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July 2, 2007

Fantasy Focus

National League Trade Targets

by Jeff Erickson

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We've already addressed potential trade targets in the American League. Let's now take a look at some potential change of address candidates in the NL, and the fantasy impact of those potential trades.

Cincinnati Reds

Adam Dunn's contract is only guaranteed through 2007, because the club option for 2008 voids out if he is traded elsewhere. That clause alone might be what prevents a deal from getting completed before the trade deadline, despite Dunn being the subject of countless trade rumors. If Dunn does get traded, be aware that his likely trade destinations will have ballparks with far less favorable dimensions and effects on his production than those of the Great American Ballpark. His career home/road split is over 100 OPS points, but that split is far more pronounced this year. However, if he gets dealt, the Reds will have room to play both Ryan Freel (when he returns from the DL) and Josh Hamilton.

It's arguable whether Dunn or Ken Griffey Jr. has been the subject of more trade rumors this year, but over the course of the last three years, Griffey is the player that has ranked highest on the rumor versus substance ratio. This past weekend's trip to Seattle set off another wave of rumors, but keep in mind that in any scenario, Griffey has the right to block any trade. Seattle might be a destination he'd accept, but we're far from those rumors having any substance. As with a Dunn trade, if Griffey were dealt, it would create an opportunity for both Freel and Hamilton to play. Jay Bruce might also get a taste of the major leagues in September, but he just got promoted to Double-A Chattanooga, so a major league promotion wouldn't necessarily follow a Dunn or Griffey trade.

Relievers seem to be the most tradeable commodities come trade deadline time, so David Weathers is an obvious target. The Reds might be hesitant to deal Weathers, given that GM Wayne Krivsky has an Ed Wade-like obsession with trading for relief help. If Weathers were traded, it might be a free for all to determine the closer's role. Eddie Guardado recently had a setback in his rehab, Todd Coffey has struggled this year, Bill Bray is still rehabbing from his injuries, and the other alternatives are all relatively young and untested relievers, such as Brad Salmon and Marcus McBeth. A dark horse to fill the role might be Calvin Medlock, who was just promoted to Triple-A Louisville after posting a 2.64 ERA and a 59:5 K:BB ratio in 47 2/3 IP for Chattanooga.

Scott Hatteberg's name has come up as a possible first base solution in tandem with Andy Phillips for the Yankees. Hatteberg wouldn't necessarily lose much playing time in such a scenario-the Reds have been pretty vigilant in their platooning Hatteberg with Jeff Conine (who should be made available if there's a team out there wanting to trade for him). The long-term effect of trading Hatteberg would be creating a spot to play for Joey Votto, who after a slow start has demonstrated that he has little to prove in Triple-A. Votto's defense is occasionally criticized, but the power and good speed for a first baseman that Votto has makes up for that shortcoming. He should get the call at some point this season, preparing him to take over the starting roll in 2007.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals have a pretty clear mission to upgrade their farm system, particularly to increase the number of quality starting pitching prospects they might call upon. This is a team that is employing Jason Simontacchi because of a lack of other alternatives, after all. Thus, any veteran with a pulse should be available for trade. That doesn't mean a swap will happen; last year's experience with Alfonso Soriano is a pretty clear example of that, after all.

Nonetheless, Chad Cordero is a pretty obvious trade candidate. If David Weathers is easy enough to trade, Cordero should draw even more value. If you're currently a Cordero owner, you should consider trading him in your fantasy league as well-he might not be the closer in his new location, depending on where he ends up. In a number of the places where he's rumored to go, including Arizona and Boston, he would be a set-up man and not a closer. If and when Cordero is traded, the leading candidates to replace him as the closer would be Jon Rauch (who might also be considered trade bait) and Saul Rivera.

Dmitri Young has quietly been one of the better comeback stories of the year. Heading into Thursday's action, he's hitting .336/.391/.506 and, outside of one collision with Scott Rolen earlier in the year, has remained relatively healthy. He's been one of the better bargains in baseball, after signing a minor league deal with the Nationals back in February. All of this makes him a superb "sell high" candidate for the team, particularly with Nick Johnson making progress in his rehab from the DL. Young is 33 years old with a history of alcohol and anger management issues, so why not trade him now and cash in on his success? Johnson would be the likely replacement at first base, although if he's not ready the Nats might consider calling up Kory Casto from Triple-A Columbus and give him a real shot at playing time, this time at first base.

