Trade deadline watch: Hitters

Let's not get our hopes up: Giancarlo Stanton is unlikely to be traded this month.

It's trade-speculation season, and those who have been following the rumor mills since November have heard the name "Stanton, Stanton, Stanton" cited as this year's top trade prize. Between his Miami Marlins' series of winter salary-dump moves and Stanton's own displeasure with said transactions, it has been widely assumed that the budding superstar would soon depart Miami.

Therein lies part of the problem with the rumor mill: We tend to grasp too tightly to the juiciest rumors, assume they'll come to fruition, end up disappointed with the "B-list" transactions that instead result, and in the process completely overlook an under-the-radar move (or three).

Stanton generates headlines.

Some of the names below won't, comparatively speaking, some of them barely moving news tickers at all.

But the players discussed below possess a greater probability of being dealt, and identifying them in advance is much more important in fantasy. We'll let real-game fans dream of their squads landing a premium prize such as Stanton or Cliff Lee; there's little chance their dreams will be realized. The reality is that this year's July 31 trade market is poorer than usual, without even a fantasy stud like Hanley Ramirez or Zack Greinke for the taking.

It's especially light on the hitting side, as most of the underperforming teams, unsurprisingly, lack top-shelf offensive talent. So, if you followed Tuesday's "60 Feet 6 Inches" trade deadline primer, understand that today's "Hit Parade" lists names with a greater chance of staying put, comparatively speaking. The list shrinks to eight names, and includes a couple who might lose value if traded.

For the record, Stanton will almost assuredly be traded by the Marlins, just not right now. Why? Simple: The winter trade market will probably land a greater return.

Morales Morales

1. Kendrys Morales, 1B, Seattle Mariners

Just picture it now: Morales in pinstripes, his powerful bat taking aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field night after night. Considering the New York Yankees currently have Travis Hafner at designated hitter and Lyle Overbay at first base, wouldn't adding Morales make a heck of a lot of sense? Or, if the Yankees don't fit your fancy, how about the Texas Rangers?

A Morales deal would be big news in fantasy on many fronts. For one, he can't even crack the lineup on an every-night basis -- though he at least has 30 starts in the Mariners' past 35 games -- because of the presence of DH/first base types such as Justin Smoak, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez clogging up the lineup. For another, Safeco Field predictably has reined in his power; he has .193 isolated power and a 18.6 home run/fly ball percentage in his road games, but .172 and 11.9 at home. Morales has already shown us he's capable of batting somewhere between .270-.290, but what he hasn't had the opportunity to do is flash his legitimate 30-homer potential. In a deeper lineup, that'll also mean more runs and RBIs.

The Mariners moving Morales also frees up the DH role for the possible return of Jesus Montero, whose long-term role really should be DH. He recently returned from a knee injury, and with a couple hot weeks for Triple-A Tacoma might be in line for a promotion if that spot opens up. Remember, Montero is still catcher-eligible (and will be in 2014); he might be a smart stash in AL-only/deep-mixed.

Morneau Morneau

2. Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins

Admit it. If you've owned Morneau at any point in these past four years, you've been itching to see him freed of Target Field, with its 23-foot-high fence in right and right-center fields, haven't you? The numbers support it (these 2010-13):

Home: .284/.359/.439, .155 ISO, 7.4 HR/FB%, .327 BABIP
Road: .271/.335/.463, .192 ISO, 12.3 HR/FB%, .288 BABIP

Morneau's terrible 2013 numbers might force the Twins to include some of the money remaining on his $14 million salary, but he's a soon-to-be free agent playing for a payday, and in almost any other venue his power would play better. Plus, perhaps most important, he bucked a career trend of poor second-half performances with one of his stronger second halves in 2012 (.289/.354/.439), meaning that his best statistics might be yet to come. If you're seeking a lower-tier first baseman with upside, Morneau could come cheaply.

Maybe best yet: A departure by Morneau would pave the way for everyday at-bats for Oswaldo Arcia, not to mention probably Chris Parmelee and/or Ryan Doumit (if he's not also traded). Arcia needs to play, not only because additional at-bats mean a counting-number boost, but also because he could use some on-the-job training against left-handers to perhaps have mastered them by 2014.

