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Monday 24th Jul 2017

There are multiple paths to a fantasy baseball league title. If you drafted well and are able to avoid significant injuries, sticking with almost the exact same team for the entire season is a fine way to go. On the other hand, making a lot of trades, even if you did draft well, could pay off. First, there's that whole buy low/sell high strategy. Even more importantly, trading can be fun if you don't fall for the trap of becoming too emotionally attached to your players. Why not add some new life to your roster? I've always viewed Memorial Day as the point in the season when we can closely analyze our rosters and accurately identify strengths and weaknesses. Not surprisingly, it is around this time when trading picks up. I'm expecting at least a handful of swaps over the next week or two in Mixed Auction Tout Wars. This has always been a very active league, both on the FAAB and trade fronts, and 2017 is no different. 

So, as we head into the heart of trade season, here's a look at some of the more significant trades that have already been made.

Ron Shandler trades Freddie Freeman and Jose Peraza to Ray Flowers for Corey Knebel and Josh Bell (effective week of 5/29)

This is an intriguing one, as Ray was willing to part with a productive bat in Bell (who sees a value boost in OBP leagues like Tout) in addition to one of his four closers in exchange for a high-end speed source and Freeman, a DL stash. The Braves first baseman is expected to be sidelined until at least early-August, but as an elite run producer, he could be well worth the wait. More reward on Ray's side, though Ron, who leads the league in steals, was able to fill an immediate need at closer (the Jeurys Familia injury left him with only Hector Neris) while also securing a solid 1B replacement for Freeman.

Scott Pianowski trades Wil Myers to Scott Engel for Michael Fulmer (effective week of 5/29)

A fair hitter for starting pitcher exchange, though I tend to give the edge to the hitter in such trades. But Myers' production fell off dramatically in May following a stellar April while Fulmer has been very consistent so far, his most recent outing marking the first time all season that he has allowed more than three earned runs in a start.

Zach Steinhorn trades Jonathan Schoop to Brent Hershey for DJ LeMahieu (effective week of 5/22)

This seemed like a logical move for me at the time, and I'm still glad I made the trade as I had and still have a greater need for runs and OBP than homers and RBIs. In 11 games for Brent's team, Schoop has already tallied two home runs and six RBIs while LeMahieu has posted a .245 OBP in 12 games for my squad. Not good. I'm not panicking though.

Al Melchior trades Eduardo Rodriguez to Brent Hershey for Byron Buxton and 80 FAAB dollars (effective week of 5/15)

Tough break for Brent as Rodriguez is now on the DL due to a knee injury suffered during warm-ups prior to his last start. Rodriguez ended up taking the mound despite the injury, which ended up being a mistake, as he allowed a season-high seven runs. Still, the Red Sox southpaw has been productive for Brent, notching three wins in four starts to go along with a 1.17 WHIP and 23 strikeouts across 25 2/3 innings. As for Buxton, he's been one of the more frustrating players to own this season, though he has picked up his play of late, with three RBI and two steals over his last four games entering Saturday. The verdict on this trade is to be determined, with the health status of Rodriguez up in the air for the time being.

Ray Flowers trades Christian Yelich to Fred Zinkie for Addison Reed, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Randal Grichuk (effective week of 5/15)

What a surprise, Fred is punting saves again. He was able to snatch Reed off the waiver wire just before the announcement that Familia would miss several months. So how about a 3-for-1 trade involving Reed where you get clearly the best player in the deal? I like those trades for the owner getting the best player. Keep in mind that roster spots have value. Unless a DL slot is available, the owner getting the three players would need to drop two players, so those guys are essentially part of the trade as well. Grichuk has since become a non-factor in mixed leagues while Bradley is just beginning to heat up.

Tim Heaney trades Avisail Garcia to Scott Engel for Brandon Maurer (effective week of 5/8)

I'm not usually a proponent of trading for closers, but this made a lot of sense for Tim, who came out of the draft with Seung-hwan Oh as his only source of saves. He had added Garcia in FAAB back in mid-April, and since the much-hyped outfielder has never lived up to expectations, not many owners were buying into his hot start. I know I wasn't. The funny thing is Garcia has continued to hit, slashing .325/.367/.536 with eight homers and 37 RBI through 51 games, and it's beginning to look like 2017 will indeed be his long-awaited breakout season. Maurer has provided Tim with five saves, but at the expense of ERA (11 ER in 10 2/3 IP). This could turn out to be a win for both sides, though Garcia currently holds a strong lead in the contest.

