Only 11 days remain until major league baseball's non-waiver trade deadline, one of the most significant dates on the fantasy calendar. It's one of the few times during the season -- the early weeks of April, when things are still taking shape, being another -- that individual player values so radically shift.
Predicting trades -- and the ensuing fallout -- ranks among the most difficult tasks for us, but also among the most fun. And it's that speculation, and the preparations we as fantasy owners make as we speculate, that gives us an edge when the inevitable tidal wave of deadline deals flows in.
Today, let's take a look at the coulds and mights of the next 11 days: the potential moves, but more importantly, their impact in fantasy. Listed below are the players whose stock would most be helped by a deadline deal.
First, the standard caveat: A lot of guesswork goes into forecasting a trade, and by all rights not a single move involving any of the players discussed today might happen. The purpose is merely to prepare you in the event such a deal does happen. Don't make a rash move and overpay for any of these eight names simply because of the possibility of a trade; but consider contacting their owners and see if you could sneak one away at full or beneath market value.
Carlos Beltran: There's no question that he has enjoyed a remarkable comeback campaign; his .293/.389/.523 "triple-slash" rates are the fifth-, third- and fourth-best single-season numbers in his career. He has also maintained healthy 100-RBI and 93-run full-season paces for the upstart New York Mets, and has managed .318/.409/.589 rates and hit eight of his 14 home runs at pitching-friendly Citi Field. But this is a Mets team that averaged a lower team OPS and considerably fewer runs per game after Aug. 1 than before it in each of the past two seasons; the team had a .719 OPS and averaged 4.29 runs per game before Aug. 1 in 2009 and 10, but only .703/3.75 numbers after it. Getting out of the National League East, which sports five of the top 12 starting pitchers on our Player Rater, will also help. Among Beltran's potential destinations -- the projected impact of his addition to those teams' playoff chances are discussed in this Buster Olney blog -- the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers have all scored more runs than the Mets so far and the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies are each within range, potentially providing the outfielder a counting-numbers (RBI/runs) boost. He's also a free agent at year's end, and one can only think he'd be plenty motivated if thrust into a pennant race.
Lucas Duda: He's already playing every day, having started 12 of the Mets' past 15 games at first base, but once the team gets Jose Reyes and David Wright back into the lineup, first base could again be cluttered, as Daniel Murphy is a candidate to return there. A Beltran deal would open up right field, a more natural spot for Duda. He was a .310/.398/.606 hitter in 108 games in Triple-A from 2010-11, and might provide some sneaky pop in NL-only leagues.
Ryan Ludwick: While there's a good chance that any Ludwick trade might result in his occupying the weaker side of a platoon, simply getting out of Petco Park would be huge for the one-time 37-homer hitter. Ludwick is a .222/.303/.369 hitter in 87 career games there, never taking to Petco's confines the way he did to Busch Stadium's (.290/.366/.505 in 242 games there). Joining the Cincinnati Reds might limit his at-bats but provide him a considerable ballpark advantage; he has hit nine homers in 30 career games and 105 at-bats at Great American Ball Park. Joining the Red Sox would not only boost his counting-numbers potential -- the San Diego Padres have scored the second-fewest runs in baseball, the Red Sox the most -- it'd land him in an extremely left-handed outfield, maximizing his platoon/pinch-hitting appeal. Again, those are two destinations where he wouldn't play regularly. On a team where he would, he'd almost assuredly experience a significant boost from his current 50.3 percent ownership in ESPN leagues.
Yonder Alonso: He's an obvious trade chip, being that the Reds have Joey Votto entrenched at first base, and his .302/.382/.498 numbers in 85 games in Triple-A demonstrate that he's ready for an extended look at the big league level. The Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland Athletics, Padres and Tampa Bay Rays are six possible destinations where Alonso should immediately take over.
Hunter Pence: As with Beltran, Pence's Houston Astros have exceeded expectations, averaging 3.9 runs per game with a .692 OPS. Still, those are both bottom-10 numbers in the majors, meaning any move almost assuredly would land him in a lineup more conducive to healthy run/RBI totals. A 25-homer performer in each of the past three seasons, Pence could boost his annual averages of 82 runs and RBIs apiece (2008-10) to closer to 100 in a deeper offense; his current pace of 102 RBIs might even swell to 110-plus. I'm not convinced he'll actually be traded, but imagine what a trade to Boston or Philadelphia would do to his numbers.
Nolan Reimold: Now 27, Reimold's future might no longer be that of an All-Star, but he still has the potential to be a solid regular, provided the opportunity. Trade rumors surrounding such Baltimore Orioles as Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Luke Scott increase the chances that either left field or designated hitter will remain open for him on an everyday basis after Aug. 1. Reimold did total 25 homers and 17 steals in 164 games in Triple-A between 2009 and '11 and he has five homers in 31 games for the Orioles thus far; that's production difficult to find on the waiver wire every day in AL-only and deep mixed leagues.
