StrategyApril 20, 2005

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Four to Trade For: Hitters

By Arlo Vander

Who says November and December are the biggest months for shoppers? For fantasy baseball owners, April is a great time to go out and find some bargains. With so few games played, players’ statistics don’t mean terribly much yet, but nonetheless some owners are starting to get a bit worried about their underperforming stars. Why not take those worries off their hands by buying low? Here are a few of the players whose slow starts might make them available for prices well below their values.

Carlos Lee – OF, Milwaukee

There was some speculation that Lee’s numbers might drop slightly in his first season in the National League, but this is ridiculous. Fourteen games into the campaign, the left fielder’s average is a paltry .196 with just one home run and no stolen bases. In his last six games, Lee has gone through a horrendous slump, with just one hit in his last 23 at bats. Five of those six games saw Lee post a stat line of 0-for-4.

Simply put, Lee is a far better player than this. In each of the past two years, he swatted 31 round-trippers for the White Sox, driving in an average of 106 runs and hitting a combined .297. In his last five seasons, the dependable slugger has never been held below 24 home runs.

When looking at Lee’s overall numbers to date, keep in mind that his paltry production is due entirely to his current slump. Before entering this rough stretch, his average was a solid .303, and his OPS was .884, just seven points below his 2004 level.

Carlos Lee is bound to bounce back, and when he does, you want him in your lineup. His sub-.200 average just might have his current owner worried, though; if that’s the case, jump in with a trade offer.

Magglio Ordonez – OF, Detroit

Ordonez owners have had to deal with quite a bit of frustration this year. First Detroit’s new right fielder went hitless in his first three games, then he was sidelined by a hernia just a few days into the new season, and now it looks like it might be months before he is able to take the field again.

With surgery still to come and no timetable for his return, owners who expected Ordonez to anchor their outfields can be excused for being a bit nervous. If you have a decent but expendable bench player to swap and a spot on your disabled list on which to stash Ordonez, you might be able to pick up quite a bargain, particularly in head-to-head leagues. Needless to say, trading for the injured Tiger is risky, but if he’s back at full strength by the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, he might be just what it takes to push a team over the top.

Victor Martinez – C, Cleveland

Those who touted Martinez as the clear choice as this year’s top catcher overlooked one important thing: the young backstop’s considerable struggles in the last months of the 2004 season.

After hitting .303 through the end of July, Martinez ran out of steam late in the year, with an average of just .238 down the stretch. His overall production also dropped, and his August and September OPS values (.789 and .748, respectively) were lower than in any other full month.

So no, Martinez isn’t a sure thing. But he’s a whole lot better than his current numbers. With an average of just .184, two home runs, six RBI and an OPS of .595, the promising youngster has been quite a disappointment, earning him a benching on many fantasy squads. His upside is still great, however, and while he may go through occasional growing pains, the switch-hitting catcher should be able to find his stride before too long.

Besides, Martinez didn’t exactly come bursting out of the gate last year, either. His average in April of 2004 was only .246, too.

Jim Thome – 1B, Philadelphia

What’s eating Jim Thome? With 15 games played, the star first baseman is hitting a mere .231 with an OPS of .686 and zero home runs. That’s an unusually long dry spell for the Phillies’ masher, who has averaged a round-tripper every 3.2 games over the last four seasons. It’s certainly not what his owners were hoping for when they shelled out their auction dollars and early draft picks.

Before trying to explain his power outage by looking for holes in his swing or trying to spot hidden injuries, keep two things in mind. First, it’s early days yet, and half a month worth of stats is by no means enough to judge a player by. And second, Thome has traditionally been a slightly slow starter, with one home run every 17.9 at bats in April compared with a career mark of 13.7.

Since Jim Thome is a marquee name, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pick him up for less than he’s worth in a trade, but it’s worth a shot. His perceived value will presumably never be lower than it is now.

Arlo Vander would love to make a deal for Lee, Ordonez or Thome. But no lowball offers for Martinez, please.

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