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Stock Watch: AL Central First Basemen and the Back of the Braves' Rotation

As the season goes on, we've started to sort out which hot and cold starts we believe in. Most of the unbelievable ones have already regressed to the mean (think Justin Upton or Matt Moore), while others are showing signs that their new levels of production might be real, for better or worse. That said, there are still plenty of values to trade for, and plenty of chances to sell on players likely to still regress. But you better get it done quickly, because your trade offers will probably have to get fairer and fairer as the season goes on....

Trade For

Felix Hernandez just endured a brutal game, wherein he gave up seven consecutive hits and lost a seven-run lead. To the Angels. Any Felix owner rightfully expects greatness every time the King pitches, and there's a chance his value is down just a touch after a bad outing like that. It's not so much that you'll get an amazing deal for him from most owners--just a slight discount. If you were already looking to acquire an ace, though, he might be the one to get, and this is the time to get him.

I was not a huge proponent of Andrew McCutchen before the season started, largely thanks to his declining steals numbers and low SB%. I didn't see him as a big speed threat anymore, but I liked the way his power had been increasing over time. Reality hasn't matched my predictions, or McCutchen's recent trends: he has already stolen 15 bases (three-quarters of his 2012 total) and has been caught just four times, but the power has been a big disappointment, as he's hit only seven homers through two and a half months. Not exactly what owners were looking for with their first-round pick.

McCutchen's strikeout rate is down noticeably, and his walk rate is down a little, so he's putting the ball into play more often. He's hitting slightly fewer fly balls than last year, but the biggest difference is in his HR/FB rate: after spiking at 19.4% last year, it's down to his 2009-2010 levels, at 8.6%. While his increased contact is probably causing part of his decrease in homers, it's worth noting that he only had a handful more longballs last year at this point of the season (he didn't hit any last April). Perhaps his power heats up with the weather. Either way, a powered-down McCutchen is still a strong fantasy asset; the chance that he reclaims even some of that power makes him a great trade target.

If your first baseman plays in the AL Central, chances are you've been pretty disappointed with his production. Unless he plays for the Tigers. Three of them make good trade targets: Billy Butler, Nick Swisher, and Paul Konerko. Butler introduced a lot of new power last year, but it has disappeared so far this year, with just five homers. His average is down too, but his OBP and walks are actually up. Maybe he isn't getting any pitches to hit in the moribund Kansas City lineup, but even a slight improvement in his power could vault him to among the top first basemen in baseball again. Swisher has had a rough year in many ways, but his OBP is still .100 points better than his average. Having been hampered by injuries, but keeping most of his batted ball profile intact, he seems like a good candidate to improve over the course of the year. Konerko should command the least trade value of the three, as his season has mirrored the White Sox's overall offense. He's actually produce negative WAR on the season, and the gamble is basically that the 33-year-old isn't completely done. The upside is worth a shot, but don't give large amounts for him.

Trade Away

Carlos Gonzalez has been pretty much the best player in the National League this year. Wherever you drafted him, he's been the best player on your team. He's already earned the second highest WAR total of his career and he's one homer away from matching his season total from last year, in just barely over half as many games. So trade him already. 

Why? Well, there's certainly the chance that he keeps this up and wins the NL MVP for his greatness. Or, he could do what he always does, and hit the DL for some significant portion of the season. Don't sell him in desperation; there's no reason you shouldn't hold out for a huge return, but it's hard to think of him without seeing a little clock over his head, counting down to the next injury. Unlike his similarly injury-prone teammate Troy Tulowitzki, his production is replaceable in the outfield, so you're better off mitigating your risk and dealing him for several good-to-great players. If he stays healthy all season, maybe you'll regret the deal and maybe not. But if he gets injured, you'll really regret not making a move.

Jean Segura is setting the world on fire right now, with five-category production. The steals look completely real, and if you're relying on him for your team's speed, don't send him packing. The homers, however, aren't so believable: of his 10, eight are classified as Just Enough by ESPN's HitTracker. He's certainly one of the best shortstops in baseball...but he's not this good. 

Segura's Brew Crew teammate Yovani Gallardo has had a pretty miserable year, but he's strung together three good starts in a row. In fact, he hasn't allowed an earned run in those starts. The trouble is, two of those starts were against the worst teams in baseball. Sure, one came against Cincinnati, but it's hard to get too excited over shutting down the Astros and Marlins. His next start is scheduled against the Cubs, so he's got a good shot at making it four good ones in a row. Wait till then, and deal him. Maybe he's righted the ship and ready to produce like the inconsistently dominant strikeout machine he was the last couple years, but he isn't showing real signs of that yet. 

Usually, when we say a team has a "good problem," it's not a problem at all. For the Braves and the return of Brandon Beachy, that's not really the case. They haven't indicated what they'll do with him when he's ready to return, and he may even start out in the bullpen. Or Julio Teheran or Kris Medlen may get sent to the 'pen, with a lower probability that Paul Maholm or Tim Hudson get removed. Without knowing the Braves' solution to their problem mine is this: trade away Beachy, Teheran, or Medlen if you've got 'em. You might get full value for the pitcher, when each has some unknown probability of having his value reduced to basically zero.

Pick Up

When RotoAuthority mentioned on Facebook that Roy Oswalt had been signed by the Rockies, the response was unenthused, to say the least. I can't say I blame anyone for their lack of excitement over that prospect, but Oswalt put the fantasy world on notice yesterday by striking out 11 Nationals in his Colorado debut. Does that mean he's automatically the old Oswalt? Obviously not, but you still couldn't have gotten much better of a first outing. He's well worth a speculative add.

Maybe Esmil Rogers is just excited to pitch in Rogers Centre, but he appears to have turned a real corner in his career with the Blue Jays. His improved slider should get the credit for his success, and there's a good chance that much of it is sustainable. He's got more upside than most free agent starters.

Cody Ross was a productive outfielder last year, but this year he's been a real disappointment, even since returning from injury. After a three-hour visit to the eye doctor the other day, Ross is claiming that the blurred vision that plagued his season is cleared up. He punctuated that by hitting a homer against the Marlins. If the vision was his main problem, he could be in line for a big improvement. 




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