2010, a Contract Year: Fantasy MLB Players to Buy Low, Sell High, Outright Avoid
One of the great misconceptions of fantasy baseball is that a player is destined for a monster season simply because it happens to be his walk year.
Theoretically, if a player has a slow start in a contract year, he may be pressing, and just needs time to get his game together.
The beauty of a 162-game schedule is that even the most frustrated players have enough time from this point forward to turn their season around. If a big contract is at stake, a player destined for free agency in 2010 will play hurt, and is likely to be a model citizen.
That said, it’s not usually not a good thing when a player hides an injury or ailment from his coaches and medical staff in order to stay in the lineup and boost his stats. Eventually, his (as well as your team’s) production will suffer.
I’m not suggesting you avoid players in the last year of their deal, but take the contract year hoopla with a grain of salt.
Here are some buy-low players with upside who are in their contract year to make a trade for, as well as some sell-high candidates who you may want to unload in spite of their expiring contract.
Finally, I have enclosed some soon-to-be free agents that you might be tempted to invest in, but should avoid at all costs.
Sell High: Vladimir Guerrero - DH/OF, Texas Rangers
Big Daddy Vladdy has had a Hall of Fame career thus far, and has found a nice new home in Texas whose ballpark will help to lessen his statistical decline.
Furthermore, he is the Rangers’ primary DH, has a lot of protection in his lineup, has stayed healthy thus far, and is on the cusp of attaining outfield eligibility.
That said, the aforementioned information should serve as your primary selling points when shopping Vlad. Why would one want to shop a future Hall-of-Famer who sports a lifetime .321 batting average?
In reality, Guerrero has evolved into more of a Punch-and-Judy type with fair-to-decent power. Yes, he can still amazingly hit balls two inches off the ground for extra bases, but you have an opportunity to shop Vlad’s high batting average that effectively masks his eroding skill set.
Four weeks into 2010, his slugging percentage (.456) is over .100 points under his career average (.567). The, ahem, "35"-year-old who looks years older can still be an effective source of BA and RBI, but I’d be surprised if Guerrero hit over 20 home runs this year, and you can still command decent trade value off his name value.
At this stage in his career, Vlad’s basically a DH/OF version of Todd Helton—helps the average, but he's not the player he was five years ago.
Sell High: Rafael Soriano - Relief Pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays
Soriano is playing on a very good team with an elite offense, and has looked solid thus far in his contract year pitching in the hellacious AL East.
That said, the Rays’ well-oiled offense is almost too good, as the save opportunities for Soriano have been few and far between. Furthermore, Soriano has a long history of being injury-prone coupled with only one season of long-term closer experience.
If you play up the Rays’ firepower and solid starting pitching, and say how healthy Soriano has looked thus far, you should be able to find a taker for Tampa Bay’s closer before the rest of your league notices his pedestrian save totals.
Sell High: Hideki Matsui - OF/DH, Anaheim Angels
Godzilla is off to a nice 2010 start with four homers in 96 at-bats in Anaheim, but has a few things working against him as the season progresses.
First, he’s playing home games in a ballpark that doesn’t favor lefties nearly as well as Yankee Stadium.
Second, the Angels don’t provide the top-to-bottom lineup protection that Matsui received in the Bronx. Somehow, Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, and Jeff Mathis don’t exactly strike the same fear into pitchers’ hearts as perennial All-Stars Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada.
Last but not least, Matsui has had a disturbing trend of alternating healthy, productive seasons with injury-riddled ones. This pattern started in 2006, and his last two sub-par seasons have come in even-numbered years.
You can still get one of your league owners to buy into the “Matsuiland” hype that has pervaded Anaheim, spinning his new home as an ideal free agent destination with a built-in fanbase.
Statistically, Matsui will not approach the same levels of production in an Angel uniform as he did in pinstripes, but not everyone else knows that yet.
Sell High: Ty Wigginton - 1B/2B/3B, Baltimore Orioles
Given the relative paucity of quality second basemen across the majors early in the season, Wigginton has become a savior to those who lost Brian Roberts or Aaron Hill to injury earlier in the season.
Having logged five games at 2B in place of Roberts, Wigginton now has eligibility at second base in most leagues, and is on pace to hit a ridiculous 51 home runs.
If you think Wigginton will come close to approaching 50 home runs, then I’ve got some property in Yazoo City, Mississippi to sell you.
Wigginton is no stiff, but surely there is someone in your league desperate for a second baseman with pop. So play up Wigginton’s hot start, and try to throw him into a 2-for-1 deal where you land a struggling stud like Mark Teixeira or Justin Verlander.
