Reality Check: The road to recovery
Back in the days before I wrote about Fantasy Baseball, when I could still immerse myself in one league and devote to it the kind of energy and zeal normally reserved for, like, parenthood, I was swinging deals left and right, averaging maybe one per week.
Of course, that's a high-maintenance approach. Trading takes time, especially if you're trying to use it to your advantage. The vast majority of your offers will get rejected, and each rejection that comes without a counteroffer is a trip back to the drawing board to dream up another seemingly all-too-perfect deal that will most likely go nowhere.
For that reason, as my number of leagues has escalated over the years from one to six to eight to double digits, I've had to cool it a bit with the trading so that I could, you know, eat, sleep and enjoy all those other fine aspects of life.
But every so often, something happens in one league or another to bring back that old itch.
This year, the bug bit in what's informally (or perhaps formally) known as the "Podcast League," in which host Adam Aizer, colleagues Al Melchior and Nando Di Fino and I invite eight podcast listeners to compete in our standard Head-to-Head points format. In its first two years, I validated myself by claiming the top prize. Yay for me, right? Well, this year, my team started 1-6, good enough for last place in both win-loss record and total points.
For me, that's enough to provoke a full-fledged, Steinbrenner-style temper tantrum, complete with heads rolling, trees falling, the sky turning a pale yellow, and whatever else is necessary to overcome such embarrassment. If I was going down, I was going down kicking and screaming and punching and flailing and dialing the operator for assistance.
Suddenly, those casual trade offers I had been proposing over the first seven weeks, not really expecting anything to come of them, became a bit more earnest. At 1-6, I had to start winning now. I could no longer afford to wait for my injured studs to come back or my early-season underachievers to come through. I had to make changes.
But I had to be smart about it. My goal wasn't just to improve my team in the short term, but to do it in a way that would hold up in the long run as well. And after a series of trades over the last week, I believe I've accomplished that goal.
But before I walk you through those trades, I want to remind you that the names aren't as important as the overriding concepts. Suggesting specific trades for you to make would obviously be a waste of everyone's time since no two teams have the exact same players, but the explanation of those trades is applicable to various players across various formats. The point here is that if you're off to a miserable start like I am in this league, you can still take steps to improve your chances of contending -- if you're willing to invest the time, that is. I would hope most one-league participants are.
First, you need to assess what you have and what you can live without. Here's how my roster looked at the time I resolved to make changes:
1B -- Mark Teixeira
2B -- Dustin Pedroia
3B -- Brett Lawrie
SS -- J.J. Hardy
OF -- Shane Victorino
OF -- Josh Reddick
OF -- Lucas Duda
U -- Aramis Ramirez
Reserve -- Carlos Ruiz , Jose Altuve , Desmond Jennings (DL)
SP -- C.J. Wilson
SP -- Adam Wainwright
SP -- Josh Beckett
SP -- Matt Moore
SP -- Tim Hudson
RP -- Addison Reed
RP -- Henry Rodriguez
Reserve -- Doug Fister , Derek Holland , Jason Hammel , Chris Carpenter (DL)
As you can see, it's not like I was running Wilson Betemit and Will Venable out there. Most of these players have name value. But if the points aren't there, the points aren't there, and thanks to slow starts by Teixeira, Lawrie, Ramirez, Wilson, Wainwright, Beckett and Moore, among others, the points weren't there.
Still, players with name value have trade value. Anyone with a halfway decent standing in the league is presumably on the lookout for a buy-low opportunity, and I was rife with them ... provided I got something good in return.
That's the key. Even if you're in a position of desperation, you have to be picky about what you get back -- maybe not the specific player but the type of player. He has to be someone you can trust to perform at a high level both now and into the future, which means, more often than not, he has to be elite.
You can't, however, be picky about the players you give up. Obviously, if you're hoping to acquire studs who are currently performing at a high level, you wouldn't want to trade the ones you already have, which in my case would be Pedroia and Victorino, but everyone else should be on the table. The more brick walls you put up, the quicker the negotiations reach a dead end. Remember: If you're 1-6, you're not going to save your season with just one trade. Get that first one done and adjust from there.
In my case, trading Altuve and either Lawrie or Ramirez were the highest priorities. They were excess for me, and excess is a luxury a 1-6 team can't afford. But to get the kind of players I'd want in return, I had to do better than just Altuve and Ramirez. I had to think bigger.
So I found a team with a need at second base and offered Lawrie, Altuve and Moore for Jose Bautista . No dice. I found one with a need at third base and tried Lawrie and Beckett for Justin Upton . Dead end there, too. I found one with a need at first base and tried Teixeira and Hardy for Troy Tulowitzki . That one didn't take either.
But with each failed attempt, I had another lined up, and as I systematically worked my way through the league, bludgeoning each team with offer after offer, I finally found a match.
