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Dear Mr. Fantasy: The going rate for a former ace

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's the thought of every NASA engineer in between tests of the new Space Launch System.

It's the most common topic of discussion at Mensa gatherings.

It's the reason Apple invented Siri.

And for one desperate man clicking away at his computer, it's interrupting a good night's sleep.

What the [heck] do I do with Tim Lincecum? -- Steven Hengel (via e-mail)

SW: A fine question -- one befitting of censor brackets even with a delete button on hand. Lincecum, two-time Cy Young winner and top-10 starting pitcher entering the season, is now 2-7 with a 6.00 ERA and 1.58 WHIP.

Most Traded Players (as of 6/13)
Player # of trades
1. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 757
2. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies 557
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox 544
4. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox 491
5. Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks 463
6. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals 458
7. Dan Haren, SP, Angels 458
8. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners 397
9. Jason Heyward, OF, Braves 380
10. Bryan LaHair, 1B, Cubs 379

And your hair is all gone.

The rising walk rate, the declining velocity, the snowball effect on his other numbers -- you've heard it all before. The demise of Lincecum has become almost a foregone conclusion in some Fantasy circles, with me leading the charge.

But outright releasing him or trading him for whatever chump comes your way is less than ideal. Over the course of history, we've seen pitchers -- particularly those of ace caliber -- survive drops in velocity and overcome bouts of wildness. Granted, few have had to tackle both at once, which is one of the big reasons I put Lincecum's chances of coming around at less than 50 percent, but with players of exceptional talent, sometimes all it takes is one little adjustment to do a complete 180. Look at Clay Buchholz. He changes the grip on his changeup one day, as reported by the Boston Globe recently, and just like that, he's a shutout machine.

Obviously, if you play in a league without a bench, he's killing you, so you have to cut him. But if you have the means to stash him, you owe it to yourself to play out those unfavorable odds after investing so heavily in him on Draft Day. If anyone's going to capitalize on a return to form, it should be you, right? Right?

The better solution, however, would be to trade Lincecum now, when he still has his share of believers. You won't get full value for him, of course, but you'll get something, which is better than declaring him a total loss.

Just how much could you get? Let's examine a few of the trades made in actual CBSSports.com Fantasy leagues:

Tim Lincecum for Cliff Lee
That's grand larceny at this point.

Tim Lincecum for Dan Haren
Worth noting because Haren's base numbers are also down, but I'd consider him the far more likely of the two to turn it around.

Tim Lincecum for Rafael Furcal and Ryan Howard
On the surface, this one may seem like an undersell, but for all of Furcal's injury risk, he's most likely an upgrade at shortstop for you, at least in the short-term. That's enough to convince me.

Tim Lincecum and Michael Young for Mike Trout
I like it. Good way to use Lincecum to even out an otherwise uneven deal. You'll probably get better offers that way than by shopping him one-for-one.

Tim Lincecum for Jed Lowrie and Francisco Liriano
As a firm believer in Lowrie, I'd be willing to go that far.

Tim Lincecum for Ricky Nolasco
Not that far, though.

Tim Lincecum for Chipper Jones
Clearly moving the wrong direction here.

Tim Lincecum for Lonnie Chisenhall
OK, now you're just being ridiculous.

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Get the idea? You shouldn't be at the point where you'll take whatever you can get for Lincecum, because if all you're getting is waiver fodder, it's the same as cutting him. But if you're getting an every-week option in return, I'd consider it a job well done.

My 12-team Head-to-Head keeper league is upset over a recent trade. Please provide some insight. Team A gets Tim Lincecum and Chris Young. Team B gets Ryan Vogelsong and Lucas Duda. -- Nicholas Brown (via Facebook)

SW: If you don't think Lincecum's name still carries weight, you're just not trying hard enough.

The uproar here says it all: Your leaguemates may pooh-pooh the idea of trading for Lincecum when you approach them with an offer, but they don't want to see anyone else get him at a discount. No, sir.

It's a shame, really. Team B has plenty of reason to be skeptical of Lincecum. His wins are down because his innings are down. His innings are down because his walks are up. His walks are up because -- nibble, nibble -- his velocity is down, which is also why his hits are up, which is also why his WHIP is up, which is also why his ERA is up ... which is also why his wins are down.

It's a vicious circle with one stat feeding into another and no end in sight. If the owner of Team B doesn't want to deal with it anymore and can actually get something halfway useful in return, he should have that option. I doubt he just now had the idea of trading for Lincecum. He's probably been shopping him for weeks. If nobody stepped up and made an offer, then you can understand why he thought this was the best he could do.

Of course, Lincecum isn't the only player going to Team A here. Young is probably more valuable than either of the two players Team B is getting in return. But while Vogelsong and Duda have both spent some time on waivers in mixed leagues this season, both have shown potential in the past and are certainly performing up to snuff now.

