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05/30/2007 12:19 PM ET
Dealing a king
Is it worth it to trade Jose Reyes?

 Ask Rotoman
 Peter Kreutzer

 Mets leadoff man Jose Reyes has a .395 on-base percentage and 41 runs scored.  (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Question 1: COSMOLOGY


Wow, everyone wants Jose Reyes!

1) I can get Rafael Furcal and Jason Bay for Reyes and Nomar Garciaparra.

2) Or I can get Derek Lee and Michael Young for Reyes and Nomar.

3) Or I can get Chase Utley, Edgar Renteria, Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera for Reyes, Juan Pierre and Erik Bedard.

My lineup is Michael Barrett, Ryan Howard, Howie Kendrick, Reyes, Aramis Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Manny Ramirez, Pierre, Luis Gonzalez and Nomar. Which, if any, should I take?


Dear Kingpin:

Jose Reyes is the top-rated hitter in the National League right now. And it isn't like his performance comes as a surprise. He earned $41 last year and $36 the year before. Only Albert Pujols, Carl Crawford and Vladimir Guerrero earned more, and all are older than Reyes (who turns 24 in two weeks), further along in their prime.

Before the 2006 season, I argued in this space that the Mets would be better off if Reyes and his .300 on-base average batted down in the batting order. My sense was the undisciplined Reyes didn't get on base enough to help the solid power hitters in the middle of the lineup get enough RBI opportunities. I got plenty of arguments for my argument, but most of it focused on the waste of Reyes' speed if he didn't lead off.

One small (and vocal) group of readers, however, did argue that Reyes was young and that he would improve, and while he still isn't a walking machine, he doesn't need to be. His quick hands and slashing stroke put the ball in play. He gets on base because of his aggressive style, not in spite of it. Last year, he became a reasonable leadoff hitter, and this year he's become a very good one. I was wrong last year; I should have anticipated his improvement, which I dare say isn't over yet.

If your goal as a fantasy owner is to get the best player in most deals, trading the best player -- especially one who's improving -- probably isn't the way to do it. Your goal is to win, and to win you must have the best team, but since the best team doesn't always have the best player, there must be times it makes sense to trade the king. Right?

Of course! If everyone wants him, someone may be willing and -- more importantly -- able to solve all your team's problems. And if he or she is, maybe you should trade Jose Reyes.

But it's pretty much impossible for me to tell when it's the right time. The list of possible deals you send makes me yawn for the most part, though No. 3 has possibilities. It isn't that they're necessarily bad deals, but it's hard for me to see how they would help you enough.

So here are some rules of thumb to consider when contemplating dealing a star:

In a shallow league, a 12-team mixed format or something similar, the curve of talent is exponential. The best players, those at the top of the curve, are so much more valuable than other players (because there is such a broad pool of decent talent at the replacement level) that you need either an overwhelming deal (two guys who are nearly as good for your one, like Russell Martin and Beltran for Reyes) to pull the trigger, or you need to change directions (trade Reyes for pitching) because you have too many stolen bases (or whatever).

Trade No. 3 you mention is a little risky, but it does get you back a fair amount of hitting and the potential to transform your pitching staff while dealing away some excess speed.

In a deep league, an NL-only league in this case, the replacement-level talent is minimal. If you lose a hitter to injury, the only available replacement is likely to be someone who gets three or four at-bats a week. If you have enough of these holes, even a star like Reyes won't help you stay afloat, and it may make sense to make a two- or three-for-one deal.

The problem then will be finding a partner who can give up enough to make it worth your while. Remember, there will be productive players on the waiver wire or smaller two-for-one deals that might help you more. Trading the game's biggest star should be done reluctantly, with ruthlessness and with a clear eye on the leverage the king gives you. It's a trade you have to win.


Question 2: COMPARE

Dear Rotoman:

I've somehow managed to land three of the top second basemen -- Brian Roberts, Robinson Cano and Julio Lugo. Carlos Delgado is in my utility spot. Who should I be starting as of now, and who's better for the rest of this year?

"Pivot Point"

Dear Pivot:

Going into the season, I had Cano and Roberts rated about equally, with Lugo a click behind. One reason for downgrading Lugo was the assumption that he wouldn't run very much in Boston, an assumption that hasn't proven to be true.

