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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Don't be careless with your roster

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You know what's self-evident? Your Fantasy Baseball team needs work. You wouldn't exercise your inalienable right to be here if it didn't.

And good for you. Some might claim July 4 isn't a day to spend in front of the computer, with blackened hot dog in hand, but I seem to recall something along the lines of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Surely, Fantasy advice falls under the latter.

Yes, what better way to demonstrate your independence than by conforming to the opinions of a stranger from across the invisible expanse of the interwebs?

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It's cool. I'm deriving my power from the consent of the governed. Just don't bring it up in the comments section below.

Would you drop Ricky Romero to take a shot on Franklin Morales in a 10-team mixed league? -- @rangerjayfilm (via Twitter)

SW: Yes. No, wait ... no.

It's a dilemma because I like Morales. Shoot, I wrote a column about how much I like him just the other day. From his mid-90s fastball to his former status as an elite prospect, his sudden move to the starting rotation, where he has full use of his arsenal, makes him oh so dreamy.

But the problem is Romero was a top-10 Cy Young finisher just last year. He's been a relevant mixed-league option since breaking into the league in 2009 and has been on a steady upward climb since then. Only this season have his numbers taken a turn for the worse.

So what, right? They've taken that turn, which means regardless of what Romero did for his Fantasy owners last year, he's unusable right now. And unusable is a precursor to unrosterable.

I'm not yet ready to make that final leap, though. That's how you miss out on players like Javier Vazquez last year or Jon Lester in 2009. Hey, look how quickly Mat Latos turned it around.

The bottom line is I still have yet to detect anything in Romero's peripherals to explain the sudden decline. His velocity is fine. His ratio of ground balls to fly balls is normal. His BABIP remains on the low side at .276, which has always been a key to his success. The only measurement that seems significantly out of whack is his walk rate, which seems like something he would have corrected by now if, you know, he was a robot impervious to criticism and self-doubt.

But if his comments after Monday's start count for anything, his slump is beginning to take a toll mentally.

"Every time you just keep getting deeper and deeper and you don't know how to get out of it," he said.

It kind of reminds me of what afflicted Dan Uggla in the first half last season and what perhaps has become Eric Hosmer's problem this season. What starts off as just a normal slump -- and really, Romero wasn't getting lit up until recently -- becomes so magnified and scrutinized because of the timing of it (i.e. the beginning of the season) that the player feels even more pressure to pull himself out of it. And in a sport that depends more on precision than power, trying harder is usually a bad thing.

At some point, Romero's struggles will become a foregone conclusion, and with the reduced attention he'll be able to relax and get back to doing what he always does, as happened for Uggla last year. And if his peripherals are any indication, it'll lead to ace-like production. Drop him now, and that reward likely goes to someone else.

Most Traded Players (as of 7/4)
Player # of trades
1. Cliff Lee, SP, Phillies 851
2. Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants 741
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox 612
4. Dan Haren, SP, Angels 507
5. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners 482
6. Kevin Youkilis, 3B, White Sox 454
7. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees 444
8. Jon Lester, SP, Red Sox 444
9. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals 437
10. Hanley Ramirez, 3B, Marlins 434

Is Morales worth adding off the waiver wire? Absolutely. But I'd have to have an option worse than Romero to follow through with the switch. Or I'd have to play in such a shallow enough league that I could guarantee no one else would pick him up if I dropped him.

I have two trades to grade. In the first one, I give up Alejandro De Aza and get Aaron Hill. In the second, I give up Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Cliff Lee and get Mike Trout, Ernesto Frieri and Tyler Clippard. What do you think? -- @BrianDavisRFC (via Twitter)

SW: In case you're not a regular listener to our podcasts -- and if so, why not? -- we do a regular "grade the trade" segment where we assign letter grades to user trades, with a C being a dead-even swap and an A-plus being the steal of the century. It's fun because it caters to every former pupil's secret fantasy of being the one in the front of the class with a ruler -- only without the bureaucratic intervention, angry calls from parents and such.

The first one is pretty straightforward. You give up a top-30 outfielder for a top-six second baseman. Both are at some risk of declining in the second half, but both have shown enough ability over the course of their major- and minor-league careers that I wouldn't necessarily expect it to happen. For me, it's a dead-even trade that boils down to whether or not you need an outfielder or second baseman (or, in Rotisserie leagues, speed or power) more. I'm guessing you wouldn't have made the trade if it didn't fill a need, so I give it a C-plus.

