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Stock Watch: April's Finest

We always think we know something after a month. We think it's enough time. It feels like enough time to know, if we just regress things back from their extremes who's improved and who's toast. Take Charlie Blackmon, for instance: weknow he's not the best player in baseball--but don't we also know that he's at least good? Surely, he's got to be good to put up a month like this. Got to be. Right?

Of course, seasoned baseball fans and statheads alike will tell you that we don't really know that much after April passes. Some hot starts go the way of Chris Shelton--and some follow Chris Davis. It's impossible to know.

Oh well, because anyone who's played more than a season worth of fantasy knows you can't stand pat just because you can't be sure. I'm not saying you should go out and make a bunch of rash trades...but it's no longer too early to make a move.

Today, we'll take a look at some of the players around baseball off to the hottest starts to determine whether they're a value play going forward. Keep in mind, it's not a straightforward will-he-stay-hot-or-come-back-to-earth deal--it's about the likely difference between each player's future performance, and how your leaguemates are likely to evaluate it themselves. Sometimes it makes sense to deal away someone off to a great start--and sometimes that's just who you need to trade for.

A final note on trading before the meat of this article: a lot of trade offers get bandied around in hopes of making that great steal of a trade at the beginning of the season that rockets you up the standings and sinks one of your unsuspecting competitors. The thing is, such trade offers rarely bring real fruit.

I'm fine with making a trade that's so beneficial that it hurts my trading partner, but those are tough to pull off and usually the result of luck (like the time I traded away Emilio Bonifacio less than a week before he hit the DL for two or three months), or the result of another owner making a stupid offer (like the time I got offered Andrew McCutchen for Chris Carter...and it turned out to be the owner's kid messing around). So let stupidity come to you and make reasonable offers if you want to make a deal, and if that means improving someone else's team at the same time as yours cool: you still improve relative to ten more teams.

Trade Targets

Albert Pujols was a first round pick not too long ago. How shocking is it that he's hitting like one now? My thinking is his health was the big question going into the season, and he looks pretty healthy to me. If his owner is feeling surprised by his production, he might be a good player to target. He won't be cheap, but he might be cheaper than he should be.

Melky Cabrera is another "prove yourself" guy, as a lot of today's trade targets are. Well, he's looking pretty well proved that he's more than a PED creation, and that he's healthy. Like Pujols, he is a good player to target if his owner is a skeptic.

Dee Gordon went from waiver wire pickup to trade target? Yup. The speed is real and so is the playing time. The fact that he wasn't drafted will only keep his price down for so long. It'll go up as his owners start to depend on his steals.

Justin Morneau may not really be back to his elite old ways, but he's making a ton of contact and slugging over .600 in Colorado. So maybe the old Morneau is back. If not, the new Morneau seems very much at home in the mountains.

Josh Donaldson failed to be drafted as an elite third baseman because he only had one year's track record to demonstrate his skills. Seven homers into 2014 and I'm buying. He won't be cheap, but he won't cost as much as David Wright or Evan Longoria. (And you don't have to make the deal if he does....)

Brian Dozier has gotten talked about a lot and for good reason: he looks like a serious power/speed threat at second. Chances are he was drafted as a MI, so his owner probably has other options at the position too, lowering his potential cost.

Jon Lester really looks too good to be true, especially with his jump in strikeout rate. But all the pieces are there for his improvement to be real, and trading for him represents serious upside if you're only giving a little more than draft day cost to get him. For what it's worth, most of his success has come against pretty good offensive teams: the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

Scott Kazmir has also been crazy-good and not too easy to believe in, but when you think about the talent he had years ago maybe it isn't all that surprising at all. Like Lester, he's got all the right pieces to suggest he's for real.

Masahiro Tanaka looked like the most overrated pitcher in baseball before the draft. Now, he looks pretty underrated. The worry is that the league will figure him out, and it could certainly happen that way, but his owner's likely thinking along similar lines and wanting to sell high. If that's the case (big if, to be fair), take advantage of the upside.

Dan Haren has needed to prove himself for a long while now...and the start he's having to the season is working for me. What I find most convincing is actually that his ERA is better than his FIP, since he'd had the opposite problem last year, which suggested either bad luck or skill slippage in avoiding hard contact.

Sell High

Justin Upton is killing the ball and maybe he's finally taken his game from very good to great. But he's done this before (last year, in fact), and I'm not ready to trust Upton's strong start. It's not that I'm predicting doom and gloom, just that I think he'll command more in trade than he'll produce, going forward.

Adrian Gonzalez has found his missing power? Eight homers and a slugging percentage over .600? Yeah, I'm not so sure. It could be for real, but it doesn't really seem likely to me. His hot start and still-high name value ought to mean he'll bring back a lot in trade.

Ben Zobrist is riding a good BABIP to nifty fantasy value so far, but he's only hit three homers and stolen two bases. If you can manage losing his versatility, I'd consider dealing him for an upgrade at whatever position you're playing him in.

Jose Abreu is basically the ultimate sell high candidate, with 10 homers to date. But you better sell really high, because the one thing he's truly proved is that he's got Major League power. Hold out for a serious offer, but take it if you get it.

Alexei Ramirez was supposed to have traded his homers for steals, but he's got four of each and he's batting .358. Raise your hand if you called that one. It would be very surprising to see him continue hitting like last year's Jean Segura, so trade him to someone desperate...like anyone who drafted the real Segura.

Mike Napoli has power, but his average is very, very BABIP-dependent. Right now, it's taking a .390 BABIP to keep his average at .300. His plodding profile does not suggest a long-term skill for ridiculously high BABIP marks, so deal him on.

Martin Perez is rocking a sub-2.00 ERA without high strikeout numbers. Yeah, I don't buy it.

Have Jeff Samardzija and Julio Teheran traded strikeouts for low ERA's? Neither one is generating whiffs, so I definitely worry that they won't be able to continue their early success--or that they'll have to surrender a few more runs to get the K's back. Either way, I'd rather make a deal while their ERA's still look shiny. Especially with Samardzija.

Kyle Lohse has magically become a strikeout machine? Probably not. I don't expect him to crater, but I'd imagine that K/9 creeps back below 6.0 before the year is over. He's a good sort of guy to include in a larger trade.

Jesse Chavez is enjoying the appearance of a phenom, with his entry from the unknown and his hot start. Unfortunately, the unknown looks a lot like a journeyman reliever and his competition has included the Mariners, Twins, Angels, and Astros. He's one to trade while you can.


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