Ethier Ethier

3. Andre Ethier, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp's return to the disabled list shouldn't serve as a reprieve for Ethier; the Dodgers should regard it an opportunity to showcase an overpaid outfielder they desperately need to trade. He has, after all, started 25 of 27 Dodgers games and batted .361 with a 9.3 percent walk rate in the past 30 days, so the time is right if the team is to have any prayer of unloading the $75-plus million (through 2017) remaining on his contract. Yes, it'll be difficult to unload it nevertheless.

An Ethier trade would send massive ripples through fantasy, even if only for mere playing-time reasons. After all, when all are healthy, the Dodgers have four legitimate major league outfielders for three spots, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig being the two not yet mentioned. Imagine what fantasy owners will say the first time Puig sits for Ethier, following Kemp's return? Or, if you're an Ethier owner in NL-only or deep mixed leagues, how happy will you be if he plays just 2-3 times a week after that point? At-bats will be precious in that outfield the remainder of the year, and the most suitable arrangement for all is a trade of Ethier.

Ethier's value might improve outside of L.A. besides, as a quick glance at his career numbers in four hitting-friendly ballparks in which he has played at least 20 games -- Arizona's Chase Field, Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, Colorado's Coors Field and Milwaukee's Miller Park -- shows he's a .288/.355/.467 hitter with 18 homers and 79 RBIs in 167 total contests. A trade to the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees could restore him to the class of top-30 outfielders.

Konerko Konerko

4. Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox

He's facing a race against time, as he's ineligible to return from his back injury before July 17, exactly two weeks before the July 31 deadline. That said, if Konerko is to have any chance of being showcased for trade, the White Sox will grant him it, as they'd probably love to move him and his $13.5 million salary, even if such a trade comes during the August waiver period.

The problem, however, is that any trade of Konerko further threatens his already declining fantasy value. His isolated power -- his slugging percentage minus his batting average, helping outline a player's power potential -- and well-hit average -- the percentage of his at-bats that resulted in hard contact -- have declined in each year since 2010, and he has a substantial home/road split that is a concern because of how homer-friendly his home ballpark is (these from 2009-13):

Home: .301/.388/.558, .257 ISO, 18.4 HR/FB%, .301 BABIP
Road: .283/.353/.453, .170 ISO, 12.1 HR/FB%, .303 BABIP

There's a reason that Konerko has continually slipped in my rankings this season, and the threat of a trade out of U.S. Cellular Field only compounds that problem. At least there'd be some promise for AL-only owners remaining in Chicago: Dayan Viciedo might be shifted to first base, also freeing up outfield at-bats for Blake Tekotte, in the event Konerko is moved.

Utley Utley

5. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies

Don't race to assume that Utley would lose value because he'd be removed from Citizens Bank Park; the truth is that Citizens Bank hasn't been a clear hitters' heaven since 2007. Besides, Utley has performed better on the road than at home this season, though again, that's not terribly relevant to this story, either, because it represents only the first time since 2009 that he was a better road hitter.

Utley's gain if he's traded is the strength of the potential landing spot: In a lineup such as that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he'd benefit from a boost in runs/RBI potential, especially if he could figure into the No. 2 or 3 spot in the order. Or, in an even more attractive arrangement, he could land with an American League team that has a designated hitter spot in which to provide him necessary rest, potentially increasing his number of games played. Perhaps the Phillies won't deal Utley because of his historical significance to the franchise, but the mere prospect that they might makes him an excellent contender for top-10 second base fantasy status.

Morse Morse

6. Michael Morse, OF, Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have averaged 3.82 runs per game this season, third worst in the majors, so the same point about runs/RBIs that applied to Morales above does to Morse as well. He is a middle-of-the-order hitter who thus far has only 23 RBIs to show for his nine doubles and 11 home runs, so any trade elsewhere could vault him into a class of top-25 power hitters in fantasy (that's "power hitters," or HR/RBI sources, not "hitters overall," mind you).

Though Morse is currently on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps, he's scheduled to begin a brief rehabilitation assignment during the weekend, meaning he might be ready to join the Mariners' lineup in time for a two-week showcase for trade. His injury history is troubling, but he also has a track record of going on some lengthy hot spells: He had a .292/.326/.491, 14-homer, 46-RBI second half in 2012; a .306/.351/.535, 15-homer, 49-RBI first half in 2011; and a .282/.347/.518, 11-homer, 32-RBI second half in 2010. Don't rule out another big second half.

