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With June and the one-third mark of the season on the horizon, it's a good time to take stock of your team and start thinking trade. Judging by the players who grace the top ranks on our Most Traded list, owners in CBSSports.com leagues seem eager to either unload their biggest underperformers or pursue some buy-low opportunities.
Chris Towers has already tackled many of the most-traded pitchers in a recent column, including Dallas Keuchel, Matt Harvey, Sonny Gray and Chris Archer, who rank as the top four players on the Most Traded list. While pitchers are seeing most of the trade action, you don't have to go too far down the list to get to the hitters, and they have been disappointments to their current owners as well.
Not every player who looks like a buy-low target is poised for much better things ahead. The percentages are even lower for owners looking to trade their underperformers out of frustration. Whether you're a buyer or a seller, it's a good idea to have a strong sense of what the market should bear when making a trade involving one of these hitters. I've chosen five of the most-traded hitters to feature here, analyzing what has gone wrong for them, and assessing what an owner should ask for in return. Some of these players should fetch a return that looks far out of line with their season-to-date performance, and that could be a deal-breaker.
Then again, sometimes the best deals are the ones you don't make.
Upton's season has gone from bad to worse. Not only has he continued to strike out at a blistering pace, but now he is dealing with a tight quad. There has been no good time to trade Upton this season, and this could be his low point.
Yet if you were to look at only the batted ball and plate discipline stats for Upton, you would think he was having a pretty normal year. He is hitting flyballs roughly as far and as often as he did in 2015, and he is swinging at pitches out of the zone only a little more often. Upton's 68.3 percent contact rate (per FanGraphs) stands out, as it's tied for the lowest of his career. However, the other time he sank to that level was 2008, and he slashed .250/.353/.463 with a strikeout percentage that was more than eight percentage points lower than his current mark.
Given that Upton is 28 and, aside from the fact that he is fouling off a lot of pitches, he seems to be his usual self, it's easy to imagine he could get locked in at any time. It may be hard to get someone to pay for Upton as a top 25 outfielder, but unless you can achieve that, you should refrain from dealing him.
Puig is frequently characterized as one of this season's most disappointing hitters, and given that he falls outside the top 50 outfielders in Fantasy points, it's hard to argue otherwise. Yet, if you were told at the beginning of the season that he was close to a 20-20 pace with no significant increase in strikeout rate at this point in the schedule, you'd take that.
If you realized that his normal strikeout rate is translating to a .246 batting average with four doubles and two triples after 45 games, you'd be frustrated, which is probably what you already are if you own Puig. The source of his woes is straighforward; he is giving away too many outs with popups. Puig has already popped out 22 times, which is nine shy of his career high from 2014.
The high popup rate is out of character for Puig, and it's not necessarily hazardous to his Fantasy health even if it persists. Nolan Arenado, Todd Frazier, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Rizzo were among last season's popup leaders, but Puig has yet to show the 30-plus homer power that could compensate for this shortcoming. Jeff Sullivan provided some nice analysis on FanGraphs on how Puig is managing to hit with authority and look helpless all at the same time.
Given the severity of Puig's issues, it's a lot to ask of a trade partner to pay for his 2014 level of production. The potential to rise to that level or higher is still there, though, so unless you can get the equivalent value of a top-30 outfielder in return, I'd wait out Puig's slump.
Tulowitzki is on pace for his first 30-homer season since 2011, so how much can his .205 batting average really be hurting him? Plenty. He is the 19th-ranked shortstop in Fantasy points and 23rd in Rotisserie value. Think about that -- right now, Tulowitzki isn't producing enough to be worth using in a MI spot in most mixed leagues.
If you're trading for Tulowitzki in the hopes that he raises his batting average enough to salvage his value, you could get burned. For the second season in a row, he has substantially increased his strikeout rate, and he is posting the highest flyball and pull rates of his career. In other words, he is sacrificing everything for home run power. Tulowitzki did the same thing for much of last season, too, so hopes that he may regain his prior form could be misguided.
Between Tulowitzki's decline and the drastic improvement of the shortstop pool, there is little to be lost for the Tulowitzki owner looking to trade him. If you can find a trade partner to value him as a top-10 shortstop, make the deal. Any trade that brings back a player you can start in a standard mixed league will be a win. Thanks to Tulowitzki's enduring home run power, you could be able to get much more than that.
Is passivity hurting Votto? According to FanGraphs, he is getting pitched to in the zone at his highest rate since 2008, making this a bad time to take called strikes at a career-high rate (per BaseballReference.com). That combination has led Votto to strike out in 26.4 percent of his plate appearances, which marks the first time he has ever compiled a mark of 20 percent or higher.
Votto is making hard contact when he swings and connects, but that's happening far too infrequently. He is also having much less success against the shift, going 6 for 39 (.154) in those situations, as compared to the .324 batting average he recorded on shifts last season. He hasn't been pulling grounders and liners at a rate much different from last year, so there is reason to hope for improvement on this front.
Votto has also started to take a much more aggressive approach, swinging at 70.8 percent of pitches in the strike zone over the last 14 days (per FanGraphs). Though he hasn't been any worse at making contact, Votto has still struck out 14 times in 46 plate appearances during that stretch. He's making a necessary adjustment, and as long as he is making contact, improvement will eventually come. Votto is a great buy-low, and if you're selling, you need to insist on full value as a top five first baseman.
Posey was the consensus choice for top catcher on Draft Day, with Kyle Schwarber the only other catcher within view. The catcher pool has been extremely weak so far, yet Posey is not at the top of the positional rankings. In points leagues, it may just be a technicality, as he trails leader Yadier Molina by seven points, but Posey's .263 batting average is hurting him in Roto leagues, where he ranks seventh.
Fortunately for Posey, his batting average is his main liability. That's fortunate, because it has fallen due to a low BABIP, and that could easily correct itself. Posey is batting just .182 on ground balls, whereas he has exceeded .250 in each of the last two seasons. He is not pulling grounders at a higher rate, so it is likely a matter of time before Posey starts finding the gaps.
Because Posey's skill set hasn't shown any signs of decline, he is a superb buy-low target, but his owners shouldn't be looking to deal him. If you're a Posey owner, you not only need to have another top catcher to plug in for Posey, but you need to get a sizable haul in return, if you are going to make a trade.