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03/28/2007 2:35 PM ET
Sleeping giants: Bargains to be had
Which sleeper candidates could provide the biggest returns?

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer


Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur has drawn no walks in 60 plate appearances this spring.  (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Question 1: TRADE

Dear Rotoman:

I've got an outfield of J.D. Drew, Manny Ramirez, and Michael Cuddyer, with Chris Young and Coco Crisp waiting on the bench. A team has offered me Jeff Francoeur for Drew. Would my team be better if I made this trade?

"Please Adrewdicate"

Dear Please:

There are two issues here:

1) J.D. Drew gets hurt. He simply does. Since making his debut in 1998, he's topped 600 plate appearances just once, and only one other time did he have more than 500 PA. That happened to be last year, when he set a personal best with 146 games played. Whether he is frail, brittle, sensitive or lazy isn't for me to say, but whatever the reasons, expecting him to match that number this year isn't reasonable.

2) Jeff Francouer won't take a walk. Or rather, he'll only take it when he's forced to. As a rookie in 2005, he walked only once in every 23 PA. Last year, that number fell to once in every 29 PA. The benchmark for someone with decent (but not great) plate discipline is one walk per 10 PA.

The answer to your question lies in how we look at these two issues.

Both of J.D. Drew's most healthy seasons have come in the last three years, so maybe he's turning the corner. When healthy, he's a good hitter who gets on base quite a bit, and he has some power. His 162 game averages? A .286 average, a .905 OPS, 27 homers and 12 steals. He hasn't run nearly as much as he did early in his career over the past two years and certainly won't in Boston, but the numbers indicate that he'll be a solid contributor if he plays.

Jeff Francouer is young, having turned 23 in January, and has time to improve his approach at the plate. His 162-game averages are a .271 AVG, a .783 OPS, 30 homers and three steals. Despite efforts to be more patient, Francouer is still hacking away this spring, having failed to draw a walk in 59 AB. Still, he's hitting .305, albeit with a .797 OPS.

Given the same number of plate appearances, I think you have to like Drew over Francouer this year because he'll probably have a higher batting average and figures to be pretty productive in the middle of a strong Boston lineup.

And even though you have to assume Drew will have fewer plate appearances, you have to give him the edge when he's healthy. So the issue really becomes, when Drew is not healthy, do you have a replacement who would be equal to or better than Francouer?

Between the recovering (and struggling, but talented) Coco Crisp, the talented (but young) Chris Young and the limited (but effective) Michael Cuddyer, you have enough pieces to fill in when Drew is unable to perform. In fact, if Crisp and Young play the way I expect them to, you might choose to bench Drew even when he's healthy.

That's why I think you should keep Drew, the riskier but overall better player, rather than dealing for the playing-time-safer Francouer.

Safely,
Rotoman

Question 2: BIG TRADE

Dear Rotoman:

I was offered a trade of Ichiro Suzuki for Brandon Webb and John Smoltz. I would be getting the pitchers. My pitching currently consists of Jason Schmidt, Josh Beckett and Andy Pettitte. Plus, I picked up Dave Roberts off waivers just in case I make the trade. Should I make this trade? Also, can you tell me what you think of Ichiro this year?

"Hitting for the Pitchers"

Dear Pitchers:

Last year, Ichiro earned $36, while the Cy Young award-winning Webb earned $34 and the steady John Smoltz earned $27, so even though the rule of thumb is to not trade the best player in a 2-for-1 deal, this is close enough that it makes sense to do it.

That is, except that Smoltz is turning 40 this year, and Webb had never earned more than $21 before 2006, an indicator that he won't be earning in the $30s again. In Tout Wars Mixed, Ichiro went for $29, while Webb was $21 and Smoltz $17. That's a smaller edge for the pitchers, and in most cases, a good reason to stick with that category killer Ichiro. But not this time.

One reason is Ichiro himself. He didn't really drop off last year so much as he didn't bounce all the way back. The decline is subtle, as he hit fewer homers, smacked fewer doubles, and drew fewer walks than he did in his prime. The stolen bases spiked last year, but that isn't likely to hold up, as he turns 34 after the 2007 season. He's not over the hill, but the odds of him having another career year are plummeting.

