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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Let's hold it on Harper

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's Bryce Harper's world, and we're all just living in it.

That's the impression I get, anyway, when I open up the mailbag. You know how most 19-year-olds think the world revolves around them? Well, the world really does revolve around Harper right now, at least as far as Fantasy Baseball goes. He's all anyone cares to ask about.

Not bad for a player with a handful games under his belt.

By now, everyone knows he's worth owning in Fantasy. Players with his level of talent only come along every 10 years or so, so if he lives up to his potential right away, you'll obviously want to be the one who benefits.

But now that you either have him or you don't, what's next?

Perhaps instead of focusing on what he could do, we should concentrate on how likely he is to do it and what exactly "it" looks like.

You know, specifics: numbers, rankings, dates, etc.

It's a guessing game, sure, but it's the only way of determining what his trade value might be ... and whether you should be buying or selling.

Will Bryce Harper be a top-30 outfielder from this point forward? -- @Nux16 (via Twitter)

SW: I like it. No beating around the bush for you. Just out with it already: How good is Harper?

Of course, it's a crystal-ball type question, and since I don't actually have a crystal ball, I can't offer more than a guess in response.

But I can base that guess on historical precedent. It's pretty easy to do considering, at age 19, Harper is already part of a select group. Since 1985 -- you know, Marty McFly and all of that -- only nine players have gotten a significant number of at-bats (100 or more) at age 19 or younger: Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones, Adrian Beltre, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Mike Trout.

Fantasy studs all around, with the first three most likely going to the Hall of Fame. But that's not the point I'm trying to make here. We're not assessing Harper for the future, which figures to be bright, but for right now. And even with that elite group setting the standard, the "right now" isn't looking so hot.

Together, those nine combined to hit .258 in their age-19 seasons, which doesn't sound so bad, but if you remove Renteria and his .309 mark, the cumulative batting average drops to .244. Renteria's uninspiring .757 OPS also led the group, and as far as homers go, only Griffey reached double digits.

Most Added Players (as of 5/2)
Player % increase
1. Scott Downs, RP, Angels 45
2. Chris Davis, 1B, Orioles 37
3. Joe Saunders, SP, D-Backs 35
4. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros 33
5. Jason Hammel, SP, Orioles 29
6. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs 28
7. Mike Trout, OF, Angels 25
8. Drew Smyly, SP, Tigers 25
9. Tommy Milone, SP, Athletics 19
10. Mike Aviles, SS, Red Sox 18

Now, you could argue Harper is a special talent who transcends all historical precedent, and against the vastness of all baseball history, that may be true. But against the likes of Griffey? A-Rod? Upton? Come on ...

Generally speaking, you don't get called up to the majors at age 19 unless your talent is other-worldly, so even though Harper is a once-in-a-generation-type prospect, on this list, he's just another guy.

You could argue, perhaps, that age 19 is an arbitrary cutoff and unfair basis for comparison given that so few players reach the big leagues by then. But even if I expand the study to include age-20 rookies, the list of significant Fantasy contributors doesn't last long. It's basically Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton and ... well, that's about it. I suppose Miguel Cabrera and his .793 OPS were useful enough in 2003, but his arrival didn't exactly turn the Fantasy standings upside-down.

Face it: 19-year-olds aren't legitimate big-leaguers. They may benefit from the experience in the long run, but considering their bodies haven't even fully developed yet, they can't contribute on the level of everyone else. They're not even really "men," except by legal definition, which is why only the best of the best get so much as a look. You have to go back to the days of Mel Ott to find a 19-year-old "stud," and I'm pretty sure no one was playing Fantasy back then.

So if, at the height of the hoopla, you can find someone willing to buy into Harper as a top-30 outfielder, that might be the most value you get out of him in a non-keeper league. Even if he sticks around all season, which is hardly guaranteed, I'm thinking a .265 batting average and 16-18 homers is his best-case scenario.

In my 10-team league, we keep only the best nine players, with no picks involved. Does trading for Bryce Harper or Mike Trout make sense? -- @alansmafra (via Twitter)

SW: Keeper leagues, of course, are a different story, because if the fairest comparison for his eventual ceiling is those same nine players -- Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Renteria, Andruw Jones, Adrian Beltre, B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Mike Trout -- you'll obviously want to lock up Harper for a long, long time.

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Of course, because your league doesn't require you to forfeit draft picks for your keepers, the established studs are in play as well, and gauging an up-and-comer like Harper's status relative to theirs isn't the easiest task. Still, you're keeping a full nine players, so any player projected to go in the first nine rounds next year is a worthwhile keeper in your format. Considering where Brett Lawrie, Eric Hosmer and Dustin Ackley all went as sophomores this year, I'm thinking Harper will meet that criteria regardless of what he does this year.

