- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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The Rangers are looking smarter by the moment.
Last year, they dealt a superstar slugger with a year and a half left on his deal and got a very nice group of prospects: catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus (currently in Double-A), starting pitcher Matt Harrison and starting pitching prospect Neftali Perez (also currently in Double-A). No, Saltalamacchia and Harrison haven't set the world on fire in their respective rookie years, but the upside is there, and Andrus (who's only 19) looks as though he'll be a fantasy star, with nice power and exceptional speed.
Why rehash this year-old trade? Because ESPN.com's Jayson Stark reported Monday that the Braves, the team that got that superstar slugger -- Mark Teixeira -- before last year's deadline are primed to deal Teixeira away, and it seems very unlikely that they'll get anything close to the haul they gave up in '07.
Now, I'm not raking the Braves over the coals. At the time, dealing for Big Tex seemed like a great move; combined with the star-crossed acquisition of Octavio Dotel, it made Atlanta seem like a World Series contender. In 157 games for the Braves so far, Teixeira is hitting .295 with 37 homers and 134 RBIs, a more-than-respectable performance. But the fact is, this yearlong rental of the first-base slugger cost the Braves what will probably turn out to be quite a downgrade in organizational talent.
The Diamondbacks, Rays, Red Sox and Angels are four teams who've expressed interest in acquiring Teixeira before Thursday's deadline, and if one of those final three teams pulls the trigger, we're talking about a seismic shift in AL-only fantasy leagues. You've been saving your FAAB budget all year long for a move like this, and you'd have no choice but to bid the max.
However, those three AL teams reportedly seem less likely to get Teixeira than Arizona, and ESPN news sources reported yesterday that the Braves may be considering backing down on their insistence that Conor Jackson be included in a deal (which would be a nonstarter for the Diamondbacks). Instead, Atlanta may accept Chad Tracy as the centerpiece, along with prospects. Now, Tracy is back to playing just about every day for the Diamondbacks, but at first base, not third (where Mark Reynolds is now entrenched). As a Brave, his fantasy value probably wouldn't change that much, but could be due a slight uptick in NL-only leagues because playing time concerns would evaporate. Plus, Turner Field has a slightly shallower porch in right field.
The key question might be: Who would the prospect or prospects be? One wouldn't imagine Max Scherzer would be part of such a deal, but never say never. Scherzer might come right back to the majors and join Atlanta's rotation, making him an option again in deeper fantasy leagues. Someone like Jarrod Parker could also be in the mix; Parker is only 19, but was Arizona's first-round pick in '07 and in some circles is believed to have a higher upside than Scherzer. What else do the Diamondbacks have? Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Carter, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith are gone to Oakland for Dan Haren. Emilio Bonifacio (already an overrated prospect) just went to Washington for Jon Rauch. Maybe outfielder Gerardo Parra, who's struggling a bit at Double-A? Unless it's Scherzer, though, there wouldn't be much fantasy impact this season.
Finally, Big Tex in Arizona probably means a minor boost in production. Teixeira, already known as a second-half stud, is a switch-hitter who rakes from both sides, and per usual Chase Field is playing as a top-10 homer park (while Turner Field is No. 15). Obviously, he's owned in all leagues, but I'd expect him to grow all the more valuable in the middle of that young, talented bunch in the desert.
Conor Jackson, 1B, Diamondbacks: First, Jackson has to be, well, jacked about meaning enough to his team that it hangs up the phone every time the Braves ask about him in a Teixeira deal. Second, after disappointing his fantasy owners once his torrid April was over, Jackson's power seems to have returned. Headed into Monday night's game against the Padres, he'd hit three homers, driven in seven, stolen a base and hit .542 over the past week. In July, he'd nailed five homers after hitting just two in May and June combined. Jackson's obviously owned in all leagues, but I have a feeling he's due for an explosive final two months. He's a good fantasy trade acquisition candidate, especially if Teixeira comes to Phoenix to take off some pressure.
Jeff Baker, 2B, Rockies: Baker got the dreaded vote of confidence from manager Clint Hurdle last week, but I'll say his fortunes are rising anyway. The Denver Post calls Baker "entrenched" at Colorado's revolving-door second-base slot, and with good reason: In the six games headed into Monday, Baker had three homers, six RBIs, a steal and hit .524. I keep telling anyone who'll listen to keep their eyes on the Rockies in the NL West, and if the infield of Garrett Atkins at first, Baker at second, Troy Tulowitzki at short and Ian Stewart at third can stay productive, so much the better. Baker is owned in about a third of ESPN.com leagues.
