The All-Star break is a good time for fantasy owners to take stock of their rosters, check their place in the standings and figure out the best course of action for their team once play resumes in the second half.
In redraft leagues, it may be a simple matter of staying the course and administering minor lineup tweaks. Alternatively, some owners must recognize their only option is to throw caution to the wind and take huge risks on trades and deep-dive waiver claims. In dynasty leagues, it's time to decide whether to make the big moves that could land you the 2017 title, or if the circumstances point to a roster rebuild for 2018 and beyond. And you're not alone in making these internal assessments.
All 30 major league teams will be using the next few days to devise a plan for the next few months and beyond: Are they buyers? Are they sellers? Is it time to bring up that prospect and give him a chance? Should they make a deal for that one veteran piece that seems to be missing -- and if so, what is it?
We won't begin to get answers until the season resumes later in the week -- although a trade or two might well be set in motion in Miami -- but while we all gaze at the balls flying over the wall at the Home Run Derby, we can at least consider some of the questions that front offices around the league might be grappling with.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Is Ketel Marte going to be enough to stabilize the Arizona lineup while Nick Ahmed and Yasmany Tomas remain out? Chris Owings is providing swing duty at second base, shortstop and right field, but is a .208 average from Marte enough to allow Owings to continue to do so?
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman's willingness to shift to the hot corner answered one big question for the team, and allowed Matt Adams' bat to stay in the lineup at first base. Now the team has to decide if Johan Camargo should play every day at shortstop instead of Dansby Swanson, who seems quite overmatched at the plate (.221 BA, 77 K's) in his first full season at the major-league level.
Baltimore Orioles: If Chris Davis (strained right oblique) comes back to the team after the break, then what do they do with Trey Mancini, who has started every game at first base since Davis got hurt in mid-June? One would assume he'd move back to left field, this time on a full-time basis. But if Davis needs to spend time at DH to get his bat in the lineup, how much does that hurt Mark Trumbo's value?
Boston Red Sox: Tzu-Wei Lin is performing admirably for the Red Sox at third base, with a .333 average in his short stint with the club, but he's not the long-term answer at the hot corner. Will it be Brock Holt (vertigo) or Pablo Sandoval (ear infection) who end up giving the Boston infield some stability? Or will both of them continue to spend more time on the DL than the basepaths, forcing the team to make a trade?
Chicago Cubs: It's all about the rotation. Kyle Hendricks (tendinitis in right hand) could be back this week if his rehab outing goes well. John Lackey's plantar fasciitis will cause him to sit until July 18, and the team is hoping there are no further issues. Jon Lester closed out the first-half with a disaster of an outing, tempered only by the fact that six of the 10 runs he allowed were unearned. If the starters don't improve on their collective 4.66 ERA -- and quickly -- this will be a very long second half.
Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada has reached base safely in nine consecutive games for Triple-A Charlotte, and seems to be biding his time until the eventual call up that we've all been patiently waiting for. It's hard to imagine any scenario (other than sheer stubbornness) where he's not on the White Sox in three weeks, and it could be even sooner -- at whatever point free agent-to-be Todd Frazier can get moved prior to July 31.
Cincinnati Reds: Sitting in the cellar, the Reds would clearly be sellers -- if they really had anyone to sell. Zack Cozart, 31, is in his walk year (and batting a career-best .316) making the shortstop the likeliest candidate to be moved. Apart from that, though, there's really not a whole lot to be said about this fairly milquetoast club. Frankly, I feel bad for Joey Votto.
Cleveland Indians: Jason Kipnis injured his hamstring on Saturday, and could be out for a few weeks as a result. When Kipnis was injured in April, Jose Ramirez filled in, but now he's firmly entrenched at third base. Could Erik Gonzalez provide some fantasy value -- at least in the short-term -- while Kipnis is out again? Stranger things have happened. He does have five multi-hit games in only 23 appearances, most of them as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Colorado Rockies: In the past few years, this would be the point of the season when the Carlos Gonzalez trade rumors would heat up. This season, with the team sitting at 52 wins and threatening to make the playoffs, a deal is unlikely -- especially given CarGo is hitting just .221 on the year. That said, if his bat continues to hurt this club, how can they continue to play him over Raimel Tapia (.323) if all of their outfielders are healthy?
