- Shawn Peters
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Popularity is a funny thing unless you don't have it. Then it's a cruel, painful reminder of just how awkward and unlovable you are in this lonely, joyless existence. (Pause.) Sorry for the overshare. Apparently it's time to take The Cure off my iPod.
Anyway, sometimes popularity is based on looks or talent or the willingness to throw money around like a drunken Steinbrenner. But when it comes to making trades in fantasy, what makes a player more popular in terms of being a part of a successful deal? Is it their upside? A new opportunity in terms of playing time or role? Is it strictly a matter of buzz?
The cool thing about working for the Worldwide Leader in Sports is that when I wonder something long and loud enough, there are people who can comb through the mountain of data generated by the thousands of leagues being run by ESPN.com to get me answers. So that's what I've got, and as it turns out, the guys who are most popular in trades are the untradeable ones.
Casing the joint
There are some owners who love to respond to an offer, even a good one, with an incredulous retort like, "You're asking for Phil Indablank? I can't trade him! I built my whole team around him!" But as it turns out, after searching the most traded players in more than 3,000 ESPN leagues, it's the big names and early-round picks that are getting traded most often. The top 10 are, in order of number of trades they've been involved in, Hanley Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Nick Markakis, Francisco Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, David Wright, Jose Reyes and Ian Kinsler. Half of those names were taken in the first round in most drafts, and the others weren't far behind.
You have to go all the way down to the 31st name on the list to find Ryan Ludwick, the first player whose popularity is clearly a function of batting better than .400 with five homers in the first 10 games. Emilio Bonifacio is 40th on the list, marking the first guy who went from afterthought to trade-worthy greatness. Everyone else on in the top 40 is a "centerpiece" player whose trade value doesn't flag or fly based on a few weeks of good or bad stats.
Obviously, those players are getting dealt most often because they are the players everyone wants and pursues, but the fact that they're the ones getting moved also proves the point; no one is "untradeable."
If you own the player that everyone wants, you'd be a fool not to try to create a bidding war. Kinsler may be engorging all five categories for you and filling that tricky second-base slot, but if you're strapped for pitching and can turn him into a combo of Brian Roberts and the scuffling CC Sabathia, it's not a bad deal.
Look at it the other way too. Let's say you have Jorge Cantu, Nick Johnson and Mike Lowell all vying for at-bats behind Evan Longoria and Justin Morneau. You'd be foolish not to contact Mr. Pujols' owner and offer up Morneau and his choice cornerman. He may not say yes, but if he's thin behind "The Machine" he has to listen.
Everyone's stats are replaceable by someone or multiple someones. With that in mind, I'm going through ESPN's top 50 list of America's Most Traded to see which of these big names I'm willing to spend for, and which guys I'd rather move now, while their value is sky high.
Three I'm stealing
Victor Martinez, C, Indians: I'm not suggesting he'll bat .386 or keep up his 40-homer pace, which he was going into the weekend, but let's not forget that in the four years before his injury-marred 2008, Martinez averaged more than 550 at-bats with 21 homers and a batting average north of .300. This year, he gets to DH more than ever to keep him healthy, and while the other top catchers in the draft -- Martin, Mauer, McCann and Soto -- have all dealt with injury and inconsistency, V-Mart looks like the bad mamma jamma on the block. Instead of buying low on those other backstops, see if you can find a guy who's selling high on Martinez.
Manny Ramirez, OF, Dodgers: It makes me feel dirty to recommend a man whose behavior a year ago made a mockery of everything team sports is supposed to be about, but in fantasy, there's no "ethics" category. Everything has come together to all but guarantee stats that will rival his career bests. First, the Dodgers are going to run away with the NL West, meaning Manny can have his traditional days off with "hamstring tightness" without causing friction. Second, the ability to void the second year of his contract means Manny is playing for that "free agency" thing again next winter. If you can stomach the backstory, you'll get Pujols production from Manny being Manny this year.
CC Sabathia, SP, Yankees: When I'm right about something, like recommending you sell Jason Motte when he was "the closer" in St. Louis, I take credit. When I'm wrong, like a year ago when I said "sell Sabathia" after his awful start, I admit it and learn from my mistake. At the end of April 2008, Sabathia was 1-4 with an ERA of 7.88. At the end of April of 2009, he's 1-2 with an ERA of 4.73, and he struggled again his first May start. So as mediocre as he's been, the portly pinstriper is actually ahead of where he was a year ago. The walks will subside, the strikeouts will increase. He's one of the captains of my "don't you dare panic yet" All-Star team.
Three I'm dealing
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox: Why am I selling Pap, the unquestioned, incomparable closer for my beloved Red Sox? It's because I've been watching him and seeing a qualitative difference in how he's getting his saves. Batters are making a lot more contact, working his counts deeper, and forcing him to go to his slider more often. The radar gun says he's throwing as hard as last year, but his fastball isn't exploding past batters, resulting in his lowest strikeout rate and worst K/BB ratio of his career. It's gotten some notice on the national scene, but while his ERA is still less than 2.00, I think you can still get full price for him if you have the saves to deal.
Emilio Bonifacio, 3B/2B, Marlins: Maybe I'm a week late, but there are still people who are excited by Bonifacio's bazillion-stolen-base potential. When I see a guy whose batting average has been sliding for weeks despite a BABIP in the .350, .360 range, I'm skeptical. When I see a slappy hitter with a contact percentage around 74 percent, I'm no longer skeptical. I'm selling. Bonifacio is a .300 OBP waiting to happen that will ensure he's not on base enough to steal a bazillion bags.
Aaron Harang, SP, Reds: Last week I said I wasn't taking shots at Harang. This week, I'll admit, I am. Harang's 3.09 ERA and 1.22 WHIP look good, and his reputation as a strikeout pitcher makes him someone you can deal. The thing is, I went back through 2006 and noticed Harang has had only two months when he failed to strike out at least 6.75 batters per nine innings. Those two months were September of 2008 and April of 2009. That's a trend, people. Especially as the weather heats up and Harang's home field becomes more homer-friendly, he's going to miss the ability to miss bats.
Pulling the job
Sadly, no deal to report this week, but I do have a story about a deal that didn't get done. Mark Ling, owner of "The Squeeze" in The S.T.E.A.L., has been talking to me for weeks about a deal to get Yovani Gallardo and give me back David Price and an upgrade elsewhere. Thing is, we can't agree on what upgrade is fair. So this past Tuesday, I offered Gallardo and Carlos Guillen for Price and Jay Bruce because I need some pop. Wednesday morning, I got a rejection citing the difference between Bruce and Guillen as too big. A few hours later, Gallardo went out and pitched eight scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts.
We may still get a deal done, but in the meantime, I was glad to squeeze one more great start out of Gallardo.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.