Memorial Day Sale: Troy Tulowitzki Leads Crowd of Buy-Low Fantasy Baseball Studs

Dan Kukla@@kooks13Correspondent IIIMay 25, 2012

You know those people.

The ones that always arrive late to the party. The ones that think "time" only refers to a formerly mainstream magazine. The ones that you have to lie to about what time events start just to maintain hope of actually seeing them there.

What's so fashionable about arriving late anyway?

Although I'm a chronic procrastinator (I like to call it "deadline driven") I've always preached and practiced punctuality. As someone who once thought wearing soccer shorts with polo shirts was both comfortable and potentially trendy, I know nothing about fashion. Perhaps that's why I find lateness more on the annoying side of life than the fashionable.

This is true in fantasy as well. If you've ever drafted Mark Teixeira, you know how enraging the month of April and his career .239 average during those 30 days can be. He's the industry poster boy for slow-starting, second-half studs. It only takes playing a season or two to figure out it's best to let someone else draft the spring slumper and trade for him just before all of those hot summer nights where a New York switch-hitting power first baseman produces a career triple-slash line of .294/.381/.557 after the All-Star break.

So while lateness from our fantasy players may be just as maddening as it is from our friends, at least it doesn't come without opportunity. Teixeira is once again off to his annual slow start. While this one may be lasting a little longer than normal for the aging star, that should only make for a bigger spring sale discount this Memorial Day weekend. I still believe in his ability to produce yet another bounce-back campaign.

Here are some other "fashionably" late stars you may be able to acquire for 80 cents on the dollar this Holiday weekend just before their best months of production.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies

If you want to deal for shortstop's most valuable fantasy asset, you'll have to act fast. In fact, you may have already missed the boat so I suggest you stop reading this article immediately and call* Tulo's owner STAT. I've already got your page view so I really don't need you here any longer anyway.

A career .247 and .264 hitter in April and May respectively, Tulowitzki doesn't usually show up for the season until June (career .290/.362/.525) without really hitting his stride until July (career .321/.389/.555 after the All-Star break). Like Teixeira, he again began 2012 in his seemingly annual slump but the power shortstop may be turning the corner a tad early this season. With two home runs in this last three games, Tulo has now doubled this year's HR total over the last seven contests.

In Colorado's three-game series at Miami (home to a severely pitcher-friendly park) Tulowitzki hit 4-12 with four runs and seven RBI on top of those two trips around the bases. For those of you in leagues that penalize strikeouts, he has only 19 whiffs in 157 at-bats this season.

If your league's Tulowitzki owner is still jaded by his .262/.341/.400 start to the season before last Monday and is willing to offer you any kind of discount on the star, take the money and run.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston Red Sox

Boston was good to Gonzalez his first year in Bean Town. He took one look at the Green Monster in left field and started bouncing off the wall like a two-year old. It helped raise his batting average from .298 in 2010 (his highest during a five-year stay in San Diego) to .338 in 2011. While Gonzalez's power did dip down to produce only 27 taters after hitting at least 30 in his last four years in the Padre's spacious Petco Park, the Red Sox lineup kicked his counting stats up to 108 runs and 117 RBI (compared to 87 and 101 in his last year as a Padre).

So his three homer, .269/.333/.406 start to 2012 probably has fantasy owners who eagerly drafted him in the first round saying, "Yo Adrian, what gives?"

Savvy managers, however, will remember that Gonzalez only made one round trip in April last year. While he quickly turned in a break-out May and Memorial Day Weekend in 2012 draws near with no sign of a repeat, those same savvy managers will also note that his breakout typically doesn't come until June. His monthly splits aren't nearly as stark as Tex or Tulo, but history does show Gonzalez to be a late bloomer (career 311/.398/.552 June, career .302/.387/.516 post All-Star break).

With depleted early power numbers and a recent slump slashing his hitting ratios, there may not be a better chance to snag this elite infielder from an impatient owner sick of waiting for their not-so-fashionably late star to arrive.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

I won't even pretend to sell you on Sir Albert as an annual late bloomer. While his career stats do show an upward trend as the months turn over, everyone knows this guy usually rakes all season long. But I'm sure everyone is also aware of "The Machine's" early malfunctions in LA after signing that monstrous contract.