Because you don't actually have Harper yet, though, you'd also have to weigh the cost trading for him, which I'm guessing would be pretty steep, for all the reasons I've outlined here. I'm also guessing it wouldn't be worth it, for all the reasons I outlined in the first question. If you have a legitimate shot at contending this season, you wouldn't want to forfeit it for just one keeper.

Trout, on the other hand, might just be your golden opportunity to have your cake and eat it too. His pedigree suggests he's nearly as promising as Harper long-term, but he doesn't come with quite the same hype even though, from what both the Angels and Nationals have intimated, he's more likely to stick around all season. He's also more than a year older than Harper and has already taken some of his lumps in the majors.

Trout just seems to be better equipped to make a quick transition to the majors. While I have Harper at a .265 batting average and 16-18 homers this year, I'll pencil in Trout for a .280 batting average, 15-16 homers and about 20 steals, which is the difference between a hot-hand type and a legitimate every-week starter in mixed leagues.

Plus, I suspect he'll be cheaper on the trade market. If you can trade an Adam Jones-type outfielder or Johnny Cueto-type pitcher for him, it's worth it just for the keeper potential.

I have Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales in a 16-team league and can't seem to trade either. Right now, they can't get consistent at bats. What should my expectations be for them? -- @tile11 (via Twitter)

SW: In a 12-team league, I'd consider both droppable right now. It has nothing to do with their ability or even expected level of production. They're simply not getting the at-bats they need. The Angels have too many movable parts, and they're too often the odd men out. Maybe it'll change; maybe not. But in the meantime, you shouldn't feel obligated to stick with them if you see something promising on the waiver wire.

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Of course, that's in a 12-team league. A 16-team league most likely doesn't have anything of real value on the waiver wire -- maybe a Todd Helton, maybe a Denard Span, but nothing that will make or break your Fantasy team. In that case, you're probably better off sticking the higher-upside players -- in this case, Trumbo and Morales -- and hoping for the best.

After all, you know they'll produce if they get the opportunity. Trumbo is already making noise with part-time at-bats, and Morales' track record is too impressive to ignore. As desperate as the Angels are for offense right now, you can still hold out hope that they'll eventually just say phooey on it all, bump players like Vernon Wells to the bench once and for all and proceed with and the hitters who can do the most damage.

And even if that doesn't happen, hey, it could be worse. I mean, 400-450 at-bats from them is still better than 600 from someone like Chone Figgins or Michael Brantley.

In my 10-team Head-to-Head league, I gave up Madison Bumgarner, Freddie Freeman and Yadier Molina for Matt Kemp. -- @willmcclintock1 (via Twitter)

SW: And you should be feeling just as good about it now as I presume you were when you sent that tweet.

This is the way to do it in shallower leagues: Trade quantity for quality. Players like Bumgarner, Freeman and Molina are obviously good and obviously must-own, but in leagues with only 10 teams and only one starter at each position (as is usually the case in Head-to-Head), the Freemans and Molinas of the world are easily replaceable.

Think about it. Freeman is obviously a great hitter with plenty of upside and, in the context of all of major league baseball, a legitimate asset. And that's how the average Fantasy owner thinks of him. But in a league with only 10 first base slots available, is he really all that special? At the very least, wouldn't Miguel Cabrera, Paul Konerko, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder rank ahead of him, putting him on the bottom end of the top 10? And if he's on the bottom end of the 10 first basemen worth starting in your league, isn't he more of a liability than an asset? Isn't he one of the players holding you back rather than setting you apart? Pure logic says so even if your baseball instincts say otherwise.

Why, then, would you be the least bit resistant to trading him?

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The same goes for Molina. Yes, he has power now and is off to a great start, but wouldn't you still rather have Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Brian McCann, Matt Wieters, Buster Posey or Joe Mauer starting for you at catcher? If he's in the bottom half of the potential starting options in your league, he's not all that critical to your team's success.

Bumgarner, on the other hand, probably is. He has distinguished himself enough at the starting pitcher position over the last two years that you may not be able to replace his production without making another trade. Still, he's not going to set your team apart the way Kemp can. Kemp is the best player in Fantasy, and when you have a chance to get the best player in Fantasy in a league this shallow, you have to do it.

Why? "Good" doesn't cut it when every starter at every position on every team is good. You need the best of the best wherever you can get it. Make this trade, pick up a Russell Martin or Wilson Ramos at catcher and a Bryan LaHair or Chris Davis at first base, and work from there.

Shoot, in a 10-team league, you might already have better options than that on your bench.

Coco Crisp or Nate Schierholtz for rest of season? Crisp would cost me FAAB dollars in my 20-team Head-to-Head league. -- @Savannahseniors (via Twitter)

SW: FAAB dollars or not, Crisp is without question the way to go here.

It's not that I'm so high on him as a player. It's just that I trust him to play every day and to perform competently enough that you won't regret wasting a roster spot on him.