If you assume Lincecum owners are at least toying with the idea of dropping him in mixed leagues -- which is accurate, judging by the first question -- then his presence in this deal shouldn't have much bearing on its fairness. What if it was a player with similar droppability -- Jeff Samardzija and Young for Vogelsong and Duda, let's say? Doesn't look so bad then, does it?

I'm not saying this is a deal I'd make under ordinary circumstances. I've already pointed out the dangers of selling too low on Lincecum, and I don't view Vogelsong and Duda as enough of a return for Young. But I can see why the owner of Team B would make it, and if it's defensible, it's admissible.

I have only Jeff Samardzija and John Axford for my relief pitcher slots. Would you pick up Drew Hutchison, Tyler Clippard, or maybe a Kris Medlen-Andrew Cashner type? -- @AnteGALIC2 (via Twitter)

SW: First of all, I think you'd be just fine starting Samardzija and Axford every week. Because Samardzija spent so many years in the bullpen, he may hit a wall when his innings reach a certain point, but I don't think early June is the start of it. I see his recent struggles (which have only spanned two starts, mind you) as little more than a rough patch. As for Axford, you'll have to blame the Brewers for his last outing, when he allowed three earned runs against the Padres on Sunday. They brought him in for a non-save situation. That's just asking for trouble. Considering he had allowed just one earned run (on only five hits) in his previous 12 innings, I'm confident he's back to being the Axford we saw last year.

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But a little depth could never hurt, and if that's all you want, shoot, all of these guys are worth picking up.

In a world where Drew Storen doesn't exist, Clippard would be my first choice. He has proven he can handle closing duties for a first-place club and is the only true reliever on this list. Granted, starters are often worth more Fantasy points in the long run, but closers tend to be more consistent. Having Clippard to replace Samardzija for unfavorable matchups wouldn't be such a bad thing. Of course, Storen does exist and is likely to return from his elbow injury after the All-Star break, so if you'd prefer a long-term solution, Clippard isn't the way to go.

I like both Medlen and Cashner to a certain extent. Medlen put together a nice little run before needing Tommy John surgery in 2010, and Cashner, with his high-90s fastball, obviously has a high ceiling. But Hutchison to me is kind of the best of both worlds. He has the mid-90s fastball to help him overpower hitters, unlike Medlen, but a halfway decent command of the strike zone, unlike Cashner. Plus, he's actually having some success now with a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his last six starts. Medlen and Cashner are both speculative pickups.

So clearly, all four of these pitchers have their strengths and weaknesses. If I was ranking them for the average Fantasy owner, I'd go Clippard, Hutchison, Medlen and Cashner.

I need a shortstop badly. Would you trade Neil Walker for Zack Cozart or trade one of Aroldis Chapman, Chris Perez and Jim Johnson for Jed Lowrie? -- Stephen Parrott (via e-mail)

SW: Swapping Walker for Cozart is a fair deal, but if your goal is to upgrade at shortstop, I'm skeptical Cozart will do it for you. Although he has more pop than the average shortstop, that's pretty much all he's good for at this stage of his career. He's not the base-stealer many projected him to be, and his poor plate discipline likely condemns him to a .250 batting average. With those numbers, he's closer to being Alex Gonzalez than Asdrubal Cabrera.

If you want to improve your standing at shortstop, you need to aim higher. Lowrie is unquestionably higher. His .898 OPS is the highest among shortstop-eligible players and a full 100 points ahead of Hanley Ramirez. He's on pace for 32 homers. He has five weeks of 20 or more Head-to-Head points compared to Cozart's one. Yeah, you could dismiss it as a fluke, but considering he had similar numbers down the stretch in 2010 and was projected to be a middle-of-the-order hitter all along, I'd say that's an unfair assumption.

He's actually healthy, which is something new in a career marred by a broken wrist, a bout with mononucleosis and, just last year, a balky shoulder. He's also a different player against right-handed pitchers this season after hitting only .210 against them last season, having corrected a mechanical flaw from the left side of the plate this spring.

I can't promise Lowrie will stay healthy all season -- his track record doesn't support it -- but I can promise (or at least strongly suggest) that when he is healthy, you won't do much better at the shortstop position.

I don't know that I could bring myself to trade Chapman for him, but for either Perez or Johnson, I wouldn't think twice.

Should I trust Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Ryan Dempster? -- @ColbSchlick (via Twitter)

SW: Depends what you mean. Can you trust them to be relevant Fantasy options all year? I'm fairly confident of that. But can you trust them to continue doing exactly what they've been doing? That's an iffier proposition.

