By Jake Ciely, RotoExperts.com
Take a look at the Top Three picks of this Fantasy Baseball season: Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford. At the beginning of the season, you couldn’t trade for these players unless you backed the truck up and unloaded a haul. For all intents and purposes, they were untouchable.
I have always followed the rule that no player is untouchable. Ask how many owners of those three would be more than happy to trade them for a Top-10 player right now. You don’t think Pujols’ owner would prefer Adrian Gonzalez so far. How about Hanley’s owner? They would be thrilled to have Jose Reyes or Troy Tulowitzki. Even Crawford owners would jump at the chance to own Jose Bautista instead. On April 1, you could have traded the Top Three for any of these replacements PLUS a solid second player. If you did, you would be sitting in amazing shape right now. That is why you should never label a player as untouchable.
Think about it this way. If you trade a player at his peak, he has nowhere to go but down. Even if he maintains that level, the worst you have done is get fair value. More likely, you will find yourself on the better end of the deal in the long run.
Take your “untouchables” and start fielding offers. Now is your chance to capitalise on their value and come out better in the end. I’m going to give you a list of untouchable-type players and a corresponding target for a trade. I am not suggesting trading the players straight up. Instead, target that player and another piece that will help you. If you need a 2B because you drafted Dan Uggla, that is the second piece to acquire. Need saves? Same concept.
Adrian Gonzalez, BOS – Might as well kick it off with someone mentioned already. Gonzalez is likely seen by most as untouchable right now. In fact, when I discussed first-half MVPs and said Jose Bautista is the deserving AL choice, the backlash was fierce. While AGone has been exactly what the Red Sox hoped, take a look at his projections: .355 AVG, 31 HRs, 112 Runs and 142 RBIs. Gonzalez’s average numbers over the past four years are a .284 AVG, 34 HRs, 95 Runs and 105 RBIs. There is a modest bump in Runs and a great improvement in AVG and RBIs. While playing in Fenway will help Gonzalez maintain a higher average and production, .355 is more than can be expected when you consider his unsustainable .395 Batting Average on Balls In Play (.395).
Trade Target: Paul Konerko, CHW – He has rather similar production and more HRs (22) when compared to Gonzalez. He also carries a perception of decreased production given his age, but it hasn’t come and you cannot keep assuming it will.
Jose Reyes, NYM – Look at the numbers Reyes is on pace for – even with missed time due to a hamstring injury: .354 AVG, 226 Hits, 118 Runs, 40 doubles, 27 triples, 58 RBIs and 55 SBs. Those are Ty Cobb numbers! Granted, the hamstring injury derails his MVP-level value a bit, but the news is nowhere near as bleak as with the previous one. He is still a Top-Five Fantasy hitter and plays the thinnest position for talent. All that said, if someone is willing to look past the hamstring and give Top-Five value, you have to pounce. First, you should because of everything explained in this piece, but second, the injury could flare up and sap his speed, which hurts his production.
Trade Target: Troy Tulowitzki, COL – Even with his up-and-down performance (get used to it, Tulo will always be this way), Tulowitzki is still on pace for nearly identical numbers to last year. He is a head-to-head league killer, but in all other leagues, the end numbers are all you need.
Curtis Granderson, NYY – I’m as big of a Granderson fan as any, especially after I went on the record predicting a big year for him. Even so, I would still capitalise on his first half. Granderson needed to start hitting lefties to improve, and he’s done just that. The rest of his numbers are in line with his career except that his SLG% and ISO (Isolated Power) are his best ever. Granderson’s strikeout rate is also the highest since 2006, so there is some cause for concern. His pace for 47 HRs is certain to drop off, as his Home run to Flyball Rate (HR/FB) will return to a more reasonable level (currently 20.8 per cent). The most telling sign is his production month-to-month. After a .294 AVG and 10 HRs in May, Granderson hit .256 with four HRs in June, and while he has four HRs already in July, he’s hitting just .222.
Trade Target: Ryan Braun, MIL – This is actually a one-for-one trade suggestion. Braun’s value is at the lowest it ever will be due to injury. When healthy, Braun is a Top-Three Fantasy player. For a two-for-one deal, look at another player whose value still hasn’t returned fully after an injury: Matt Holliday, STL. His consistency and AVG will make up for the slight loss in HRs.
Adrian Beltre, TEX – Beltre certainly isn’t untouchable in the normal sense of the word. After a mediocre May and June, Beltre has nearly matched his production for the entire month of June through just eight games in July. Any other season (outside of 2004), Beltre simply would be his normal, lower Top-10 third baseman. With the amount of injuries hitting the position this year, Beltre finds himself as the second-best 3B right now. Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman and David Wright should pass him by season’s end, assuming Wright returns 100-per cent healthy. That’s what makes Beltre a perfect sell-high candidate. You know he’ll regress from his hot July start and/or get injured himself. Take advantage of how thin 3B is this year.
Trade Target: Jhonny Peralta, DET – You lose a few HRs, but less than you might think. Even with his July performance, Beltre is on pace for 31, while Peralta is headed for 25. Given Beltre’s average numbers the past five years, there is little difference, and you’re going to get a slightly better AVG with Peralta and no injury concern.