Trade 1: Brett Lawrie , Buster Posey and Jose Altuve for Albert Pujols
This owner had needs at both catcher and second base, and he had apparently taken enough lumps from Pujols over the first seven weeks that he wasn't too afraid of losing him. Of course, since then, Pujols has gone from hot to hotter, but this trade would still have its share of takers today. Three players owned in more than 90 percent of leagues is an impressive haul for any player, even one of Pujols' caliber.
So why did I go through with it? Like I said, excess is a luxury a 1-6 team can't afford. I didn't need Altuve or Lawrie with Pedroia and Ramirez on my roster, and though I did sacrifice Posey, I've always felt like catcher is the one offensive position where you can afford to play the hot hand off the waiver wire. It's generally the lowest-scoring position, which means even the elite options have their share of low-scoring weeks, and in a shallower league like this one, where each team starts only one catcher, overflow is common. I already had Ruiz stashed on my bench, and A.J. Ellis and Jonathan Lucroy were both available on the waiver wire at the time of the trade. In my position, the downgrade from Posey to one of those three seemed a small price to pay for a player like Pujols, who has the potential to be the best hitter in Fantasy from this point forward.
Am I thinking best-case scenario there? Sure, but I might as well put my faith in his track record if the odds are against me anyway.
Once that trade went through, the next two fell into place rather quickly. I didn't have as many pieces to work with, so I lost some leverage in the negotiations. Eventually, I settled on this:
Trade 2: Matt Moore for Mike Trout
This trade wasn't my favorite since I think Moore could just as likely emerge as a high-end starting pitcher this year as Trout could emerge as a high-end outfielder. But the bottom line is I need to win now, and Moore wasn't helping me do that. Not only has Trout had some big weeks already, but he'd be an immediate upgrade over Duda, who I've been forced to start throughout his struggles due to the surprising lack of alternatives on the waiver wire.
Besides, whenever I have a struggling team, my first priority is to fix the lineup, even if it means sacrificing some pitching. Mixing and matching off the waiver wire is a little easier at starting pitcher given the availability of two-start options.
Yes, I know I said I was looking for stud hitters, and Trout doesn't fit that description yet, but his hot start has me hopeful he's ready to live up to his elite pedigree right away, and because I'm giving up only one player in return, it's a worthy gamble.
Trade 3: Josh Reddick and Doug Fister for Michael Bourn
This trade happened within minutes of the second one -- and without any sort of negotiations beforehand. I just made the guy an offer, and he accepted, which leaves me halfway suspicious he knows something I don't. But whatever. It's an upgrade to my outfield regardless.
Sure, Reddick has been awesome so far, unlike most of my team, but again, I'm looking to secure the present and future. Bourn puts up about the same numbers year after year, making him a near lock to rank among the top 15 outfielders, provided he stays healthy. Reddick, though a solid player, isn't quite ready (and probably won't ever be) to contend for a 40-20 season, as he's currently on pace to do, and a steep course correction for him would be a misfortune I couldn't afford.
Of course, I had to give up Fister to make the upgrade, but given his lack of strikeout potential, I'm still less than convinced he'll be an every-week option in mixed leagues. At the time of the deal, I considered him only my fifth-best starting pitcher.
With those three trades and a few add/drops, here's how my roster looks now:
1B -- Albert Pujols
2B -- Dustin Pedroia
3B -- Aramis Ramirez
SS -- J.J. Hardy
OF -- Shane Victorino
OF -- Michael Bourn
OF -- Mike Trout
U -- Mark Teixeira
Reserve -- Carlos Ruiz , Lucas Duda , Desmond Jennings (DL)
SP -- C.J. Wilson
SP -- Adam Wainwright
SP -- Josh Beckett
SP -- Tim Hudson
SP -- Derek Holland
RP -- Addison Reed
RP -- Ernesto Frieri
Reserve -- Jason Hammel , Phil Hughes , Matt Capps , Brandon McCarthy (DL)
Better? Well, it's a little light on pitching depth after losing Moore and Fister, but the top three remain intact. If nothing else, the roster as a whole should be more competitive, and the best part is, with three roster spots freed up, I'll have an opportunity to pick up any of the latecomers that emerge off the waiver wire later on -- a likely scenario in a league this shallow.
Ultimately, it may not save my season, but at least I'm giving myself a fighting chance. It's a lot more fun than shrugging my shoulders and waiting until next year. And who knows? If six weeks from now, I've played the waiver wire right and am still within shouting distance, I may have a new round of excess to trade.
And then I'll really be feeling the itch.
