Wheeler Dealer: April Showers bring May deals

The MLB season is a mere 3 weeks old, so who should you be buying and selling?

It took one owner in my 14-team keeper league a scant 2 days before he was selling his team for the future.  Now, as is typical in most leagues, no deal has actually been struck.  While this owner sits at 0-2 and I sit at 2-0, I do not think our teams are that different.  In fact, I am not willing to deal off my #1 minor league prospect Byron Buxton for a piece that might help me this season, yet.  But while many owners are already ready to stake claim to the league title (or the #1 pick in the 2015 draft) a savvy owner is ready to strike and land a deal that will bring him rewards later in the season.  Who are some trade targets and trade baits?

Target Practice

C Carlos Santana: I did not realize he was performing so poorly early in the season (batting average well under 0.200).  With his catcher eligibility but playing at 3B, Santana has the potential to appear in 150+ games, which is a feat for a “catcher” in fantasy.

1B Edwin Encarnacion: A surprising power outage to start the season has E5 on my list of players to target.  If you believe that he has 30 HR in him for 2014, then there are still 30 to come.  He has started to show some life at the plate, so expect the power to manifest in the coming weeks.

2B Robinson Cano: Might as well aim high when it comes to landing an underperforming elite player.  Cano may be hitting for a nice average so far, but his production is certainly not what owners had in mind.  At the start of the season he was already a bit polarizing, but most experts were expecting him to produce his typical season slash line.  So, as of the writing of this post, with 1 HR, Cano is certainly a player to target in a deal.

UT Jedd Gyorko: Let’s stick with struggling 2B.  Gyorko is hitting miserably and could be forgiven if the power is there, but it is not.  I admit I drafted him expecting 20-25HR and I am still holding him, but if I do not own him I am at least making an offer to his owner.

2013: 15 HR in the second half (the power blooms in the summer)

2014: BABIP 0.195, but he is swinging at less pitches out of the zone and walking at a higher rate (tells me the plate discipline is there and the hits should come)

SS Xander Bogaerts: A trendy pick heading into 2014, Bogaerts has had some growing pains so far.  He has struggled a bit defensively at SS, but the Red Sox are not about to move him around or bench him.  Expect him to settle in and show his power potential in the summer months (especially during July/August with 29 games at Fenway).

3B Evan Longoria: Similar to Encarnacion, Longoria has not been the run producer Tampa needs him to be.  He is hitting .300 so far on the young season.  If he can keep the average up, and Tampa’s anemic offense can find some life, expect the production to increase.  Longoria is a 30 HR threat.

OF Hunter Pence: There are a lot of choices in the OF, but I am going with Pence.  He is really struggling at the plate and has not shown much in the line of power yet (.317 SLG% with 5 extra base hits, only 1 HR).  He has stolen 3 bases however, so the potential for another 20-20 season is there.  Expect the power and production to return as May is traditionally a good month for Pence (.330 career average in May, with 34 HR, 121 runs, 120 RBI).

SP Matt Cain: He has 8 straight years of 30+ starts, yet has a record barely over 0.500.  He sits at 0-3 right now, but certainly could be considered a tough luck loser so far.  Back-to-back 7-inning, 8 K performances, yielding 2 runs (1 earned) over that time, yet still suffered 2 losses.  So, why do I like Cain?  He is going to make the starts, his K/9 will be around 7.5 (10+ in his last 2 starts) and he will get some wins. Over his career, his K/9 has increased and his ERA decreased over the course of the season.  I think Cain is a reliable arm capable of giving you 10-12 wins the rest of the way (maybe more).

His xFIP currently sits at 3.57, which would be the best of his career.  His Line Drive rate is 16.9%, his lowest since 2007.  Cain may have been a bit unlucky so far this season (1 ER allowed in a loss, 0 ER in another loss, 2 ER in a no-decision).

SP Jordan Zimmermann: 1 horrible start and 2 very good starts have Zim at 1-0 on the season with an ERA over 5.  Coming of a 19-9 season in 2013, owners had him pegged as a #1 arm for their rotation.  Bryce Harper has struggled and Ryan Zimmerman is on the DL.  Perhaps owners will fear that Washington will not score enough runs for Zimmermann to get consistent wins.  His K/9 increases during the summer and I don’t think you can ever bank on wins, so take the K’s and know that the Nationals offense will score runs

RP Steve Cishek: Cishek is having a very solid year so far but only has 2 saves to show for his efforts.  In 69 games last year he earned 34 saves.  The Marlins are winning some games early this year, but the problem is most of their wins have been non-save wins.  Expect some tighter games as the season goes along and expect Cishek to grab some more saves.

