For the first half of a season, I am a huge proponent of trading for value. If I can acquire a player for less than I believe he’s worth, I’m going to do it regardless of whether he fills a categorical need for my team. If I have a team stacked with Mark Reynolds and Jim Thome types in April, I’m not going to turn down a trade for Mike Stanton because I have enough power. If Stanton comes for less than he’s worth, he’s mine. There’s too much that can happen over the course of a season to pretend that you know with full certainty how your team will perform in every category. If we could do that, we’d all come in first place every year.
Additionally, as long your league is reasonably active and the trade market is reasonably liquid, you can always trade Stanton (or another power hitter) to fill a need once the year’s events have unfolded a bit and your fantasy league scorecard starts to fill up (and you have a better idea of what it is your team actually needs).
But once we reach the point in the season that we’re currently at, my philosophy starts to change. The All-Star break has passed, we’re nearing the end of July, and a lot of fantasy league trading deadlines are approaching. Your fantasy league’s standings have stabilized enough to have a good idea where your team is strong and where it needs to make up ground. It becomes important to start taking team needs into account. Value is no longer an absolute concept in the way it was earlier in the season. Now, value is relative.
As such, we can’t simply play the “best” players and wait for things to shake out. If we are overloaded in one particular area, we need to make moves to relieve ourselves of that excess and fill needs. That’s not to say you should trade Mike Stanton for Chris Getz because you have too much power and need speed but, within reason, it’s prudent to trade an otherwise “better” player for a lesser one if the lesser one will help your specific team more. Fantasy leagues don’t keep score by tallying whose roster has generated the most “value.” Points are the name of the game, and now until the end of the season, moves need to be made with categorical impact at the front of your mind. If a move will help you rise in the standings, it’s a good move (assuming it doesn’t help a main competitor rise even more).
While you should always be looking for trades, there are also likely to be some names available on the waiver wire who can provide you with a strong contribution in at least one category. Today, I thought I’d talk about a few of these one-category wonders.
Brandon Allen, OF/1B (Yahoo! 1%, 0.1% ESPN, CBS 15%): Allen was recently promoted from Triple-A to replace the struggling Juan Miranda. Allen is a guy the D’backs never really took a liking to, giving him no more than a cup of coffee each of the past two seasons, then passing him over with both Miranda and Russell Branyan for a spot on the major-league roster at the beginning of this season. With Miranda and Branyan out of the way and Allen raking at Triple-A, the D’backs seemingly had no choice but to give him another shot. Allen is unlikely to break a .250 batting average and will only play against right-handed pitchers, but he should approach double-digit home runs if he’s allowed to play through the rest of the season. However, if he struggles, prospect Paul Goldschmidt is a backup option, so Allen won’t get a terribly long leash.
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/3B (Yahoo! 7%, 27% ESPN, CBS 29%): I liked Encarnacion a lot coming into the year, but his first half was a complete mess. He probably won’t be given much more rope, but there have been recent signs that his struggles are ending. Most promising is the reemergence of his power. He’s hit three home runs since June 28 (though none since July 3) at distances of 419, 430, and 454 feet. His furthest prior to that was 404 feet. Additionally, of his six home runs this year, five of them have been of the “No Doubt” variety.
It seems possible that Encarnacion has merely been experiencing a little bad luck in the power department and will turn it around. He may be slightly riskier than Davis or Allen since his 2011 has been so poor, but he’s getting the most playing time of the bunch and probably has the greatest short-term upside. His .327 July batting average will buy him some time to prove himself before Brett Lawrie is ready to be recalled and things get messy.
Chris Davis, OF/1B (Yahoo! 1%, 0.1% ESPN, CBS 12%): Davis fits the same mold as Allen (or, perhaps, Allen fits the same mold as Davis) as he’s been up and down from the minors since 2008. He’s currently at Triple-A, but he has monster power and there’s been talk of him getting recalled soon to play left field (or traded to a team that will actually use him). PECOTA sees him as a slightly better batting average play than Allen (.263 to .246), and he’d probably be a little better for power too, since he’d probably get more playing time than Allen.
Ben Revere, OF (Yahoo! 5%, 9% ESPN, CBS 18%): I talked about Revere last week, but he needs to be mentioned again in this space. He has great wheels, a primo spot in the order, the love of his manager, and (unlike some of the other guys on this list) and is a legitimately good hitter. The Minnesota outfield is about to get crowded, but if Revere plays, he’s a terrific speed guy.
Tony Gwynn Jr., OF (Yahoo! 2%, 2% ESPN, CBS 6%): Gwynn has absolutely no power and a lackluster batting average, but if there’s one thing he can do well, it’s steal a base. Gwynn is attempting steals in 29 percent of his opportunities this year and succeeding at an 80 percent rate. For the time being, he’s starting against right-handed pitchers, giving him roughly 70 percent of the left-field playing time. Juan Rivera recently joined the team and will start off as Gwynn’s platoonmate, but he could wrestle some playing time away from Gwynn with good play. The Dodgers also have Jerry Sands and Trayvon Robinson in the minors, so if Gwynn wants to continue playing, he’s going to have to hit. That might be too tall of an order, but for the short-term, he’s a great speed play.
Chase d’Arnaud, SS/3B (Yahoo! 1%, 0.4% ESPN, CBS 3%): Though d’Arnaud’s playing time will likely be reduced once Pedro Alvarez gets recalled, and the odds are against him hitting much higher than .240, he’s attempting steals at a rate of 38 percent after doing so at a 28 percent clip at Triple-A to start the year. If he somehow manages to hit decently, it’s possible d’Arnaud could become the everyday shortstop over Ronny Cedeno once Alvarez returns. At the very least, he’s a good short-term speed play in deep NL-only leagues.
Jeff Keppinger, 2B/SS (Yahoo! 7%, 2.1% ESPN, CBS 9%): The batting average list starts and ends with Keppinger. The reason for this is because, unlike steals or homers, a player needs both skill and playing time to really make a difference here. Allen could hit 12 homers splitting time at first with Xavier Nady—which would help a fantasy team substantially—but a guy hitting .290 and only playing part-time won’t move your fantasy team’s batting average more than a fraction of a point.
There’s also some inherent selection bias (in terms of this being a short list), since a guy who can walk and hit a lot of home runs (but with a low average) will have more value to an actual major-league team than a guy who can hit .300 without any power. This leaves Keppinger as, essentially, the only full-time player who can hit close to .300.
Johnny Giavotella, 2B (Yahoo! 7%, 2.1% ESPN, CBS 9%): Giavotella is still in the minors and may not get the call this year, but there is a decent possibility that he does. PECOTA saw a 50th percentile .274 average at the start of the year, which is nothing special, but his 70th percentile was .288. He’s hit .327 in the minors this year, so it’s entirely possible he could help out.