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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Back in Black

Hisashi Iwakuma came back to the Mjors on Saturday, and Mike Minor on Friday, while Cole Hamels came back just last week, and Doug Fister is scheduled to make his return tomorrow. All four were supposed to be key cogs in fantasy rotations this year--but what should we do with them now that they're here?

After having his Sunday start scratched because of the flu, Hamels is scheduled to pitch today. Hopefully that happens, since I've got him on a couple teams. With a sample size of two, he's done the most of this quartet for us to analyze. The results have not been awesome: one pretty good start against the Dodgers, and a five-walk drubbing from the Mets. He's not exactly back to ace-level yet, it appears. Whether it's rust, luck, or the remnants of injury, time will tell. Or it might not. 

Iwakuma won his game, but it came against the Astros and involved giving up four runs--though he did pitch into the seventh inning and issued only one walk. So there were some promising signs and some less-than-perfect ones.

Minor took a loss, but allowed just two runs on seven hits. Even better, he didn't surrender a single walk while striking out four. Okay, four strikeouts in six innings isn't special, but no walks is always nice.

Fister, obviously, hasn't done anything, since he hasn't returned yet.

Honestly, it's hard to know what to expect going forward from all four of these guys. Injuries flare back up, it takes time to adjust to Major League hitters again, there are a few more off days, managers are more careful with innings...the list of potential problems with injury-return pitchers goes on.

That's why they're my favorite trade targets.

Now, before we go any farther, let me just say that there are only two types of owner when it comes to injury-stashed players, and any given owner may be both at the same time with regards to different players. The first type of owner will never deal you the injured player. This owner invested too much and has waited with too much anticipation for the player's return to make a deal now. Maybe they're a die-hard Hamels fan, or maybe you drafted early and they used a top draft pick. This owner is set on keeping their injured guy and playing him--chances are, a lot of their season is riding on it. This owner probably won't make a trade that would be fair-value if the player had never even been hurt. Just move on.

The other type of owner is a lot readier to deal, and this is the owner you need to concentrate on. This owner didn't really want to target Iwakuma...he was just such a good deal in the 20th round. They didn't expect to end up with Fister for a dollar at the end of the auction, but they did. This owner was probably a bit skeptical about the whole injury-stash situation and certainly remembers getting burned by injury-returners before. (I mean, who doesn't?) This owner may well jump at the chance to minimize risk by getting a decent return for the injured player before he can prove that he's still hurt, go on the DL again, and continue wasting roster space. This is the owner you want to trade with.

I hate stashing injured pitchers (or anyone else) in the draft, so I tend to end up more like the second type of owner when I've actually stashed somebody. You never know quite when to pull the trigger in a draft or how much to pay in an auction, because you just don't know what percentage of the season you'll be getting from the player, in terms of time or of play quality. Picking guys you know are hurt is a risk with a well-known downside and a difficult-to-calculate upside. But now that they're back, most of the downside is gone. Yes, those bad things I mentioned several paragraphs ago might happen, but they might not, and they should slow down significantly with each week that goes by.

You can try to sneak trade offers in early, before we can even see results (like for Fister--you've got one more day!), or you can try waiting until something bad (but not terrible) happens to make owners worry. Definitely don't pay full-health value before getting Major League results, though.

Hamels is a great trade target right now, in fact. He just got shelled and looked terrible (five walks in less than five innings...ugh!) doing it. He's got the flu or something and has had his most recent start postponed to tonight, so he's still got that little red cross next to his name. His owners might well be worried about the quality of the pitcher they stashed for a month. I am, and I'm writing this article. That's why this whole enterprise is predicated on paying less than fully-healthy value for the player in question. If you're giving away the same thing for Hamels as you would for, say, Cliff Lee or Madison Bumgarner, you're making a mistake.

Minor is definitely the wrong guy to target in a trade. He pitched really good, yes, but who was happier about that than his owner? No one. Who was paying more careful attention than his owner? Again, no one. His trade price probably just got a lot closer to full value, but, realistically, issues related to the injury could still crop up. Trading for Minor right now would be like trading for Hamels after his first very good start: you pay a premium for a good sign without being out of the woods as far as risk goes. So if you want Minor, wait a start or three. If things go wrong--great--maybe he just got a little easier to get. If they don't, his price might change incrementally, but you'll at least be more sure about his health going forward. And if he goes straight back on the DL or implodes...well, you won't have pulled the trigger too early.

Four quality pitchers will have returned to the big leagues (probably) by tomorrow, and any of the four may be available for a good price. If you're in need of pitching and can't afford to pay for an ace, check into one of these guys.




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