I'm no MLB scout and I don't even regularly watch the Angels play much less have any kind of access to their ball club so I can't tell you why Pujols is struggling. Trending theories suggest pressure to perform, the league change, old age or a combination of it all. Certainly everyone—humans and machines alike—breaks down at some point so a decline in production is to be expected, even from Albert. But can one extra year of age really be responsible for such a sharp drop off?

Father Time is a force to be reckoned with but the difference between 31 and 32 is not 100 points in batting average or 150 points in on-base percentage. When those ratios correct themselves, I'd sure love to get more than a piece of that. They may not come all the way back but they don't need to for the investment to be worth it. You shouldn't pay a first-round premium for Pujols at this point, nor should you have to.

But like it is for Tulowitzki buyers, the window of opportunity on one of the greatest players in the game's history is closing fast. After hitting his first home run on May 6, Pujols has now homered in four of his last nine games. Starting with that May 6 blast he has already added 30 points to that deflated batting average and his three-hit, two-run, two-RBI performance Thursday night against Seattle says there is plenty more where that came from. Those old legs of his have even stolen two bases this month.

Whether Pujols ever rounds completely back into form or just settles for third-round value the rest of the way, it seems highly unlikely that one of the most consistent producers over the past decade of baseball is suddenly done without notice. Act accordingly while/if you still can.

Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

Speaking of Holiday Weekends, one Matt Holliday fits quite nicely into this article's theme and not just because of his conveniently punny name. Like his former teammate, the current Cardinal is currently hitting well below what his career numbers suggests he is capable of hitting. And while Holliday is also like Pujols in that he is not a perennial slow starter such as Tex and Tulo, other career trends suggest he is due to seriously correct those ugly .271/.347/.492 rates next to his name.

Holliday boasts a career batting average over .300 in every month but he seems to have a special place in his heart for June (.323/.402/.528) and July (.324/.409/.589). With the weather forecasting scorching temperatures in St. Louis for the Holiday weekend, Matt Holliday looks to have gotten off to an early start on the annual mid-year scorching he does at the plate.

Since May 14 he has added 16 points to his batting average while launching four home runs. He has only struck out five times during that span while driving in nine runs and scoring eight himself. Once again, this weekend and all of its Holiday sales may represent the last chance to grab a stud at any kind of a discount.

Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers

Cruz's current triple-slash line isn't far off from his career rates except in slugging percentage, where the 100+ point difference jumps out as a clear aberration. With the batting average and on-base percentage much close to home, however, he doesn't immediately strike me as a hot trade target. A closer look reveals that he very well could be in a month.

While Memorial Day comes as the last call for the formerly struggling stars mentioned above, Cruz is a player that will likely fall from a Holiday sale to the clearance rack. Already lagging on last year's 29-homer pace with just four so far in 2012, Cruz is now entering the month of June where he is a career .233/.278/.471 hitter. After the All-Star break, however, he usually breaks out of the slump to a tune of .288/.348/.505 the rest of the way. With his value already slipping, keep a close eye on this slugger that not so long ago went nuts during the Ranger's run back to the World Series. If he continues to slide, it may mark your chance to pounce.

Bargain Bin

Cruz checks in right around the line I like to draw between players I consider to be elite and everyone else. Let's face it, in mixed fantasy baseball leagues of 12-teams or less, superstars will be the primary drivers of success. Not to say that the annual crop of sleepers don't matter, but the large player pool and long grind of a baseball season puts extra emphasis (than perhaps the uber-popular format offered by fantasy football) on players that can bring you the goods at an elite level day in and day out. That's why stealing these slow starters while you can is a must.

But some owners can be quite stingy with their early-round investments so if you can't land a top-of-the line stud, here are some other names in the annual crowd of "fashionably" late fantasy players you may be able to acquire at discount: Adam LaRoche, Jay Bruce, Jimmy Rollins, Aramis Ramirez, Jeff Francoeur, Kendrys Morales and Howie Kendrick.

*In today's electronic age of Twitter, Facebook, texting and e-mail, there is still no better way to complete a trade than an old-fashioned phone call. Whatever you do, don't just send your opponent a random offer that is all-too-easily rejected with the click of the button. Real GMs still pick up the phone every day so all of us fake GMs should too—especially when the time to buy some of these players comes and goes as fast as a Memorial Day sale.