In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value
Dayan Viciedo , OF, White Sox: Now that's more like it. After looking nothing short of inept over his first 31 games this season, compiling a .196 batting average and .530 OPS, Viciedo has gone off over his last 12 games, batting .413 with seven home runs. That's the kind of offensive potential that made him such an exciting call-up midway through last season and allowed him to hit 20 home runs in only 452 at-bats at Triple-A Charlotte last year. Viciedo is a free-swinger, posting a 35-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year, and that part of his skill set makes him prone to lengthy slumps. But given this recent hot streak, you should feel confident in his ability to hit 25 or even 30 home runs this season, as he's now on pace to do.
Adam LaRoche , 1B, Nationals: If you haven't sold high on LaRoche yet, you're running out of time. One bad week likely isn't enough to scare most Fantasy owners, especially considering how consistent he was at the beginning of this season, but his track record suggests he's on the way down. Though always a respectable source of home runs and RBI at first base, LaRoche has never been a high-end Fantasy option for more than a few weeks at a time, and his high strikeout rate generally keeps his batting average in the .270 range. That's not to say he isn't capable of a career season, but at age 32, it seems pretty unlikely.
R.A. Dickey , SP, Mets: Over the past couple years, Dickey's walk rate has been the main measurement separating him from knuckleballers past. Apparently, you can now add strikeout rate to the list. Over his last three starts, Dickey has recorded 29 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings, giving him a rate of 8.5 per nine innings this season. It's not so far-fetched, really, given how baffling a good knuckleball can be, and considering Dickey has a mid-80s fastball to accompany his, he might just be able to maintain something close to that rate. Even if he doesn't, you should use this recent hot streak as an excuse to pick him up. Prior to it, Dickey was arguably the most underrated pitcher in Fantasy given his consistency and ability to eat innings.
Jimmy Rollins , SS, Phillies: You had to see this one coming. Prior to last year, Rollins' numbers had been on a steady decline since his MVP 2007 season, and though you can blame injuries all you want, they don't explain the drops in his percentages -- such as batting average, slugging percentage and OPS -- during that stretch. More likely, Rollins was simply getting old, and at age 33, he's finally reached the point where he's no longer a high-end option at his position. Granted, it's a weak position, so if he's able to salvage even a halfway respectable batting average, he could put together the kind of 10-homer, 25-steal season that would still make him a useful option, but given the way his numbers have trended, you can't just assume he'll rebound from this slow start and get back to being the player you drafted him to be.
Wilin Rosario , C, Rockies: Fantasy owners have already gotten a glimpse of what Roario can do. After all, he has six homers in 76 at-bats. The problem is those 76 at-bats. They're not enough for anyone to trust him yet. The good news is, with Ramon Hernandez going on the DL with a hand injury, Rosario figures to play every day for the Rockies over the next couple weeks, and given his power potential at a hitter-friendly environment, he has the potential to seize the job for good. Now, he does have his drawbacks. His plate discipline is barbaric, which could keep his batting average on the wrong side of .250. But if you like what J.P. Arencibia can do for you -- and even as one of his bigger detractors, I acknowledge he's one of the top 15 catchers in Fantasy -- then Rosario is absolutely worth a flier while Hernandez is out.
Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners
Tyler Thornburg , SP, Brewers: The Brewers have an opening in their starting rotation coming up Tuesday, and though Thornburg is a long shot to fill it, that's mostly because of a technicality. He'd be making the leap from Double-A, which the Brewers would rather not ask him to do, and he's not yet on the 40-man roster, which would require the team to make a second transaction. Still, the mere mention of him as a candidate shows how much his stock has improved with his performance at Double-A Huntsville. The smallish righty has demonstrated the same knockout stuff that he showed in the lower levels of the minors, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning to go along with a 2.28 ERA. At age 23, he'll be up at some point this year even if Tuesday isn't his moment to shine.
Dylan Bundy , SP, Orioles: Well, it finally happened. You knew Bundy had to allow an earned run eventually, but you probably hoped it wouldn't come in his very first start at Class A Frederick. Still, going 33 minor-league innings without one before allowing a two-run homer Saturday is quite an accomplishment for the fourth overall pick in last year's draft. According to MLB.com, Bundy hadn't gotten a chance to work on his offspeed stuff before Saturday's game, which is something he'll obviously need to master before he gets the call to the big leagues. Though a supreme talent, Bundy is still a work in progress at age 19.
Chris Heston , SP, Giants: Though Baseball America didn't even list him among the Giants' top 30 prospects coming into the season, Heston has so far been close to unhittable at Double-A Richmond, building off his 12-4 record at Class A San Jose a year ago. After matching his career high high with nine strikeouts in a May 22 start, he topped it with 11 last time out Sunday. Better yet, he's allowing just 6.1 hits per nine innings to go along with a 0.70 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Again, Hester's perceived lack of upside makes him not the best candidate to stash in long-term keeper leagues, but at age 24, he could get the call if the Giants lose a member of their starting rotation.
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