Take a moment to absorb this fact: Philadelphia Phillies, trade deadline sellers.
Four short months ago, that would have been a shock-inducing line to put into print. A division champion in each of the past five seasons, National League champion on two occasions (2008 and '09) and World Series champion once (2008), the Phillies were again expected to be a front-runner in the National League East. Instead, at the moment the Tuesday trade deadline passed, the Phillies found themselves in dead last in the division, 16 games out of first, 12 games under .500 and fifth-worst among the 16 teams in the National League.
It's why they overhauled their outfield on Tuesday, trading two starters, center fielder Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers, then minutes later, right fielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Then, they recalled onetime top prospect Domonic Brown from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Suddenly, this offense, the NL's best and one of the majors' five best three seasons ago, appears in danger of sinking to the bottom third in the league in terms of runs scored and OPS. That's a problem for the remaining Phillies; useful fantasy players like Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard take a hit in those counting-number (runs, RBIs) categories. Although the perception might remain that this is an above-average offense, it in all likelihood is not; don't assume that even the Phillies' 18th-ranked 4.20 runs per game is a fair barometer.
Brown is the intriguing piece affected by the Phillies' moves. Called up Tuesday, he should get an extended look as the Phillies make their 2013 preparations, and his minor league performance shows he remains capable of contributing in the home run and stolen base categories. Improved plate discipline would help, and as a point in his favor, he had only 14 strikeouts in 87 at-bats in June and July combined for Lehigh Valley. At the bare minimum, he warrants a close watch in standard mixed leagues and an instant pickup in NL-only formats.
But this is all about the big names the Phillies traded away, right? Let's take a closer look at those.
Shane Victorino to Los Angeles Dodgers
Whereas the Phillies' offense might be on the decline, the Dodgers' offense has certainly improved in the past 10 days, thanks to not only Victorino's addition but also the previous acquisition of Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Twenty-seven days ago, the Dodgers played a game in which Jerry Hairston Jr. batted third, Juan Rivera fourth and Luis Cruz fifth. Now, they'll likely trot out Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Ramirez in those spots, with Victorino in the leadoff spot.
Here's why that's a substantial benefit -- again impacting the team's counting numbers -- and again why you shouldn't cling to the year-to-date team stats: The Dodgers were shut out seven times in June, averaging 2.96 runs per game in the month. Since the All-Star break, however, they have failed to score fewer than two runs once, and they have averaged 4.47 runs per game. That's an obvious, huge plus for Kemp, Ethier and Ramirez. What you might not realize is how that'll benefit lesser fantasy names like Mark Ellis, A.J. Ellis, James Loney and, once he's healthy, Dee Gordon.
Victorino, mired in a disappointing season by his own standards, was already seemingly coming out of his funk before being dealt. He was a .357/.400/.589 hitter in 15 games since the All-Star break, stealing five bases and scoring 14 runs. As long as he sticks at leadoff -- or No. 2 in the order -- and the Dodgers can keep Kemp and Ethier healthy, Victorino might have it in him to restore his .280-hitting, 35-steal, 100-run fantasy potential, scaled down to remaining games, naturally. Moving from Citizens Bank Park to Dodger Stadium might sap some of his home run appeal, but Victorino was never known for big-time power. It's a good move for him and should restore him to the top 25 fantasy outfielders going forward.
Hunter Pence to San Francisco Giants
Pence, already a top-25 fantasy outfielder -- he was 24th on our Player Rater at the time of his trade -- should see negligible change to his fantasy value, his stock perhaps slipping by a few spots (to just outside the top 25) as a result of his change in ballparks. Citizens Bank Park, after all, ranks eighth in terms of home runs on our Park Factors page, compared to AT&T Park's No. 30 ranking this season. Pence's homer potential will suffer in the more spacious venue.
In his defense in the category, however, AT&T is closer to neutral for right-handed power than left-handed power, and nine of Pence's 17 homers this season have been pulled to left. We might be talking about, say, seven instead of 10 more.
Pence shouldn't be hurt in RBIs, however, considering the Giants still sport three valuable on-base artists who might all bat ahead of him: fellow recent acquisition Marco Scutaro, Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey. There's therefore little reason to downgrade Pence much in the rankings.
Here's a quick look at the fantasy value of other recently traded hitters:
After giving up on 2012 breakout third baseman Ryan Roberts, the Diamondbacks quickly decided they couldn't fall back upon their in-house candidates, instead opting to acquire Chris Johnson from the Houston Astros on the cheap. One of the more free-swinging players in the game, Johnson at least has boosted his walk rate this season to 6.2 percent, his highest rate in any season thus far in the majors.
