- Shawn Peters
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I remember seeing the blurb on the bottom of the newscast's screen.
"New Zealand earthquake causes small tsunami."
A "small tsunami"? Did we know this was even possible? When the quake first happened, coastal cities were on high alert, but apparently the waves generated by this magnitude 7.8 undersea tremor were only eight inches high. There were no injuries reported, although I have it on good authority that if it were not the middle of New Zealand's winter, several Kiwi children might have lost significant parts of their sandcastles.
Of course, it is the middle of summer here, just days after the All-Star break, and while the Midsummer Classic doesn't have any tangible impact on your roster's stats, that's not to say it doesn't generate waves of perception that wash over the fantasy landscape.
Can you ride these waves? That depends on the player, and how big you want the swells to, um, swell.
Casing the joint
We love to think trades are driven by value, but they're not. They're about perception. If a position is perceived as thin, the best players are worth more in trade. If a pitcher is perceived as having dominant stuff, he brings more in a deal even if his production looks a lot like that of someone far less heralded.
That's why having or pursuing a player who was on an All-Star roster comes with slightly different rules. Usually, the All-Star festivities don't actually affect a player's future production, with the notable exception of Bobby Abreu losing his power production following the 2005 home run contest. However, a player's inclusion on his league's roster can change perception in a way that makes him easier to sell, or harder to acquire.
Of course, All-Star buzz is a trailing indicator. Brandon Inge's 21 homers got him into the game, but the voting was done by the time he was batting barely better than .200 for the month of July. Ted Lilly made the team because of his overall numbers, but they don't tell the story of a guy who has lowered his ERA and his walk rate in each month of the season.
The point is, not all "stars" are created equal. There are some guys who played in the All-Star Game who are still on the rise, while there are other players who may look back on it as the peak of their seasons. If you can swap the latter for the former, you could get the most valuable commodity in fantasy: a second-half All-Star.
Three All-Stars I'm stealing
Ted Lilly, SP, Cubs: In addition to what I mentioned above, I also believe the Cubs will improve in the second half of the year. As Chicago's most consistent and dominant starter right now -- sorry Mr. Zambrano and Mr. Harden -- expecting another nine wins in the second half seems reasonable. Since May began, he has lasted at least six innings in every start, and has allowed more than three earned runs only twice. Despite his All-Star status, I bet he could be had for younger, flashier names like Clayton Kershaw or Jon Lester. In a keeper league, I'll take the young guns. In ESPN.com standard leagues, I think it goes the other way.
Curtis Granderson, OF, Tigers: One of three players with a legitimate shot at going 30-30 this year -- sorry Mark Reynolds fans, but the speed can't hold pace -- Granderson's disappointing average is unlikely to crush you over the course of another 70-plus games. But if the Tigers move him out of the leadoff spot, he could give you even more back in return. In 60 at-bats in the fourth and fifth slot in the lineup, Granderson has batted .320 with an OPS of .937. There might be some worrying about his stolen bases if he drops down, but he swiped four of his 15 first-half bags from the No. 5 spot. With his .217 batting average leading off innings and career high fly ball percentage, it's clear that he's more Alfonso Soriano than Rickey Henderson.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers: Here's the list of first basemen I want more than Cecil's son: Albert Pujols. Fielder might be batting twenty-five points above his career average, but the dude is 25 years old. He's supposed to be getting better. Winning the home run contest has upped his profile, but I fear no Bobby Abreu jinx since Fielder homered in his first game after the break. Remember, he was wretched in April and has been the second best hitter in either league since then, batting better than .340 with an OPS better than 1.100. I'm hoping that by the time this column goes live, he will be mine in The S.T.E.A.L.
Three All-Stars I'm dealing
Quick disclaimer: I'm not saying you should "dump" any of these guys. These are just All-Stars who I project will have less trade value at the deadline than they have now.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox: Call it the GTR reverse jinx if you want, because Sox players often explode as soon as I say "deal them," but the real reason I'm selling Pedroia is because of his lack of power. He's still an elite second baseman in fantasy formats, but what made him the 2008 AL MVP and got him drafted in the second round in most leagues was his five-category contribution. This year, pitchers are refusing to let him get his home run trot on, pitching him away. Pedroia is "settling" for line drives all over the field, so the runs and batting average are both going to stay. Expect his speed to continue as long as he's leading off, but expecting him to crack double-digit homers or 80 RBIs for the year seems unrealistic.
David Wright, 3B, Mets: Great player. All-Star for years to come. I would take a team full of David Wrights. Thing is, it just feels like the Mets' situation is going to get worse before it gets better, and if I'm an opposing pitcher, I'm not giving him anything to hit until the Mets field a healthy team. Not only does this suggest a reason for Wright's power outage, it also may shed light on Wright's apparent loss of patience at the plate recently. In July, before the break, Wright was batting.186, with 11 strikeouts and only four walks. For a guy who has averaged 94 walks a year the past two years, compared to 117 strikeouts per season, that's a sign of frustration. Don't sell him cheap, but take him off your "five-category untouchable" list.
Brandon Inge, C/3B, Tigers: Inge is super-valuable because of his catcher eligibility and his power is no joke, but look inside the numbers and notice that despite his 21 bombs, he's hit only nine doubles in his first 305 at-bats. Combine that with a career batting average of .239 and you've got the potential for vintage Rob Deer, with great positional flexibility. Also, it's worth noting that Inge has 34 first-half homers in the past three years, and only 18 second-half taters, despite a similar number of at-bats. You've gotten the best part of the season from Inge, and so unless you desperately need power from your catching slot, you're better off dealing him for a serviceable backstop with some pop, like A.J. Pierzynski or Bengie Molina, and a big upgrade elsewhere.
Pulling the Job
I thought I had a deal done in The S.T.E.A.L. until my trading partner got cold feet, pulling the offer before I accepted. But who knows what the rest of the weekend will bring.
Meanwhile, The S.T.E.A.L. was abuzz after Danny "Wrong Braun" Heifetz was able to send Aubrey Huff, Randy Wells, and Kevin Correia to Brian "Goombah" Divito for Joe Saunders and Evan Longoria. Granted, Saunders has been bipolar since the start of June, allowing one earned run in two of his starts and at least four in the rest, but this deal was about Longo. Danny got the star player in the deal, while Brian took a chance on Huff's second-half pedigree, and two starters in Correia and Wells who have put up power-arm numbers in the past six weeks.
Sentiment in the league was that the Goombahs might have been guilty of T.U.I. -- trading under the influence -- but only time will tell.
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.
8hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy