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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Not ga-ga for Gonzo

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Is it just me, or is the criticism of Adrian Gonzalez a little overblown?

Granted, his numbers are disappointing so far, but judging by some of the user comments on his player page, you'd think he was the only big-name slugger off to a slow start. Other than the lack of homers, his numbers aren't that far off.

And even the lack of homers is exaggerated.

Guy has hit five homers since last year's All-Star break. Would never own him. -- bigpapiblows

Actually, it's 14. He and David Ortiz both hit 10 after the All-Star break last year, so that's encouraging, right? Oh, wait ...

This guy makes Albert Pujols' 2012 season look like Josh Hamilton's. -- Fungazi

You know, since Pujols has the higher batting average and OPS and all ...

All right, I've been defending him all season. I admit it. This is really bad in terms of Fantasy. -- runmtbrun

Yeah, really bad. To the waiver wire! Save us, James Loney!

This year's 2011 Hanley Ramirez. This guy is a disgrace. -- piratebooty

Says the guy with "booty" in his name.

It's getting comical. -- Jets3267

Couldn't agree more.

With Lance Berkman down, I've been having to use Kevin Youkilis at first base. I was offered Adrian Gonzalez for Stephen Strasburg. Take it or wait? -- @alansmafra (via Twitter)

SW: I'd take it. No matter what contradictory speculation you've seen, the Nationals have been adamant about shutting down Strasburg when he reaches a certain number of innings (presumably 160), regardless of where they are in the standings, so by trading him now, when he's performing like a Fantasy ace, you'd simply be taking the most prudent course of action. And because you'd be getting a first-rounder in return, you'd have also done a nice job of selling high on him. Hey, it's not like he was a first-rounder coming into the season.

Most Traded Players (as of 5/30)
Player # of trades
1. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 777
2. Roy Halladay, SP, Phillies 498
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees 446
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox 441
5. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies 434
6. Dan Haren, SP, Angels 416
7. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs 406
8. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals 396
9. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels 386
10. Michael Young, DH, Rangers 356

Of course, if it was really all that simple, you wouldn't be asking, would you? No, the reason you're asking is presumably the same reason I've been getting questions like "Is Nick Swisher for Adrian Gonzalez a fair deal?" and critiques like "You still have Adrian Gonzalez as a 'no-brainer' in the Hit Parade. Have you paid any attention to baseball this year?"

Yes, everybody suddenly questions whether or not Gonzalez is still a first-round-type player. After all, he currently ranks 15th among first basemen in Head-to-Head leagues and 20th among them in Rotisserie formats. That's not what first-rounders do.

But stop and ask yourself what, aside from the numbers, has changed for Gonzalez since last year. He's a year older, sure, but he was still only 29 when the season began. If that's an indication he's past his prime, then all of humanity is in serious trouble. His shoulder didn't need any work in the offseason, unlike last offseason, and as far as I know, he didn't have an alien encounter that would have required a Men in Black-style memory wipe, causing him to forget everything that made him successful the previous six seasons.

Maybe he's just had a rough 48 games. It wouldn't be unprecedented, you know. In 2010, he had a 45-game stretch in which he hit .256 with a .794 OPS. In 2009, he had a 63-game stretch in which he hit .205 with a .786 OPS. If he was able to bounce back from those cold stretches, what makes you think he won't bounce back from this one?

Because he hasn't done it yet? Please. Wasn't everybody saying the same thing about Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira just a week ago? Didn't take much for them to become hot stuff again. And compared to their .220 batting averages at the time, Gonzalez's .268 mark is looking positively stellar.

Everybody needs to chill about Gonzalez -- except for the guy getting him here, of course. A stud first baseman is a worthwhile return for a pitcher with a definite shelf life. If you need pitching later, you'll still have Youkilis as trade bait.

Any hope for Alex Gordon? I'm tempted to cut him and grab Dayan Viciedo or Dexter Fowler off the waiver wire in my 12-team Rotisserie league. -- @pitchrsncatchrs (via Twitter)

SW: This tweet and others like it signal that Viciedo and Fowler have gone from being preseason sleepers to presumed busts to two of the hottest additions off the waiver wire. All it took was a couple homers to rekindle everyone's interest.

So imagine how quickly your league will flock to Gordon when he does the same.

No, I can't guarantee he'll do the same, but considering he's already done it once this season, putting together a two-week stretch in late April and early May in which he hit .367 with three home runs and a 1.041 OPS, I'm thinking it's pretty likely.

True, some skepticism remains with him -- and for good reason considering the way he started his major-league career -- but let's not forget he was the eighth-ranked outfielder in Head-to-Head leagues and the 10th-ranked outfielder in Rotisserie formats last year. And it made perfect sense at the time, given his pedigree.

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So by cutting him now, you're basically saying you think Gordon's 2011 was a fluke and that he's just as much of a disappointment today as when he first broke into the majors as a 23-year-old in 2007. It's a feasible possibility but still a big leap to take only a third of the way through the season, when a poorly timed cold streak could make anybody's numbers look bad.

