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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
Reds pitcher Jason Marquis continues to make case for pitching staff
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:49 pm ET) Reds pitcher Jason Marquis gave up three earned runs on seven hits in six innings of work Sunday. Marquis, who also added three strikeouts, now has a 3-1 record with a 3.46 ERA in six starts.

"He's really taken advantage of his opportunity," manager Bryan Price said. "I'm pleased with the way he's thrown the ball. When he’s been down in the zone with that sinker and slider and split combination, he's been pretty effective. He had another pretty good start today."

Marquis used 96 pitches to get through his outing.

"After the last outing, I felt pretty good with going deep into games," Marquis said. "I responded really well after the last start. Today coming in, I didn't know what my pitch limit was but I felt good enough to treat it like a regular season game. I was glad I was able to get that far."


Orioles reassign three players to minor league camp Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:45 pm ET) The Orioles made another wave of cuts Sunday, reassigning outfielder Dariel Alvarez, utility man Chris Parmelee and pitcher Chaz Roe to minor league camp, reports MASN.com.

Alvarez hit .343 in 35 spring training at-bats with two home runs and seven RBI. Parmelee hit .241 in 29 plate appearances with one double and two RBI. Roe posted a 5.91 ERA in seven appearances in 10 2/3 innings with 10 strikeouts.


Angels 'most likely' to start year with four starting pitchers
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:39 pm ET) Angels manager Mike Scioscia thinks he will start the season with a short staff, reports MLB.com. The team will "most likely" start the year with four starters in the rotation and 12 pitchers overall, Scioscia said Sunday.

The expected starters would be Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago with Garrett Richards still recovering from knee surgery.

"One of the things is, a lot of guys who are playing well, it might come down to what the fit is on the team. So there's a couple different ways," Scioscia said. "There's some things that might happen that might affect somebody's standing on the team in a positive or negative way, just to get the whole roster to be as deep as you can."


Blue Jays LHP Mark Buehrle said he'll make first start April 10
(6:35 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle said he will make his first start of the season April 10 in Baltimore, reports MLB.com.

The Blue Jays have not yet officially announced their rotation but it is expected they'll go in the order of: Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, Daniel Norris, Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez.

"Doesn't matter to me," Buehrle said when asked if he had a preference. "I'm going to get 33 starts in by the end of the year, so it doesn't matter."

The left hander has started three games this spring, posing a 2.45 ERA in 9 2/3 innings.

Rangers' Jake Smolinski could be unexpected Opening Day left fielder
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:21 pm ET) Prior to spring training Jake Smolinski was not on anybody's radar, but a strong camp has put the outfielder in strong contention to be the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder, according to MLB.com.

Smolinski is hitting .333 this spring, with a home run, four doubles and a triple in 39 at-bats.

"I had some setbacks early in my career, some serious injuries," Smolinski said. "I battled back, struggled in the minors but just stuck with it and continued to get better."

Smolinski did get a Double-A call up last season, hitting .389 in 11 games, but broke a bone fouling a pitch off his left foot and missed two months.


Mets' Matt Reynolds could start at second if Daniel Murphy isn't ready
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:20 pm ET) Mets middle infielder Matt Reynolds may get the nod at second base if regular starter Daniel Murphy is not healthy enough to play on Opening Day, reports MLB.com.

Reynolds, who spent most of last season in Triple-A, is hitting .381 in 42 spring training at-bats, making the decision tough for manager Terry Collins.

"He's a baseball player -- everybody keeps saying that about him, but that's what he is," Collins said. "He handles the bat, he runs the bases, he does a lot of little things right. But Danny Muno's a dangerous bat -- I'll tell you what, he can get a hit. And the other kid, Ruben, he's played there. He's played there under the bright lights and been very successful. So we've got a lot of options."

Murphy is still recovering from a hamstring injury and is uncertain for Opening Day.


Braves third baseman Chris Johnson making adjustments at the plate
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) Braves third baseman Chris Johnson needed to make some slight adjustments to his swing at the plate to get things on the right track, reports MLB.com. Johnson, who struggled early in camp with a 4 for 30 stretch, has now hit two home runs in the last four days.

"It was not easy during the first couple weeks of games," said Johnson. "I struggled, and it was hard for me mentally. I'm a results-oriented kind of guy. So, it was tough for me. Being able to stick with it and then see results is a lot of fun."

After he realized he needed to lower his hands at the plate, Johnson improved his reaction time and is able to pull the ball better.

"Pulling the ball is good for me because the book on me is to pitch me [inside] and not allow me to go to right field," Johnson said. "The new approach and [placement of my hands] is allowing me to get [opposing pitchers] out of there. Then when they go [outside], I'll be able to do what I want to do."


Astros pitcher Scott Feldman struggles with command Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:00 pm ET) Astros pitcher Scott Feldman surrendered three runs on seven hits with two walks in 4 1/3 innings pitched against the Yankees Sunday. Feldman needed 83 pitches to get through the outing and most concerned with his pitch location, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I want to get my command better before the season starts," Feldman said. "It's just a progression, trying to just set the foundation here and take it into the season."

Feldman was taken to deep right field in the third for his first run by Chase Headley.

"Headley is a good hitter," said Feldman, who will start the second game of the season. "I kind of just got it into the happy zone for him, and he put a good swing on it."


Dodgers' Dustin McGowan pitches back-to-back days
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Dodgers pitcher Dustin McGowan threw 19 pitches in a minor-league game Sunday, and it was the first time this spring he has pitched on back-to-back days, MLB.com reports.

"Haven't felt this good since I was completely healthy -- a long time ago," McGowan said Sunday. "Knock on wood."

McGowan has dealt with shoulder issues throughout his career while also undergoing Tommy John surgery once. He's given up six runs in eight innings while competing for a bullpen role.

"I don't think he's comfortable yet," Mattingly said. "We've seen some good sliders, offspeed [pitches], but I don't think he feels as consistent, throwing the ball where he wants. It's spring training and a new organization factors with him. That makes the situation tougher to figure out."

McGowan will receive a $1 million bonus if he spends one day on the active roster this year, due to the terms of his contract. He is out of minor-league options and must clear waivers before being sent down.


Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo shows defensive prowess Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo continues to show manager John Farrell why he should be in consideration for a starting job this season. Castillo made two outstanding plays in right field Sunday, reaching foul territory to make a catch and catching a runner at home with a strike from the outfield, reports MLB.com.

"It turned out to be a good play," said Castillo. "I'm always kind of anticipating that kind of thing to happen. When you have a man on third in a big situation, you hope you can make a play like that and execute it. Fortunately it went our way."

Castillo provides Farrell exactly what he needs in the outfield: flexibility.

"I don't know that you can make a play better than the one he made -- diving play in foul territory, he gets up, sets his feet, and then he throws a 150-foot strike," said Farrell. "A dynamic player, when you consider the skill set that he has. If there was any question on whether he could play right field, he's certainly answering those for us in camp here."


 
 
 
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