I'm preparing to move into a new place over the next week, which doesn't come recommended in the middle of the baseball season. But as long as we're on the subject of moving, I figured this would be an appropriate opportunity to take an early look at some players who could be suiting up elsewhere before the July 31 trade deadline.
23 teams were within seven games of first place in their respective divisions entering Thursday's action and the extra Wild Card in each league has widened the field even further, so we could have less sellers than ever before. However, there are some obvious ones. The rebuilding Cubs should be one of the most active teams, with Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano among the likely candidates to be moved. The Padres will surely listen to offers for Carlos Quentin and Huston Street. And I fully expect the Twins to shop Matt Capps and the Astros to do the same with Brett Myers.
Many things can change between now and July 31, but the most interesting variable might be how the Phillies approach things. They enter play Thursday at 30-34, 9 1/2 games out of first place in the National League East and 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. Chase Utley is currently on track to rejoin the Phillies in early July and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are projected to return during the second half of the season, but what if they continue to stumble? I'm not saying a trade will happen, but you can bet teams will call GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. about impending free agent Cole Hamels.
In addition to the obvious fantasy fallout of the trade deadline, we should soon see an influx of top prospects once teams feel that they are in the clear from Super Two implications. The next seven weeks will be a wild ride on the waiver wire, but it will also present plenty of opportunities for fantasy owners to remain competitive and climb in the standings.
Phil Hughes SP, Yankees (Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 19 percent)
Hughes has really turned things around over the past month, posting a 3.40 ERA over his last six starts. That number is actually a bit elevated by his seven-run clunker against the Angels on May 28, but his recent stretch of success is more impressive once you realize that he has allowed two earned runs or less in the other six. And while the 25-year-old right-hander has a mediocre 4.76 ERA through 12 starts overall this year, he owns an impressive 63/18 K/BB ratio across 68 innings. Of course, he has allowed at least one home run in each of his starts this season and his 50 percent fly ball rate suggests that little bugaboo isn't going away, but there's still a lot to like here. He makes for a fine staff anchor in most mixed leagues.
Trevor Plouffe 2B/3B/SS/OF, Twins (Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 36 percent)
Wow, who saw this one coming? Plouffe had a lowly .135 batting average on the morning of May 19, but he's hitting .344 (22-for-64) with eight homers, five doubles, 15 RBI and 15 runs scored over his last 16 games. This includes four homers in his last five games and six this month. The 2004 first-round pick doesn't make contact often enough to hit for a high batting average over the long haul, but he has shown some pop in the minors and connected for eight homers in 81 games with the Twins last year. With his handy multi-position eligibility, he's a pretty useful plug-in option in deeper formats right now.
Russell Martin C, Yankees (Yahoo: 34 percent owned, ESPN: 15.4 percent)
Martin enjoyed his success in bunches last year and we could be in the middle of one of those stretches right now. After hitting just .187 with four homers in 42 games through the end of May, the 29-year-old backstop is hitting .265 (9-for-35) with four homers, two doubles, and eight RBI through the first 11 games in June. It's suddenly not crazy to think he'll match the 18 homers he had last season. And while he remains a batting average risk, he's at least drawing enough walks to keep his OPS afloat. Martin remains relevant in deeper mixed leagues and two-catcher formats.
Michael Saunders OF, Mariners (Yahoo: 27 percent owned, ESPN: 46.3 percent)
Doing his best to burst the post-hype bubble, Saunders is hitting .282/.350/.474 with seven homers, 22 RBI, 30 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and an .824 OPS through 61 games this year. Perhaps his success has been overlooked nationally because he plays on the West Coast, but that's top-30 outfielder production. Franklin Gutierrez was activated from the disabled list on Wednesday, but Saunders should continue to get regular playing time in left field moving forward. I don't expect him to maintain a high batting average, as he strikes out too much and his .356 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is likely to regress a bit, but his speed-power combo is worth a flier in most formats at this point.
Jon Niese SP, Mets (Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 21.6 percent)
Remember how I wrote two months ago that Niese had the potential for a breakout season? Perhaps he's on his way. Through his first 12 starts, the 25-year-old southpaw has a solid 3.69 ERA and 67/27 K/BB ratio across 68 1/3 innings. His strand rate and BABIP (batting average on balls in play) indicate that there's some luck involved, but I don't expect him to continue giving up 1.32 HR/9, either. And while he's averaging 3.56 BB/9, at least he has maintained a healthy ground ball rate of 53.6 percent. He should be owned in most mixed leagues.