Alright, enough analyzing. I need to send out some offers. 

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

I'm usually pretty good at identifying undervalued starting pitching, a skill that enables a fantasy owner to focus on hitting in the early rounds of snake drafts, or devote as much as 75% of an auction budget towards the purchase of bats. I've been fairly successful once again this season, having bought Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn and Gio Gonzalez for a combined $4 in Mixed Auction Tout Wars. So why is starting pitching my team's biggest weakness so far? Well, my higher-priced buys, namely Cole Hamels ($17), Kevin Gausman ($9) and Matt Moore ($5), have been either injured or inconsistent, and overpaying for a starting pitcher in a trade isn't my style. 

So, in looking to starting pitching, the waiver wire is my only option. Thanks to the sky high number of injuries so far this season along with the size of the league (15 teams), the process of scanning the waiver wire in search of viable starting options can get quite depressing. The good news is that every owner is dealing with the same challenge, though some have fared better than others. Since I'm in a positive mood today, I figured that I'd highlight some of the best pickups so far. Believe me, this was not an easy exercise.

Jason Vargas (Fred Zinkie on 4/10 for $10) - Vargas has pieced together a solid big league career as a back-end of the rotation starter, but we haven't seen this. Through ten starts, the veteran lefty has posted a 2.39 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP to go along with 51 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings. Expect regression across the board for the owner of a career 4.09 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 6.0 K/9 rate. Vargas owners should enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Jesse Hahn (Scott Swanay on 4/10 for $28) - Tuesday's rough start versus the Marlins marked the first outing this season in which Hahn has allowed more than three earned runs. His 3.81 ERA and 1.29 WHIP for the year bear a close resemblance to his career 3.82 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The fact that he's served up only one home run through 49 2/3 innings this season after allowing eight homers in 46 1/3 frames last year is especially encouraging. Hahn was placed on the 10-day DL on Saturday with a right triceps strain, but he's expected to return when first eligible.

Derek Holland (Derek Van Riper on 4/17 for $27) - Fully healthy for the first time since 2013, Holland has resurfaced on the mixed league radar after registering a 2.37 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP through ten starts. Since Van Riper snagged Holland, his namesake has notched six quality starts in seven tries. Expecting Holland to continue performing at this level is probably unrealistic, but this is a guy who has proven to be a highly effective big league pitcher when healthy, so it's far from unrealistic to expect him to maintain mixed league value from here on out.

Jordan Montgomery (Fred Zinkie on 4/17 for $3) - Although Montgomery's 4.30 ERA is nothing special, the rookie southpaw sports a solid 1.24 WHIP to go along with 43 strikeouts over 46 innings through his first eight big league starts. Montgomery has shown strong poise on the mound and looks like a pitcher who could have a long career ahead of him as a reliable middle of the rotation real-life hurler and a quality back-end of the rotation fantasy option. He might turn out to be one of the better Mixed Auction Tout Wars waiver wire finds of 2017.

Zack Godley (Scott Engel on 5/15 for $46) - We're not talking about a significant sample size here, so let's not get too excited just yet. Godley, who struggled to the tune of a 6.39 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP in 27 appearances (nine starts) for the Diamondbacks last year, seems to have gotten his act together this season, pitching to a 1.99 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP through five starts. And in three starts as a member of Scott's active roster, he's delivered a 1.83 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Over parts of five minor league seasons, the 27-year-old boasts a 2.94 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP and a 9.0 K/9 rate, so perhaps Godley is just a late bloomer.

