Fantasy baseball: Infielders to steal in a trade

Fantasy baseball: Infielders to steal in a trade
April 17, 2013, 2:45 pm
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When a player slumps for two weeks in June, nobody notices. When a player slumps for two weeks at the beginning of April, everyone notices and everyone overreacts.

Mike Trout was hitting .227 with one RBI five days ago. Owners who spent a first-round pick on him or paid a hefty price in an auction panicked, and I was able to acquire Trout in one league, straight-up, for Cole Hamels from an owner starved for pitching.

How, you may ask? Because narratives form once struggles start. The Trout narrative was that pitchers had caught up to him and he was in line for a regression. Five days later he’s hitting .300 with an .837 OPS.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other players who can be stolen right now because of early-season slumps:

C – Victor Martinez

It’s hard to quantify “hitting balls hard,” but Martinez has hit balls hard and been unrewarded for two weeks. He’s turned a corner, it appears, with five hits in his last 11 at-bats. For the first time all season, V-Mart is batting .200.

Martinez should be one of the top options at catcher moving forward. He bats fifth in the best lineup in baseball, and even if Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder drive in most of the runs before him, that duo gets on base so much that Martinez will have many opportunities of his own.

Martinez’s line drive rate is 21.4 percent, right in line with where it was from 2005-09, when he hit .303 with an .845 OPS.

The last full season V-Mart didn’t hit .300 was 2004. Seeing as you can probably acquire him for a lesser catcher and a mid-tier starting pitcher, you should pull the trigger immediately. Something like A.J. Pierzynski and C.J. Wilson should do the trick.

1B – Paul Konerko

Same story. Started slowly, picking things up now and plays at a deep position where his owner might not even need him. If Konerko’s owner needs pitching, offer him an Anibal Sanchez-type and that might be enough.

Sure, Konerko is getting older, as is Martinez. But Konerko was a .297 hitter with 31 homers per year from ages 33-36, so why should he be expected to fall off a cliff this year?

2B – Dan Uggla

He’s good for one or two hot streaks per year, but the rest of the season he’ll frustrate you with a low batting average and a ton of strikeouts.

But with Aaron Hill hitting the DL and players like Neil Walker and Rickie Weeks disappointing, go with the guy who has the longest track record of power.

In 10-team leagues or even some 12-teamers, Uggla is a free agent. But in deeper leagues he’s another guy you can get for next to nothing. Just offer his owner a pitcher slightly better than the best pitcher on the waiver wire and you’re golden.

SS – Asdrubal Cabrera, Andrelton Simmons

Both are off to painfully slow starts. Cabrera is hitting .128 with 15 strikeouts and Simmons just recently reached .200. But both are integral parts of their lineups and should come around at a very shallow position.

Cabrera hasn’t been moved from the two-hole in the Indians’ lineup, where he’s surrounded by Michael Bourn, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher. A switch-hitter in his prime with 20-plus home run power out of the shortstop position, players like Cabrera aren’t readily available. But he’s off to such an awful start that his owner may have already given up on him for someone like Jean Segura or Alexei Ramirez.

With Simmons, there’s no guarantee he reaches the .290 level he lived at in the minors, but he’ll play everyday in a very good NL lineup and will have more opportunities for counting stats than the Ruben Tejadas and Alcides Escobars of the world.

3B – Martin Prado

Everybody loves Prado on draft day because he’s eligible at 2B, 3B, SS and LF.

But Prado’s off to just a so-so start, batting .281 with a .772 OPS, and his owner might be regretting taking him so high because of his positional value. This is the time when the stats the player is giving you sinks in and starts to matter more than that player’s ability to fill in during future off-days.

Make a casual run at Prado. Don’t express great interest in Prado or his owner will start spitting the positional value game at you. Instead, start negotiations for another player and circle back to Prado a few hours later. You’ll need to part with a good player, but you’ll be getting a very solid hitter who will give you batting average and something like 90-100 runs scored.

For Prado, you’ll probably have to give up a decent power hitter, maybe an outfielder, or a Max Scherzer-type starting pitcher. But if you need the offense and can spare the pitching, it’ll be absolutely worth it.