The All-Star break is nearly upon us, marking the last window in which fantasy owners can trade their way into contention. League trade deadlines are looming and fantasy football is breathing heavily down our necks. And while I enjoy fantasy football as much as the next guy, it always seems to creep up a little too fast, much like a Thanksgiving dinner in August. Turkey and gravy are delicious at any time of year, but summer is for soft serve -- and baseball.
So, let's talk trade:
• Alex Rodriguez, Yankees: Most reports indicate A-Rod will return in three weeks, making this the perfect time to cast a line to the owner stashing him in your league. Given his recent injury history, the tension in the Bronx and the murmurs of an impending suspension, A-Rod will likely come very cheap. Try to forget the GM squabbles or the fact that Yankees fans want to see him shipped out of New York and focus instead on the player who hit .272 with 18 homers and 13 steals in 122 regular-season games last year. In other words, focus on the potential numbers, not the name. A-Rod is a besmirched commodity, but a potentially valuable one in fantasy.
• Raul Ibanez, Mariners: Don't be like the Yankees. Don't cast off a cheap power option because he's old enough to be your father -- or the same age as the GM. A player who has 22 homers and 51 RBI through 69 games is a player with 22 homers and 51 RBI through 69 games, regardless of age. His average doesn't help, but it also doesn't hinder. And he's going to get plenty of run in a Seattle lineup thirsty for production.
• Bud Norris, Astros: The MLB trade deadline is near, and Norris is at the center of many rumors. Norris, 28, has enviable numbers this season (3.68 ERA, 81 Ks in 114 IP) and could fetch a sizable return to help feed the Astros' rebuilding efforts. If he's traded to a contender, Norris could add a few more wins to his stat totals. Get in now while the uncertainty of his situation keeps his price reasonable.
• Closers, Diamondbacks: By closers, we mean all of them: J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, David Hernandez. Anyone who has recorded a save or has tried to record a save for Arizona this season should be sent packing to the owner in your league who needs saves the most. These pitchers can't be trusted. Bell has mastered the art of the ratio-destroying save. Putz has as many blown saves as successful ones. And Hernandez (though used sparingly in the role) has allowed 21 runs in 40.1 innings of work -- not "lights-out" production in any book. Brad Ziegler added his name to that honor roll recently, and while he has been the best of the bunch, there aren't a bushel of saves up his middle reliever's sleeve.
• Zack Wheeler, Mets: Every fantasy owner loves prospecting. And with Wheeler now in the rotation for a Mets team running out the season until 2014, every owner who gambled on the young phenom can bask in the riches of a job well done. That's why it's time to deal him. Unlike Matt Harvey, Wheeler still needs some polishing, as he showed in some iffy outings in Las Vegas. The Mets can afford to have him work out those issues in the bigs because they're not playing for this year. If he gets hammered by the White Sox or the Nats, big deal; it's all part of the learning process. But that process can sink you in fantasy. Sell on Wheeler's reputation, and his sterling start against a reeling Giants team, and buy on a less-heralded veteran's performance.
• Justin Verlander, Tigers: For two consecutive weeks, the Tigers' ace has been the most traded player in fantasy. Stop it, people. Just stop. Yes, he's given up four or more earned runs in three of his last five starts. But look what happened: His ERA rose to an unsightly 3.71. Woe be unto the owners who have struggled to find a place on their fantasy teams for his 122 strikeouts in 119 innings, or sneered at the measly nine wins he has provided. Few players are able to avoid rough patches. Ride out this slump knowing Verlander is still the ace of a team headed for another deep playoff run.