Major League Baseball's trade deadline might be in our rearview, but fantasy's deadline is still ahead of us ... although not by much: The trade deadline in ESPN standard leagues arrives Friday, Aug. 8, at 1 p.m. ET (all trades must be accepted by that time).
I've criticized the buy-low, sell-high fantasy sports trading strategy in the past, and yet another reason for that is the tendency for owners to adhere to it more often at certain stages of the season than others. Simply put, in May, seasonal statistics represent smaller sample sizes than those in August and typically fall further out of line from a player's historical track record, so people think that's the time to pull a fast one on an unsuspecting owner. In other words, people believe you buy low and sell high in May, and they sometimes shut down the shop after that.
But in August, players' seasonal stats tend to settle in closer to career norms, meaning you could capitalize if an unsuspecting owner hasn't noticed a recent player trend hidden behind an otherwise solid stat line.
Today, you might need to work harder to unearth values, but they're there. Let's find a few for you, as you work to make last-minute improvements to your roster.
First, five players you should consider acquiring:
Josh Reddick (available in 51 percent of ESPN leagues, but up 27 percent in the past seven days): A maddeningly streaky, and increasingly injury-prone, player during his three-year Oakland Athletics career, Reddick possesses as much bang-for-your-buck value as anyone currently in the trade "bargain bin." His is a play for power, as during his Athletics career he has .192 isolated power, a 4.3 percent homer rate and a 47 percent fly ball rate (that's sixth highest in the majors from 2011-13); those compare extremely favorably to the major league averages of .144, 2.8 and 34.1. Also, since returning from the DL on July 22, Reddick is a .370 hitter with a .739 slugging percentage and four home runs in 13 games, at a time when the Athletics traded a key hitting chip (Yoenis Cespedes) and therefore could sorely use a productive Reddick. This is a smart team exploiting matchups -- consider that Reddick is a .305/.353/.552 hitter against right-handers this season -- and the Athletics should squeeze the most out of him in the coming weeks.
Xander Bogaerts (owned in 57 percent of ESPN leagues despite ranking just the No. 21 shortstop on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split): Few players have been bounced around and struggled to receive consistent playing time at one position as much at such a young age as Bogaerts -- though Michael Young comes to mind as a recent historical example -- and it's easy to imagine that having an impact upon his numbers. A natural shortstop, Bogaerts struggled to hit as a third baseman following the Boston Red Sox's May 21 signing of Stephen Drew; Bogaerts batted .182/.217/.300 in 180 trips to the plate at that position this year. Now that Drew has been traded, Bogaerts is back at shortstop, where he's a .284/.373/.408 hitter. Having a consistent, everyday role should be a good thing for Bogaerts, and surely the Red Sox want to play him as often as they can, to get him up to full speed for 2015. Talk up his 1-for-12, 5-K performance in his first three games back at shortstop, and his .156 batting average in his past 43 games, and see if you can acquire him cheaply.
Jedd Gyorko (available in 69 percent of ESPN leagues, but up 16 percent in the past seven days): He has endured a miserable and injury-plagued campaign, but Gyorko's rest-of-2014 path appears clear. Now back as the San Diego Padres' everyday second baseman, Gyorko has batted .348 (8-for-23) with two home runs in seven games since returning from the DL. But more importantly, he seems to be honing his approach; he's swinging less often against breaking pitches (33 percent since his return, 44 percent before) and taking more of an all-fields approach (35 percent opposite field rate on balls in play since his return, 25 percent before). Yes, it's a minuscule sample, but this is a game centered upon minuscule samples, so such chances must be taken. Gyorko's owners might have long since given up hope of a rebound to his No. 16 second baseman status of 2013. It's time to pounce, because he could have that kind of value in Rotisserie leagues going forward.
Anibal Sanchez (owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, but only the No. 36 starting pitcher on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split): I admit, I got fooled into believing Sanchez's poor July numbers and lowered him more than was appropriate in last week's going-forward rankings. He had a 6.03 ERA in six starts in the month, but more distressingly, he had a mere 15.8 percent strikeout rate (6.03 on the per-nine scale) during that time. I should've instead noted this: He had a 3.39 FIP behind those numbers in the month, for the majors' fourth-widest +2.64 ERA/FIP differential. Oh, and then Sanchez promptly whiffed 12 Colorado Rockies without a walk in seven innings on Sunday. He was a top-20 drafted starting pitcher, he's a top-20 true-value starter and he'll remain a top-20 starter going forward. But the very fact that I -- and probably many other fantasy owners -- got fooled at all by a mere one-month blip on his radar screen suggests he might be a brilliant buy-low candidate today.
Oswaldo Arcia (available in 91 percent of ESPN leagues): He's an up-and-coming, underrated source of home runs, and his ownership percentage shows that he might cost you nothing more than a free-agent pickup to acquire. Arcia's career-to-date numbers might not impress, but in 13 games since the All-Star break, he's a .261 hitter with a .543 slugging percentage and three home runs. More importantly, 38 percent of the time he has put the ball in play during that time he did so making hard contact -- the major league average is 20 percent for non-pitchers -- behind seven line drives and four fly balls. He'll also receive more playing time moving forward, what with Kendrys Morales now in Seattle and Sam Fuld in Oakland, depleting the team's outfield/designated hitter competition, not to mention his importance to the team's future. A 10-homer final eight weeks isn't an unthinkable projection.
