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Reader Tony W. writes:

While it’s superduper fun to pick up young players like Andy Marte and Rickie Weeks–I wonder how fruitful it is, even in traditional Roto Keeper Leagues. Point being, in a traditional set up of 3 year contracts (after two, sign or keep one more year) it seems like waiting for young players to pay off isn’t necessarily the best thing to do… (what about) signing nomads like Joe Randa, who don’t have a high ceiling, but can come in, and do some nice statistical work for the same low 5 dollar value of a Michael Cuddyer?

Tony has a point. Many column inches every year are devoted to tracking down the Next Big Thing. Very few inches are devoted to the Last Pretty Good Thing, even though statistically the LPGT stands a good chance of out-producing the NBT. So in honor of the ultimate long shot upset, I’m going to show a little love to some of fantasy’s unsung underdogs, and indicate one way they can help you bring home a title.

With the All-Star break approaching, many leagues are heading into their prime trading time, whether due to a mid-season deadline or a league meeting where the conversations, and trade talks, flow more smoothly. Most trades at this point are to one degree or another going to be “dump” deals, trades in which a contending team gives up some of their future for a boost in the present. Dump deals are rarely neat affairs though; for every Zach Duke-for-Roger Clemens swap where the positions match up, you’ll have a Duke-for-Scott Rolen trade where extra pieces are required to make each owner’s final roster work.

Making sure you get the best of those extra pieces can go a long way towards locking up that championship, either this season or next–and that’s where those unsung veterans come in.

Playing the DL Card

One great source of value on the margins of a trade is in players on the DL. If you’re the “dumper” (the owner playing for next year), check your trade partner’s roster for injured players with a salary reasonable for what they might have produced in a healthy season. John Thomson would be a good example–chances are, as a steady, plain-vanilla starter with little upside, Thomson went for less than he was worth in the auction anyway. His finger injury might have depressed his perceived value to the point that you can get him basically as a throw-in to the trade, but if he shows no ill effects from the injury when he returns Thomson could be a solid, and cheap, part of your 2006 rotation.

On the flip side, DL’ed players due to return this season who weren’t undervalued coming out of the auction make good targets for the “dumpee” (the owner taking a shot at this season’s championship). What you’re looking for is a player who simply won’t play enough this year to make his salary seem reasonable (and thus keepable) to his current owner–Erubiel Durazo comes to mind. A superstar like Barry Bonds or even Javy Lopez will require some real value going the other way to acquire but a player like Durazo, who’s never established himself at a high level, might be available for a relative song and could provide your team with a nice shot in the arm when he gets back in the lineup.

Square Pegs in Round Holes

Sometimes, veteran players wind up in situations that just aren’t good fits for them. The organization or manager doesn’t appreciate their skill set and misuses them, or an early season injury prevents them from showing their new club what they can do. Such players (let’s take Jerry Hairston as an example) can work as value add-ons for either the dumper or dumpee, as a trade or managerial change could vault the player back to fantasy usefulness at any time. Even if they have a price tag that would make them a keeper in the event of a turn-around, don’t be afraid to ask about them if you’re gunning for the top of the standings. The perceived value of a player like Hairston is pretty much as low as it’s going to get, and his current owner probably isn’t going to agonize too much about losing him.

(That’s always a key to getting the best extra pieces in a deal-make sure that the spare parts you ask for are small enough that the other owner won’t get distracted from the bright shiny things you’re sending his way.)

The Excluded Middle

If you’re the dumpee, and your trading partner has no other players who might be useful to you, you can always ask for a middle reliever or two. Middle relievers are always the most overlooked commodities in fantasy baseball. While they don’t add much in the glamour stats like saves, a solid middle relief core can do wonders for your bottom line in ERA and WHIP. The pitchers to target as throw-ins in a larger trade are the ones who don’t seem likely to become closers any time soon; a “closer-in-waiting” or “caddy” label on a player like Tom Gordon, or even J.J. Putz, probably pushes their trade value from “throw-in” up to “important component.” Instead look for the players doing good work from the third or fourth spots on the bullpen depth chart, such as Cleveland’s Arthur Rhodes or the Marlins’ Jim Mecir. A rebuilding team won’t miss them, but they could be invaluable to you.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox.

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