Fantasy Baseball: Matt Kemp and 10 Players to Sell High
As a relatively avid fantasy baseball player, I hate the concept of selling high.
Wait, let me correct that—selling high makes me extremely anxious and subject to immediate regret. What if I was wrong about [Player X]? What if he's for real?
Take Jose Bautista from last year. Say you had tried to sell high on him by the All-Star Break—which, considering he had more home runs at that point (24) than he did by the end of any previous season, would have made all the sense in the world.
But you would have been sorely disappointed. Bautista actually had a better second half, hitting 30 home runs, knocking in 68 and batting .287 (compared to a .237 first-half average).
To be brutally honest, you can never be sure you're making the right decision when you choose to sell high on a player—unless you are blessed with psychic powers, in which case I kindly suggest you invest in more meaningful activities than fantasy baseball (you know, like the lottery).
That being said, there are certain signs you can look for in a player that indicate that he may have reached his peak value for the season. Injury history, first- and second-half splits and possible trades that may happen in real life can all determine the direction in which a player's season will head.
Here are 10 players who, for one reason or another, you may want to consider moving in order to maximize their value.
Note: This advice should not be considered for fantasy keeper leagues—this speculation focuses strictly on the 2011 season. All statistics are as of June 13, 2011 and are courtesy of baseballreference.com.
1. Lance Berkman, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
As a New York Yankees fan who watched Lance Berkman perform pitifully in his 37-game stint with the Bronx Bombers last year, I still question what it was that urged me to select "Big Puma" on draft day.
Yet, I've been pleasantly surprised: Berkman has endured a remarkable revival in the National League Central, hitting .317 with 16 home runs and 46 runs batted in so far in 2011.
But I don't expect it to last.
Berkman's numbers have steadily dropped over the past few seasons, as would be expected of any player coming out of his prime. And while I, by no means, think he is done as a substantial force in the Cardinals' lineup, it seems incredibly unlikely for him to keep up this pace over the course of the next three-and-a-half months.
Not to mention, Berkman has already been sidelined once this year by a wrist injury he suffered after diving for a ball in the outfield. Though a historically durable player, Berkman is 35 now and is forced to play defense every day he's in the lineup. Don't be surprised if he misses more time at some point during the rest of the season.
2. Dan Haren, SP, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
I've always liked Dan Haren, and I vehemently believe he's been one of the most underrated pitchers of the past decade. (Not to mention a player with one of the most underrated homophone names, for all you bird-lovers out there.)
He received some due attention this season after compiling a 4-1 record with a 1.23 earned run average after April, but he has since cooled off. He currently sports a still-respectable 6-4 record with a very respectable 2.54 ERA.
The problem is, Haren is notoriously weaker in the second half of the season. His career ERA in the second half is 0.86 runs higher than in the first half, and he's given up only three fewer home runs in 26 fewer starts.
In other words, you may have been best off selling him high at the end of April.
3. Matt Joyce, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Joyce has whatever Dan Haren's got, for he has compiled weaker second-half statistics as well, albeit in a smaller sample size.
In 419 first-half plate appearances, Joyce is hitting .283 with 23 home runs and a .559 slugging percentage. In 383 second-half plate appearances, he has hit .250 with 12 home runs and a .457 slugging percentage.
Could this be a coincidence, or an indication that the young Joyce (who is only in his fourth big-league season) is still getting used to the long 162-game grind? Perhaps.
But, personally, I just don't trust Joyce yet. I don't believe he's the .328 hitter he is now. Maybe it's because he doesn't have a track record. Maybe it's because he's struck out almost twice as many times as he's walked this season. Maybe it's because he was once traded for Edwin Jackson. But I don't trust him.
4. Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Mets
This has nothing to do with fantasy baseball, but I love how Carlos Beltran's BaseballReference.com page has a message from sponsor "Section 518" stating: "Your boss may not appreciate you, but Mets fans do." Glad to see they're not still haunted by that 2006 Adam Wainwright curveball.
Anyway, Beltran's had about as good a season as Mets fans and fantasy owners could have hoped. He's hitting .282 with nine home runs and a league-leading 20 doubles.
But there is just way too much uncertainty surrounding him to not question whether he has reached his peak value for the season.
For one thing, Beltran has exhibited fragility that only tissue paper could challenge over the past couple of seasons. After playing in 161 games in 2008, Beltran failed to meet that number in 2009 and 2010 combined.
Even if he is healthy now (and whether he continues to be is a huge question mark), his real-life team may be moving him as well. (If you live anywhere near New York, you might have heard one or two rumors about it already.)
Although this could potentially be a good thing for Beltran's fantasy value—that is, if he gets traded to an American League team to become a full-time designated hitter—he could just as easily wind up back in center field or in a platoon situation. It may just so happen that Beltran continues his strong season, but with so many question marks, your best bet would be to cut ties now.
5. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Talking about injuries? I'll see your Carlos Beltran and raise you Rickie Weeks.
Before last year, Weeks had never played more than 129 games in a season. He has hurt his wrist, his knee, his hand and probably his pride somewhere along the line. It really is a shame because, year after year, analysts (for both regular and fantasy baseball) rave about how much potential he has.