The second trade is trickier, but when I break it down, I think I like it more. For anyone who doubts Lee's ace credentials given his winless record to date, it's an easy call. After all, the best player coming (Trout) is leaps and bounds better than the best player going (Lee). But I'm not sure they're that far apart. Granted, Lee's sudden rise in ERA makes him harder to defend, but it's not like his rocky June, in which he posted a 6.12 ERA in five starts, is so unprecedented. He posted a 4.91 ERA last July and a 6.35 ERA in August of 2010. He's a streaky pitcher. The lack of victories makes this current rough patch stand out a little more than most, but he's still pitching deep into games. As long as that continues, the wins will come around.

Still, I'd rather have the elite hitter than the (potentially) elite pitcher. With the steals coming at such a high rate, Trout seems like a fairly safe bet to perform like a top-10 outfielder the rest of the way even if his batting average drops a bit.

The Lee-for-Trout swap is the crux of the deal and the main determination for my grade, but the peripheral parts work to your advantage as well. Frieri and Clippard are two of the best closers in the game, provided they keep their jobs (which is more probable for the former than the latter, admittedly), while Montero and Ackley have been nothing short of disappointing. They're not laughably bad, but they're fringe options in seasonal formats. And though their keeper appeal remains high, this season will probably go down as a "learning experience" for both. Let's give this deal a B-plus.

Who would you rather keep in your DL slot in a 12-team Rotisserie league: Matt Joyce or Lance Berkman? -- @chiefsingh (via Twitter)

SW: You'd think Berkman would be the obvious choice given his upside relative to Joyce's, especially when you factor in Joyce's tendency to sit against left-handers. But before he landed on the DL with a tight back in late June, Joyce had pretty much shaken the platoon label, starting 11 of 12 games, including ones against CC Sabathia and Johan Santana. In fact, he started 56 of the Rays' first 67 games this season, which had him on a 486-at-bat pace at the time of his injury. Not bad.

Granted, it's still less than you'd expect from an everyday player, but then again, if you're expecting Berkman to be a full-time player upon his return from a torn meniscus, you're kidding yourself. Not only is he 36 and coming off a fairly significant surgery, but he's kind of gotten Wally Pipped.

Face it, folks: Allen Craig isn't coming out of the lineup.

That's hardly common knowledge. In fact, judging by his 88 percent ownership rate (and some of the feedback I've gotten on Twitter), most Fantasy owners see him as just a temporary fix. But with a .322 batting average and 1.046 OPS, he's been arguably the Cardinals' best hitter this year -- better than All-Star Carlos Beltran, even, when you factor in the time Craig missed due to injury. Craig was also arguably the Cardinals' best hitter during their World Series run last year and was equally stellar in a part-time role leading up to it. If you factor in his minor-league stats, Craig has been nothing but a .300-hitting, .900 OPS guy for the last six years.

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At age 27, his time is now, and the Cardinals know it. Why else would they consistently bat him fourth or fifth in a lineup with so much firepower?

I'm not saying Berkman won't be the Cardinals' primary first baseman upon his return. He was hitting pretty well himself before the injury and is coming off a renaissance season. But the Cardinals will have to find at-bats for Craig between first base, the outfield and hopefully second and third base, and given Berkman's health concerns, the 36-year-old will most often be the once ceding at-bats to the up-and-comer.

In the end, I think you'll be happier stashing Joyce. These days, he's practically a .900-OPS guy himself.

Can you suggest any buy-low outfielders? I have a loaded pitching staff and am thinking about dealing a starter or two. -- @Naptastic (via Twitter)

SW: You mean other than Allen Craig? Sorry, don't mean to beat a dead horse.

Aside from obvious injury returnees such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce, Emilio Bonifacio and, yes, Lance Berkman, the buy-low candidates are few and far between this time of year. Most of the slow starters have gotten back on track by now, so their owners will most likely value them beyond what the raw numbers say.

I suppose you could potentially pull the wool over someone's eyes on a player like Alex Gordon, whose homers and steals are still lacking even with him averaging 21 Head-to-Head points over the last five weeks, or Michael Morse, who still has only one good week on the record. But in both cases, the opportunity may have already passed you by.

