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Reality Check: Hamilton's unprecedented heights

Senior Fantasy Writer
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I generally don't play the sell-high game. I don't think it works.

Usually, the player in question is some early-season waiver claim who has performed well so far but who nobody, including yourself, entirely trusts -- Mike Aviles, for instance -- so usually, the other owner recognizes exactly what you're doing and, not wanting to be the one who "falls for it," counters with an offer so far on the other end of the spectrum that you're better off just sticking with the overachiever and hoping for the best.

So instead of an honest conversation between two owners trying to meet halfway, the entire negotiation process devolves into a bunch of mind games and ego checks, with each owner trying to prove to the other who "knows" the most.

Give me a break.

On the other hand, when the player in question is a high-upside type off to an unusually hot start -- Adam Jones, let's say -- you risk missing out on a genuine breakthrough by trading him. You may think you're selling high on him, but if that's your one and only incentive for making the deal -- and not to fill a need or to acquire another player who you think could deliver those same numbers -- it has a pretty good chance of backfiring.

For those reasons and more, I generally ignore the conventional wisdom of selling high, convinced that the supposed no-brainer strategy is actually more of a brain strain than it's worth.

But every once in a while, just the right player gets off to just the right kind of start that you'd be crazy not to see what you could get for him.

And this year, that player is Josh Hamilton.

Surely you've heard the stories by now. The four homers in one game. The nine homers in one week. The 18 homers in 32 games. The Roy Hobbs comparisons. The Barry Bonds comparisons. The "Hambino" t-shirts. At the height of Hamilton hysteria, only the Babe himself can compare.

And for good reason. After this week's exploits, Hamilton is now far and away the No. 1 hitter in standard Head-to-Head leagues, by a good 32.5 points over the previously untouchable Matt Kemp. Yes, after his relatively disappointing follow-up to his 2010 MVP season, this storybook chapter has the storybook superstar once again rated among the best of the best.

But no player is this good -- not in the post-steroids era -- and Hamilton in particular has one obvious drawback that makes him all but certain to disappoint going forward.

He can't stay healthy.

Only once in his career has he played as many as 135 games -- and that was back when he was just entering his prime at age 27, not exiting it at age 31. During the three seasons in between, he averaged 114.3 games, which translates to about two-thirds of a season. And even in his "healthier" years, his efforts to play through minor aches and pains helped keep his power numbers in check. For all of his accomplishments, for all of his talent readily on display during batting practice and streaks like this one, his career high in homers is only 32. He's already more than halfway there.

That's not to say he can't set a career high this year. In fact, considering his head start, he probably will. But for him to hit 50-plus homers, as some people are now speculating he will, he'll need to both sustain a previously unsustainable pace and attain a previously unattainable measure of durability.

Most Traded Players (as of 5/14)
Player # of trades
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels 789
2. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 478
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees 429
4. Josh Johnson, SP, Marlins 415
5. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals 390
6. Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers 361
7. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals 357
8. Yovani Gallardo, SP, Brewers 353
9. Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies 353
10. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox 339

At an age when neither is all that common, even one would be miraculous. Two would basically be Mary Poppins come to life.

Still, you'll find some people willing to overlook history and buy that the storybook player has gone full-fledged fairy tale, either because of his all-too-apparent talent or because he's playing for a contract.

That's right, the "contract year theory" -- the idea that a player steps up his production during his walk year -- comes into play here. Hey, some people buy into that sort of thing, and the ones who do are no doubt shouting Hamilton's name from the rooftops right now. But while impending free agency may provide a healthy incentive for players who don't normally go all-out, what good could it do for one who's already as driven as Hamilton? If anything, playing harder will put him even more in harm's way.

Face it: You're better off trading him. He's a great player destined to finish with great numbers, but if track record means anything to you, you have to recognize that you've already drained him of the best he has to offer this season. Your best bet now would be to double your return by flipping him for a player with more numbers left in the tank.

To get a sense of what exactly that looks like, let's review some of the most recent trades made on CBSSports.com.

Scenario 1: Josh Hamilton for Miguel Cabrera

I like this one. Cabrera entered this season as the top player in Fantasy and has in no way eliminated himself from that discussion so far. His numbers are consistently spectacular, and he has no known injury concerns. And unlike Hamilton, he's not off to an unsustainably hot start.

Scenario 2: Josh Hamilton for Albert Pujols

This one might not be the best example of selling high on Hamilton because it's also an attempted buy low on Pujols. The point of trading a known injury risk while his value is at its highest is to get safer, more assured production in return. Pujols, as good as we know he can be, is less than a sure thing right now, so while this deal isn't a bad one, it's hardly the dream scenario.

Scenario 3: Josh Hamilton for Justin Verlander, Jon Lester

Normally, I wouldn't give up a top hitter for a top pitcher, but I like the rationale here. Verlander is arguably the best starting pitcher in Fantasy, and Lester is a potential ace in his own right. Two studs for the price of one: That's exactly the type of deal you should hope to get as a Hamilton owner.