With Cristian Guzman out for the season, the Nationals' might be reluctant to trade Felipe Lopez or Ronnie Belliard, but unless either is considered an integral part of their future, they should be trade targets as well. This is a team that should be in the business of trading away anything that isn't nailed down, and Belliard especially fits that profile. The team is short on short-term replacement options, so whoever would win the resulting playing time, be it D'Angelo Jimenez or somebody else, wouldn't have a tremendous amount of fantasy value.

Houston Astros

The Astros' recent experience with the wild card might dissuade them from being sellers right now, but this year's squad is noticeably different than previous teams. To paraphrase Rick Pitino's infamous rant, Roger Clemens isn't coming through that door; Andy Pettitte isn't coming through that door; heck, Brandon Backe might not even be coming through that door. Like their 2005 World Series counterparts, the Astros are closer to last place than they are to third in the NL Central. Granted, this is a team that has already been accused of not having their priorities set anyhow, so we'll see if they recognize that they need to restock their farm system rather than carry on the charade of contending this year.

Who do the Astros have to trade? Their big three of Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee, and Lance Berkman seem unlikely candidates, because it's not as if declining assets like Woody Williams or Brad Ausmus are likely to fetch much interest. However, they do have a few other possibilities, starting with Brad Lidge once he returns from the DL. Given how he pitched before getting hurt and regaining the closer's job, there should be plenty of interest in him. He'd likely close in his new locale, although like Cordero and Weathers, that largely depends upon who trades for him. Dan Wheeler and Chad Qualls would be the top candidates to continue to close games should Lidge be dealt.

Another possible candidate could be Jason Jennings, although he has a mutual option with the Astros after his trade from the Rockies this offseason. He's at a reasonably affordable price for the Astros to keep, so they won't be all that eager to trade him, and in fact might be more inclined to try extending his contract.

Morgan Ensberg has gotten off to another miserable start, and once again is losing playing time to Mark Loretta and Mike Lamb. As the Astros continue to sort out their infield mess, including how to apportion the playing time between Craig Biggio and Chris Burke, any one of Ensberg, Loretta or Lamb could be made available, although the Astros aren't likely to get much for them in trade talks. The fantasy impact from all of this will be some playing time clarity out of the third base and occasional first base starts.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates would be sellers in this market, if only they had much to offer in trades. None of their young starters will be dealt, and most of their position players are either young or not attractive trade targets. Salomon Torres might have been a possibility before losing his closer's role and then going on the DL, and he might still if he can come back strong after the All-Star break. Damaso Marte or Shawn Chacon might also be moved in minor deals, but in all of these cases, the fantasy landscape isn't likely to change much.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants were built for one last run in the Barry Bonds era, although arguably they've been done for the last three years. They're old at virtually every field position, with little offensive help due in the pipeline. This is a team that desperately needs an overhaul, but given how they've acted in the past, it's not likely to happen. Sure, a player like Dave Roberts could easily get dealt to a contender, perhaps drastically changing the stolen base pool if he gets dealt to the American League. But it's more likely that the team will just play out the string with their aging vets like Roberts, Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel, and Ray Durham.

Florida Marlins

The Marlins have a better record than some of the other teams on this list, yet given the composition of their roster and the division that they're in, they should also consider being sellers in this market, particularly if there's a pressing need for relief help. Kevin Gregg in particular should be a player that they're looking to peddle, especially now that he's got a bit of a closer sheen to him after this first half of the season. They still have a glaring need to get a center fielder that they can count on holding the position for more than two months at a time. Gregg alone probably won't fetch that, but it's at least worth testing the market for them. If that trade happens, we're back at square one in the closer carousel for the Marlins, with Armando Benitez probably being the leading candidate over Matt Lindstrom, the injured Henry Owens, and Taylor Tankersley.

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