Chris Carter: What Athletics hitter isn't rumored on the block? From Coco Crisp to Conor Jackson to Hideki Matsui to Josh Willingham, there are any number of places Carter might find everyday at-bats beginning Aug. 1. Yes, he has performed horribly in his first 34 big league games; he's a .170 hitter who has struck out 35 times in 100 at-bats. But he's also a power-hitting prospect who has hit at least 25 home runs in each of his past four minor league seasons (average of 31), his 12.2 percent walk rate during his minor league career offers hope, and the Athletics might as well give him an extended opportunity to see just what they have in him. AL-only owners, at least, should scoop him up.
Lorenzo Cain: The Kansas City Royals are reportedly shopping both Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur, and in the event one gets moved, it'd make plenty of sense for them to promote Cain to play every day. Cain is a .344 hitter (53-for-154) with eight home runs, 25 RBIs and five stolen bases in his past 43 games for Triple-A Omaha; there isn't much more for him to prove in the minors. He did, after all, bat .306 with seven steals in a 43-game stint with the Milwaukee Brewers last season. AL-only owners would love to scoop up that kind of production.
TOP 125 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 125 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued.
Deadline dealings aren't all positive. Here are two players whose fantasy value could be adversely impacted as a result of potential moves:
Jorge Posada: The Yankees are always linked to the most prominent names available at the trade deadline, but for once you might actually want to listen. Posada, in spite of a June resurgence, sports career-worst .224/.310/.382 rates, poor numbers for a DH, and he has scarcely touched left-handers this season (.120/.214/.140). At this stage of his career he's only marginally more useful than a pinch hitter, and he hasn't appeared in a game behind the plate since last Oct. 22. Ultimately, anyone the Yankees acquire is going to steal at-bats from someone, and the most likely candidate, clearly, is Posada. He's a useful No. 2 catcher in two-catcher leagues, but if his at-bat total continues to dip, he might not even warrant that kind of role in fantasy.
Carlos Pena: Point out, if you wish, that there are seven left-handed starters currently in the rotations of the Cubs' five National League Central foes, and that Pena is a combined 1-for-20 (.050 AVG) with 12 strikeouts lifetime against them. But here's the problem with that argument: There are at least five left-handers in the rotations of every other division except the NL East (most have six or seven), and many of them are considerably more talented than guys like J.A. Happ, Paul Maholm and Dontrelle Willis. Pena has settled in brilliantly in Chicago; he is on pace for 33 home runs and 85 RBIs, and he has feasted upon NL Central pitching to the tune of .290/.410/.523 rates in 34 games. He's an incredibly streaky player and a change of scenery might halt his recent hot spell.
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves: Look who's sneaking up on the Player Rater! Freeman, a 23rd-round pick and the 22nd first baseman off the board in ESPN drafts in the preseason (No. 222, 212.5 average draft position), suddenly finds himself ranked 18th on the Player Rater, thanks to a torrid 27-game streak during which time he has batted .303 (30-for-99) with eight home runs and 25 RBIs. Mentioned in this space in the June 29 "Hit Parade," Freeman has continued many of the upward trends discussed those three short weeks ago: His .245 well-hit average of June, at the time his best single month of 2011, has risen to .286 so far in July. His isolated power, again a monthly best of .202 in June, is now .321 in July. And his line-drive rate, which finished at 23.1 percent in June, remains a healthy 19.0 in July. Perhaps a .300 batting average is unrealistic for Freeman, as his 22.9 percent strikeout rate puts him at a bit of risk in the category -- that's 20th-worst among qualified hitters and no one with a K rate of 22 percent or higher has a batting average higher than .283 -- but his current .278 number seems sustainable. His power, however, appears legit and the Braves are looking to upgrade their lineup, meaning those 23-homer, 84-RBI paces might be too low.
Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox: Remember the whispers in May that Pedroia's surgically repaired left foot, which has a screw in it, was causing him so much trouble that he might have had to succumb to surgery to have the screw removed? Apparently he has become much more comfortable playing through it since; he's a .368/.463/.642 hitter in 39 games since June 1, including nine home runs, 32 RBIs and 34 runs scored. In July in particular he has been scorching hot; he has six home runs in his past 11 games. Pedroia might be hard-pressed to keep up that kind of pace, but he's certainly capable of a .300 batting average, and numbers around (or potentially above) 20 in homers and steals. And in a lineup as stacked as the Red Sox's, he'll pile on the runs and RBIs. Consider him elite once more.
