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July 31, 2013

Sporer Report

The July 31 Hail-Mary Team

by Paul Sporer

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The trade deadline is today for Major League Baseball and it may well be in your league, but most leagues have one that falls later, which is how it should be, in my opinion. By this point in the season, you have a firm idea of what your team is, or perhaps, less fortunately, isn’t. For those of your near the top of the standings, you’re either trying to hold a lead or get that crown. Those of you at the bottom have an eye on 2014 and are playing out the string. This piece is for those stuck in the middle. Your team is too good to finish last and take home that top draft spot (assuming you use inverse order of previous year’s standings), but things haven’t gelled enough to put you in full contention, either.

It’s time to be aggressive and take some chances. Short on steals? Jacoby Ellsbury is going to cost you too much and the net gains will likely be minimal if they exist at all. Same goes for power if you target Chris Davis or Edwin Encarnacion. Instead, you have to go for assets who won’t cost you an arm and a leg, but have the potential to pay off big time. Jose Iglesias has shown us that any major-league hitter can get hot, but obviously I’m focusing on guys with the likelihood of turning it on and helping to drive your team up the standings depending on your need(s).

I call this my Hail-Mary Team. It consists of guys underperforming compared to expectations, some much more so than others, who can be acquired below what they would’ve cost at the draft table or even earlier in the year when they were either thought to just be starting slow or in some cases actually raking. You’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, so ideally if you’re going to do this, you’ll want more than one or two of these guys. Additionally, you almost certainly have a star or two on your team;don’t be afraid to trade that one star for multiple Hail-Mary assets.

If you’re stuck in seventh place, you need more than one hole plugged, so go full bore with this strategy. Also, you know your standings, so tailor your acquisitions to where you can actually gain the most points.

CATCHER

Salvador Perez, KC – Perez showed some hit tool, contact acumen in his first spell as a big-leaguer back in 2011, hitting .331 in 158 PA. He added power to the mix with a .301 average and 11 home runs in sample size nearly twice as big last year at 358 PA. Both have caved in this year despite a carbon copy of skills and batted ball profile. He’s a low point, too, with a .188 AVG and .511 OPS in July. His .276 AVG isn’t exactly in the tank, but a paltry .384 SLG has his OPS in that tank at .691. We’ve seen him catch fire before and with the Royals playing better (30-21 since June 1), his team-dependent runs scored and driven in opportunities should improve as well.

Also consider: Miguel Montero, ARI – He has a career .821 OPS in the second half (.747 first half) and he’s posted a .761 OPS since June 1 after entering the month with a .571 mark.

FIRST BASE

Adam Dunn, CWS – His composite numbers are either ugly (.212 AVG) or simply blah (.779 OPS) and if the team with him in your league isn’t power-hungry, he should be available for less than someone with baseball’s sixth-highest homer count would normally be, thanks in large part to that batting average. Speaking of which, if you have points to gain or more importantly points to lose that are close, he’s not the right acquisition. If your position is safe or it’s a lost cause, he should be one of the top targets for you. Few guys can realistically be tabbed for 16-20 homers the rest of the way, but Dunn hits six homers a month with his eyes closed, a couple of hot streaks and he’s sitting high-teens easily.

Also consider: Mark Trumbo, LAA – He’s yet to have a strong finish, as August (.666 OPS) and September (.594) have far and away been his worst months over his three-year career. He’s averaged six homers per month in April through July throughout his career, with a peak of nine, so the upside is there.

SECOND BASE

Aaron Hill, ARI – This is our first player who isn’t on a downslide, but injury has limited him to just 38 games on the season, and he was just fine in July (.740 OPS), so his numbers don’t jump off of the page. If he had been playing all year, he would probably have something like 12-14 homers, around 50 runs scored and driven in, and he wouldn’t be coming at any sort of discount. He’s the kind of guy who can be the centerpiece return if you trade a star, but make sure you fill a couple other holes with him.

