to make up points at this time of the season. You need to target statistical monsters who, if they get hot, could literally change your season all by themselves. I'm talking about pitchers who you believe could give you another 10 wins or 90 strikeouts. We're looking for hitters who might hit another 20 homers or steal 20 bases. Obviously, it's safer and easier to try and get multiple players who each help a little, but those big deals can take weeks to get done. Unless you're in first place and already doing the Deion Sanders dance into the end zone, you need a hot-stat injection now, and that means taking risks on impact players.
With that profile in mind, here are:
Carlos Delgado, 1B, Mets: Is the 36-year-old Puerto Rican slugger an injury risk? Sure. And yeah, 2007 was an abysmal season overall. But his second half showed his true talent level. Remember, from 2004 through 2006, Delgado had six separate months where he crushed eight homers or more. Now he has hit five dingers and slugged at a .725 mark in his first 69 at-bats of July. I can certainly see him hitting another 15 homers or more the rest of the way. And thanks to a .261 batting average, he's a lot more attainable than many of the other difference-makers in terms of power-hitting cornermen.
Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays: As of Thursday, Rios was the 32nd-ranked hitter on ESPN's Player Rater, with more than half of his value wrapped up in his career-best 27 stolen bases. But unless he's an owner's only speed source, he's not going to be untouchable because he was drafted to be a 30-20 guy, not a 10-40 player. Here's the thing. I think he does keep the steals up and adds power from here on. He has already stolen as many bags in July -- 10 through Thursday night -- as he did in May and June combined, and his slugging percentage for the month is better than .500 for the first time this season. He's one of a handful of players who I think is a sure bet to give you both double-digit homers and steals from here on out and I bet he costs less than Grady Sizemore or Hanley Ramirez.
Joba Chamberlain, SP, Yankees: Dan Haren and Johan Santana escaped the AL in the offseason and now Rich Harden and CC Sabathia are pitching to pitchers. That has left a paucity of guys who can be expected to strike out a batter per inning and provide big win totals in the American League. However, I believe Chamberlain will do both and more for the balance of the season. The Yankees are surging and we know they'll be a factor in the playoff race when September comes, so the wins should be there, and his strikeout ability is unquestioned. Joba's whiffed 51 batters in 42.1 innings since being made a starter. In fact, he has walked only one batter and struck out 17 during his past two starts. Even though Chamberlain's current Player Rater rank has him in the 90s, I don't think there are 20 starters I'd rather have.
Carlos Zambrano, SP, Cubs: This isn't about his team because the Cubs got plenty of wins ahead of them. It's about a feeling that he's just not quite right. Looking at the eight outings surrounding his strained shoulder in mid-June, I see five outings where he had at least as many walks as he had strikeouts. His ERA in July has been outstanding, as has his won-lost record, but why did they let him throw 125 pitches on Thursday night just when he looked better? Even with the good start, his strikeout rate is the lowest of his career and he's giving up a higher batting average than he has in any full season in his career. I just have a sneaking suspicion Zambrano is going to be a less dynamic pitcher the rest of the way.
Huston Street, RP, Athletics: Here's what we know. Street's name has been thrown around more often than a football on Thanksgiving Day lately. Street has blown his past two save chances and hasn't earned a save since July 7. Oakland has now truly waived the white flag and, as a result, has lost seven of its past 10 games. Street is arbitration eligible again this season, and we know that manager Billy Beane believes in paying top dollar for a closer about as much as I believe in praying to Gozer the Gozerian from "Ghostbusters." If Street gets moved, it likely will be to a team that will use him, at best, as a part-time closer, killing his value. If he stays on the A's, they might win about 20 more games all season and at his current rate -- Street has saved 17 of Oakland's 52 wins -- that would amount to about six or seven more saves. I bet you can peddle him to a save-hungry mark.
Delmon Young, OF, Twins: Feel free to cry "sour grapes" since I traded him a few weeks ago, but Young's .348 batting average in July might have brought his season mark up to a strong .294, but it has also masked the fact that this phenom, famous for his speed and power combination, is using neither of those tools. He has reached base safely 25 times in July, and only five were via extra-base hits. Those aren't slugger numbers. And with those other 20 times standing on first base, Young has attempted only two steals. Could he explode and fulfill his destiny of untapped power and unstoppable speed? I suppose. But in case he doesn't, why not deal him while his average is high and people think he might still be an impact player in 2008.
Someone stole the space I needed to write this section for the week, so I'll have to skip it.
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.
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