Joakim Soria – (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
If you haven’t already begun the process, it’s time to start making trade offers in your fantasy league, and not just of the buy-low / sell-high variety. You should of course be targeting proven commodities that are under-performing, but there are a ton of previously underrated or just under-the-radar players that everyone is just assuming are playing over their heads. Every year a couple hot starts turn into career years — Fausto Carmona in 2007, Justin Verlander in 2006. I’ve broken down trade targets (or pickup options, depending on the depth of your league) into two categories — those pitchers whose value may be at its low point due to a few rough outings, and those pitchers whose numbers appear to be too good to be true, and need to be targeted accordingly. Remember, in both cases perception of interest is key — if your potential trade partner has a couple of hot pitchers, say Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee, make a somewhat low offer for Lincecum, and in the counteroffer process, grudgingly say you’d be willing to take Lee, whose hot start is obviously unsustainable, because you need pitching badly enough to take the risk. Point to his messy start against the Reds on Sunday as proof that he’s falling back to Earth. If you can get him in a one-for-one deal, say a premier closer or a Spring hitter like Youkilis, or more fairly a solid one-dimensional hitter like Adam Dunn, then pull the trigger. Six straight wins and an ERA and WHIP under 1 don’t happen through sheer luck — Lee is healthy, has great control, and at 29 seems to be hitting his stride.
Buy Low / They’re Only Going to Get Better
Johan Santana — How, you may ask, is Santana a buy-low candidate? He’s 5-2 with a 3.30 ERA, .229 BAA, and 1.12 WHIP. Not too shabby. Except anxious fantasy owners look at Brandon Webb’s 9 wins, at Edinson Volquez’s sub-2.00 ERA, at Ryan Dempster’s .172 BAA, and at Ervin Santana’s 1.01 WHIP, and wonder why their first-round draft pick is being out-performed by not just second-round pitchers like Webb, but undrafted rookies and has-beens. The difference is that Santana is only going to get better (see his career splits), while all of the pitchers above (except, perhaps, Webb) will inevitably regress towards the league average. If anyone is souring on Santana, or just feeling that he is unnecessary on a staff featuring the likes of Lee, Volquez, and/or Ervin Santana, then by all means pursue him.
Dustin McGowan — Burnett and Halladay are the most familiar names in the Toronto rotation, and Shaun Marcum is the least hittable of late, and for those reasons, McGowan should be the best bargain. He pitches efficiently and with good control, but has struggled a bit so far to a 2-3 record with a 4.38 ERA. His high .338 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) compared to his low HR/9 of 0.58 shows that bad luck has been a factor in his results. Only twice in 9 starts has he allowed more than 3 earned runs. Go after him now before the memory of last month’s 9-run pounding by the Indians fades.
Justin Verlander — He’s 1-6 with an ERA just over 6. He’s not hurt, his stuff is still great, and his run support has to improve. It may be too late for Verlander to win 20 games or the Cy Young, as many of us anticipated, but 10 wins from here on out is still pretty good production and not unthinkable if he can just get his mechanics straightened out. There’s some risk here, but that’s why you should be able to get him at a deep discount.
Buy High / They’re More Real Than You Think
Joakim Soria — His numbers so far are unbelievable: 17 saves, 1.04 ERA, 0.40 WHIP, .088 BAA. Everything except the saves look very real. Kansas City probably won’t continue to give Soria save opportunities at this rate, but with Greinke and Bannister looking like legitimate top-of-the-rotation starters, that drop-off won’t be as severe as some may think. Even correcting for the team he plays for, Soria should quietly be a top-five closer this year. His ratios are outstanding, and if you can find an owner nervous about having a closer on a losing team, see if he’ll bite on Jon Lester.
Cliff Lee — As I said above, his numbers are too good to ignore or write off as a fluke. He’s locked in, and as long as the Tigers struggle, the AL Central is a pretty cushy place to pitch.