Detroit Tigers: Justin Wilson and J.D. Martinez have both been the subject of multiple trade rumors over the past few weeks, so their continued presence in Detroit may come down to how close the Tigers are to first place after 10 games against the Royals and Twins from July 17-26. If it's no closer than they are now (8 GB), players will be on the move.
Houston Astros: There's not a whole lot that has gone wrong for the Astros this season, and the scary thing is they could perform even better as a team in the second half if both Dallas Keuchel (neck) and Collin McHugh (elbow) can come back at 100 percent. Fantasy owners who have been stashing Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA) until he's able to get back on the mound should get a huge boost in the very near future, just as the Astros will upon his return. It's just a question of when.
Kansas City Royals: All or nothing. That seems to be what we'll get in the second half of 2017 from the Royals lineup, currently last in the American League in both runs scored (362) and runs scored at home (179). We know Ned Yost is a manager who likes to trot out the same lineup day in and day out, so as long as the team remains above .500 and somewhat close to the top of the AL Central, expect few changes in personnel and hope for significant changes in fortune. Alex Gordon, we're looking at you.
Los Angeles Angels: There's really only one question any fan wants answered when it comes to the Angels: When will Mike Trout return, and can he please not ever get hurt again? As for when he'll be back, we know the answer to that -- he's expected to hit the ground (though not with his thumb, we hope) running on Friday. The other fantasy-relevant issue concerns the position of closer, but it seems pretty clear that Bud Norris (now back from a knee injury) will keep the job -- until, of course, he doesn't.
Los Angeles Dodgers: There's no arguing that Cody Bellinger's first stint with the Dodgers has been stellar overall, thanks to his 25 home runs and 58 RBI in just 257 at-bats. That said, you look at his .190 batting average over the last 13 games, and you have to ask the question: Can he make enough adjustments to get closer to the .280 hitter he was during his first month with the team?
Miami Marlins: Who gets traded first? It's clear the Marlins are open to unloading some payroll and some big names, even as the search for a new owner continues its glacial pace. Salary-wise, Giancarlo Stanton's deal might be too rich to move, but Martin Prado, AJ Ramos, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are all likely to be had for the right package of prospects. Based purely on performance, however, and with the exception of perhaps Prado, there's really no reason this team needs to make any moves at all.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Villar has been a huge fantasy disappointment this season, after finishing last year as the No. 5 overall player on the ESPN Player Rater. Can he turn things around from his poor .221 first-half? He did close out the first half with a five-game hitting streak (8-for-21, .381), which probably gives Craig Counsell enough incentive to continue writing his name on the lineup card -- for now.
Minnesota Twins: Practically every ESPN league has Kennys Vargas on the waiver wire, and the Twins themselves dropped him down to Triple-A on July 3. They called him back to first base duty a few days later, however, after Joe Mauer went on the 10-day DL with back spasms. Minnesota seems content to stick with what they've got, or to reach deep for the likes of Bartolo Colon to potentially help out their rotation. Could the call up of outfielder Zach Granite over the weekend prove to be a precursor to a deal? We'll see.
New York Mets: The Mets have been so snakebit by injuries this season that they played a game with T.J. Rivera and Brandon Nimmo in the outfield earlier this week. Rivera proceeded to leave the game with hamstring cramps, and Nimmo would be placed on the 10-day DL soon after with a mysterious collapsed lung. The team is going nowhere in 2017, yet somehow remain steadfast in their refusal to promote top prospect Amed Rosario (.327 at Triple-A). At some point, as with the White Sox and Moncada, you have to think they'll relent. However, with the Mets, I'm not nearly as confident the call up will come before September.
New York Yankees: All rise! There's certainly more than one story in New York, and a trade for a first baseman better than Chris Carter (DFA) (as well as the current occupant of that position, Ji-Man Choi) is likely. But as we all know, it's all about Aaron Judge and whether or not he can continue this torrid 30-66-.329 start. I'm far from a Yankees fan, but even I have to admit I'd love to see Judge within striking distance of Ruth and Maris come the team's final homestand in September. Wouldn't you?
Oakland Athletics: Sonny Gray, Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, Khris Davis -- there are a lot of guys on this roster who are there for the taking, simply by offering up a handful of prospects. The youth movement has begun, so expect Bruce Maxwell, Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman and anyone else in the 26-and-under club to lose some of their elder teammates over the next few weeks.
