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The trade deadline is upon us and some shoes have already dropped. Two of the pitchers everyone knew were being traded have been moved; Scott Kazmir and Johnny Cueto are with new teams. If you are in an AL-only league, you are very happy if you have Kazmir because Billy Beane traded him to fellow American League team Houston Astros. If you are in an NL-only league and have Cueto, you are very unhappy right now because he’s headed to The Kansas City Royals. Both trades were early, considering the deadline isn’t until Friday.
It’s often smart to trade early in Fantasy as well. Identify what you need and identify what you want. Target the player or players and go after them aggressively before someone else does. The Astros and Royals did a great job of identifying their needs. They each needed another starter. The Astros already have an ace in Dallas Kuechel and were looking for another reliable arm to fit into their rotation. Kazmir fits that role perfectly. The Royals are in a slightly different situation. They were 90 feet away from winning a World Series, starting from a one game play-in wild card game. They want to make sure they win their division. And they want to do everything they can to not only make it to the series this year, but win it. They lost James Shields to free agency last season, and didn’t have an ace. Last year’s breakout star, Yordano Ventura, is in the midst of a sophomore slump, so although they already have the best record in the American League, they are looking beyond the regular season. The Royals are a small market team, so acquiring a pitcher who’ll be a free agent at the end of the season makes perfect sense. Cueto going to the Royals is the classic “rent a player” trade. If Cueto helps the Royals win the World Series, they’ll gladly give him his ring and watch him sign elsewhere in the offseason.
The addition of the second wild card makes it so tough for teams to be “sellers” at the trade deadline. No team wants to pack it in with two months left in the season because of how it looks to the fan base. But, some teams have to face reality. When in doubt, if a team is on the bubble, I always recommend going for it. Last season, both World Series teams came from the play-in game. In all of baseball there are only five teams who are 10 games or more out of the second wild card spot. If you’re the San Diego front office it’s tough to pack it in at just 7.5 games out of a wild card spot considering all the moves you made in the offseason. Same goes for the Chicago White Sox, who are only five games out of a wildcard spot.
For Fantasy team owners, be realistic. If you’re in seventh place in your league, build for next year. If it’s not a keeper league, make smart trades with contenders. Don’t try to be a king maker by trading just for the sake of trading. If the deal makes sense for you, do the deal. And the motivation doesn’t have to be winning. If you are in seventh, trade to stay out of last. Try to move up to fifth. Stay active and keep your teams competitive. If you have a player who goes to the minors, move him out of your lineup. Being out of contention is no excuse for inactivity. We’ve all been there.
If it is a keeper league, do the best you can to build for next year. For you, this could be the most important week of the 2016 season. I have traded away so many players already this season to give myself a chance to win this year. I had consciously built an offensively potent team at the draft, knowing I’d have to tweak and improve my pitching along the way. During the course of the season, I have traded off Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Steven Vogt and Hanley Ramirez. I am still sitting with 49 offensive points and only two steals away from a perfect 50. The problem is, I’ve traded away so much offense that my leads in home runs, runs and RBIs has dwindled. The season is a continuing balancing act. Remember, you only have to win a category by one. It makes no sense to win a category by 40 home runs, but make sure you hold onto your lead. Nothing hurts more than trading off players to help elsewhere, when in effect, you’re only trading a point in one category for a point in a different category.
In my case, I identified early that I needed pitching help, and I hope I didn’t hinder my offense too much…but I had to do it. With the players I traded away, I acquired Cody Allen, Chris Archer, Chris Sale, and Masahiro Tanaka. For the majority of the season, I was comfortably in first place, but I’ve been overtaken over the past two weeks. The leader has been between 82-84 points and I’ve been in the 79-82 range. We are both either in first or second place in most categories, so anytime he leapfrogs me or I leapfrog him it’s a two point swing. Be mindful of the two point swings at this stage of the season. Look at your direct competition in specific categories. You’ll be hard pressed to improve your team in every category. Focus on one or two categories in which you can make a run, where a main competitor may be ahead of you and improve yourself.
Be cautious of players who may get dealt. It isn’t always just how many games a team is out of a wildcard spot, but how many teams they have to pass. Although the Detroit Tigers are only four games out of making the playoffs, they are behind four teams in the standings. It’s as much the four teams as the four games. If they were four games out but only had one team to catch it would make their task much easier. And Dave Dombrowski tends to be a realist. I would be extremely cautious of trading for David Price, Yeonis Cespedes, or Ian Kinsler in a mono league until after the July 31 deadline.
Players to target are those on teams that are in the mix for a division title. Usually teams who are winning their divisions don’t rock the apple cart too much and like to keep their base intact. Most likely, names like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Lorenzo Cain, Jose Altuve, Michael Wacha, Adrian Gonzales, and all of the Washington Nationals’ pitching staff will be safe.
If you are playing for 2016 and are in a mono league, be sure of the player’s MLB contract status. If you trade a player with the hope of keeping him, make sure he’s not a free agent who could be signed by a team in the opposite league.
One thing is certain; this is one of the most volatile weeks of the season. It is a week when at least half of the 750 MLB players walk around their clubhouses on eggshells, not knowing if they’re getting called to pack their bags. It is equally stressful for Fantasy owners. All your hard work and planning can go up in smoke if one or two of your players is unexpectedly traded. I’m sure that the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers aren’t happy with Cincinnati for trading Cueto to the Royals. I’m sure you won’t be happy in your league if you’re in second or third place and a team makes a trade with the first place team to put them over the top. Do your best to be proactive and preemptive. If you sense something is in the air, try to do what you can to throw a monkey wrench into the equation. Make your own offer; give the team something to think about. After this week is over, many leagues follow the MLB trade deadline and stop trading too. In my league, there is still limited trading. After July 31, teams can trade with two teams above and below them in the standings. If your league has some sort of variation which allows for trading after July 31, all may not be lost, but the more time that goes by, the more difficult it is to move up the standings. Once August is here, we’re down to the final third of the season, and only a month after that, rosters expand to 40 players.
As always, I wish you good luck going forward. Do the best you can in any trade you make, and don’t make a trade just to make a trade. If you’re in a position to win, go for it. In my league, the team that has passed me is starting to get cocky. He has George Springer with a year left in eligibility. Springer is on the DL and not helping his team at all. The smart move is to trade him to a team playing for next year, but he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too, hopefully to my benefit. These are the decisions we all have to make. You don’t want to wake up on August 1 and say, “I should have pulled the trigger.”
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