If you're not willing to go out on that limb for this player yet, then you can't risk cutting him. Even if you're able to sneak him through waivers now, when he's cold, the move will attract enough attention that you probably won't be the first one to him if and when that hot streak arrives.

For the sake of argument, Fowler would be my choice to add even though Viciedo's hot streak has lasted longer. He at least has some measure of plate discipline, which should make his cold streaks a little more palatable than the White Sox slugger's. But if Gordon was my only option to drop, I'd just stand pat.

We start only four starting pitchers in my league, and I have C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Shaun Marcum, Ryan Vogelsong, Derek Holland, Tim Lincecum, Trevor Bauer and Jake Odorizzi. Which would you deal for Michael Morse? -- @tile11 (via Twitter)

SW: Morse is set to make his season debut this week after missing the first two months with a strained back, so I'm sure he'll be a popular trade target over the next few days. Of course, you would have been better off trading for him two or three weeks ago. Now that his owner has put in the time for him, he probably won't be so keen on parting with him. But you never know. If the owner doesn't have a clear place to slot Morse, perhaps you could still work out a favorable trade for the outfielder-first baseman.

And if you have a place to slot him, you absolutely want him. He may not be 100 percent proven after only one monster season, but don't underestimate just how monstrous that season was. His overall numbers are one thing, but over the final five months, he hit .317 with 30 homers and a .971 OPS. Yikes.

Of course, trading for Morse isn't exactly a no-brainer in your situation. You do have some pitching excess in a league with only four starting pitcher slots, but considering Bauer and Odorizzi aren't even in the majors yet, it's not that much excess. And starting pitcher is a position where you want excess anyway, given the possibility of two-start weeks.

That said, a bargain is a bargain, so you should at least make a run at Morse to see if he is, in fact, a bargain. I doubt either of the minor-leaguers would get the job done. Ditto Vogelsong and Holland. Ridding yourself of Lincecum wouldn't be such a bad thing if you could talk the guy into it. If not, Marcum and Hanson are both doable, with Marcum being the preferred option.

I wouldn't trade Wilson for Morse, though. Wilson is legitimately high-end, and again, Morse isn't 100 percent proven.

Is Brian Roberts worth a flier now that we know he's just a couple weeks from returning? Right now, I have an underachieving Jemile Weeks at second base. Notables on the waiver wire are Danny Espinosa and Sean Rodriguez. -- Jason Gerk (via e-mail)

SW: You could do worse than Roberts off the waiver wire, but I'd be lying if I said I had high hopes for him. Keep in mind he's 34, which is especially old for a middle infielder, and he began to show his age during the limited periods when he was healthy over the last two seasons, batting .254 with a .688 OPS in 393 at-bats.

And then, of course, he's coming back from a severe concussion that has sidelined him since May of last year. With that injury, you just never know. Some players return as good as ever. Some, like Justin Morneau, need some time. Some never quite make it all the way back. Considering Roberts' age makes him a long shot to regain his pre-concussion form anyway, he may ultimately be just a waste of your time.

In the end, I think you'll be better off with either Weeks or Espinosa. They have their drawbacks, especially Espinosa, but they're productive enough at their best that they'll probably outperform Roberts on a per-game basis.

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I have Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes. Which one should I start? -- @buck_nut07 (via Twitter)

SW: Ah, yes -- the classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

Let me guess: You've gone with the hot hand every week so far, and it's backfired often enough that you've decided you're better off just sticking with one so you don't risk missing out on all the good weeks. Yeah, that's the right approach to take in that situation. Maybe if you were deciding between two borderline waiver options with clearly defined platoon splits, you could afford to pick and choose, but with two legitimate every-week options, it's just asking for trouble.

And because your dilemma is at a weak position like shortstop, where you'll always find a taker on the trade market, you should be shopping whichever of the two you'd choose to sit.

Typically in these situations, I prefer to shop the player who'll give me the best return. If I like two players the same -- or close to the same, anyway -- I can only benefit from the other guy's pickiness. But in this situation, I think Furcal is the definite choice to shop.

He's just too risky to trust long-term. At age 34, he's beyond the point when most shortstops collapse offensively, and he has only one 400-at-bat season since turning 30 in 2007. Granted, Reyes is no stranger to the DL himself, but his recent injury history isn't quite as discouraging. Plus, at age 28, he at least has a reasonable chance of playing 140 games.

And let's not forget that, over the course of their careers, Reyes' best has been consistently better than Furcal's best. Furcal may be the No. 1 shortstop in Fantasy right this moment, but that will only work to your advantage as you begin to shop him.

I'm giving up C.J. Wilson and Brandon Phillips for Clayton Kershaw and Omar Infante. Do you think this is a fair trade? -- Justin Alexander (via e-mail)

SW: It's absolutely a fair trade. You're taking a hit at second base by swapping out Phillips for Infante, but you're improving at starting pitcher by swapping out Wilson for Kershaw. I can't really knock either side of the deal. But if you're asking which side I'd prefer, then the one getting Kershaw takes the cake.