Chris Davis, 1B, Rangers: A week ago, Davis' fantasy fortunes were looking bleak. Rangers beat reporters were reporting that Hank Blalock was coming off the DL and would take over at first base, and nobody knew whether Davis would even stay in the majors. A week later, Blalock is playing third (and is the subject of trade rumors to San Francisco), and Davis is locked in at first. Plus he's hitting. This kid is owned in only half of ESPN leagues, despite his three homers and .453 average over this past week. For those in search of late-season power, Davis is worth a look in shallow fantasy leagues.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves: So much for .400, and so much for his late-in-life healthy streak. Larry has a bad hamstring and is now on the disabled list after avoiding it most of the year. Jones told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that his leg hurts him "just walking around," which doesn't make it sound as if this is just some nothing injury.
Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox: Just when you thought Koko's fortunes couldn't fall lower, there they go. I still think Konerko is a good bet for a second-half bounce back; his batting average on balls in play is .240, lowest in the majors, compared to his lifetime BABIP of .286. In other words, he's been unlucky. That logic sounds great, but since the All-Star break, Konerko's hitting .200 with a .539 OPS. Before the break, he was at .217 and .687. Ah, the good old days.
Carl Crawford, OF, Rays: Who'd have guessed in a year when the Rays spent more days in the first place than they had in their entire franchise history that Crawford would be having his worst season as a pro? And it continues: In July, Crawford is hitting .241 with a .264 on-base percentage, no homers and just three steals. He's still hitting third every night, and one wonders if that might actually change at some point.
Pickups of the Week
Mixed: Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres: Is he an elite corner infielder in fantasy? No. Does he deserve to be owned in more than 50 percent of leagues? Absolutely. The Crushin' Russian is having a slightly better year than he did in '07, when he hit 18 homers and drove in 74. He should eclipse those numbers, and he's hitting for a slightly better average (he's at .280). He's in the midst of a five-game hit streak and had hit in 13 of his past 14. Plus he's hitting .310 in July.
AL-only: Billy Butler, DH, Royals: Yes, I still believe the Butler will do it. He might not quite be a mixed-league option yet, but if Butler is available in your AL-only league (he's owned in just under 9 percent of ESPN leagues), get him. He has five dingers since coming back to the bigs, is hitting fifth even when Jose Guillen is in the lineup, and I expect his average to get better.
NL-only: Ian Stewart, 3B, Rockies: I mentioned him above, but this top prospect is getting a longer look in Colorado, and he's taking advantage: He went 1-for-4 Monday against the Pirates and has hit in nine of his past 10. Most importantly for his fantasy value, Todd Helton isn't close to returning, which gives Stewart some rope as a starter.
John Lackey is always pretty much money when he starts for the Angels as he does Tuesday night except when it's against the Red Sox. Lifetime, Lackey is 2-6 with a 6.01 ERA in his career against Boston, and that doesn't count a couple rough postseasons. Don't be nervous about getting your marginal Sox in your lineup tonight, guys like the ice-cold Jacoby Ellsbury or maybe even Jason Varitek, whose slumbering lumber woke up and hit a double Monday night.
The Indians have three more home games coming up against the Tigers before heading out on the road for a nine-game trip, and that trip may actually be a nice respite for the Tribe's power-starved hitters. For some reason, after being the 12th-friendliest ballpark to homers in '07, Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field is the majors' absolute worst park for taters this year, according to ESPN.com's Park Factor feature. Worse than Petco, worse than Chavez Ravine, worse than the Trop.
Eric Patterson, who hit just .220 for the Cubs in 41 big league at-bats before getting traded to Oakland in the Rich Harden deal, has been called up to the A's big club and now figures to split time in left field with Emil Brown. Patterson will make a bid to start against right-handed pitchers, and when he plays, is expected to hit leadoff. He has good raw power and speed skills, and is ownable for those with an open spot in AL-only leagues.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona says he'd like to put Jacoby Ellsbury back in the leadoff spot, but he can't do it while Ellsbury is struggling so badly. He went 1-for-4 Monday, but is still hitting just .254 since the end of May with a woeful .276 on-base percentage and has only one steal in July. For now, Dustin Pedroia is manning the top spot.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.