Trade Bait

C Evan Gattis: 3 HR last week and Gattis has been a beast so far.  The batting average will not maintained (currently .378) and while the power is real, expect a regression in production when the hits stop coming as frequently.

1B Albert Pujols: OK, so everyone expected a bounce back?  I didn’t hold onto Albert in a keeper league, instead going with a youth movement.  But, even those who expected a return to more Pujolsian numbers might not have expected him to be on pace for 40 HR.  Sure, 4 HR and a .237 batting average does not mean Pujols is back, but someone might be buying, and I am selling.

UT Brandon Belt: I rode Belt to a victory in week one and if I have my way, I am dealing him off for some pieces to shore up my team and help me go deep in the playoffs.  I like Belt, but I do not think he is all of a sudden going to mash 30 home runs.  I expect the usual swoon in July.  While Belt has been very productive in August and September, his summer power outages could doom another fantasy season.

Current HR/FB rate is 28.6% (he has hit more ground balls than fly balls so far this year).  His 6 HR this month are the most HR he has hit in a month in his MLB career.  I expect a correction is his HR/FB rate.

2B Chase Utley: Currently the #3 rated 2B on the ESPN Player Rater, Utley is hitting a ridiculous .457 through 46 at-bats.  Tack on 3 HR, 9 RBI and 9 runs scored, he seems to be rekindling his youth.  No steals yet for Utley and remember, he is a 35-year-old 2B with an injury history.

SS Alexei Ramirez: The #1 player on the ESPN Player Rater, Ramirez has been producing across the board so far for owners.  A late round pick in most drafts (if he was even drafted) owners would be wise to sell him for a King’s Ransom at this point.

3B Anthony Rendon: The 2B job in Washington is his, and he has been nothing short of impressive so far this year.  I worry about the injury history, and the fact that Ryan Zimmerman is on the shelf for 4-6 weeks could mean less off days for Rendon.  If he stays healthy he will prove me wrong, but I don’t know that I am taking that chance.

OF Justin Upton: Is this the season Upton puts it all together?  He had a huge week 2, earning NL Player of the Week honors and winning games for many owners.  But he still strikes out too much (15K’s in 48 at-bats as of this writing) and I am concerned he will miss time with some sort of injury.  I dealt him in the offseason and am looking to deal him in another league.

SP Scott Kazmir: Kazmir is off to a nice start in Oakland, 2-0 with an ERA of 1.40 through 3 starts.  Let’s remember that he has only pitched more than 200 innings in a season once and that was in 2007.  Remember that he did not pitch in 2011 and 2012 (1.2 innings in the MLB). Remember that he was 10-9 last year, with an ERA over 4 (that’s not is terrible, but the 1.40 is due for a correction).  The American League West is a tougher division now, even with the pitcher’s parks.  Kazmir may only have about 130 innings left in him this year, deal him off before he returns to his old ways and the A’s begin to monitor his use.

SP Michael Pineda: Pineda was on my sleeper list heading into drafts this year.  He must have been on everyone else’s too since I don’t own him in any leagues.  Currently sitting at 2-1 with slim ERA of 1.00, Pineda has looked every bit the ace people thought he was going to develop into in Seattle.  Coming back from TJ surgery, he will be on an innings cap, even if the Yankees continue to insist he will not be.  If they want him in the playoffs, he will not go deep into games and may see a few skips in the rotation.  If they are not heading to the playoffs, he could be shut down ahead of fantasy playoffs.  Don’t wait for the bad news to come, deal him off for an arm you can plug into your lineup every eek for the rest of the season.

RP John Axford: Axford has always been able to strike out guys.  The problem is that much like Ricky Vaughn, he is also prone to walking guys.  His BB/9 is 8.10 right now (6BB in 6 2/3 innings).  Closers that put runners on base are often not closing games later in the season.  We could be looking at the 2011 version of Axford (46 saves, ERA 1.95) or we could be looking at the 2012 version (35 saves, but an ERA of 4.67).  I will trade-off the risk and hope to find a more reliable closer with less heart attack potential for owners.

Axford is smoke and mirrors right now.  His xFIP is 5.38 and his FIP- sits at 138 (league average is set to 100, lower is better). He is walking 19.4% of batters.  I smell a closer change in Cleveland this summer.