Jered Weaver, LAA – Weaver was my preseason AL Cy Young pick, but even I realise that he won’t keep up this pace. Sure, the strikeouts will be there as he’s still on pace for 216, but the 1.86 ERA and 0.91 WHIP will not. In the past decade, the lowest ERA came from Roger Clemens in 2005 (1.87), and the lowest WHIP was by Johan Santana in 2006 (0.997). The next two lowest ERAs were from Zack Greinke (2.16) and Pedro Martinez (2.22). Obviously, Weaver will slow a bit, and it actually could be a significant amount as his Predictive ERA (xFIP) is 3.47. Don’t dismiss Weaver’s impressive season completely, but expect some regression.
Trade Target: Felix Hernandez, SEA – Remember this guy? All he did was win last year’s Cy Young Award while winning only 13 games. Side note: Have I mentioned how much I prefer Quality Starts in Fantasy, and this is case-in-point No. 1? Just a few times? Well, it probably won’t be my last. Owners dismiss Hernandez for that very reason, wins. If you move Weaver, you’ll want strikeouts in return, and King Felix finished just one behind Weaver last year. He’s actually on pace for 244 this year, and his xFIP is lower (3.03) than his ERA (3.22).
Dan Haren, LAA – Here we find Weaver’s teammate. Many of the same reasons that make Weaver a good sell-high candidate apply to Haren. His WHIP is currently 0.96, and his xFIP is 40 points higher than the 2.65 ERA. There are additional concerns that come into play with Haren. His current HR/FB rate is an all-time low of 5.8 per cent; his average is 10.3 per cent. Haren also had a brief injury scare with his back. While he appears perfectly fine now, that has to linger in the back of your mind (no pun intended). Then there is always the second-half swoon. Historically, Haren doesn’t perform as well after the All-Star Break. Here are his pre and post All-Star splits: 2006, 3.52/4.91; 2007, 2.30/4.15; 2008, 2.72/4.18; 2009, 2.01/4.62; 2010, 4.36/3.34. Last season was the first since 2005 where Haren posted a better second-half ERA. Then again, he did have an uncharacteristic 4.00-plus ERA, which was the same case in 2005. There is too much history and concern to expect Haren to maintain his numbers.
Trade Target: Chad Billingsley, LAD or Wandy Rodriguez, HOU – Why not target Haren’s alter egos? Both Billingsley and Wandy had much better second halves last season. Billingsley hit a bump in June this year, which is eerily similar to 2010. He appears past it and onto a better second half again. Wandy has remained a bit shakier start-to-start, but no pitcher saw a greater improvement than his 4.97 to 2.11 ERA change last year. Both will provide nearly as many strikeouts as Haren, so there’s no loss in that area.
James Shields, TB – Shields is another tough player to put on this list, as with Granderson and Weaver, I had tons of preseason love for him. This might be my 164th time saying it but Shields was unbelievably unlucky last year, and that luck has done a 180 this year. Nevertheless, as my co-host Doug Anderson explained on one of our Fantasy Full House podcasts, there is nothing to explain luck changing that much and staying that way. Now, Shields won’t revert to the terrible luck, but he also won’t remain this lucky. The end result will be somewhere in the middle, and therefore result in lower second-half numbers. The decreased home run rate points to Shields’ off-season improvements, and you can say the same for his HR/FB rate. However, his .262 BABIP will increase, as his previous best is .282. A change in BABIP will also affect his Left On Base percentage of 81.1, which in turn means more runs.
Trade Target: Tim Lincecum, SF – Yes, right now you could get Lincecum and a piece in a trade for Shields. Why? Lincecum’s first half has been consistently less productive than expected. We’re talking about a preseason Top-Three pick at pitcher, who averaged 16 wins, 252 Ks and a 2.83 ERA. The strikeouts are nearly there, but Lincecum is only on pace for 11 wins with a 3.14 ERA. His xFIP is 2.88, and all of his peripheral stats are in line with his career. Expect better from “The Freak”… or the nickname he actually likes better, “Seabiscuit.” Don’t ask me why he likes it best!
Francisco Rodriguez, NYM – No one would have predicted Rodriguez would be tied for fifth in saves at this point. Many expected the Mets to struggle more than they have, plus with KRod’s vesting option, limiting his use seemed part of the plan. Apparently, Terry Collins didn’t get that memo because Rodriguez is well past the pace for his needed 55 games completed. While that will make it more difficult for the Mets to trade Rodriguez, don’t think it won’t happen. He and Carlos Beltran (another good sell-high option while we’re here) are the only two Mets they could trade where it wouldn’t be seen as if they’re throwing away the season. KRod said he’d accept a trade to a contender in a setup role, which will kill his value. No saves = no bueno.
Trade Target: Jonathan Papelbon, BOS – Remember when Paps was a top-end Fantasy closer? He actually still is but has apparently caught James Shielditis. His current BABIP is .375, which is almost 100 points higher than his career average. Everything else is the same or better with his career numbers, including a spectacular 12.46 K/9 rate. All you need to see is his xFIP of 2.30 versus his 4.15 ERA to know improvement is coming.
Derek Jeter, NYY – He notched his 3,000th hit in style, going 5-for-5 and the milestone hit coming on a home run. He’s Superman, God and Barry Bonds circa 2001 all rolled into one. Or, was that just how the Yankees broadcasters made him sound? All kidding aside, I wanted to give special mention and a “congrats” for reaching 3,000 hits. He remains one of the classiest players and the face of the Yankees organisation. Enjoy your moment, Captain!
*All stats through July 8
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.