July 29, 2009

The MLB trade deadline is Friday and usual rules still apply: Most teams are looking for pitching. The biggest prize on the market is Toronto starter Roy Halladay. The Phillies and Blue Jays were burning up the phone lines but could never agree to a deal. Count me among those that think his price will be too steep and that Halladay will stay put. I wonder why the Red Sox haven't made a bigger play for the Toronto ace -- they have the chips to deal for him without depleting their major league roster. Halladay's fantasy value doesn't change much if traded, however. He's already one of the best pitchers so there is not that much upside left.

Since the advent of the wild card in 1997, few teams are clearly out of the race when the trade deadline rolls around. That increases the number of buyers and makes it a seller's market. That's one reason why Toronto is testing the market for Halladay.

Midseason trades can dramatically alter a player's fantasy value. Matt Holliday is a perfect example. He left Oakland's notorious pitcher's park, for Busch Stadium, went from a bad team to a good team and went from hitting behind Scott Hairston to hitting behind Albert Pujols.

Let's look at some of the names kicking around in trade rumors. Players on the block that can improve their fortunes, like Holliday, are for better. Players that would be leaving a good situation for a potentially inferior one are for worse.

Jarrod Washburn, SP, Mariners: After Halladay and Cliff Lee (who went to Philly on Wednesday), the starting pitcher market drops off precipitously. The next tier includes guys like Washburn and Brad Penny. Washburn's name has been floated in trade talks for nearly a year. This season Washburn's stats are impressive (8-6, 2.71 ERA, 1.06 WHIP) which puts him at peak market value. Now is the time for Seattle to cash him in. A move to a contender (e.g., Phillies, Yankees) will help.

J.A. Happ, SP, Phillies: The 26-year old southpaw finally got tagged with a loss, dropping his record to 7-1. The rest of Happ's line is pretty good too: a 2.97 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP and 71 Ks in 100 innings. Happ's home/away splits are severe, however: a 1.57 ERA and 0.89 WHIP on the road versus a 4.47 ERA and 1.49 WHIP at Citizens Bank Park. If Happ is traded he escapes a very difficult home field. Happ's name figures prominently in virtually every Philadelphia trade rumor -- though with the Phillies having dealt for Lee on Wednesday, a move seems more and more unlikely.

Adam Dunn, OF, Josh Willingham, OF and Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: Washington is a major-league high 27 games out of first place. They have to do something before the trade deadline. They missed a chance with Johnson earlier in the season. They should have shopped him to the Mets after Carlos Delgado went down. Now the Mets have all but dropped out of the race. Willingham, 30, is red-hot and has his average up to an improbable .298 and his OPS to 1.007. They should trade him right away, before this hot streak ends. As for Dunn, the Nationals have publicly stated they intend to retain him. A terrible fielder, Dunn would be better off as a DH. Both Dunn and Willingham have much better stats away from the cavernous Nationals Park. A trade of either one would be doing them a big favor.

Brad Penny, SP, Red Sox: Penny is 7-4 for Boston, but the rest of his stats will hurt you in the fantasy standings: 4.71 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and only 69 Ks. Penny's stats might get a lift if he switches leagues, but he is still only a marginal fantasy play.

Clay Buchholz, SP, Red Sox: The 24-year phenom is part of every Bosox trade rumor, from Halladay to Victor Martinez. I think he stays in Boston, but if he is dealt, it will be a fantasy downgrade. Buchholz would go from one of the best teams in baseball to an also-ran.

Chad Qualls, RP, Diamondbacks: Arizona is 19-and-a-half games behind the Dodgers in the NL West -- clearly sellers. It makes sense to shop Qualls, especially with a replacement available. Jon Rauch would step into the closer role if a deal is consummated. Qualls would become a setup man for whatever contender acquires him, obliterating his fantasy value.

George Sherrill, RP, Orioles: Sherrill, like Qualls, is a closer for a team hopelessly out of contention. Sherrill has better numbers: 20 vs. 18 saves, a 2.45 ERA vs. 3.54 for Qualls. Sherrill is 32, however, which is two years older than Qualls. Teams striking out in the hunt for a starter could shore up their bullpen instead with a Qualls or a Sherrill -- that's not good for their fantasy owners.

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