Just look at last year. His numbers were hardly off the charts by his standards -- his .693 OPS was actually the second-lowest of his career -- and yet he ranked 28th among outfielders in standard Head-to-Head scoring.

I'd say that's an asset in a 20-team league.

And because it's a 20-team league, you really can't afford to gamble the way you could in a shallower league. Even if you think Schierholtz is on the verge of a career season given his hot start, his minor-league track record and his 28 years of age, he has a long history of mediocrity and part-time at-bats in the majors. If your hunch is wrong, which is still the more-likely scenario at this point, you won't get another shot at a player like Crisp.

Shoot, in a league this deep, by the time you realize Schierholtz is still just a light-hitting platoon player, you won't find anything on the waiver wire.

I'm in a 10-team Head-to-Head mixed league, and my pitchers are Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, Philip Humber, Trevor Cahill, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Lance Lynn, Jonathon Niese and Chris Sale. I'm considering dropping Jackson or Cahill to beat the rush to Trevor Bauer. Crazy move? -- Chad Berry (via e-mail)

SW: It's not at all crazy, and it again goes back to the distinction between shallow and deep leagues.

In a 10-team league (shallow), you don't need to waste your time on pitchers who have clear limits to their upside. Humber and Jackson are competent major-league pitchers who deserve to make millions and start every fifth day for their respective teams. But that's in a 30-team league. When you reduce the 30 down to 10, a lot of quality options aren't going to make the cut. Humber and Jackson lack the sizzle to rank among the upper 40 percent of all starting pitchers in baseball.

I don't know that Detwiler, Lynn, Niese and Sale will rank among the upper 40 percent either, but they at least offer enough youth, upside and strikeout potential that I'm willing to give them a chance to pitch their way out of Fantasy relevance. So far, that hasn't happened yet, which means I have no use for the assured mediocrity. Maybe at some point, if enough goes wrong for the higher-upside types, the relative reliability of Humber and Jackson will make them relevant again, but I'm confident they'll be available if ever that happens. Or at least pitchers like them will.

Cahill isn't beyond dropping either, given his lack of strikeouts, but he's still young enough at age 24 that I could see him making good on his elite pedigree. No sense dropping him if you don't have to.

Since you clearly seem to prefer Humber to Jackson (not sure I agree), Jackson is the choice to drop for Bauer, and I think it's absolutely a worthwhile move in a league where you have plenty of pitching depth already.

Bauer is kind of the Bryce Harper of pitching prospects this year, with his electric stuff earning him Tim Lincecum comparisons and his minor-league strikeout rate so far backing them up. And though Lincecum wasn't quite an ace when he first came up midway through 2007, he was electric enough to start just about every week in 10-team leagues.

I don't know if Bauer will arrive before the All-Star break or how well he'll perform when he gets here, but again, I'd rather give him the chance to emerge as something special than settle for assured mediocrity.

Is my team doomed? I have Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chris Carpenter, Doug Fister, Ryan Dempster, Drew Pomeranz and now Evan Longoria. And it's not like Albert Pujols is doing much for me either. The rest of my team is Carlos Santana, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday, Jason Kipnis, Mark Trumbo, Colby Lewis, Chris Sale, Matt Garza, Justin Masterson, Barry Zito, Mark Buehrle, Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Zambrano. My pitching staff is weak, but I knew that going in. The problem is that a bunch of my stud hitters got hurt. So do I wait it out? -- @simmygoblue (via Twitter)

SW: Sometimes when people come to me with long lists of injured players, they're kind of just looking to complain. But this one really is as bad as it looks. Of the seven players you listed at the top, the only ones on the verge of returning -- Fister, Dempster and Pomeranz -- are pitchers. Granted, you're better off with them than without them, but hitting was supposed to be the foundation of your team. And your hitting right now is in trouble.

The good news is you still have a solid foundation in place with Pujols, Santana, Tulowitzki and Holliday (yes, I still have confidence in Pujols -- and you should, too), so I think with a little bit of maneuvering, you can remain in contention.

This type of situation, when you simply have too much patching to do to rely exclusively on the waiver wire, is one where I might actually recommend taking the two-player side of a 2-for-1 deal. If you can trade an elite Santana for a couple of good options (say, a Joe Mauer and a Matt Garza) or maybe do something similar with an elite Holliday (say, a Michael Bourn and a Cory Luebke), it might just be worth your while.

I'm not saying those kinds of deals are easy to find -- you're basically asking the other guy to overpay -- but the demand for elite talent is so high in mixed leagues that you'll probably find a few owners eager to do it. I know I'd do it if I wasn't in a situation like yours.

Don't get so carried away with your negotiations that you end up trading Pujols and Tulowitzki, though. No matter what happens with the rest of your team, you'll always have a shot if you have them on your roster. They're arguably the two most advantageous players in Fantasy.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also check us out on Facebook or e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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