So far this year, Roberts is by far the most productive of the bunch, and Lugo has been a pleasant surprise, mostly because of his steals. He really hasn't started to hit yet. But when it comes to not getting going, Cano has been the master of disaster. Not much is happening when he hits the ball, and he's hitting the ball less than he did in his first two big-league campaigns.

Right now, you have to bench Cano, who just isn't producing enough to play over the other guys. And assuming Lugo begins to hit for a little more power as he has in the past, it's unlikely that Cano will match him the rest of the way, either.


Question 3: TRENDS

Dear Rotoman:

Is Lance Berkman turning into Brian Giles?

He has a TOTAL of five homers and ONE double in more than 200 plate appearances. He's practically been a waste of a second-round pick!

"Liked Lance A Lot"

Dear A Lot:

The distinctive thing about Berkman this year is that he's walking more and striking out more than usual. That's probably more an indictment of the Astros' struggling offense than the result of anything intrinsic to Berkman's game. He is supposedly healthy.

Berkman's numbers look scarily meek and have been similar in April and May, but unlike Giles, he hasn't moved to a ballpark that can sap away your power game. He's younger than Giles, too. The longer the slump goes on, the less likely Berkman will be to match last year's career-level production, but right now, this looks like a slump. He's still likely to be one of the best power-hitting on-base machines in the game the rest of the way.


Question 4: THE BIG ONE


My question is about Jose Contreras. I'm never quite sure what I'm going to get out of him. Sometimes he's good, and sometimes, well, he's contra-good.

So I'm looking at what's available on the waiver wire. Sergio Mitre, Scott Olsen, John Danks, Yovani Gallardo, Justin Germano, Sean Marshall and a few guys that are expected to come back soon, like Kenny Rogers, Josh Johnson and Jon Lester.

Should I stick with Contreras or drop him for one of these other pitchers?

"Contreras Dance"

Dear CD:

Young pitchers will look awfully good for a while, and then they won't. That happened to John Danks on Tuesday, when he bumped into Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel and saw his ERA increase by nearly a whole run in one game (3.78 to 4.59). Now Danks owners have to wonder whether the four consecutive quality starts were a tease, the time a modest pitcher survived while hitters figured him out, or if last night's game was a fluke.

Jose Contreras has been one of the most discussed pitchers over the years in this forum. His high-profile signing with the Yankees, his modest success and the overwhelming sense of disappointment that came with it have made him fodder for many columns. And all through the years, he's proven himself to be a capable pitcher who walks too many but is able to survive in spite of that.

Over the last two years, he's been able to either allow fewer hits (while walking too many) or walking fewer (while allowing a hit per inning), and the result has been a sense that he'd gotten better. Maybe so, but his problem this year is that he's allowing a hit per inning and quite a few walks, and inevitably, when there are guys on base, runs score.

The last two years represent Contreras' level of talent, and if you want better, you're going to have to hope he gets a little luckier, or you're going to have to look elsewhere. Here are some notes on the guys you mentioned. I think each and every one of them is riskier and more likely to hurt you than Contreras. But at least some have a better chance of helping you.

Sergio Mitre, FLA: The potential was always there, but the control was not. So far, he's limited the walks and kept the ball on the ground. He's at an age when it may be real, just not sub-2.00-ERA real.

Scott Olsen, FLA: He's still young, but right now he's struggling to get big leaguers out.

John Danks, CWS: Did the Twins benefit by seeing him twice in two weeks? He's a fly-ball pitcher in a home run park, so damage will be done.

Yovani Gallardo, MIL: Obviously, he has a lot of potential, but he's in the Minors, so he isn't an option right now. When he gets the call, he'll be worth pursuing aggressively if you have a hole.

Justin Germano, SD: He's looked awfully good and has the sort of pedigree that can circle around success for a while and then grab it. Still, he's performing way above his head now.

Sean Marshall, CHC: It's way too soon to know if he's really overcome his control problems. He's very risky.

Kenny Rogers, DET: He's a month away, which means something when you're nearly 43. You can't ignore him, but he's bound to fail (or fail to reappear) at some point.

Josh Johnson, FLA: Last year's walk total worries me, and obviously, you'd rather not count on a young pitcher coming back from surgery. Regardless, he's certainly worth a flyer, especially if he breezes through his rehab.

Jon Lester, BOS: I like his chances a lot, but he's too inexperienced coming back from too much to be counted on right away. Like the other guys on this list, some success this year wouldn't be a surprise, but catastrophic failure is a big risk, too.

Until next time,

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