Or perhaps in a week or two, he will be back on the waiver wire, joining the already lengthy list of starting pitcher FAAB purchases that have not worked out.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

This is crazy. A little over a month into the season, a good fantasy starting rotation can be assembled from the pool of players presently on the DL. It seems like every day, another prominent starting pitcher is getting hurt. Out of the top-40 starting pitchers according to NFBC ADP, ten reside on the DL (Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Corey Kluber, Cole Hamels, David Price, Aaron Sanchez, Rich Hill, Felix Hernandez, Jameson Taillon, James Paxton). I tend to avoid drafting any starting pitchers who carry health risk, so fortunately, the only one I own in any league among that group is Hamels, who throws 200-plus innings every season but might not even reach the 125 IP mark this year. 

The starting pitching injury trend has a more wide-ranging fantasy effect, especially in deeper leagues, where every owner has been affected by the utter lack of viable waiver wire options. As a Hamels owner in Mixed Auction Tout Wars, I almost wish he joined the DL group a week or two earlier, when the waiver wire field was slightly more appealing. Right now, the list of available starters is headed by names like Adleman, Koehler, Nelson, Bauer, Fiers and Garza, who would have been a must-add around six years ago. If only Hamels landed on the DL a little earlier, I would have been able to grab one of the following guys, all of whom are liable to fade at any moment, but they surely beat the current choices.   

Hector Santiago - Coming off a highly disappointing 2016 campaign that included a career-worst 4.70 ERA, Santiago has bounced back nicely this year, opening the season by allowing three runs or fewer in each of his first six starts. Keep in mind that the Twins southpaw sports a solid 3.79 ERA for his career, so despite his strikeout rate not being what it used to be, I wouldn't be surprised if he pitches well enough to remain on deep mixed league rosters through the end of the season. As an added bonus, two of his divisional opponents, the Royals and White Sox, rank in the bottom third of the Majors in runs, homers, batting average and OPS. 

Jason Vargas - After missing the majority of the 2015 season and nearly the entire 2016 campaign as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, Vargas has resurfaced on the fantasy radar thanks to a 1.42 ERA and 0.98 WHIP through five starts in 2017. His 8.2 K/9 is likely an aberration considering that his career K/9 is 6.0. But the veteran lefty has proven to be an effective back-end of the rotation starter over the years and could at the very least serve as a fine matchup-based option in deeper mixed leagues going forward.

Jesse Hahn - Despite posting an ugly 6.02 ERA and 1.64 WHIP across nine starts last season, Hahn's big league career numbers (3.66 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) prove that he has the ability to thrive if given the opportunity. Well, the A's are giving him that opportunity this year, and he's thriving, with a 2.53 ERA and 1.03 WHIP through five appearances (four starts). Don't expect consistent strikeouts, but Hahn's improved control coupled with a favorable home ballpark are definite positives. Also note that even during his rough 2016 season, he excelled at home (3.03 ERA in five starts).

Derek Holland - No one really knew what to expect from Holland when he signed a free agent deal with the White Sox over the winter. However, we did know that there was a time when he was pretty good, before injuries became a major problem. And he's been more than pretty good through six starts this season (2.02 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.6 K/9). Holland's dominant run is bound to hit a speed bump at some point (.222 BABIP), but fantasy owners might as well ride this out while it lasts. And who knows, maybe the speed bump won't be such a drastic one after all.   

Brandon McCarthy - Like Holland, McCarthy has dealt with his fair share of injuries throughout his big league career, and he hasn't enjoyed much success since registering a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 14 starts with the Yankees back in 2014. But it's been smooth sailing for the veteran righty so far in 2017, as he's gone 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.21 WHIP through five starts. Still, I'm not so sure I trust McCarthy long-term, from both a health and performance standpoint, but he's certainly better than anyone currently available on the Mixed Auction Tout Wars waiver wire. 

Don't invest heavily in closers on draft day. Don't pay for saves. Closers can be found on the waiver wire throughout the season. That last statement is true, but in all my years playing fantasy baseball, I've never followed the part about not paying for saves because, well, you're not paying for only the saves. You're paying for peace of mind. My general approach has been to draft one elite-level closer in addition to a mid-tier stopper with a high degree of job security. This approach has generally worked out nicely, as I've never really found myself in a situation where I'm forced to dedicate a large portion of my FAAB budget on speculative closer acquisitions, many of which never pan out. Barring an injury, 65-plus saves were in the bank to go along with solid ratios.