He's finally started to show it, starting with last year's 29-home run season and continuing into a strong start in 2011. He currently has 12 bombs and seven stolen bases to go along with a .277 batting average.
You could hope he'll stay healthy, but the risk/reward ratio is shifted drastically towards the risk direction. I think even he'd understand if you tried to move him.
6. Brandon League, RP, Seattle Mariners
I know, I know. It's hard to trade the American League leader in saves, especially when he rocks such kickin' eyewear.
But, as a fellow Brandon League owner, I'm reminded of the week in early May in which he took the loss in four straight appearances, blowing the save in three of them. Now, I happen to have had bad luck with relievers this year (I also drafted Joe Nathan and Ryan Franklin...sigh), but this was pretty ridiculous.
Though it's unlikely League will suffer a meltdown like that again, it just goes to show you how unreliable relievers can be, unless their name rhymes with "Bariano Nivera." We don't even know how much longer League will be the closer, although David Aardsma has done everything he can this season to keep him in the role.
Originally rehabbing from hip surgery, Aardsma tore a ligament in his right elbow last month, prolonging his return. So although League appears secure in the closer's spot for now, don't be surprised if the Mariners trade him later on, once they make their inevitable fall out of contention (I'll admit, I was surprised to see that they are only two games out of first).
If League is traded, it will likely be to a team looking for a set-up man, thereby depleting his primary fantasy value.
7. Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
I hate guys like Matt Kemp. He plays center field for one of the most historic baseball franchises in history, he gets to live in Los Angeles, he's dated Rihanna...and he can't even be a guy to rely on in fantasy baseball?
Yes, I know Kemp is having an MVP-type year, batting .332 with a league-leading 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases to boot. So why don't I trust him?
Well, besides my not-so-secret jealousy of his great fortune, it's hard to shake the memories of 2010, when Kemp looked absolutely lost. Sure, he hit a career-best 28 home runs, but it was accompanied by an ugly .249 batting average and 170 strikeouts.
I don't know how many times big-name players have had career-worst seasons followed by career-best, but it can't be that high a number, can it?
8. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Cleveland Indians
As long as we've started delving into a list of my personal grudges, let's talk about Asdrubal Cabrera.
I drafted Cabrera last year, only to see him break his forearm a few weeks into the season and force me to cut ties with him. I know it wasn't his fault, but I was completely discouraged from selecting him this year. It's not like I thought he'd break his forearm again, but there was just a mental obstacle to overcome there.
So, of course, Cabrera is having the season of his life now, hitting .301 with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs. Just one year too late...
But anyway, I would still sell high on Cabrera, for two main reasons. One, the 12 home runs is going to mislead a lot of potential buyers. I don't know how many analysts out there have Asdrubal Cabrera down for 30 home runs this year, but I'm guessing I can count them on one hand. He only hit 18 home runs over the previous four seasons, for crying out loud!
Second, shortstop is a pretty thin position in fantasy. Unless you own Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez, you probably aren't relying on your shortstop for much more than a decent batting average and some stolen bases. You could probably get a decent upgrade at another position if you dangle Cabrera, but that really depends on the rest of your roster.
9. Jose Reyes, SS, New York Mets
Jose Reyes, like his teammate Carlos Beltran, has also been the subject of (real life) trade rumors. Like Beltran, he has also had a recent injury history. Like Beltran, he should be traded (in fantasy) in the near future in order to maximize his value.
Personally, I don't think Reyes will be traded by the Mets. But I do wonder how motivated he'll be as the season goes on, to maintain his stellar play.
And it has been pretty stellar—a league-leading .342 batting average, 20 stolen bases, and a .910 OPS. Whew.
The Mets, though creeping around .500, are having another sub-par year, amidst financial woes and internal turmoil. Yes, Reyes is in a walk year and will likely want his resume to be as strong as possible in order to earn a big contract, from the Mets or whomever else, during the offseason.
But Reyes is also an emotional player. He hasn't proven how well he can handle those emotions (like teammate David Wright), and I wonder what kind of toll another ho-hum season in Queens (with the media down your throat every day) will have on him.
This is pure speculation, of course, with no statistics to back it up. So take from it what you will. But Reyes would certainly get you plenty in return, so if you do try to trade him, milk him for all he's worth.
10. Alexi Ogando, SP, Texas Rangers
Ah, the first-year starter off to a red-hot start. Always a tricky situation, this is.
On the one hand, you might be tempted to ride him for as long as he stays hot, then try to trade him as soon as you see any sign of a regression. That's certainly a safe option.
And Ogando has been impressive—7-0 with a 2.10 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
But I would try to trade him sooner rather than later, if for no other reason than he's bound to be given an innings cap at some point during the season. To be fair, the Rangers reported earlier this year that Ogando would not, in fact, be given an innings limit.
But with Ogando already doubling his innings output from last season, and the Rangers primed to defend their American League pennant, I have a hard time believing they'll take a chance at tiring Ogando's arm. Even if he is 27 years old, and even if the Rangers are partially owned by Nolan Ryan—who has shown he doesn't care for precautionary measures when it comes to pitchers—I believe Texas will take care of their new pseudo-ace.
Come August, you don't want to be caught with one of your frontline starters shut down for the rest of the season, so try to move him now to avoid that unfavorable predicament.
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