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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
Mariners closer Carson Smith takes second straight loss
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Mariners closer Carson Smith struggled for a second straight game Monday in a loss to Arizona.

Smith opened the 10th inning in a tie game with two walks and a hit-by-pitch sandwiched around a strikeout. He was removed, but a sacrifice fly scored the go-ahead run and tagged him with the loss.

He has allowed three runs and taken two defeats in his last two appearances.


Diamondbacks SP Robbie Ray goes seven strong against Seattle
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:51 am ET) Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray rebounded nicely Monday from his worst start of the season. But his bullpen cost him a victory.

Ray, who couldn't make it out of the fifth inning last Tuesday, pitched through seven in Seattle. He gave up just two runs on six hits with two walks and eight strikeouts, which tied a season-high.

He pitched shutout ball through five, but a Logan Morrison RBI single in the sixth and Robinson Cano homer in the seventh narrowed his lead to 3-2.

Ray has five quality starts in his last six outings.


Mariners SP Mike Montgomery rebounds with strong effort
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) After three mediocre-to-awful starts that threatened to ruin what had been a fine rookie season, Mariners left-hander Mike Montgomery stopped the bleeding Monday night.

Montgomery wasn't lights-out, but he did allow just two earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision against Arizona. He walked four and struck out five.

Home runs by Paul Goldschmidt and Welington Castillo in the first two innings appeared to have Montgomery reeling again. But he righted himself and later retired eight in a row.

Montgomery owns a 3.20 ERA, but hasn't won a game since July 5.


Counsell upset with Brewers OF Carlos Gomez for steal attempt
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Craig Counsell has reacted angrily to a caught stealing by Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez in the ninth inning of their Monday night loss in San Francisco.

Gomez singled to open the inning with his team two runs behind. He attempted a steal with the tying run at the plate and was thrown out. He was 1-for-4 in the game.

"You cannot get thrown out there," Counsell told MLB.com.

Scooter Gennett later hit a double that would have either scored Gomez or put two runners in scoring position. But the Brewers did not score.


Blue Jays snag RP LaTroy Hawkins in deal with Rockies
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:12 am ET) Former Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins has been included in the deal that sent Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, per CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Hawkins saved just two games this season before losing his job. But he has allowed just one earned run in 14 appearances since June 14.


Report: Rockies snag SS Jose Reyes in return for Tulowitzki
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:04 am ET) The Rockies will receive veteran shortstop Jose Reyes and minor leaguers in return for Troy Tulowitzki, according to Fox Sports MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal.

The 32-year-old Reyes owns a slash line on the year of .285/.333/.385.


Giants RP Sergio Romo earns second save of season Monday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(1:00 am ET) Giants pitcher Sergio Romo recorded the final three outs of the ninth inning to earn his second save of the season during Monday's 4-2 win over the Brewers.

Romo allowed one hit and struck out two during the appearance. He is now 2 for 2 in save chances this season with a 4.26 ERA.


Brewers SP Kyle Lohse allows four runs in Monday's loss
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:57 am ET) Brewers pitcher Kyle Lohse had a decent outing Monday, but it was not enough as the Brewers lost 4-2 to the Giants.

Lohse (5-12) allowed four runs on five hits over 6 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out four and walked three. His biggest mistake was giving up a two-run home run to Brandon Crawford in the fourth inning.

Lohse is now winless in his last four starts. He has not earned a quality start in his last six outings.


Report: Nationals 1B Zimmerman, LF Werth to play Tuesday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:56 am ET) The Nationals are expected to activate first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and left fielder Jayson Werth for their Tuesdsay night matchup against Marlins stud starter Jose Fernandez, according to MLB.com.

The team has not confirmed those moves,however.

Zimmerman has been sidelined for more than a month with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Werth has been out for more than two months with a fractured left wrist. Both have joined the team in Miami.


Giants SP Chris Heston earns win in Monday's start
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Giants pitcher Chris Heston continued his impressive season Monday when he earned his 11th win of the season during the 4-2 win over the Brewers.

Heston allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings of work to lower his ERA to 3.14. He also struck out four and walked three.

Heston has now won his last three starts and has not lost a start in his last seven outings. He has also earned a quality start in each of his last six starts.


 
 
 
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