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June 6, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Change of Address Candidates

by Jeff Erickson

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We're now a third of the way through the season, so teams can start assessing whether they'll be buyers or sellers around the trade deadline. While the rumor mill has been fairly quiet so far, it doesn't hurt to speculate about who might get traded. Not only do fantasy owners risk losing a player in single-league only environments, but other players' values change upon going to a new team. Potential trade candidates need to have the following requirements:

  • A team that isn't a contender, or, in the case of the Royals, an owner who isn't delusional.
  • The player has to either be expensive or about to become a free agent.
  • It helps if the team has a young player or players ready to fill the traded player's role, but it's not entirely necessary.

Here are some hitters who fit that bill.

Carlos Lee, Brewers: The Brewers' recent struggles only serve to accelerate the speculation that Lee will be filling out his change of address forms. The ball was put in motion here in the offseason, when the Brewers didn't attempt to sign Lee to a contract extension. Lee already makes $8.5 million on a team that has a $50+ million payroll and he stands to make significantly more as a free agent this offseason. The Brewers have to see what they have in Gabe Gross, Corey Hart and even Nelson Cruz, who has nothing left to prove at Triple-A Nashville. If the Brewers can't make up significant ground on the Cardinals while Albert Pujols is out, they'll certainly be sellers on the market, with Lee being the primary bait.

Aubrey Huff, Devil Rays: There already has been some speculation that Huff could get dealt to the Cardinals in the wake of Albert Pujols' injury. Earlier this season, it was speculated that the Dodgers, Braves and Cubs were scouting him. The Cubs obviously chose to go elsewhere with Phil Nevin, but the general thrust is that Huff will be available. He's a free agent at the end of the season, and the Devil Rays spent time bandying him around the league last season. It'll be a test of new GM Andrew Friedman's acumen to see if he's any more successful in trading Huff than Chuck LaMar was. He'll be operating with less leverage, however. Huff not only has less time on his contract, but he had a knee sprain earlier in the year and is hitting even worse (.186/.281/.280) than he did last year, when he was considered a disappointment.

Joe Randa, Pirates: Freddy Sanchez has thrived with Randa on the DL and will remain the starter for the Bucs at third base even when Randa returns. Unlike last year, when the Reds were able to spin off Randa to the Padres after half a season, he has little current value, given his poor start and subsequent trip to the DL. He'll need to be showcased first before the Pirates can get anything for him.

Alfonso Soriano, Nationals: Even after a five-game winning streak, the Nationals are nine games out already in the NL East. Soriano is a free agent at the end of the year, after making $10 million on a one-year deal this year. He's obviously looking to go somewhere where he can play second base, which doesn't appear likely with the Nationals. While there are still questions about his glove no matter where he ends up, he's answered concerns about whether he can handle playing in a pitcher's ballpark, hitting 11 of his 21 homers so far in RFK, in 49 fewer at-bats. The Nats might not be ready to throw in the towel just yet, but they're likely headed down that path, and appear unlikely to be able to re-sign Soriano this offseason.

Torii Hunter, Twins: Hunter is a free agent after this season and has already been the subject of trade rumors in 2005, with the Yankees being the primary source of speculation. Hunter got off to a slow start, one possibly attributed to his recovery from last year's ankle injury, but he seems to be fully healed now. The Twins are already 11.5 games back in the AL Central and nine games back in the wild card hunt, so unless they go on a tear soon, they're going to be sellers in this market.

Juan Pierre, Cubs: Like Huff and Randa, Pierre is going to have to start hitting before anyone is going to show much interest at all, something he has done in the last week or so. Still, he has just a .288 on-base percentage while occupying the leadoff spot all year. The good news for fantasy owners and for Cubs GM Jim Hendry is that Pierre still has been running despite the overall offensive doldrums, stealing 19 bases while getting caught four times. Pierre is a free agent at the end of the season and the Cubs have Felix Pie in the pipeline, so if they don't make a run soon, Pierre could be a trade deadline candidate. The thing here to watch, however, is whether the Cubs will be willing to throw in the towel. Not only do they have the example of the Astros' last two years as a reason not to give up, but both Hendry and manager Dusty Baker could be in danger of losing their jobs if the Cubs don't win this year.

Craig Wilson, Pirates: Sean Casey's return sends Wilson back to the bench, where he's been for the last five games, despite hitting .273/.355/.509 with nine homers for the season. Wilson isn't the perfect trade candidate--he's limited defensively, isn't terribly mobile, and has a definite platoon split (career OPS is .174 points higher facing lefties, and the gap is wider this year). Still, Wilson is unhappy in Pittsburgh and the Pirates have to find room for some of their younger players (Sanchez, Jose Bautista, Nate McLouth). Someone should find a use for him, but don't be surprised if he eventually ends up in a platoon role with his new organization, too.

Jeff Erickson is the Senior Editor at RotoWire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at noon ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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