Sell High: Brian Fuentes - Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels’ closer came perilously close to losing his closing role to free agent acquisition Fernando Rodney, who peeled off five consecutive saves in April while Fuentes missed time with a strained back.
But Fuentes returned to take back the job, at least for the time being. Rodney isn’t going anywhere this season, and has looked like the better pitcher of the pair one month into 2010.
Rodney will surely cut into Fuentes’ save totals as the season progresses, but Fuentes still has plenty of trade value. This month may be your last opportunity to get top dollar for Fuentes before the saves start to get divvied up a little more in Anaheim.
As Fuentes is left-handed while Rodney is a righty, Angel manager Mike Scoscia may opt to play matchups throughout the season, especially if Fuentes struggles or gets hurt again.
Buy Low: Javier Vazquez - Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
Vazquez has stunk up the joint since he returned to the Bronx. Just one month into the season, the former and current Yankee has a 9.78 ERA and an unacceptable 2.04 WHIP, and is already being skipped in the rotation due to ineffectiveness.
Anyone who owns Vasquez in your league is probably hating themselves for drafting the veteran starter.
What they are probably forgetting is that Vazquez has a significant track record of logging 200+ strikeout totals, few injuries, and a competitive nature that keeps his team in the game.
Playing on the Yankees, Vasquez will eventually right the ship, rack up K’s and win totals, lower his sky-high ERA and WHIP, and serve as a coup if you can land the hurler for peanuts in the next couple weeks before Vazquez finds his rhythm.
Buy Low: Jose Lopez - 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners
If you’re looking for a second baseman with pop that has 25 HR upside, then take a stab at acquiring Lopez. Having amassed a disappointing .233 BA with one homer, Jo-Lo’s owners are probably looking to upgrade.
The 26-year-old had a similarly disappointing April (.253-2-13) in 2009, and went on to post great numbers by season’s end (25-95-4-.272).
Ichiro and Chone Figgins will provide great speed ahead of Lopez in the batting order, and Jose should get plenty of RBI opportunities in the middle of the Mariners’ lineup.
Buy Low: Victor Martinez - C/1B - Cleveland Indians
As 2010 got underway, the honeymoon between Boston and Martinez, acquired via trade last July, summarily ended. Through four weeks, the All-Star catcher had only produced eight RBI, a putrid number for the third hitter in the Boston lineup.
Furthermore, Red Sox Nation is fed up with opposing baserunners stealing bags at will on Martinez’s below-average arm.
Valuable fantasy catchers are almost impossible to obtain once the draft concludes. However, the person who owns the 31-year-old backstop may be so fed up with his poor production, that you might be surprised at Martinez’s availability.
Offer your No. 1 catcher and a hot-hitting throw-in for Martinez, and see if you get any bites.
Buy Low: Cliff Lee - Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners
Don’t be scared by the fact that Lee is back in the American League—his pinpoint control and impressive groundball rate translates well in statistical/fantasy terms regardless of where he pitches.
Speaking of where he pitches, Seattle’ Safeco Field is a much better ballpark for Lee to call home in a contract year than the bandbox called Citizen’s Bank Park in Philly was last year. He also has a better bullpen and plays in a weaker division.
Even though the hurler looked impressive in his first game back against a loaded Texas lineup, you may have to wait until Lee experiences a rough start in his return from a strained abdominal muscle before his owner even thinks about trading him after stashing Lee in his reserves for the first month.
Buy Low: Chad Qualls - Relief Pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks
There may not have been a more frustrated (or frustrating) active closer in the National League than Chad Qualls through April. Given his 8.10 ERA and 1.90 WHIP, I can assure you that Qualls’ owner will entertain offers for the embattled reliever.
Qualls is better than he has pitched thus far. Although he already received the dreaded “vote of confidence” from Diamondbacks manager AJ Hinch (which typically translates to, “If this stiff blows one more save, it’s either my job or his”), Arizona is sticking with Qualls as their ninth-inning specialist.
Understudy Juan Gutierrez only threw kerosene on the fire when he was given a chance to close in 2010. Hence, Qualls will remain the stopper through thick and thin for the foreseeable future, yet remains a solid buy-low candidate that pitches on a team with an explosive offense in a fairly weak division.
Buy Low: Jason Kubel - OF, Minnesota Twins
The 27-year-old is situated behind MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in a fairly loaded Twins’ lineup, and has demonstrated marked improvement in his first few years in the majors. His primary competition for playing time is perennial underachiever Delmon Young, who has continued his mediocre play in 2010.