Scenario 4: Josh Hamilton for Starlin Castro, Bryce Harper

Unfortunately, the Harper owner did a better job of selling high here, getting an elite hitter without giving one up in return. Apparently, Harper hype still trumps Hamilton hype in some leagues. Unless you're playing for three years from now, you shouldn't fall for such ploys.

Scenario 5: Josh Hamilton, Rafael Furcal for Prince Fielder, Curtis Granderson

Yes. Yes. I like this deal not only because it returns two hitters even more likely than Hamilton to perform at a first-round level from here on out, but because it makes use of another sell-high candidate in Furcal. Like Hamilton, he's a known injury risk whose hot start will cause some Fantasy owners to have temporary amnesia, focusing more on what he's already done that what he's likely to do.

So who else fits that description? Well, both Derek Jeter and Carlos Beltran are performing like they did 10 years ago, which seems unlikely to last. Stephen Strasburg might qualify as a sell-high candidate if you trust the Nationals to limit his innings in the second half, but that's hardly assured.

And you'd be stretching the definition in each of those cases anyway. The bottom line is no offer would bowl people over the way a Hamilton offer would right now. If you own Hamilton in Fantasy, you're in a rare position to ask people to overpay and know that most would be happy to do it.

In the now ... A look at how recent events have impacted certain players' Fantasy value

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Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals: Since returning from offseason knee surgery a couple weeks ago, Craig has been the same player who broke out with four homers and a 1.013 OPS last October, only furthering the idea he could be a Fantasy stud if given everyday at-bats. So why does he remain unowned in so many leagues? The at-bats don't seem to be there for him with Lance Berkman back from a calf injury. But in Berkman's return Sunday, the Cardinals made a point to keep the hot-hitting Craig in the lineup, starting him over Matt Holliday in left field and batting him cleanup. Granted, he doesn't figure to unseat Holliday anytime soon, but given his experience at the corner infield spots as well as the outfield, you can bet the Cardinals will get creative with him, much like the Angels have with Mark Trumbo. Craig may not be a true "starter," but he'll get the at-bats to produce like one, making him worth the investment in mixed leagues.

Kyle Drabek, SP, Blue Jays: Drabek was a hot claim off the waiver wire because of a couple nice starts early this season, but since then, his control has evaporated on him, leading to 20 walks in 26 2/3 innings over his last five starts, not to mention a rising ERA. Sound familiar? That's because the exact same thing happened last year, ultimately resulting in his demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he finished with a 7.44 ERA in 15 starts. Whether it's a confidence issue or genuine wildness, we've seen Drabek go down this road before, and it doesn't end well. If you're one of the Fantasy owners still clinging to him in 50 percent of leagues, understand he's not the only high-upside option out there and make a move for a James McDonald or Jarrod Parker instead.

Jeff Samardzija, SP/RP, Cubs: Somewhere along the line, Samardzija developed a reputation for being an unreliable Fantasy option. OK, so his second and third starts, when he gave up 10 earned runs on 18 hits, likely have something to do with that. But since then he's been lights out, bringing the tally to two bad starts vs. five good ones, with four of them bordering on spectacular. He's a former top prospect who throws 96 miles per hour, has no obvious control issues and can pitch into the seventh and eighth innings. And oh yeah, he's eligible at relief pitcher. This really isn't so difficult. If you own Samardzija, he's a fixture in your starting rotation, and if not, check to make sure the person who does own him properly appreciates him.

Dee Gordon, SS, Dodgers: Though considered a raw prospect coming up through the minors, Gordon seemed to overcome that label by hitting .372 last September and following it up with an impressive spring training. Unfortunately, his early-season struggles have him back to square one. It's not just the poor batting average. His strikeout rate is inexcusable for a slap hitter, he doesn't get on base, and though he's stolen 12 bases, he's also been caught five times. If the Dodgers can't trust him on the base paths, they'll no longer give him such freedom to run, which would all but ruin his Fantasy appeal since he doesn't do anything else well. In category leagues, you might have to stick with him just because prolific base-stealers are in short supply, but in points leagues, let him be someone else's headache.

James McDonald, SP, Pirates: A former top prospect in the Dodgers organization, McDonald has shown flashes of potential since joining the Pirates, most notably with his strikeout rate. But we might be witnessing a breakthrough season for the 27-year-old right-hander. In a recent interview with Fantasy Baseball 360 on CBSSports.com, Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said the coaching staff has stressed to McDonald the importance of pitching deeper into games by limiting walks and throwing quality strikes, and so far, he seems to be getting the message, pitching at least seven innings in three of his last four starts after doing so in only two of his 31 starts last season. His numbers during that four-start stretch: a 1.86 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. At 50 percent, McDonald is criminally underowned.

Down the line ... A brief update on some of the minor-leaguers who have caught the attention of Fantasy owners

Anthony Gose, OF, Blue Jays: Gose is one of those prospects whose production has never quite measured up to the talent, but after a slow start at Triple-A Las Vegas, he's finally beginning to show why the scouts think so highly of him, batting .333 (15 for 45) with three home runs and six stolen bases (in six opportunities) this month. His overall numbers are still less than enticing, but with the Blue Jays moving him aggressively up the ladder, his promotion could come sooner than most people think. Given his upside as a power-speed threat, he deserves more attention in long-term keeper leagues.

