- Brendan Roberts, Fantasy
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I learned years ago that I should leave trade speculation to Peter Gammons.
But even Peter the Great has trades that slip under his radar or predictions that turn out incorrect. It's the nature of the beast.
General managers and agents are coy and intelligent human beings who can read and even mislead people, and they seem to relish the opportunity to use the press to spread rumors -- "exaggerate the facts" is probably more accurate -- for their own gain. Which makes sense.
Just think about it. Let's say I'm a GM and I have a midrange outfielder to deal, and say the Tampa Bay Rays call to check what the asking price might be. They don't like my reply, so they hang up, and that deal is dead. But I can tell the media that the Rays inquired about him just to make, say, the division-rival Yankees come calling, too. It's technically true, as the Rays did inquire. But readers usually read a bit too deeply into things like that.
Meanwhile, another team is interested in the same guy, and talks are getting serious. But I stay mum about that deal because I don't want the press to get wind of it, publicize it, analyze it for the fans or do anything that could jeopardize the deal. Or an agent could play up the value of a player by making it seem as though several teams are interested.
Picture the GMs or agents holding a ball and faking a long throw in the game of fetch. Well, we are the dogs. I've seen enough "huh?" moves throughout the years -- from Bartolo Colon going to the Expos to Randy Johnson becoming an Astro -- to know that I don't know what will happen between now and the trade deadline.
It's one big chess match, and we, the unknowing, are the pawns. The informed, such as Buster Olney and Peter Gammons, are more like the bishops, rooks or knights. They ultimately could be sacrificed to protect the king (the deal), but at least they are close to the deals and have a sense of what is going on.
All right, that's enough of the analogies. The point is that you shouldn't make any moves or count on anything happening unless it's at least close to a done deal. Do you have Jason Bay in an NL-only league? Sorry, but trading him right now because of speculation that he could end up playing for the Rays is a bad idea because you'd have to trade for lesser value, and the chances are greater he'll stay with the Pirates or at least in the National League. And if you have Bay in a mixed league, his value likely wouldn't change much as a result of the trade. Big-name players perform like the surefire starters they are, regardless of where they play.
But those are the big names. There's nothing wrong with playing around with your bench and targeting guys whose values would jump as a result of a trade. Using ESPN.com's MLB Rumor Central as my guide, here are a few deals involving hitters who might be dealt and, more importantly, the "lesser" players who could become immediate fantasy options as a result of such trades:
Jason Bay and/or Xavier Nady headed to the Rays, D-backs, Cardinals, Mets, Yankees, etc.? Who knows where these guys could be going, if anywhere (the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says the Pirates are asking for an awful lot for Bay), but any move the Pirates would make would be to free up playing time for Steven Pearce and Andrew McCutchen. If I were to guess, I'd bet Nady or Bay will go, and my money is on the cheaper Nady. Both Pearce and McCutchen are big league-ready, but I think Pearce is the only one who can help fantasy owners this season. Pearce has been struggling a bit in Triple-A, but I think complacency is mostly to blame. Meanwhile, McCutchen will steal a few bases, but he is a little too undisciplined to hit better than .265 in the majors this season. If you want to grab one of them in the next week as a speculation move, make it Pearce.
Mark Teixeira to Boston? Not sure yet what Boston would do with him (Kevin Youkilis to the outfield?), but the Braves reportedly have made Teixeira available. It'd take a lot to get him, though, and the Braves don't have an obvious replacement. They'd probably move one of their many outfielders in to play there. The Braves are loaded with prospects, but Brandon Jones is the one who has seen big league time this season.
Matt Holliday to Philly? Now wouldn't that be a trip? He'd go from the league's most favorable hitters' park to arguably its second-most favorable. I doubt that'll happen, but Holliday is drawing major interest. And because it's Colorado, interesting fantasy options could fill in if Holliday were to be dealt, such as Ryan Spilborghs, Scott Podsednik or Seth Smith (likely in that pecking order).
The Yankees are looking for a catcher: Let's be honest here -- they'll get one. He probably won't be anything but a platoon guy, but anybody with decent offensive skills in that lineup deserves a look.
Several teams are interested in Jack Wilson: More because he's a solid fielder than a great hitter. His replacement would be Brian Bixler, who is a former second-round pick and aw, who are we kidding? Nothing to see here.
Raul Ibanez to the Mets, D-backs or ? Ibanez will hit about the same anywhere he goes, but a trade probably would bring Wladimir Balentien back to the majors. Not that I'm jumping for joy or anything.
Adrian Beltre to Minnesota? Sounds like this one is near dead. My money is on Beltre staying put, but if he does go somewhere, nothing much of interest would be left behind at third base in Seattle. It'd probably be mix-and-match time.
Casey Blake headed out: Yup, the Andy Marte has been starting at third base nine of the past 12 games, and Indians manager Eric Wedge admitted Sunday that the starting infielders right now are Ryan Garko, Marte, Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera. (Sorry, Indians fans.) Blake, who's headed for arbitration, probably will fill a super-utility spot for a contender. So do you want Marte? Um, no. He has nice pop and is hitting better recently, but he's still batting just .187 this season with 27 strikeouts in 91 at-bats.
Barry Bonds to anybody? No way. A contender would be the only team interested in having him, and if it didn't want to deal with the circus that surrounds him earlier in the season, it certainly wouldn't now. I think he's done, although I would keep an eye out for the name of Kenny Lofton these days. Surely some team won't be able to get the speedy, high on-base percentage leadership-type guy they're looking for at the trade deadline.
Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds: Isn't it about time we regarded this 25-year-old as a top third-base option? Encarnacion entered Monday on pace for a .267 average, 30 homers and 64 RBIs. But we're seeing growth by the day, and I think he'll shatter those numbers. Consider this: If you take out May, he's hitting .309 with 17 homers and 31 RBIs in just 66 games. I realize you can't take out May, but his splits suggest he's a second-half hitter, so he's unlikely to have another May-like month. Also consider that he's hitting 40 percentage points better on the road than at home -- that's saying something considering his home ballpark -- and his homer rate is much better versus righties than against lefties (against whom he's hitting .333). Simply put, as he develops he'll have fewer holes in his swing, and with the slide of middle-tier fantasy third basemen this season, Encarn has become a must-own.
Adam Lind, OF, Blue Jays: Oh, by the way, that breakout we've expected from Lind has finally happened. If you were to project his current numbers to, oh, 530 at-bats (he doesn't walk much), here would be his stat line: .289 average-27 home runs-120 RBIs. If that's not a mixed-league stud, I don't know what is. And his current numbers include a 6-for-39 start to the season. Did I mention Lind is owned in just 2 percent of ESPN standard leagues? No? How dare I?
Chris Iannetta, C, Rockies: I saw the hit, and you might have, too. Iannetta hit the ball 400 feet for a homer Friday, even though he broke his bat in the process. The game was at Coors Field, but there might be no catcher with as much raw power as Iannetta, save for Brian McCann and maybe Geovany Soto. Iannetta has 10 home runs in just 184 at-bats, and he's playing just about every day. Look, it'd be one thing if he came out of nowhere to do this, but we expected production like this last year. He flopped then, which is understandable considering he was a 24-year-old starting regularly in the bigs for the first time. I say he'll finish with 20 homers, which is pretty good for a guy who still is unowned in 72 percent of ESPN standard leagues.
Carlos Gomez, OF, Twins: Look, I'm worried, too. I liked Gomez coming into this season for his Jose Reyes-like skills, and I still do. But his .281 OBP for the season and his .154 average and steal-less July make me cringe. Honestly, I can't guarantee he'll hit much better as the season wears on, but at least I know the Twins will keep trotting him out there. Why? Two reasons: (1) He's only 22, and the more at-bats he gets now, the better off he'll be down the road and (2) he's first in the majors in range factor per 9 innings (the average number of plays an outfielder makes in a nine-inning game) and third in zone rating (the estimate of a player's efficiency in fielding balls hit into his typical defensive zone), according to STATS Inc. In other words, the kid can play defense, and that'll keep him in the lineup. And as long as his legs aren't hurtin', he should start running again soon.
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Red Sox: That sound is the air rushing from Ellsbury's big start. He came into the week with a .234 OBP for the past month, and the Boston Globe is reporting the Red Sox are considering taking him out of the leadoff spot. I think they're serious about that, but I'm not worried about the recent Ellsbury being the true Ellsbury. He's just slumping with Big Papi out of the lineup, and it's more visible because of his excessively hot start. Here are Ellsbury's minor league and major league batting averages since debuting in 2005: .318-.299-.308-.298-.452-.353. The last one was with the Sox last season. What's he hitting now? .262. Yeah, now is a good time to get him.
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins: I should hit him every now and then until he gives me a reason not to -- 'cause I'm a hater. Now that I see him in the top 15 of the most-added players, I can't stop myself. Hermida is the most overrated player this side of Vladimir Guerrero. (I'll explain that in a future column.) His batting line is .256. Ugh. He has a whopping 12 homers, which ties him neatly with Pedro Feliz and Mike Napoli, among others, for 81st in the majors. He's tied for 98th in RBIs. And steals? He has four. Looking over this year's and his past years' stats, I just don't get the infatuation.
Pickup(s) of the week
Mixed: Willie Harris, OF, Nationals: You have to click on his name to believe it, but Harris is simply on fire. Playing every day with Elijah Dukes, Lastings Milledge and Wily Mo Pena out, Harris has two or more hits in six of his past seven games, including three homers.
AL-only: Mike Sweeney, DH, A's: Don't laugh. We're talking about an AL-only league here. Sweeney is due back from knee surgeries in about a week or two, and he was hitting .292 before going on the DL.
NL-only: John Baker, C, Marlins: He's not hitting much for the Fish just yet, but he was hitting .321 in the minors and is starting regularly.
Prepare to load up on Rangers hitters. The majors' current runs leader begins an 11-game homestand next week, followed by three at Baltimore (not scary), three at Boston (not good) and nine more games at home. That's 20 of 26 games at one of the league's best hitters' parks.
In a rather strange occurrence, the Cleveland Indians play 12 of 16 games in domes beginning this Friday with a series at Minnesota. (They also play at Toronto and Tampa Bay.) Interestingly enough, since the start of 2005, Grady Sizemore is hitting just .221 with seven homers in 204 at-bats in dome games.
5x5 watch: stolen bases
More like new-manager watch. With Phil Garner leading the team most of last season, the Houston Astros finished 25th in the majors in steals with 65. With Cecil Cooper at the helm this year, the Stros are tied for third and already have 86 steals.
Tip of the week
At this point during the season, fantasy owners who are near the league bottom in the batting-average category mistakenly think they can do little to pull up that "percentage" category. That's not true; you can make gains in that category in the second half just as quickly as in the cumulative categories. But most owners go about it the wrong way, and that's by paying a boatload to get a traditionally high-average hitter. Often, moving up in the category is as simple as trading away the low-average sluggers such as Adam Dunn who are pulling your percentages down and/or negating the high-average guys you do have. Sometimes it's as simple as addition by subtraction.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.