However, things are beginning to fall apart this season, as I am indeed a Francisco Rodriguez owner in two leagues, including Mixed Auction Tout Wars. Now look, I didn't expect K-Rod to be dominant this year, as it became especially clear towards the latter part of last season that he was way past his prime. However, I did expect him to pitch well enough to hold onto the closer job with the Tigers bullpen lacking an obvious fallback option. So much for that. We have yet to reach the one-quarter mark of the season and Rodriguez is already out, replaced by Justin Wilson, who has been nearly automatic as Detroit's setup man. Whether or not K-Rod eventually reclaims the closing gig remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that I'm now in the exact situation that I hoped to avoid, in dire need of a second closer and scanning a waiver wire that doesn't even include most of the primary setup guys.

But enough about my own predicament. All of this closer thinking got me thinking about the overall relief pitcher landscape, more specifically relief pitcher FAAB additions. Saves hunting has always been a popular theme when it comes to Tout Wars FAAB pickups, and this year is no different. Of the 137 players purchased so far this season in the Mixed Auction league, 30 (21.9%) are relief pitchers. Some of these relievers were already declared their team's new closer at the time of the purchase while others fell under the speculative pickup category. Some of these moves have worked out while others have not. Here's a sampling.

THE GOOD

Justin Wilson ($42) - An alert move by Jeff Zimmerman a couple weeks before the K-Rod demotion, and one that as a Rodriguez owner, I should have made. I guess I just didn't think that things would get bad enough to warrant a ninth inning change in Detroit. But they did.

Bud Norris ($73) - Norris' closing stint was supposed to be brief, only until Cam Bedrosian returned from the DL. But Bedrosian's groin strain will keep him sidelined for longer than originally expected, and Norris has done a fine job as the Angels stopper, converting six of his seven save chances while whiffing well over a batter per inning. Could the Halos decide to keep Norris in the closer role even after Bedrosian comes back? Sure they could.

Santiago Casilla ($184) - Who knows how Oakland's closer situation will play out long-term, but Casilla does lead the team with six saves and he does boast a strong big league track record, including several stints in the closer role. His blown save in Texas on Friday will test his job security, however.

Addison Reed ($0) - Perfect timing, as Reed was added just a few days prior to the Jeurys Familia blood clot news. Reed, a former closer, has been a dominant setup man since the start of last season and carries top-10 stopper upside from here on out.

THE BAD

Joaquin Benoit ($40 and $53) - Interestingly enough, Benoit currently resides on my roster (thankfully my bench). The two-time FAAB buy was the Phillies closer for a few days in April until he blew a save in Washington, and thanks to the struggles of Hector Neris, Benoit seemed to be on the verge of returning to the ninth inning. But that was before Wednesday's outing against the Mariners when he allowed five earned runs, raising his ERA from 2.63 to 5.79. 

Jeremy Jeffress ($26) - The purchase of Jeffress on April 10 looked good at the time, as he was considered the slight favorite over Matt Bush to replace Sam Dyson as the Rangers stopper. And he was a fairly safe bet to do well in the role considering his strong 2016 campaign during which he posted a 2.33 ERA and saved 27 games for the Brewers before getting traded to Texas at the deadline. But we're now in mid-May and Jeffress sports a disappointing 4.70 ERA and 1.89 WHIP through 19 games and has yet to record a save while Bush has tallied two of the team's four total saves. Bush is clearly the guy for the time being, but don't rule out Jeffress eventually returning to the ninth inning picture if he can rediscover his 2016 form.

THE UGLY

Blake Treinen ($359) - Treinen belongs in his own category simply due to the price tag. On April 3, Jeff Zimmerman forked over more than one-third of his season FAAB budget to add the newly anointed Nationals closer. In exchange, he got three saves, a 6.43 ERA and a 2.29 WHIP across seven innings. Heading into Saturday, the 28-year-old righty has allowed at least one run in ten of his 17 appearances this season. The chances of him returning to the closer role anytime soon are slim to none.