I've always believed Dempster was one of the more underrated pitchers in Fantasy. His strikeouts are plenty consistent, and his ERA and WHIP, omitting his horrendous month of April last year, are plenty good enough. But he's not the Cy Young contender that his current 2.31 ERA and 1.03 WHIP make him out to be. With his BABIP at an unreasonably low .243 and his stuff showing signs of decline at age 35, he's due for a downturn. And if he has mustered only two wins behind the Cubs offense when pitching this well, imagine the troubles he'll have during his inevitable course correction.

Jackson, in contrast, has long been one of the more overrated pitchers in Fantasy. He's always had good stuff but has never had the strikeout rate to match, and though he's shown flashes of potential in the past, he inevitably reverts to his usual high-contact, high-WHIP ways. I keep thinking back to 2009, his lone All-Star season, when he looked like he had turned the corner with a 2.52 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in the first half only to post a 5.07 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in the second. Or that late-season stretch with the White Sox in 2010, when he looked like he had finally put it all together with a 1.21 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning in 11 starts only to regress to, well, the numbers we saw last year. And those numbers were fine, loosely speaking, but they weren't enough to make him rosterable across the board in Fantasy. Granted, he's doing great now, so you might as well ride it out while it lasts, but at the end of the year, I can't see him being one of the top five options on your staff.

Of the three, Scherzer's numbers are the worst, but he's also had the lowest low points to date. So he's streaky -- we all know that -- but his best is so mesmerizingly good, with the kind of strikeout-to-walk ratios that would put Zack Greinke to shame, that you can't afford to miss out on them. And how do you avoid it? By gritting your teeth and throwing him out there every time he has a turn, hoping that the ugly starts continue to become fewer and farther between, as they have since his rocky April.

So if you mean "trust" in the way I think you mean it, as in the player you'd be most inclined to leave in your starting lineup forevermore, Scherzer would be my first choice, followed by Dempster (who you can always hope will get traded) and Jackson.

Would you try to trade for Roy Halladay? The owner in my league is desperate. -- @JTlove11 (via Twitter)

SW: I don't know why you wouldn't be interested in acquiring arguably the best pitcher of the last five years. The question, as always, is what you'd have to give in return.

When Halladay first went down with a strained shoulder on May 27, the estimated timetable for his return was 6-8 weeks. Considering he'll have to ramp up the innings all over again, you should assume the maximum, which will put him coming back at the beginning of August.

By the beginning of August, the fate of your Fantasy team might already be decided, particularly in Head-to-Head leagues where the playoffs might be just two or three weeks away.

In other words, you have to prioritize the present here. Halladay offers plenty of assurances for the future, but if you fall back in the standings waiting for him to return, whatever boost he gives you might be too little, too late.

So unless you have a commanding lead or insurmountable depth, you can't trade any of the staples on your roster. You can't trade any of the Jon Lesters or Yovani Gallardos this other guy is probably looking to acquire. Whatever you trade has to be something you know you can live without, which means something you haven't been starting on an every-week basis.

Among pitchers, that means the absolute most you're giving up is someone like Jordan Zimmermann, James McDonald, Shaun Marcum or Wandy Rodriguez. Would that be enough to win over the Halladay owner? Probably not, but if he's as desperate as you say, it's worth a try. If necessary, you can try adding a second (lower-end) player to sweeten the deal.

How would you rate the keeper value of Carlos Quentin, Josh Reddick, Nolan Reimold and Colby Rasmus in a 12-team, 16-keeper league? -- @MightyBoa (via Twitter)

SW: In a league where every team keeps 16 players, roster turnover is minimal, which means all but the fringe waiver types are worthy of consideration.

Unfortunately, fringe waiver types are exactly what I see here.

Reddick is a notable exception, of course. I expect him to slow down -- and to a certain extent, he has -- but he has demonstrated enough power in his second major-league season to convince me he can remain a top-30 outfielder all season, which would make him keeper-worthy in your league, especially at age 25.

Likewise, I suppose labeling Quentin a "fringe waiver type" is selling him a little short, but it is only a 12-team league. Just because he's a consistent 25-homer guy doesn't mean he's a certainty to get drafted in the first 16 rounds next year, especially when you throw prospects into the equation. Think back to where Josh Willingham was drafted in your league this season and ask yourself what makes Quentin so different.

Reimold and Rasmus in particular don't excite me. Reimold was a hot pickup early in the season, when he homered five times over a six-game stretch, but those were kind of his 15 minutes of fame in Fantasy. He's a 28-year-old who still has yet to establish himself as a full-timer in the big leagues, and this neck injury might be the nail in his coffin. Rasmus supposedly has upside but has made no progress over the course of four seasons and has been more of a hindrance than a help to Fantasy owners during that time. Sure, he's heating up now, but he's had enough hot streaks over the years that I'm not jumping at the start of another one.

To rank them, I'd go Reddick, Quentin, Rasmus and Reimold, with Reddick and Quentin being the only two I'd seriously consider keeping. But just to state the obvious, plenty could change between now and the end of the year.

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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