Another reason is your pitching staff. Andy Pettitte had to talk himself out of retiring this year, so aching was his body (and aching still it is now), while Jason Schmidt has been struggling to deal with his aging body and evolving skill set. Finally, Josh Beckett adapted to life at Fenway Park about as well as could have been expected for someone moving from a pitchers' park to a hitters' facility and seeing his ERA balloon.

These guys aren't as good as their reputations suggest, and you can really use the help Webb and Smoltz provide. Plus, most importantly, you have Dave Roberts, who should get you the same number of steals as Ichiro at the cost of a much lower batting average.

In the end, this isn't so much a 2-for-1 trade as it is a hitting-for-pitching deal. It's one worth making.

Slimly,
Rotoman

Question 3: THE BIG ONE

Rotoman:

Can you name some sleepers I should be on the lookout for?

"Drowsy"

Dear Drowsy:

No two people have the same idea about sleepers. They play in differently sized leagues with different rules, which makes all the difference. But everyone loves sleeper lists, so I thought I'd go through the auction lists for the Tout Wars drafts, which took place last weekend (I'm in the NL league) and write about some of the players I think were bargains.

You can decide if that makes them sleepers or anomalies (of which there are definitely plenty).

American League

Hank Blalock: He went for $17, and this is less indicative of a bargain than a decline. His prices the past five years have been $13, $10, $25, $27, $20. Only in 2003 did he earn a profit. I'm going to chalk that up to bad luck, injuries and a contentious relationship with his manager and say that this price represents a buying opportunity. He's 27 this year, too.

Erick Aybar: He's a legitimate Major League hitter who just so happens to be blocked at shortstop right now. The Angels are playing him in center field this spring. If he somehow gets playing time, he should hit for average and run some.

Jonny Gomes: After a nice start last year, Gomes saw his strength sapped by a shoulder injury. He got off to a slow start this spring, but he's heating up. Consider him a potential source for big power at a cheap price.

Ryan Garko: He's probably headed for the Minor Leagues despite having had a strong spring. He's a victim of his bad hands at first base -- and the fact that the DH ahead of him, Travis Hafner, is the best in the business.

Kelly Shoppach: He's not a terrible hitter, will cost a buck and could see more playing time than anyone expects if Victor Martinez plays much first base.

Cliff Lee: In Tout Wars, his price was $4, which is about what he earned last year. In 2005, he earned $18. His abdominal strain makes this a buying opportunity, even if he misses April.

Esteban German: He's been on my preseason sleeper list every year, and last year, he finally paid off. He went for $9 in Tout, partly I'm sure because Mark Grudzielanek was hurt. But Grudzielanek appears to be on his way back, while German doesn't offer much defensively and is the sort of player you want for a buck or two. At $9, there's a good chance he'll hurt you.

Melky Cabrera: He wasn't a bargain in Tout ($10), but despite the obvious lack of playing time, he's a guy to pick up for cheap if your league lets you. Somehow, he's going to get at-bats, and he showed last year he can play.

National League

Preston Wilson: He went for a buck in Tout, but only some of that was due to circumstance. There is a genuine dislike out there for him, even though right now he's by far the best outfielder the Cardinals have.

Jeremy Hermida: The injuries are worrisome, and he's on the disabled list now, but it's too soon to tag him "prone." And he's too talented to ignore, especially since he'll come cheap.

Brian McCann: He only cost $22 for some mysterious reason, which is astounding when you consider that Chris Iannetta went for $15. If that happens in your league, grab him.

Barry Zito: The bidding stopped at $11. There was no love in the room. He's a steal at that price.

Lastings Milledge: He's having a nice spring and is really talented. Because he doesn't have a job, he'll come cheap. That will change.

James Loney: He's in the same situation as Milledge, except he's already been sent down to the Minors. He's behind the injury-prone Nomar Garciaparra at first, however, so he'll be back.

Good luck in all your drafts.

Until next time,
Rotoman

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