Philadelphia Phillies: Perhaps it's not the same thing as "trusting the process," but you have to know this team will be selling over the next few weeks. Pat Neshek and Jeremy Hellickson seem to be obvious pieces priced to move, but the team is also considering sending away first baseman (and team home run leader) Tommy Joseph in an effort to clear a path for prospect Rhys Hoskins. With no DH spot, the team simply cannot have both on the roster at the same time.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Currently preparing for his return from suspension at Triple-A Indianapolis, Starling Marte is poised to play left field for the Pirates when he rejoins the club on July 18. That will likely spell the end of any real fantasy value for Adam Frazier. However, there's always a chance the team decides to send an outfielder away via trade depending on how the Bucs perform leading up to and immediately after Marte's return.
St. Louis Cardinals: There may not be a clear answer to the question of who closes for the Cardinals the rest of the season, as Mike Matheny is likely to alternate Trevor Rosenthal and Seung-Hwan Oh based on the situation as well as which pitcher is hotter at a given time. Of course, it won't matter unless the team either trades for a big stick (see Toronto below) to anchor the lineup, or Matheny manages to pull the right strings with players like Luke Voit, Paul DeJong and his gaggle of seemingly interchangeable outfielders.
San Diego Padres: Anyone on the pitching staff over the age of 25 is likely available, so Brad Hand, Brandon Maurer, Clayton Richard, Jhoulys Chacin and Trevor Cahill could all be poached before August. Otherwise, it's just a question of which young hitters end up settling into everyday roles and becoming unexpected sources of supplemental stats for fantasy owners. Austin Hedges? Carlos Asuaje? Some yet to be acquired member of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders?
San Francisco Giants: Obviously, Buster Posey isn't going anywhere, but with the Giants sitting 27 games out of first place in the NL West, you know the phone will be ringing. Brandon Belt would seem an obvious candidate to get moved, since this is the last year before his contract escalates from $4 million to $17.2 million. With a team buyout next season, Matt Cain might have the kind of contract that could land him on another team for the first time in his career.
Seattle Mariners: Ben Gamel has hit .323 this season while playing primarily in left field, but in an effort to get Guillermo Heredia more at-bats (as well as to maximize the utility of Danny Valencia, who is batting 27 points lower against RHP), Gamel may move into partial first-base time share in the second half. If so, he may play there often enough to expand his positional eligibility for 2018, which certainly would increase his fantasy value.
Tampa Bay Rays: Brent Honeywell threw two scoreless innings and recorded four strikeouts to earn MVP honors at the MLB Futures Game on Sunday. Promoted to Triple-A earlier this season, Honeywell is only 22. I don't see him getting the call as a starter, although he may well earn a spot in the team's bullpen come September as a reward for a solid year's work. That said, if Blake Snell is 0-7 with a 6.00 ERA in three weeks, who knows?
Texas Rangers: While the Rangers could stand to lose a little age from their roster over the next few weeks -- Jonathan Lucroy, Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez, to give a few examples -- it's really one of their younger players that raises the most questions for the second half. Even if he hits 40 home runs, Joey Gallo's fantasy value is severely capped if it comes with a .194 batting average. And given he's on pace for 200 K's, forget about starting him in points league formats. Can he improve his contact even a little bit, or is he doomed to be -- at best -- the next Jack Cust?
Toronto Blue Jays: There's been a lot of talk about Josh Donaldson getting dealt over the next few weeks (potentially to the Cardinals). Assuming he does leave, that opens up third base for Russell Martin, who ended the first half on a five-game hitting streak (.429) thanks to the pickup of deposed Cubs catcher Miguel Montero. Of course, 34-year-old J.A. Happ may never have more value than he does at present. His 20-win season in 2016 is still close enough to be relevant, and his 3.54 ERA this season ranks in the top-15 among AL pitchers with a minimum of 60 IP.
Washington Nationals: Barring an epic collapse, it's hard to picture this team not winning the NL East, as their lead over the second-place Braves is 9.5 games. That said, having a closer they can count on would be nice, no? It's likely to come from outside the organization, be it Justin Wilson, Raisel Iglesias or anyone else. Nobody on the current roster has been able to secure the job, and I doubt Dusty Baker will ever feel completely confident about any current Nationals reliever for the rest of 2017.