A week ago, I was in Las Vegas, staying out until 3 a.m., drinking like a Hemingway protagonist, and residing in a 1,500-square-foot suite at Caesars Palace courtesy of a drastic price misquote by a friendly front desk clerk named Leon.
Sounds like fun, right? Well, it was, but it was also work. As I have told both my wife and the IRS, this yearly pilgrimage to Sin City is mainly to take part in my AL keeper league's yearly auction.
So your assignment this week is to get to know the people in your league in some way, shape or form. You might make a new friend, but you'll definitely make more deals down the road.
Casing the Joint
Whether you're in a league with all nine of your siblings or you're "team six" in an ESPN league full of people who identify themselves with names like "The Shizzle" and "Come Get Sum," there are some things you can do to give you important intel on who the other owners are and what it will take to get a deal done with them.
First, send them an e-mail. Notice I didn't say, "Send them an offer." If the first piece of communication you send them is an offer and they respond poorly, or worse, don't respond at all, you'll have no idea why. Is that just the way they roll, or did they find your offer so offensive that they're hacking into the Homeland Security mainframe to put your name on the terrorist watch list?
But it's a different deal if your first exchange goes something like, "Man, I bet you're happy you picked up Jason Kubel in the 22nd round after his six ribbies on Wednesday night. I was taking him with my next pick if you didn't." You're paying a compliment, establishing a connection and still priming the pump for the other guy to reply and talk about players on your team that he likes.
If the other owner doesn't reply, then you know you're either dealing with someone who likes to play "D&D" -- Draft and Disappear -- or with someone who's just not "chatty." But most of the time, you'll get something back, even if it's just, "Yeah, love me some Kubel." This little exchange may not get your first subsequent offer accepted, but it does raise the chance that it will draw a counter.
Second, if you can't make contact with the person, you can always get to know his or her fantasy personality. A person's roster is an undeniable fingerprint that tells you a lot about how the owner works. Does he or she already have a staff with Tim Lincecum, Yovani Gallardo and Clay Buchholz? Then your Johnny Cueto will draw much interest. Is the roster full of famously fragile stars like Troy Glaus and Ben Sheets? Then an offer of Ken Griffey Jr. isn't that scary.
A bunch of high-risk closers, an unusually high concentration of Brewers, or even a total dearth of speed can tell you something about an owner so that when you do decide to make an offer, you're not going in blind. Just today, I made an offer to a team that drafted eight closers and one starter in an ESPN public league. In the note, I was sure to mention that I assumed his strategy was to get way ahead in saves, ERA and WHIP and then trade closers for a few high-K starters midseason. Thus, I tailored my offer to that strategy.
My offer was rejected, but he countered, and now I'm in negotiations, and I've got a real idea of how to approach him down the line. So pretend that fantasy baseball is Facebook and start making some friends.
Three I'm Stealing
Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins: I'll admit, I'm a sucker for former phenoms who don't pan out immediately. I wrote about it last week, and I'm writing about it again after seeing Hermida return from the DL with a strong, two-double, two-RBI performance. With the season almost two whole weeks old, some people may have already forgotten that Hermida was among the hottest hitters in the NL in the second half of 2007, posting a .340 batting average and 10 homers in 256 post-break at-bats. Hermida's injury past is a real concern, but I've seen enough to believe that health is the only thing holding him back.
Pat Burrell, OF, Phillies: Pat the Bat is an unrecognized elite hitter in the NL. Only five National Leaguers have posted both an on-base-percentage of .380 or better and a slugging percentage of .500 or higher in each of the past three years: Albert Pujols, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera, Lance Berkman and Burrell. Go ahead, try to get the other four names on that list. Meanwhile, with Burrell batting .387 with three dingers through Wednesday's night's game, some are screaming sell high. Yeah, the average will dip by 100 points at least, but I wouldn't be surprised if he has another 40 homers in him this year.
Javier Vazquez, P, White Sox: Oh, how I love it when a player has a few early-season quirks that statistically mask the fact that he's still pretty damn good. Vazquez is sporting a 5.25 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP after two starts. However, he has given up only 12 hits in 12 innings and struck out 14 batters. In his career, he has never walked more than 68 batters in a season. His walks will drop, his strikeouts will stay high, and his numbers will look like his 2007 stats -- 15-8, 3.74 ERA, 212 strikeouts -- before he is done.
Three I'm Dealing
Francisco Liriano, P, Twins: When Liriano made the Twins in 2006, I built my team's future around having the next Johan Santana. We all know how that ended. Will he ever be as good as he was for four amazing months in 2006? I can't say, but I'd be utterly shocked if it happened any time this year. His minor league rehab went fine if you're his doctor, but not if you're his fantasy owner. He didn't show the ability to dominate Triple-A hitters, which is a bad sign. Now, the Twins are making noises that they'll need him back soon if Kevin Slowey's biceps injury doesn't get better quickly. I'm selling Liriano before he faces big leaguers because his value might never be higher.
Joe Crede, 3B, White Sox: Great story of a guy who loses almost an entire year to back surgery, somehow wins his job back and then goes on to hit a Ted Williams-ian .406 with three homers through Thursday. But he has a lifetime average of .260 and there's a good chance all this hot start will do is get him traded by the White Sox. I'm trying to deal him before they do, especially in a year when high-profile third-basemen like Miguel Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman have all started out cold.
Zach Duke, Pirates: Why would someone want him? He has a 2.13 ERA after two starts. Why are you dealing him? He's allowed 18 hits and recorded only seven strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. If you don't ask for much, maybe you'll get something useful back.
Pulling the Job
No deals to report this week, and no space in the column to do so even if I did. But if pending offers were feet, I'd be a centipede.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com.