Any list of trade targets must be accompanied by a list of those to sell, right? Here are five you could peddle leading up to Friday:
Carlos Beltran (owned in 99 percent of ESPN leagues, and added in 19 percent in the past seven days): People have done much bandwagon-hopping with Beltran this season; on, then off, then on, off, maybe on, definitely off, but clearly back on now. It's understandable, as he's Carlos Beltran: He finished 58th on our Player Rater last season! He was a ninth-round pick this year! He's a former 30/30 player! He plays at Yankee Stadium! Sure enough, Beltran has batted .371 with four homers, 12 RBIs and 11 runs scored in 17 games since the All-Star break, so any memory of the elbow injury that cost him 21 games earlier this year might have faded in some owners' memories. It hasn't disappeared: He has played through a bone spur in his right elbow almost all year, which is why he hasn't played a single inning in the outfield since May 11. Beltran might be plenty productive enough to be one of the 100 best players in fantasy -- and 60-70 best hitters and 20-25 best outfielders -- the rest of the year, but his risk of missed time is as great as anyone's. If your team is in a position where it couldn't afford to lose him for an extended period, now's as good a time as any to cash in his chip.
Matt Kemp (owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, and the No. 9 player overall on our Player Rater's "Last 15" split): This one falls somewhat in line with the Beltran example -- purging yourself of the risk of missed time -- but in Kemp's case, there's reason to be more confident that he'll stay healthy, without a specific ailment currently threatening him. No, the real reason Kemp warrants shopping is that even during his recent hot spell -- he's a .357/.446/.679 hitter in 16 games since the All-Star break -- he simply isn't stealing bases, a contribution which drove a lot of his fantasy value in past years. Kemp has just one steal attempt (a successful one) during that recent span, and he's just 1-for-4 attempting steals in his past 68 games. Kemp also strikes out too often to be expected to bat much higher than .280, and if he's more of a .280-hitting, 25-homer, 5-steal performer (that on a 162-game pace) going forward, he probably possesses more perceived than true value on the trade market.
Adam Wainwright (owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, but only the No. 94 starting pitcher on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split): Hear me out. In no way is this meant a "run for the hills!!!" proclamation regarding Wainwright; you can see that in my last going-forward rankings, he was clearly still valued a top-10 starting pitcher. By all rights, he should remain a top-10 starter the rest of 2014. But what if you're a team in need of a substantial haul for a perceived top-two-in-the-game fantasy ace, except that that top-two-in-the-game fantasy ace isn't necessarily that? Wainwright's plummeting strikeout rate is my worry: He has whiffed 13.3 percent of the hitters he has faced since July 1, but from 2012 through June 30, 2014, he whiffed 22.8 percent. He's keeping more pitches up than usual -- 4 percent more in the upper third, 3 percent fewer in the bottom third, comparing those same two time periods -- and his fastball and cutter just haven't been as effective, as up-there-with-the-absolute-best, as in the past. When you're a team with specific needs and a surplus of starting pitching, these are the chips you deal, the ones who have shown some slight signs of slipping closer to the rest of the pack.
Torii Hunter (owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues, and the No. 20 player overall on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split): He's a very good real-game, and a good-but-not-great fantasy, player, but Hunter isn't this .300-25-100-12 type of player (that using a 162-game pace) that he appeared to be the past month-plus. Yes, at this advanced stage of his career he has made a habit of beating the BABIP gods -- his annually seems inflated, like his .389 of 2012 -- but it's actually the power numbers that seem out of place. Per FanGraphs, his home run/fly ball percentage in July was 27.3. In the past 30 days, it's 26.3. To compare, since 2002 -- the first season for which FanGraphs has data -- Hunter's home run/fly ball percentage is 15.4. At 39 years old, there's little reason to believe he's capable of maintaining this kind of pace, either in batting average or home runs; more likely he's a .280-and-18 (that his homer total, and again using a 162-game pace) type of hitter from this point forward.
Jenrry Mejia (owned in 87.2 percent of ESPN leagues, and the No. 21 relief pitcher on our Player Rater's "Last 30" split): That the New York Mets even shifted him from their rotation to the closer role in the first place speaks volumes about their concerns for his workload. Besides, there's a simple statistic that illustrates another worry: Mejia's WHIP as a reliever this season is 1.41; setup man Jeurys Familia's is 1.16. (And to toss more onto the pile, Vic Black's is 1.26.) Mejia and Familia both entered 2014 with concerns about their control, but at least Familia seems to have addressed it. Familia is also the one who throws harder -- his average fastball velocity is 96.3 mph, compared to 93.2 for Mejia -- and projects as a short reliever long-term, whereas Mejia probably fits more as a starter for this team down the road. Don't be at all surprised if the Mets decide to audition some of their future pieces at closer by September.