That's not too much of a shocker to most people, I'm sure. As I've said countless times in this column and others, when assessing trades, I'll almost always take the side that gets the best player. I think Wilson is a near ace, but I think Kershaw is so much of an ace that he's probably the ultimate Fantasy option at position, aside from Justin Verlander. Again, not much of a stretch.

What's surprising to me is how easily I shrug off the downgrade at second base, which is probably an indication of how the gap between Phillips and Infante has narrowed since the beginning of the season, when Phillips was one of the top options at the position and Infante went widely undrafted.

Granted, Infante's early-season power surge was bound to end sooner or later, and judging by his one home run in May, it has. But he has continued to provide enough offense even without the homers that I'm beginning to believe he can remain a viable mixed-league starter all season. Honestly, a .300 batting average to go along with a dozen homers and 15-20 steals isn't so far-fetched.

And it wouldn't be so far off from Phillips' expected production at this stage of his career. His slow start this season will probably keep him in the 18-homer range for the third straight year, and judging by the way his steals have declined over the last few years, he's likely to trail Infante in both that category and batting average come season's end.

Again, this deal doesn't hinge on that comparison -- frankly, I'd take it even if Infante wasn't a part of it -- but it's worth noting regardless.

Would you stick with Jason Heyward in a dynasty league, or would you aim to trade him? -- @MacVincent1 (via Twitter)

SW: Heyward's season has quickly unraveled over the last 2 1/2 weeks, renewing the doubts that he had seemingly put to rest over the first 4 1/2. With a .236 batting average and .754 OPS through Monday's action, he looks an awful lot like the player who hit .227 with a .708 OPS last year, which is again causing Fantasy owners to question his ceiling.

Yet as familiar as this year's struggles are, I'm thinking they're nothing to worry about.

What was Heyward's problem last year? He hurt his shoulder early on, played with numbness in it all season and threw his mechanics out of whack in order to compensate. That was the narrative, anyway, and the numbers backed it up. His line-drive rate plummeted from 17.8 percent to 13.1 percent, and his infield fly ball rate skyrocketed from 8.4 percent to 21.8 percent. His warped mechanics caused him to hit weak grounders and pop-ups instead of driving the ball the way a good middle-of-the-order hitter should.

This year has been the polar opposite as far as those numbers go. His line drive rate is a career-high 20.2 percent, which should lead to a career high in batting average if he keeps it up, and his fly ball rate is at a career-high 41.2 percent, which should lead to a career high in homers given his power potential. And though he's still popping up more than he did as a rookie, his rate of 10.2 percent is still a drastic improvement from last year. Best of all, his groundball rate is only 38.7 percent. Those weak grounders are a thing of the past.

In short, Heyward has entirely remade his hitter profile of a year ago and now has the most encouraging one possible for a player with his upside. The results haven't been there yet, for one reason or another, but judging from those peripherals, he could explode any day now.

You'd be selling him short by trading him now, and in a dynasty league, you could pay for it for years to come.

My outfield has been banged up this year, and I've had to do some juggling. I only have one DL spot to use, and Allen Craig is there now. I've also lost Lance Berkman and Emilio Bonifacio, who I dropped. With Craig expected back Friday, I'll need to drop someone else, but Angel Pagan, Josh Reddick and Dayan Viciedo have all performed so well that I'm not sure which way to go. I also have Kendrys Morales at first base and was thinking of dropping him due to his inconsistent at-bats and slow start, but he has started to do well. Can you rank Pagan, Reddick, Viciedo, Craig and Morales in case I need to drop more than one? I am in a keeper league, so the long term is also a consideration. -- Terry Bone (via e-mail)

SW: I can, and I will. Let's get right into it.

Reddick has to be first given his hot start this season. I doubt he'll remain a top-10 outfielder all year, and I'm almost positive he won't maintain his current 46-homer pace. He doesn't quite have the pedigree for either. Still, he has shown enough ability for me to believe he'll remain a worthwhile starter in mixed leagues this season. Plus, he's young enough to have some keeper appeal at age 25.

I'll go with Allen Craig second. He's been on a power surge since last October, which suggests it's less of a surge than a legitimate breakthrough. He has yet to do it over a full season, obviously, which makes him something of a gamble here, but still, his performance on a per-game basis over the last two years makes him too enticing to pass up.

Third is Morales. I have concerns about both his playing time and his lack of plate discipline, but we've already seen him overcome the latter in the year and a half before breaking his leg. During that time, he was more or less an elite first baseman, and you shouldn't pass up that potential if you don't have to. His batting average is up to .294 now, and I wouldn't be surprised if a power surge was just around the corner. And if it is, the Angels won't have much justification to sit him anymore.

Pagan and Viciedo are pretty much neck and neck for fourth on this list. Pagan has the least upside of the five, but I'll give him the edge over Viciedo just because I trust him to be more consistent -- enough that you'll be happy starting him more weeks than not. Viciedo's pathetic plate discipline could make him frustratingly streaky, as we've already seen this season. I like his power potential, but unless you have a specific need for home runs in your league, you'll be happier with Pagan.

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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