Rios Rios

7. Alex Rios, OF, Chicago White Sox

Change -- any type of change -- scares me when it comes to Rios, because he has historically been one of the most unpredictable players in baseball. When the status quo qualifies as a success, why change the status quo?

Fear No. 1: Rios has been moved in a deadline deal before, in 2009, and he was a ghastly .199/.229/.301 hitter in 41 games for the White Sox afterward.
Fear No. 2: Even with his 6-for-6 outburst Tuesday -- be aware that three of those hits came on balls in play judged "soft contact" -- Rios has batted just .261/.297/.351 in 28 games since the White Sox played back-to-back extra-inning games June 5-6, sandwiching a flight from Seattle to Chicago, so maybe it's not the best time to thrust him into a new situation.
Fear No. 3: Rios has been the White Sox's No. 3 hitter in 84 of their 87 games. For how many other teams would he be handed that high a lineup spot?

To be fair, Rios has exhibited little in the way of a home/road platoon split during his White Sox career, so it's possible he'd be the same ol' Alex anywhere. He's also one of the few true power/speed stars in fantasy -- he's one of only six players with at least 70 home runs and steals since 2010 -- which should earn him greater patience among his owners. But I can't say I'm not at all scared …

Ruggiano Ruggiano

8. Justin Ruggiano, OF, Miami Marlins

You could essentially write "Miami Marlins outfielder" for this one and be accurate, as trade rumors have swirled around Ruggiano's outfield mates Stanton and Juan Pierre. Ruggiano gets the nod because he's more likely to be moved than Stanton, and more likely to experience an increase in value via trade than Pierre.

This one is mostly about the ballpark, and remember, while Stanton gets the benefit of the doubt in the power department -- he broke the scoreboard at that spacious venue, so he hits them far -- Ruggiano isn't a similar caliber light-tower power hitter. Ruggiano has hit 25 home runs in 167 games between this and last season. Guess how many were hit at Marlins Park? Four, and his isolated power there is .128 (his road isolated power is .269). Getting him out of that canyonesque venue -- let's call it the new Petco -- would be for the best. Here's a fact that illustrates how criminally underrated Ruggiano is: He's one of only nine players with at least 25 homers and steals since June 1, 2012.

The other ways a Ruggiano trade matters is that on any other team, he'd be propped up more in terms of runs/RBIs, and the Marlins have every incentive to trade an outfielder besides, with top prospect Christian Yelich nearly big league ready. Yelich is a particularly smart stash, as there's an excellent chance the Marlins will move at least one outfielder, and there's no question that he's the most deserving candidate to claim the vacated spot.

Other candidates to be traded

Chase Headley, 3B, San Diego Padres: He was a popular preseason trade candidate, but I'm not buying it today. Headley is enduring an awful year, so the return wouldn't warrant the deal.
Carlos Ruiz, C, Philadelphia Phillies: He's a lifetime .284/.372/.439 hitter after the All-Star break, and in the right lineup, he could make a run at top-10 fantasy catcher value in the final two months.
Michael Young, 1B/3B, Philadelphia Phillies: He might be the Phillies' most likely player to be traded, even more so than Utley, but I simply don't see much of a change in value coming if he's moved.
Josh Willingham, OF, Minnesota Twins: He's out 4-6 weeks following knee surgery, presumably forcing him into the August waiver-trade class. I could see, say, an Aug. 25 trade, but that leaves little time for him to make a fantasy impact.
John Buck, C, New York Mets: The obvious takeaway is that a Buck trade paves the way for top prospect Travis d'Arnaud to take over. D'Arnaud hasn't yet resumed playing minor league games despite making progress with his fractured left foot, however, so the Mets might keep him in the minors until the Sept. 1 roster expansion, giving him only one month's time as a big league starter.
Ryan Doumit, C/OF, Minnesota Twins: Root against him landing back in the National League; one of the primary reasons he managed a career-high 528 plate appearances in 2012 and a pace of 568 this year was that the Twins had a DH spot in which to "rest" him.


Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For position-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rnk" column; these rankings can also be seen split up by position.