Expect Johnson to be a streaky performer in batting average, his rest-of-year potential in the category probably closer to .260 than .280, but thanks to the promise of regular at-bats and the help of hitting-friendly Chase Field, he might come close to doubling his season-to-date homer total. He remains a useful asset in deeper mixed and NL-only leagues.
Injuries to Yankees corner infielders Alex Rodriguez (lengthier absence) and Mark Teixeira (potentially briefer) make McGehee a natural addition for the team, granting him a short-term opportunity to start at either spot, then most likely settling into a platoon arrangement with Eric Chavez at third base.
If a platoon is McGehee's lot with the Yankees, it might be for the best in fantasy, even if it caps his value at 12-team AL-only leagues. He's a .250/.344/.463 hitter against left-handers this season, compared to .222/.275/.341 versus righties, so his owners shouldn't be terribly bothered by a few lost at-bats against his weaker side. He'll benefit from a move to hitting-friendly Yankee Stadium and the deep Yankees lineup, boosting his homer, RBI and runs scored potential on a per-plate-appearance basis, which will ease the sting somewhat from the loss in playing time.
TOP 125 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 125 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
The Pirates landed two useful bats in less than 24 hours on Tuesday, Snider early in the morning hours, Sanchez only hours before the deadline, the latter move necessitated by the team's trade of McGehee. In a sense, the Pirates' total trades represented a matter of shifting resources: They moved a reliever (Brad Lincoln) for Snider, a first baseman (McGehee) for another reliever (Chad Qualls) and an outfielder (Gorkys Hernandez) for Sanchez. Garrett Jones, meanwhile, shifts from right field to first base to likely comprise a straight platoon with Sanchez.
Snider is the catch here, and he batted second as the team's starting right fielder on Tuesday, roles he might retain the remainder of the year. The longtime top prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays received numerous chances but failed to realize his potential; a scorching .335/.423/.598 triple-slash line for Triple-A Las Vegas followed by .250/.300/.556 numbers in 10 games of a recent call-up by the Blue Jays shows that perhaps he might finally be figuring it out at age 24.
Whether that's a short-term hot spell -- it wouldn't be the first time that's been the case, if so -- or something more is unclear, but NL-only owners who hoarded FAAB (free agent acquisition budget) dollars or a top waiver position might regard him the premium catch of the trade deadline. After all, Snider's power potential was always advertised in the 25-30 range. He might bat .250 for his new team, play every day and hit 8-10 homers. Or he might again be a total bust. But the chance that the result is the former is enough to make him worth a pickup.
Sanchez, meanwhile, was in the midst of a miserable season for the Marlins, but he managed .302/.431/.491 numbers in 34 games for Triple-A New Orleans. During that time he clobbered lefties -- he had .370/.455/.704 rates against them -- and his .298/.390/.488 lifetime rates against lefties in the majors show that he'd be a useful platoon partner. As the one on the lesser-used side, however, he'll be 12-team NL-only (or deeper) material, nothing more.
Why add only one disappointing fantasy catcher to your roster when, for a low, low price, you can add two? Soto joins the Rangers as Mike Napoli's new backup -- Yorvit Torrealba was subsequently designated for assignment -- but with a .199/.284/.347 triple-slash line and no promise of regular at-bats, he hardly looks like even AL-only waiver material. Soto's defense makes him a handy fit in Torrealba's old role, and perhaps his power might become more valuable at Rangers Ballpark. More likely, however, this is a trade that at least assures the Rangers a catcher for 2013, being that Soto's the one under team control for next season. If you're a Napoli owner in a keeper league, you should be more bothered, because this could be the first significant signal that he'll be with a different team next year.
Michael Morse, Washington Nationals: Now there is the Michael Morse we were expecting before he strained a back muscle that landed him on the disabled list to begin the season. During his past 30 games, he's a .360/.391/.568 hitter with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, which project as even greater than those during his breakout 2011. Considering his lengthy absence -- his first game of 2012 was on June 2 -- it's understandable that it took Morse this long. His issues upon his activation were discussed in the June 20 "Hit Parade," at which time I wrote that he is "an aggressive hitter fresh off the DL who has yet to fully adjust." The stat quoted at the time was that he had swung at the first pitch in the count only 32 percent of the time; since that date he has swung at it 39 percent of the time, closer to his previous norms, and batted .500 (9-for-18) with one home run. It certainly appears that the old Morse is back.
Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers: His was a welcome trade in fantasy, and it's even more so now following the Dodgers' acquisition of top-of-the-order hitter Shane Victorino. Ramirez is a .280/.357/.520 hitter in his first six Dodgers games and has two stolen bases, looking a lot more like the five-category fantasy stud than the model we saw back in Miami. As the Dodgers' No. 5 hitter, RBI chances should be abundant, as he's now with an offense that represents a substantial upgrade upon that of the Marlins, who have averaged a major league-worst 3.70 runs per game this season. A top-10 finish overall might be in order.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals: As with teammate Morse, Zimmerman was profiled in that same June 20 "Hit Parade," and at the time it seemed as though a disabled list stint might be the perfect tonic for what ailed him. It turns out that a cortisone shot was a better choice; since he received one on June 24, he is a .361/.422/.722 hitter with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs in 32 games. What's more, that's not a luck-driven hot streak, not by a long shot. Revert to that June 20 column and look at the specific areas of the strike zone that ailed him: Since June 24, he is a .273 hitter with a 25 percent miss rate on swings against hard stuff "up and in," vastly improved from his .158 and 30 percent before that date; he is also a .222 hitter with a 38 percent miss rate on off-speed stuff "down and away" since June 24, compared to .135 and 41 percent before it.
Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals: Both production and playing time have proven issues for Berkman since his return from a knee injury on July 14. He has started eight of 15 Cardinals games during that time and batted .207 with a .379 slugging percentage, his six walks in 36 plate appearances (16.7 percent rate) the only real plus in his game. Whether this is Berkman merely needing to recapture his timing or his 36 years of age coming back to haunt him is unclear, but even if it's the former, the lack of everyday at-bats might only lengthen his cold spell. He's unlikely to come close to his 2011 level of production the rest of the season.
Tyler Colvin, Colorado Rockies: Kudos to the Rockies for recognizing Colvin's contributions the first half of the season and granting him an opportunity to play every day, starting him in 13 of their first 14 games in the month of July. Shame on Colvin for falling flat on his face when presented with said opportunity; he is a .128 hitter with 16 strikeouts and only one extra-base hit, a double, in 39 at-bats in 12 games since the All-Star break. The strikeouts demonstrate that he's falling back into old habits, and that eight of those games came at Coors Field is damning of his future prospects. The Rockies have benched him in three of their past nine games accordingly, and that's an arrangement that might stick.
Alfonso Soriano, Chicago Cubs: The trade deadline came and went, and while Soriano's bloated contract -- he's still owed $18 million in each of the next two seasons, as well as the prorated remainder of his $18 million salary for 2012 -- makes him a lock to clear waivers, that he has yet to be traded makes it likely he'll remain with the Cubs for a significant remainder of the season. Why that's a problem: This Cubs team has been gutted to the point where it's a real threat to finish among the five lowest-scoring teams in baseball the remainder of the year, hurting Soriano's runs/RBI potential. But even if he's traded by, say, Aug. 15, who's to say that new surroundings would mean a rise in fantasy value? Soriano has thrived at Wrigley Field this season, with .294/.347/.525 triple-slash rates there, and there's a good chance that wherever he winds up, he'll not only have to deal with less hitter-friendly confines, but perhaps also a little less playing time.
New position eligibility
The following players have become eligible at new positions -- it's 10 games to qualify at a new spot -- in ESPN standard leagues during the past week: Willie Bloomquist (3B), Danny Espinosa (SS), Todd Frazier (1B), Scott Moore (1B), Jordany Valdespin (OF).
Nearing new position eligibility
The following players are on track to earn new eligibility in the coming weeks: Alexi Amarista (9 games played at SS), Robert Andino (8 games played at 3B), Miguel Cairo (9 games played at 1B), Ronny Cedeno (9 games played at 2B), Pedro Ciriaco (9 games played at 2B), Steve Clevenger (9 games played at 1B), Brooks Conrad (9 games played at 3B), Jason Donald (8 games played at SS), Yan Gomes (8 games played at 1B), Josh Harrison (8 games played at 2B), Elliot Johnson (9 games played at 2B), Munenori Kawasaki (8 games played at 2B), Scott Moore (9 games played at 3B), Donovan Solano (8 games played at OF), Mark Trumbo (8 games played at 3B), Justin Turner (8 games played at SS), Omar Vizquel (9 games played at SS) and Michael Young (8 games played at 2B).