There's nothing like the anticipation of a free meal on the job. You work hard and you get paid, but when you can bank that little extra in the form of free food, it's a bonus that makes it all worthwhile. Until, of course, the food comes, and you realize some desk jockey has ordered salad on the pizza. Dagger, day ruined. You could try to make up for it with an afternoon doughnut run, but then you'd feel like one of those prize pigs at the country fair who are too fat to move.
It's a little like shelling out $14 for a closer in an NL-only auction league, then finding out within hours that he's lost his job. Thanks for the salad pizza, John Axford. No, I don't need a slice; you take it all. Come back to me when you've figured out how to order a damn pepperoni pie.
But is it time to cut Axford loose? Let's take a look at this week's trade market:
? David Freese, Cardinals: There are more high-wattage names out there, but so many of the options at third base bring uncertainty. In contrast, Freese's steady-if-unspectacular production provides a valuable base for any fantasy team. He won't win you a week by himself, but he'll keep you in the hunt. He's struggled to stay healthy, but the fact that he just came off the disabled list (back pain) could make him a relatively affordable trade target. It's nice not to have to deal with headaches up and down the lineup. Freese can be plugged into a spot and left alone to hit around .300, belt 20 homers and drive in 80 runs. Those may not be centerfold numbers, but they're still pretty easy on the eyes.
? Torii Hunter, Tigers: Come for the .277 career batting average, stay for the 17 homers. Hunter has not been a fantasy difference maker in some time, and at age 37, he isn't likely to be one this season, either. But the average, runs total, power and production aren't a bad fit in the outfield or in a utility role. Every team needs its stars, but you have to back them up with players who won't hurt you and will keep the machine humming. Hunter should be able to do that in a lineup that has him hitting after Austin Jackson and in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
? John Buck, Mets: This is a classic sell-high scenario that asks you to consider which John Buck you believe in: the one hitting .407 with four homers, 14 RBI and a 1.162 OPS, or the one who is a career .236 hitter with 12 homers, 43 RBI and a .711 OPS on average in each of his previous nine seasons? We have as soft a spot in our hearts for the Mets as anyone, but the idea that Buck has found the Fountain of Buster Posey at age 32 is pretty far-fetched. Find the Mets fan in your league who's desperate for a catcher and peddle Buck while his price is at an all-time high. Be sure to emphasize the 12-homer average; that's not an easy figure to come by among backstops.
? Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians: In the unlikely event that you drafted Jimenez hoping a union with Terry Francona would revive the pitcher we saw in Colorado, you can give up that dream. The guy who went 56-45 with a 3.36 ERA while averaging almost six strikeouts per game is a figure of the past. Indians fans have come to know and loathe the man who is 13-22 with a hearty 5.39 ERA in three seasons with Cleveland. Oh, and there's also a 1.565 WHIP to leave you cold at night. The Clevelander in me hopes in some dark recess of my mind that Jimenez will rediscover his talent, but that same Clevelander knows that if it looks like a sports disaster, it is one.
? John Axford, Brewers: Before you ask if I'm sleep-deprived (I am), drunk (not at this point, but we haven't reached the end of the column yet) or just stupid (uh, better ask the wife after she sees the credit card bill with the vintage Cavs pennant on it), let me argue for why it's worth holding on to the deposed Brewers closer. First, there is no trade market for Axford. How could there be for a pitcher with a 24.30 ERA (that's not a misprint) and a 3.30 WHIP? Second, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has said that the plan is to let Axford rediscover how to get major leaguers out in middle relief before reinserting him as the closer, and I don't get the sense that Roenicke is selling a lie. He thought enough of Axford to have a meeting with him before he announced what he would do this season, and he followed the same plan last year, so it's hard to imagine him stabbing Axford like that. Finally, Jim Henderson is no superstar-in-waiting. He's a 30-year-old guy who is in the right place at the right time and has a chance to close -- a lot like the man he's replacing. Assuming you can stash an extra pitcher who should be nowhere near a starting lineup, keep Axford; your saves category will thank you later.
? Cameron Maybin, Padres: More than a few pundits warned of Maybin's decline. After his 2-for-20 start at the plate, it looks like those doubters may be right. But if you have the room on your roster, you should keep Maybin for one reason: That type of speed isn't easily found on the waiver wire. Plus, no Padre is hitting; San Diego's .224 team batting average is worse than all but three other teams' marks. Further, Chase Headley's absence deprives the lineup of its one reliable threat. It's early, and many players struggle out of the gate. Maybin shouldn't get a lot of wiggle room, but his 30-steal potential makes him worth stashing for another week or two.