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June 11, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Weekend Notes

by Jeff Erickson

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Happiness is being a Reds fan and owning Wily Mo Pena this week. Sadness is watching Lou Piniella send out Jesus Colome out for another inning of torture and realizing that you still have him active in one of your leagues. For those of you handicapping the Tampa Bay closer-in-waiting pool in the event of a Danys Baez flop, you can safely cross Colome off your list. While you're at it, if Chad Orvella is available in your league, now is the time to pick him up.

Buying Low - Don't Time the Market

We've preached the virtues of "buying low." One aspect that isn't necessarily emphasized enough is the timing of the trade offer. To really get the benefit of the bargain when buying low, don't wait until that player has started showing signs of turning it around. Once a player starts to play better, his price is going back up, thus obviating the ability to "buy low" in the first place. Better to identify players that are underperforming and make a play for them now. You'll take on some extra risk that the player will continue to hurt you while he slumps, but the upside is worth it.

The exception to this principle is when an injury is involved, especially with a pitcher. That's doubly true when the injury involved is to his arm. Now isn't necessarily the time to trade for Kerry Wood or Curt Schilling, and you might want to put in a call to Will Carroll before you pursue Rich Harden. Of course, Will might still tell you that the A's are tight-lipped and aren't revealing anything--or worse yet, providing conflicting information--but it never hurts to ask.

So who should we be looking for as "buy low now" candidates? Generally speaking, injured players are out. Another factor to consider is age. Sometimes when a veteran player slumps, it's really just a case of him getting old, rather than a slump. We may be seeing that this year with Steve Finley. Finally, make sure the player has an established level of performance and not just one good year. That's especially true if that player's good year isn't supported by good plate discipline. Juan Uribe, come on down. Here are some examples of players you can look to trade for:

C: Victor Martinez
1B: Todd Helton, Aubrey Huff
2B: Orlando Hudson
3B: Eric Chavez (might be too late), Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre
SS: Bobby Crosby, Edgar Renteria
OF: Carlos Beltran, Hideki Matsui, Manny Ramirez, Vernon Wells (probably too late)

SOMBOE

I was approached by Lawr Michaels and J.P. Kastner to represent RotoWire in SOMBOE, a Strat-o-Matic league comprised of various members of the fantasy sports industry and hosted by The Sporting News. The one hole in my fantasy sports resumé is a lack of experience in simulation games, so I leapt at the opportunity, knowing fully that I was swimming with the sharks.

Because I didn't have the experience that others in the league have in reading Strat cards and finding hidden value, I went with a quasi-sabermetric approach to constructing my team, trying to find inefficiencies in the prices of players as opposed to their 2004 VORP, their runs created per 27 outs and their DIPS ERA. My big disadvantage is in trying to account for defense; that's rarely addressed in pure roto play, and not as much in the methods that I used to rank the players. As a slight hedge against that, I gave Khalil Greene a fairly high ranking so that I could at least be fairly strong at a key position.

Based on that system, my top targets heading into the draft were Bobby Abreu, Jake Peavy, Melvin Mora, Greene and Victor Martinez. The way the draft works is that each team has an $80 million salary cap, and all 12 teams submit their optimal roster fitting under that cap. Because a player can't be owned by multiple teams, you won't necessarily get everyone you requested, and instead the system will replace that player with someone similar in price at that position. The end result can be amusing at times; for instance, instead of Victor Martinez and his $4.13 million salary, I was instead awarded Miguel Ojeda and his $3.85 million salary.

Despite not landing Martinez, I was pleased with my end result. I got four of the five players listed above, plus four of my top five starting pitching candidates. How did I do? You tell me. Here's my roster after the initial waivers period (you'll note that Ojeda no longer graces it):

Pitchers:

Perez, Oliver $5.48MM
Wright, Jaret $4.74MM
Peavy, Jake $4.63MM
Robertson, Nate $1.74MM
Lieber, Jon $1.64MM
Myers, Brett $.54MM
Urbina, Ugueth $3.20MM
Miller, Matt $1.89MM
Seanez, Rudy $1.26MM
Fuentes, Brian $1.02MM
Betancourt, Rafael $ .89MM

Hitters:

Abreu, Bobby $6.85MM
Mora, Melvin $7.41MM
Greene, Khalil $4.36MM
Lopez, Javy $5.78MM
Overbay, Lyle $5.41MM
Kotsay, Mark $5.08MM
Mench, Kevin $4.62MM
Figgins, Chone $2.85MM
Belliard, Ronnie $4.23MM
Molina, Bengie $1.17MM
Lugo, Julio $1.77MM
Dellucci, David $1.32MM
Nix, Laynce $.92MM
Mientkiewicz, Doug $.68MM
Olson, Tim $.50MM

Play begins on Monday. My home park is Pro Player Stadium. I think I have two weaknesses; one, the defensive issue mentioned above. Two, my pitching staff is probably too right-handed, even after picking up Nate Robertson in the free-agent period that followed waivers. From what I can discern, good Strat players highly leverage strong platoon splits. Thus, when Jon Lieber is on the mound for me, he's likely to see a lineup stacked full of left-handers. If there are any Strat veterans out there who want to share their advice on how to best deploy this squad, please feel free to e-mail me.

Trade Evaluations

Those of us in the roto community tend to get giddy around the trade deadline. Not only do trades add badly needed fresh blood to the dreary waiver wires in single-league universes, but they give us easy fodder for content. Thus, the two trades we saw earier this week gave us great joy.

Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez to the Phillies for Placido Polanco

Polanco's fantasy owners are the big winners here. He finally gets to play on a regular basis, without having to worry share playing time with Chase Utley, who also benefits from the deal. Polanco might be available in a mixed-league environment, particularly in your standard Yahoo or ESPN league. He's also going to garner significant interest in AL-only leagues; he drew eight double-digit FAAB bids (out of a $100 budget) in Friday's AL Tout Wars free-agent moves, with the winning bid coming in at $83.

A secondary beneficiary in the trade is Kyle Farnsworth, who quietly has resuscitated his career with the Tigers (2.42 ERA, 33/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings). Troy Percival is among the bigger health risks among active closers, and Farnsworth is now next in line to close for the Tigers. Speculate on him now before Percival hits his next DL stint.

Omar Infante is the biggest loser in this deal. Not only does he lose his starting job at second base, but he also won't play shortstop whenever Carlos Guillen has to sit. Infante's lack of arm strength dissuaded manager Alan Trammell from using Infante at shortstop. Urbina's owners also have to be disappointed; with the number of teams losing/changing their closers this year, the odds of Urbina getting traded to one of those teams seemed pretty high. Now he'll have to work in a set-up capacity.

Junior Spivey to the Nationals for Tomo Ohka

On the surface, this seems like a minor little deal, but there are layers of intrigue associated with it. Let's start off with the Nationals. The news on Jose Vidro gets worse with each report. His ankle injury is expected to keep him out until after the All-Star break. Henry Mateo can't seem to heal his throwing shoulder. Now Jamey Carroll has an ankle injury of his own, perhaps finally forcing the hand of the Nats to make this trade. Spivey will step and start at second base, and remain there even after Carroll is healthy again.

Meanwhile, not only do the Brewers get another pitcher with high potential upside to work with pitching coach Mike Maddux, but this trade also opens the door for them to call up Rickie Weeks. Weeks was on fire at Triple-A Nashville, hitting .320/.435/.655 before his promotion. His defense is considered shaky at this point, but his bat should make up for that. If he's available in your league, snap him up, keeper league or no.

Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at 2 p.m. ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  The Who,  Ugueth Urbina,  Year Of The Injury

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