Also consider: Jose Altuve, HOU – Since his dislocated jaw (and the loss of his grandmother just a week later), he has a .255/.290/.323 line, but he still has 23 SBs in that span, and we know the batting-average boost he can be when he’s right.

THIRD BASE

Martin Prado, ARI – Prado’s price has likely gone up this month with his .326/.385/.523 that included three homers and 15 RBI, but he still has a lagging composite line thus creating the buying opportunity. He likely won’t explode with the power production, but he can attack the forgotten 5x5 categories (AVG and runs) if he catches fire.

Also consider: Todd Frazier, CIN – Frazier, meanwhile, can attack those power categories. He had a 6 HR/25 RBI August last year. He tanked in September with 1 HR/5 RBI, but we’ve seen him pop 5-6 homers with high-teens RBI in a month multiple times in his career.

SHORTSTOP

Alcides Escobar, KC – Escobar has been a major disappointment this year, hitting just .240 with 12 stolen bases after a .293/35 season in 2012. Part of that is his .556 BABIP on line drives, which is well below the .681 league average and even further off of his .750 clip from a year ago (when league average was .718). It sure seems like a correction is due, which would improve his on-base percentage and subsequently his stolen-base totals.

Also consider: Brad Miller, SEA – He might just be on the wire. He’s 13 percent owned at ESPN and 10 percent at Yahoo! He’s got nine multi-hit games and 15 RBIs in a month so I’m not really sweating the .240 AVG here. Plus, Seattle is surging offensively.

OUTFIELD

Carl Crawford, LAD – Crawford fits the Hill mold. He’s played more with 67 games logged, but again the numbers don’t jump off the page and we’re three years removed from his last big season so the luster has worn off of his name. The upside is still massive as we saw in April (.308 AVG, .905 OPS, 4 HR, and 4 SB) and that was when the Dodgers were sputtering offensively. Now they are clicking on all cylinders, which should only add to his runs scored and drive in opportunities.

Michael Bourn, CLE – At his normal pace, established from 2008-2012, Bourn should have 27 stolen bases this year while being caught six times. He has just 13 with an American League-“leading” eight times caught. His batting average (.288) is solid and the power is oddly present again, but he’s not doing what he was paid for in March, thus the price of acquisition has to be diminished. He stole seven or more bases in nine of the 12 months he played during the 2011-2012 span.

Michael Saunders, SEA – Saunders was nearly a 20-20 guy last year (19 HR/21 SB), as he actually showed some aptitude against lefties (.774 OPS after a .474 entering 2012) for the first time. That’s dipped back down to .578 in 2013, but he’s still plenty capable against righties, and he’s played a big role in their July surge offensively with a .281/.356/.547 line that includes three homers, 14 RBI, and 15 runs scored. Despite a wretched May and June, he’s on pace for 11 homers and 17 stolen bases, but if he stays hot, he could go 10/10 the rest of the way.

Also consider: Adam Eaton, ARI and Dayan Viciedo, CWS – Eaton was expected to do big things this year, but injuries robbed him of the first three months of the season. He has a sharp batting eye and speed to burn (44 SBs in the minors last year). Viciedo brings the big time power. He had 25 home runs a year ago and was expected to improve on that at age 24 this year, but he has just nine this year. That said, four came in July, as he posted an impressive .917 OPS. His hot streaks are incredible, as he showed with eight- and six-homer months in 2012.

***

I didn’t include pitchers here because a lot of them are obvious. If you can buy low on a Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, or CC Sabathia, you should. I’d also recommend using the splits-oriented pitching pieces I did recently to find some hidden gems there, too (home, road). Additionally, streaming can be very effective when you’re in Hail-Mary mode. If you can make moves in the counting categories especially, then it becomes a no-brainer to stream. And if you hit, then you’ll help the ratios, too. With the addition of Jose Iglesias to the team, I really like Rick Porcello, and with his ERA still up at 4.49, he shouldn’t be pricey on the trade market.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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