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves: Speaking of red-hot Braves, Prado returned from the disabled list within the past week and has picked up right where he left off. He's a .292 hitter (7-for-24) in his first five games back, three of them multihit performances. It's good timing for Prado; the Braves are rumored to be seeking an outfielder, and there's an abundance of left fielders on the market. In that event, where would Prado play, what with Dan Uggla returning to form at second base, Freeman red hot at first and Chipper Jones about five days away from recapturing his third base role? Fantasy owners need not sweat it: Jason Heyward has struggled to the point that there are whispers of a possible demotion, and Prado, typically a .300-hitting, double-digit-power performer, is too valuable not to have in the lineup every day. Get him back in there with confidence, if you haven't already.
Stephen Drew, Arizona Diamondbacks: The most disturbing thing about Drew's disappointing 2011 is not that he has slipped practically into a straight platoon with Willie Bloomquist at shortstop, it's that it's the right move. Drew has batted a miserable .217/.290/.361 against left-handers this season, while Bloomquist has handled them well, batting .333/.400/.389. While Drew has started three of the Diamondbacks' past seven games against a lefty, keep in mind volume might have something to do with it; the Diamondbacks have oddly faced seven lefties in their past 14 games. But the trend is clear: Bloomquist is sneaking up on Drew, who has been rather ordinary against right-handers (.267/.331/.409). This season, Drew is missing more (22.4 percent of his swings, up from 16.0 in 2009 and 19.1 in 2010) and hitting for less power (.141 isolated power, down from .181 in 2010), continuing to cement his status as one of the more overrated players in fantasy. While he does have a track record of bursting forth with unexpected hot streaks, especially during the season's second half (.281/.356/.506 second-half numbers in 2010 alone), there isn't a lot of evidence to suggest one is imminent.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals: The adjustment to the major leagues is one of the greatest challenges for a player, and sure enough, Moustakas has had a difficult time with it, batting .198/.262/.252 in his first 30 games. He's in a significant funk recently, with just two hits in his past 11 games (.048 AVG). In his defense, he has exhibited a history of sluggish starts in the minors as well; he was a .229/.304/.410 hitter in 21 April games in Triple-A this season before finally taking off. He also endured a disappointing .250/.297/.421 season in his first taste of high Class A ball in 2009. Perhaps this is all about adjustments, but unfortunately, fantasy owners in redraft leagues cannot afford patience with such a struggling youngster. For now, bench Moustakas, who has top-10 future potential at his position.
Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals: His owners are understandably sick of his miserable performance this season. Here's a great stat from Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post: Werth hasn't homered in his past 105 at-bats, his last extra-base hit came on June 28, and that was a bloop double that traveled about 120 feet in the air. Any talk that the healthy return of Ryan Zimmerman would pay dividends for Werth was misguided; since Zimmerman's return on June 14, Werth is a .165/.289/.243 hitter with 37 strikeouts in 115 at-bats (32.2 percent). For the season, he has a .140 isolated power, .180 well-hit average and 45.1 percent ground ball rate, all of which are well worse than his .236, .269 and 36.3 numbers of 2010. And it's not getting any better: Those numbers are .081, .155 and 44.3 since June 1. It's understandable that Werth takes a nosedive in this week's rankings.
New position eligibility
The following players have become eligible at new positions -- it's 10 games to qualify at a new spot -- in ESPN standard leagues during the past two weeks: Craig Counsell (3B), Blake Davis (2B), Alberto Gonzalez (3B), Jonathan Herrera (SS), Mark Kotsay (OF), Ramiro Pena (3B), Ty Wigginton (OF), Josh Wilson (3B).
ESPN Insider Recommends: This week's pickup
Recommendation comes from Tristan's 10-team, head-to-head league.
I've been a noted Travis Snider skeptic this season, and I'll reiterate my past point about him: He has historically been too much a free swinger, he was probably down to his final chance with the Toronto Blue Jays, and had this stint been a failure, his next would've been elsewhere, his next after that probably a part-time/spring minor league deal arrangement, and so on. But I'm willing to be convinced he has made the necessary adjustments, and so far, he appears to have made them.
Snider returned from Triple-A Las Vegas on July 4 with a revamped swing, and since that date has batted .391 (18-for-46) with nine doubles, one home run and 12 RBIs. Most notably, he's enjoying more success against fastballs, with .346/.370/.615 numbers in 27 plate appearances that have ended on one. At the same time, there are signs of worry: He has still missed on 25.7 percent of his swings, most of those on offspeed pitches, and has 13 whiffs in those 46 at-bats. The prospect of pitchers adjusting to his adjustments remains present.
Still, those .249-7-28 projections seem fair to me, and account for the batting average -- and streakiness -- concerns I've always had with Snider. It's an "Insider Recommends" that I'll take; see if you've got a similarly smart move to exploit.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.