Wil Myers, OF, Royals: Some top prospects get held up in the minors for so long that by the time they finally get the call, they're owned in 40 percent of Fantasy leagues. Others arrive so suddenly that nobody even thought to act until they're standing in the batter's box. The way Myers is going at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, batting .328 with 11 homers and a 1.091 OPS, he may fit into the latter category. Granted, he has yet to play above Double-A, but he has enough experience there that his time at Triple-A might just be a layover. Of course, the Royals would need to lose faith in Jeff Francoeur for that to happen, but the way he's going, it wouldn't be so far-fetched. It's not like they'd be the first team to do so.

Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks: Eaton's .318 batting average, .434 on-base percentage, 10 homers and 34 steals were easy enough to dismiss last year. After all, he spent most of the season at Class A, where the competition isn't exactly up to snuff. But after opening 2012 at Double-A, he's since moved up to Triple-A Reno, where he's hitting .410 with a 1.013 OPS and seven steals in 105 at-bats. Hard to say he's not a full-fledged prospect now. The Diamondbacks don't have any openings in their outfield, especially with Chris Young set to return from a shoulder injury, but at age 23, Eaton figures to make his debut sometime this season. If his skill set translates, he'll be a Shane Victorino-like contributor.

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 e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: Rafael Furcal to miss winter league with torn hamstring
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Free-agent infielder Rafael Furcal will miss the winter league playoffs after suffering a torn hamstring, according to ESPN Deportes. 

The 37-year-old Furcal struggled with injuries last year, playing in just nine games. He hit .171 over 35 at-bats with Miami. Furcal went on the disabled list two separate times with hamstring issues last season.


Report: Wandy Rodriguez close to signing with the Phillies
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is traveling to Philadelphia in order to take a physical, according to Phillies Spanish play-by-play man, Angel Castillo. 

If that physical goes well, Rodriguez is expected to sign with the club. The 35-year-old had knee surgery in June, but decided to pitch in winter ball in order to show major-league teams he had something left in the tank. Rodriguez posted a 6.75 ERA over 26 2/3 innings with the Pirates before he was shut down for the season. 


Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to return to Japan
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda will return to pitch in Japan next season, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. A Hiroshima newspaper was the first to have the report.

The 39-year-old Kuroda spent seven seasons in the United States. He posted a career 3.45 ERA over 1319 innings. After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Dodgers, Kuroda joined the Yankees. He remained with the organization for three seasons, but made sure his contract went year-to-year so that he could return to Japan when ready. Kuroda plans to continue his baseball career in Japan, and will pitch for the Hiroshima Carp next year. 


Report: Giants my look at Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Giants may look into acquiring Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, according to Gammons Daily. 

Gammons notes that several general managers believe the club will deal prospects to acquire the 33-year-old Zobrist. San Francisco is currently slated to start Joe Panik at second, but Zobrist can play multiple positions. It's unclear where the Giants would elect to use Zobrist the most. He hit .272/.354/.395 in 570 at-bats last season. Zobrist is entering the final year of his contract, and is due $7.5 million next season.


Report: Yankees have yet to be informed of Hiroki Kuroda's plans
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Yankees have yet to be informed of pitcher Hiroki Kuroda's plans for next year, according to the New York Times.

A Hiroshima newspaper reported Kuroda will return to Japan next season, ending a seven-year run in the United States. The 39-year-old posted a 3.71 ERA over 199 innings with New York last season. Kuroda had signed one-year deals the past couple of offseasons so that he could return to Japan when ready.


1B Clint Robinson hooks up with Nationals
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Nationals have signed first baseman Clint Robinson to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

Robinson had been in the Dodgers organization. He compiled a strong .312/.401/.535 slash line at the Triple-A level a year ago.


Report: RHP Hiroki Kuroda heading back to Japan
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda is heading back to Japan, thereby ending his career with the Yankees, per various reports.

Kuroda, who will be 40 years old in February, pitched seven seasons in the major leagues, including the last three in the Big Apple. He finished 2014 with an 11-9 record and 3.71 ERA.


Astros LHP Downs, IF Petit heading to Fresno
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) The Astros have outrighted left-hander Darin Downs to Triple-A Fresno after having cleared waivers. 

The team has also announced that infielder Gregorio Petit has accepted an assignment to Fresno. He and Downs are set to join the squad in spring training.


Nationals taking chance on 2B Dan Uggla
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Second baseman Dan Uggla, who has spent most of his recent years creating a breeze at the plate, has signed a minor league deal with the Nationals with a spring training invite.

Uggla received a career-low 141 at-bats last season with Atlanta and San Francisco. He compiled a disturbing slash line of .149/.229/.213 with 46 strikeouts. His batting average has fallen in each of the last four years.


Diamondbacks bring in LHP Dan Runzler
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12/26/2014) Left-hander Dan Runzler did not stick around in Japan for long. He spent the last two months of the 2014 season there, but is back in the states after signing a minor league contract with the Diamondbacks.

Runzler compiled a 3.30 ERA and fanned 53 in 46 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level for San Francisco last season before bolting to Japan.


 
 
 
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