Gaby Sanchez 1B, Marlins (Yahoo: 17 percent owned, ESPN: 21.6 percent)
Sanchez was demoted to Triple-A New Orleans last month after hitting just .197 with one homer and a .539 OPS over 36 games. Getting the opportunity to hit in the Pacific Coast League likely helped, but he earned his way back to the majors last week after batting .310 (18-for-58) with three homers, 10 RBI and a .976 OPS in 19 games with the Zephyrs. I've never been a big fan of Sanchez, as he has a mediocre .716 career OPS against right-handed pitching, but he was right in the 20-homer, 80-RBI range in 2010 and 2011. He's relevant in deeper mixed leagues, especially where he can be plugged in at a corner infielder (CI) spot.
Ben Revere OF, Twins (Yahoo: 11 percent owned, ESPN: 15.2 percent)
Revere remains red-hot. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI single and two runs scored in Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and is hitting a cool .464 (13-for-28) over his last six games, pulling his season batting average up from .301 to .345 in the process. The speedy 24-year-old also has nine stolen bases, despite playing in just 28 games at the major league level this year. Sure, it would be nice if he drew a few more walks, but his elite contact rate at least gives him a chance to get on base. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire would be silly to sit him right now, so he makes for a fine option for anyone looking to catch up in the stolen base department.
Ryan Cook RP, Athletics (Yahoo: 30 percent owned, ESPN: 14.3 percent)
The latest turn in the MLB closer carousel, Cook has notched a pair of saves for the Athletics this week. Acquired from the Diamondbacks over the winter in the Trevor Cahill deal, the 24-year-old right-hander has a 0.64 ERA and 27 strikeouts over 28 innings this season. Of course, he has also walked 16 batters and his command was an issue at times in the minors, so there figures to be some bumps in the road. Still, A's manager Bob Melvin seems to favor him over Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Sean Doolittle in his new closer-by-committee. And that's good enough for him to be owned in most formats.
Cody Ross OF, Red Sox (Yahoo: 22 percent owned, ESPN: 18.7 percent)
Ross was owned in the great majority of mixed leagues prior to hitting the disabled list last month with a fractured navicular bone in his left foot. While initial word was that he would miss 6-8 weeks, he's now slated to begin a rehab assignment Friday and could rejoin the Red Sox as soon as next Tuesday. We'll likely see some shuffling in the outfield until Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford return, but Ross should be in the lineup on most days if he's healthy. His pop makes him worth a DL-stash outside of shallow leagues.
Ike Davis 1B, Mets (Yahoo: 35 percent owned, ESPN: 22.3 percent)
This time last week I was thinking that Davis could soon be headed for a demotion to Triple-A Buffalo. Now? Well, I'm increasingly optimistic that he's finally coming out of his season-long funk. Hey, I'm fickle like that. The 25-year-old first baseman hit his first home run since May 9 on Tuesday night and has hit safely in each of his last four games. With seven walks in his last seven games, it's clear he's just seeing the ball better these days. Keep in mind that he had just six walks over his previous 22 games combined. Things are looking up, at the very least.
Gavin Floyd SP, White Sox (Yahoo: 29 percent owned, ESPN: 45.1 percent)
I don't blame you if you're surprised to see Floyd here. After all, he has been tattooed for 30 runs on 41 hits (including 10 homers) in 25 2/3 innings over his last five starts, resulting in a 10.52 ERA. However, I see some reason for optimism in his overall numbers. He's throwing just as hard as ever, limiting walks like usual and has actually seen his strikeout and swinging strike rates go up. Would I start him Thursday night against the Cardinals? No, almost certainly not. But he's certainly worth a stash in most formats in hopes that he turns things around.
Shopping at the five-and-dime:
(Players owned in less than 10 percent of Y! and ESPN.com leagues)
Alex Presley OF, Pirates (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 2.4 percent)
I liked Presley as a sleeper coming into the season, but he was demoted by the Pirates last month after batting just .220 with a .551 OPS over his first 220 plate appearances. However, he earned his way back to the majors last week following a strong showing with Triple-A Indianapolis. The 26-year-old outfielder is hitting .305 (11-for-36) with three doubles, one triple, one home run, two RBI, three stolen bases and seven runs scored in eight games since his return and has reclaimed the leadoff spot in recent days. Worth a shot in deeper leagues.
Norichika Aoki OF, Brewers (Yahoo: 5 percent owned, ESPN: 5.1 percent)
For someone who was expected to function as a fifth outfielder coming into the season, Aoki has been quite a find for the Brewers in his first year stateside. The 30-year-old went 2-for-5 with a run scored in Wednesday's loss to the Royals and is now hitting .299/.364/.474 with three homers, five stolen bases and an .839 OPS through 54 games this season. His strong play (and Corey Hart's move to first base) has earned him regular playing time in right field and a promotion to the leadoff spot in the Brewers' lineup. I'd be surprised if he reached double-digit homers, even after his two-homer game last week, but he should be able to maintain a solid batting average while helping with stolen bases and runs scored. There's definite value here in deeper mixed leagues and five-outfielder formats.