In fantasy baseball, there are times where you can anticipate a developing trade market for a specific player. You can help that market along, and even make it appear more robust, by putting the player’s name out there in trade discussions a week or two before he really starts to gain traction. This requires you to bet on the player in question holding up his end of the bargain by producing at a level that makes him attractive on the open market. If you stoke the trade fires in advance, and the player does what you’ve bet on him to do, you suddenly have a trade market that could allow you to sell at an inflated price.
Carlos Gonzalez is already doing his part to make himself a valuable trade piece. He ran his hitting streak up to nine games on Tuesday by going 3-for-5 with a homer in a win over the Reds. Gonzalez is 19-for-37 with five bombs, two doubles, one triple and nine RBI during the streak, running his season slash line to .312/.354/.533 in the process. He suffered through a dreadful three weeks to start May before turning things around at the end of the month, which depressed his trade value after he was one of the best hitters in the league in April.
This streak wasn’t hard to see coming, and there’s reason to believe he’ll be able to keep it rolling through the middle of June. While Gonzalez began the streak on the road, it was in advance of the Rockies playing 20 of 32 games at home. Gonzalez is a career .323/.380/.603 hitter in the thin air at Coors Field, making him one of the most dangerous home-park hitters in the majors. Indeed in the five Coors Field games during Gonzalez’s hitting streak, he’s 8-for-16 with three of his four homers and five of his seven RBI.
Nothing is guaranteed in baseball, but betting on Gonzalez to rake at Coors Field is about as close as it gets. The Rockies play two more games against the Reds at home before going on the road for series with the Padres and Dodgers. They’ll then play 13 of their remaining 19 games in June at home, setting up Gonzalez to be one of the league’s best hitters during the first true month of summer. With all those upcoming games at Coors, now is the time to start creating the Gonzalez trade market.
This is not to say you should be trying to sell Gonzalez at all costs. He should finish the season as a top-20 outfielder, but it’s worth noting that he has some work to do to get to that level in 2016. That’s good news for anyone with Gonzalez on their roster. Still, if Gonzalez hits as he typically does at Coors over the next few weeks, there’s a good chance you could turn him into a top-10 outfielder, or something commensurate to that value at another position. That makes now the time to alert the other owners in your league, especially those you might be in the market for a power bat, to how well Gonzalez is swinging it as June begins. One of the streakiest players in baseball is set to continue a good run that will make him appear more valuable than he actually is, and if you’ve created a competitive market for him, you can take advantage.
Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox
Before we get into why now might be a good time to buy Abreu, let’s get one thing straight. He has been bad this year, and luck has little, if anything, to do with it. There is no shortage of stats that should have his owners, and White Sox fans, on edge, but the one that jumps out most obviously is his 11.3% HR/FB ratio. Last year, that would have put him in the same neighborhood as Brett Gardner and Adam Eaton, which aren’t typically names that come to mind when you’re thinking of sluggers. Abreu’s HR/FB ratio in his rookie year was 26.9%, and last year it was 19.7%. This isn’t simply the case of the oddities of baseball getting the better of him for two months. He is earning every bit of his poor performance.
Having said all that, you’re not going to get many chances to buy a player coming off a two-year run of hitting .303/.364/.510 with an average of 33 homers and 104 RBI at a discount. That’s exactly what you’re getting with Abreu. This is a calculated risk worth taking in a lot of situations, though it is more designed for an owner who is looking up at their league after the first two months of the season.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
Think of this as the luxury version of trading for Abreu. Like the White Sox first baseman, there are real, substantive red flags surrounding Stanton’s performance this year. Stanton has a bit longer of a track record, but he also has an injury history that he’s adding to at the moment. Stanton hasn’t played for a week because of soreness in his right side, and while it isn’t expected to be a serious injury, anything that piles onto his already checkered history is troubling. Understand what you’re getting into if you try to trade for Stanton. He may be hitting just .214 with a .326 OBP, but he is still one of the premier power hitters in baseball. His owner won’t, and should not, be selling him at a discount. Previously, however, it would have been nearly impossible to pry Stanton away from his owner. After the Miami rightfielder has shown some real kinks in his armor this season, you’ll have a chance if you bring a competitive offer to the table.
Corey Kluber, SP, Indians
Is it possible that this is what Kluber is? A high-strikeout, sometimes-dominant pitcher who is just a touch too inconsistent to be considered a true fantasy ace? Based on his production in three of the last four years, which happen to be the seasons in which he didn’t win the AL Cy Young, it would appear so. Kluber is excellent, and likely a top-15 starting pitcher. He’s getting more ground balls than ever this season, which might lead to more singles, but will undoubtedly lead to fewer homers. You should only be thinking of dealing Kluber if you’re overwhelmingly strong on the mound and if you can get high-level talent in return. What we have learned, however, is that he’s not in the same class as guys like Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez, despite the fact that his market price could bring you the same type of return that those hurlers would warrant. If you can find someone to treat him like a bona fide fantasy ace, that’s a trade you sould be willing to make.
Trevor Story, SS, Rockies
Story was the subject of our first two Buy, Sell or Hold columns of the season because, back then, he was one of the most interesting potential sell-high cases we had seen in fantasy baseball in a long time. Predictably, Story’s production tapered off significantly after the first three weeks of the season, but he remains the No. 5 shortstop in standard 5x5 leagues, and he’s tied for fifth in the league in home runs. The same schedule-based bump looming for Carlos Gonzalez should be at play for Story. He’s hitting .264/.337/.586 at home, compared with .265/.308/.566 on the road, so he, too, will enjoy the Rockies schedule over the next few weeks. He has enough power, and the right environment, to still be a top-10 shortstop from this point forward, so you should only be selling him if you have a viable second option at what remains a shallow position. If you do have another reliable shortstop you can turn to, and Story starts to pick it up again at Coors Field through the middle of June, you’ll have another opportunity to do what you should have done two months ago.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox
By its very nature, the Buy, Sell or Hold Committee has to mostly look at players who could be on the move. That means it often misses the opportunity to appreciate when a player turns into a star. Frequently, the BSH Committee has to let that go by, but that’s not going to be the case with Bogaerts. The majors has experienced an influx of talent at the shortstop position over the last few seasons, and Bogaerts is making the case that he’s the best of them all. He leads the majors in hits with 76, the AL in batting average at .350, and is one of 10 players with a slash line north of .300/.400/.500. What’s more remarkable is that, at 23 years old, it would be a letdown if Bogaerts weren’t still getting better.
Aaron Nola, Phillies
It’s a mortal lock that you will eventually read something this season that wonders whether or not Nola can hold up all the way through September. We can promise you that it will not be here. Any column that presupposes Nola will wear down in his first full MLB season ignores the fact that he threw 187 innings between Double A, Triple A and the majors last year. Nola held up just fine throwing that many innings in his age-22 season. He had a regular workload in spring training, started the year in the Philadelphia rotation, and has been one of the breakout stars of the first two months of the season. Not only did Nola capably throw 187 innings last year, the heavy workload apparently did not place on strain on him at the beginning of this year. It’s fine if you get a deal for Nola that’s too good to pass up, but don’t assume his first full major league season will eventually be too much for him to handle. He has already proven that the workload shouldn’t be an issue.