Although the newest Twin, Jim Thome, snags a few at-bats that Kubel might have gotten as a DH, the reality is that Kubel is on pace to log about the same numbers of at-bats as he did in 2009, when he went 28-103-.300.
The OF who bears a striking resemblance to “Turtle” on Entourage is off to a slow start that includes a batting average just north of the Mendoza Line. If you make an offer for Kubel while pointing to a crowded OF/DH situation in Minnesota, Kubel’s owner may relinquish him for a fraction of his value if the right offer comes said owner's way.
Buy Low: Jason Bay - OF, New York Mets
The owner in your league that used a third or fourth round pick on Bay is either desperately holding out hope that Bay turns his season around soon, or is ready to listen to offers for the free-agent-to-be.
If the situation leans towards the latter, then make an offer for Bay, who is too good to play this poorly for much longer. At 31 years of age, Bay knows that this upcoming contract may be his last big free-agent payday.
Furthermore, Bay will receive some lineup protection from Carlos Beltran, who should return in about a month. With David Wright returning to form after a dismal 2009, the return of superstar Jose Reyes to the Mets’ lineup, and the emergence of talented rookie Ike Davis, Bay is bound to bounce back eventually.
Don't Touch With a 10 Foot Pole: Ben Sheets - Starting Pitcher, Oakland A's
General Manager Billy Beane’s reputation as a shrewd judge of talent who could field a competitive team with a small-market payroll took one on the chin with the ill-advised offseason acquisition of Sheets, who hadn’t pitched since he was a Brewer in 2008.
In spite of the fact that he currently sports a batting-practice fastball and a cement-mixer curveball, Sheets was signed to an unholy one-year, $10 million deal to be showcased in a mid-season trade a-la Matt Holliday-er, I mean, um, pitch in Oakland.
If anything, kudos to Sheets’ agent for pulling the wool over the eyes of the Athletics’ front office and scouts.
Oakland’s offense isn’t nearly as talented as Milwaukee’s was in 2008. The Coliseum may be more spacious than Miller Park, but the American League competition is much more stiff than the Senior Circuit, especially for a pitcher struggling to return to pre-injury form.
If you think you’re being savvy by buying low on the 31-year-old, an even savvier move would be to let Sheets’ owner continue to suffer before finally jettisoning the starter to the waiver wire.
Don't Touch With a 10 Foot Pole: Kerry Wood - RP, Cleveland Indians
At 32-years-old, it’s hard to call Kerry Wood washed up, especially considering there are closers ten years Wood’s senior still saving games in the majors.
But Wood is a brittle ballplayer who has missed significant chunks of time throughout his 12-year career, and is struggling in his minor league rehab assignment (he recently allowed six ER in 2/3 of an inning).
Even if Wood comes back to full health, his upside is limited as Cleveland is an inferior ballcub with many holes, and should provide few save opportunities as they battle the Royals for last place in the AL Central this year.
Even if you’re a die-hard Cubs fan who has a soft spot in your heart for Kerry Wood, do your fantasy team a favor and stay away.
Don't Touch With a 10 Foot Pole: Manny Ramirez - OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Not all is well in Dodgertown these days. Their owner, Frank McCourt, is going through a nasty, much-publicized divorce, the Dodgers are in last place in spite of a bloated payroll, and the General Manager Ned Colletti was forced to backpedal after calling out Matt Kemp for supposed defensive inadequacies.
The idyllic Dodger situation that Man-Ram waltzed into back in the summer of 2008 seems to be long-gone. Los Angeles won’t be in last place forever, but Ramirez can’t be expected to put up the same ridiculous numbers as he did throughout his prime.
His numbers were okay before he hit the disabled list with an injured calf, but Ramirez will be benched regularly to keep him fresh throughout the season.
As Manny turns 38 on May 30th, he shouldn’t be counted on to carry fantasy teams after all the injuries, suspensions, and controversy peppered throughout his Dodger career. He just isn’t worth the drama anymore.
Don't Touch With a 10 Foot Pole: Garrett Atkins - 1B/3B, Baltimore Orioles
The former UCLA Bruin went from being a talented thumper situated in the middle of the fearsome Rockies’ batting order, to one of the worst regulars in MLB in 2009. Not to be deterred by incompetence, Baltimore signed Atkins to a one-year deal.
Don’t make the same mistake the Oriole front office did by buying low on Atkins. He has seen huge drops in his production for a 30-year-old. Now that rookie Rhyne Hughes has started hitting well, Garrett has been relegated to a platoon situation where he face primarily lefties.