TRADE NUMBER ONE
This is an interesting trade, though due to the two main pieces, Mazara and Cain. Those two players are top-30 outfielders and have been roughly equal over the last 30 days. One offers a bit more speed (Cain) while the other offers a bit more power (Mazara), but they’re roughly equivalent in a de-contextualized valuation system.
Thus, the question is whether Adam Duvall is real in a general sense, and if not (hint: he’s not), is he still better than the corpse of Adrian Gonzalez? Because we need to come to grips with the fact that while A-Gon can still hit for average and get on base for the Dodgers, he’s nothing special when it comes to fantasy value. His .112 ISO is terrible and he’s currently sitting outside the top-30 fantasy first basemen—and that’s with an uncharacteristically high .332 BABIP and an increased strikeout rate.
So is Adam Duvall a pumpkin who will become rather irrelevant in standard fantasy leagues—much like Gonzalez—or does he still hold meaningful value?
It’s impossible to ignore the raw power that Duvall brings to the plate. He hit 31 homers between Triple-A and the big leagues a year ago and already has 20 in just 245 plate appearances. Even with a 25.6 percent HR/FB, that’s real power in a very tangible sense.
The problem comes when realizing that Duvall’s 25.6 percent HR/FB ranks fourth-highest among qualified hitters and it’s paired with a middling average exit velocity of 88.8 mph, which is lower than Freddy Galvis and Chris Owings. I’m skeptical that we can glean too much from batted-ball velocity, but I don’t think it’s a good thing when a guy who’s homers are going out at a league-leading rate isn’t hitting the baseball too hard, on average, when he does put the ball into play. There’s also the 3.7 percent walk rate that isn’t a good sign for a guy who strikes out nearly 30 percent of the time, if we average his 245 PA with his previous 149 big-league plate appearances.
Duvall profiles as a low-average power hitter, but he’s not about to average 20 homers every half-season. I could see him hitting 10-15 homers in the second half with a .225 batting average in the middle of the Reds order. That’s not too exciting. That’s Chris-Carter-esque.
Of course, Chris Carter is currently 14 spots higher in ESPN’s first-base rankings, so that’s still something. The Duvall side of the swap gets the nod.
The Verdict: Team B wins.
TRADE NUMBER TWO
I recently wrote an article that exposed the jaw-dropping home/away split for many Rockies hitters, most notably D.J. LeMahieu (Note: To the individual who traded away $1 Addison Russell for $19 D.J. LeMahieu… you unfortunately got fleeced on that one.). That doesn’t apply to Trevor Story. His home split (.279/.346/.574) is better than his away split (.252/.304/.531), but not by a tremendous margin and it’s not just a product of his fireworks display in Phoenix. The 23-year-old hit .304/.385/.348 in San Diego, .368/.400/.579 in San Francisco, and .357/.357/.643 in Busch Stadium. That’s a small sample size, yes, but the point is that the early evidence does indicate that he can find success in pitcher’s parks.
The issue with Story is that he’s plagued by a 33.6 percent strikeout rate and a .346 BABIP. His batting average is almost assuredly going to fall, and it’s already at a middling .264. It’s safest to project Story as a power-hitting shortstop who will consistently have strikeout issues and a low batting average — probably a fringe top-10 fantasy shortstop with obvious flaws. Seem dramatic? Story hasn’t been a top-10 fantasy shortstop in the last 30 days, despite the half-dozen homers. The dude has a .227 batting average over that span. The fact that he’s batting no. 2 in a strong Rockies’ lineup has also saved him.
But, no, Trevor Story isn’t the answer. For example, I’d take Francisco Lindor over Story, and I’m not crazy high on Lindor as a long-term fantasy asset.
Not that Yasiel Puig carries the same fantasy swagger that he did 18 months ago. He’s hitting .237/.283/.360 and has seen his peripheral skills decline. We knew the league would eventually adjust to Puig. The question was always how the 25-year-old outfielder would respond, and he’s done so by trying to swing his way out of trouble. His 56.2 percent swing rate is the sixth highest in Major League Baseball and his 15.5 percent swinging-strike rate is similarly the sixth highest. What’s worse is that he’s losing playing time, a death knell for fantasy leagues.
Puig is a pure upside play by one of the fantasy owners. The real grab is Trayce Thompson, who owns an .828 OPS with 11 homers and four stolen bases. He’s getting everyday starts across the outfield and has begun to look like a potential top-50 fantasy outfielder if everything clicks. Thompson doesn’t have a platoon split and isn’t benefiting from a lofty BABIP (.280), which means we’re not judging him at a hypothetical peak of unsustainability.
The problem is that Thompson doesn’t have much impact potential. He’s unlikely to hit 25 homers. He doesn’t profile as a speed or average guy. He’s a potential .270/.340/.460 producer with a handful of steals—not unlike Josh Reddick from a year ago, who hit .272 with 20 homers and 10 stolen bases. That ranked him as the 35th-best fantasy outfielder from a year ago, on par with Adam Jones and Dexter Fowler. Good, but I think that’s his ultimate ceiling and shouldn’t be expected.
Ultimately, I think this is a fair trade. I’m going to take Story due to the stronger run/RBI potential and the positional scarcity; however, I don’t think the Puig-plus-Thompson side is walking away empty handed. And if Puig is playing elsewhere in August and gets a chance to start over in a very real sense, they could be the side claiming victory at the end. That best-case scenario doesn’t sound too plausible to me, though.
The Verdict: Team A wins.
TRADE NUMBER THREE
This sort of trade lacks important context. By this, I mean that Team A likely acquired Braun from ample pitching depth in order to improve a beleaguered offense, while Team B targeted Greinke to upgrade a depressing rotation. These players are just under the elite tier in their respective positions, so it’s impossible to fault either of these sides.
That won’t stop me from declaring a winner, though, because I learned from my father that not everyone gets to bring home a trophy. There must be joy for one and self-loathing for everyone else in sports. It’s character building. Or something.
Greinke caught some grief early in the year when he struggled in April, posting an ERA over 5.00 for his new club, but he’s been his usual dynamite self since that point. In his last 10 starts, the right-hander owns a 2.41 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 71 innings. He’s won eight games and only lost one. He has held opponents to a .216 batting average over that stretch, too. All of this mirrors what he did a year ago when he was the second-best fantasy starter in the entire league.
So, yeah, he’s good.
But Ryan Braun is mashing opposing pitching with a .315/.376/.536 slash line this year, including 12 homers and six stolen bases. He’s once again showing that he’s one of the elite hitters in the National League and is an easy top-20 fantasy outfielder who produces in all five standard categories.
What tips the scales for me is that Greinke is the model of durability, while Braun is already missing games with back issues. Whether it’s his thumb, his hand or his back, the Brewers’ outfielder is always on the verge of landing on the disabled list. Milwaukee is not in the midst of a postseason chase and has absolutely no reason to push him to play through pain. They need him to be healthy in 2017 and beyond — even if there’s a small chance that he gets traded — and resting his bumps and bruises this year is the best way to accomplish that goal, which is not ideal for any fantasy owner.
Somewhere the TINSTAPP folks are scolding me for betting on a pitcher’s health, but Zack Greinke ain’t exactly a normal pitcher. And I’d rather bet on avoiding an assumed injury than one that’s already manifested itself in obvious ways.
The Verdict: Team B wins.