Kind of like the chances of me deviating from my longstanding draft day approach to closers, despite this season's K-Rod experience. 

They said that stolen base totals were down throughout the game, and they were right. In 2015, only seven players reached the 30-SB plateau. That number rose to 14 in 2016, but this was nowhere near the 23 players who swiped at least 30 bags back in 2012. But a large group of fantasy pundits also said that since stolen base totals were down throughout the game, shelling out the extra dollar for one of the elite speedsters would pay off. Grab Billy Hamilton and as long as you don't ignore steals entirely the rest of the way, you would be guaranteed to finish among the top few teams in the category with a very good chance to lead the pack. I've never been much of a fan of this strategy, as an injury to your designated elite speedster could be too devastating to overcome. I'd rather spread the risk, drafting perhaps one 30-plus SB guy but several other players in the 15-20 SB range. Maybe I wouldn't win the category, but I'd be competitive.

Still, my allegiance to the "spread the risk" approach to steals was tested this year, as the numbers were convincing. I wasn't about to draft Billy Hamilton, but I'd be more open to spending a mid-round or late-round pick or $5-10 in an auction on a speed specialist.

Anyway, with the 2017 season reaching the one-month mark, I figured that now was a good time to check in on some of the stolen base building blocks that were said to be well worth the investment.

Rajai Davis (1 SB in 15 games) - My newfound openness to drafting stolen base specialists led me to roster Davis in three of my five leagues, including Mixed Auction Tout Wars, where I purchased him for a reasonable $5. Well, things haven't gone as planned, and that was before Rajai landed on the DL earlier this week with a hamstring strain. It's tough to swipe a significant number of bags when you're getting on base at a .262 clip. But Davis isn't expected to be sidelined for long, so hopefully he can get into a groove upon his return and provide his owners with the 30-plus steals that were once thought to be a lock. 

Travis Jankowski (2 SB in 17 games) - Despite his 30-SB 2016 campaign, Jankowski carried risk heading into this season, but the risk was mostly related to playing time. We knew the AVG wouldn't be helpful, but he showed enough on-base ability last season (.332 OBP) to suggest that he would again serve as a reliable speed source. The problem is that although Jankowski is walking at around the same rate as last year, he's managed only eight hits through 50 at-bats (.160 AVG). And it gets worse, as he's now on the DL and out indefinitely with a foot injury that might be a hairline fracture. Although the draft day cost wasn't too steep, Jankowski owners who penciled him in for another 30 steals are surely hurting.

Manuel Margot (2 SB in 25 games) - Margot was all the rage in drafts this spring, a 22-year-old top prospect who posted a .350 OBP in the Minors with 162 steals in 466 games. He would be the everyday centerfielder for the Padres in 2017 and was a legitimate candidate to swipe 40 bags. The funny thing is that he has more homers (3) than stolen bases. There's still plenty of time for Margot to pick up the pace, but he's currently projected for 13 steals, so there's work to be done.  

Jonathan Villar (4 SB in 24 games) - I'm not too concerned about Villar, as his surprisingly low .259 OBP (career .330 OBP) is the biggest reason for his lack of stolen base attempts (4-for-5). That should change soon enough, and the three homers have been a pleasant surprise. Maybe last season's 19-HR outburst wasn't a fluke after all. The issue here is that Villar was a top-30 pick in the vast majority of leagues this year, so he will need to approach his 2016 stat line in order to earn his draft day price, and that's a tall order.

Starling Marte (2 SB in 13 games) - Not to make Marte owners feel any worse or anything (I happen to own him in my NFBC Draft Champions league, where no trades or free agent pickups are allowed), but two steals is all you will be getting from him until mid-July thanks to his decision to use a banned substance. Forget about those guaranteed 40 steals. Come to think of it, Marte is actually an interesting trade target if you can acquire him for 50 cents on the dollar, as unlike an injury situation, we know exactly when he will come back. But that probably wouldn't be a smart move for the Marte owner, selling low on an elite talent.

What a mess.

Yeah, it's only April 30th, but the early verdict is that even in 2017, investing in stolen base specialists may not be such a wise investment.  

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