If you don't mind paying 80 cents on the dollar instead of 50, Jason Heyward is a sneaky trade target right now. After a slow start, his numbers have begun correct themselves over the last few weeks, but based on how much he has improved his line-drive rate from a year ago, dramatically reducing his ground-ball and infield-fly-ball rates in the process, he's on the cusp of a major breakthrough. Don't be surprised if he enters the MVP discussion in the second half.

Also, based on some of the comments I've seen on tweets and e-mails, Alejandro De Aza is generally underappreciated despite being a top-30 outfielder. He's not a buy-low player in the traditional sense, but you could get him for relatively cheap.

If you don't mind aiming a little lower, Lucas Duda, Dexter Fowler and Drew Stubbs still haven't entirely lived up to expectations. Of course, they're fringe waiver types in most mixed leagues, so trading for them might be more trouble than it's worth.

Would you hold on to Evan Longoria or deal him for a top-tier pitcher like Johnny Cueto or Zack Greinke? -- @mrsingleton (via Twitter)

SW: It's a worthy question, as good as we all know Longoria can be. The Rays still have yet to set a timetable for the third baseman's return after pulling the plug on his previous rehab assignment in mid-June. He has now missed 2 1/2 months with a torn hamstring, so whenever his rehab assignment does start, you have to figure it'll last a couple weeks. At this point, I wouldn't expect to see him before August.

That said, he's still a first-round-caliber hitter who was off to arguably the best start of his career before going down with the injury, so you wouldn't want to sell him short just because you're getting impatient. If you're going to trade him for a pitcher, it better be a dang good pitcher, and you better be plenty satisfied with whatever replacement you've found at third base.

So the question here, provided you've met that second stipulation, is does Greinke or Cueto qualify as a "dang good pitcher?" I'm not sure I'd call either "top tier," as you've suggested. I suppose that's a little unfair to Greinke, whose overall numbers measure up but whose consistency leaves something to be desired. Cueto certainly falls short given his lack of strikeout potential.

Of course, how much can you honestly expect for a player who's been on the DL for 2 1/2 months? Back in April, you could have reasonably asked for Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw in return, but not anymore. Given his current state, a Greinke- or Cueto-type pitcher (let's throw C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish in there as well) is about the most you can expect for Longoria, which is perhaps another reason why you might want to hold off on dealing him.

But if you're sinking without him, you have to do something. Dealing for one of those pitchers, especially Greinke, seems reasonable.

What other players exhibit extreme splits for daily leagues? -- @kcw131 (via Twitter)

SW: Ah, you must be referring to the Coco Crisp-Cameron Maybin dilemma of last week, when I suggested the only reason you should consider making daily changes with your position players is when the splits support it, such as Dexter Fowler against righties, Danny Espinosa against lefties or Michael Saunders on the road.

The list could go on and on, but just to give you a few off the top of my head, Jason Kubel (.346 batting average, 1.091 OPS) and Aaron Hill (.357, 1.054) both have far better numbers at home than on the road (.252, .697 and .243, .689). Of course, Hill is so far up in the second base rankings now that you'd probably be starting him regardless, but for a fringe guy like Kubel, that's information you could use.

Justin Morneau excels against righties (.312, .950) and on the road (.257, .854), which should make him worth using at least a third of the time. Like Saunders, Kyle Seager (.164, .539) and Jesus Montero (.217, .612) both struggle at home. And though Adam Dunn is a threat to homer any given night, he might be worth sitting against lefties (.165, .711).

Not to break into a commercial here, but if you want the most relevant splits for the week ahead, the best place to find them is in my Hit Parade, which usually comes out on Fridays. It's the perfect vehicle to unveil them, especially since it forces me to do the type of research that uncovers them in the first place.

Where do you think Bryan LaHair, Billy Butler and R.A. Dickey get drafted next year? -- @KRaynor213 (via Twitter)

SW: Someone's in last place, huh? I would say better luck next year, but judging by your early interest, I gather you don't intend to rely on luck.

Dickey will be a controversial case for sure. By now, most people readily accept him as an ace for this season, but he's 37. How much longer can he sustain this level of production? And how much should you guard against a decline?

I say he's golden for a few more years. He's a knuckleballer, after all, and from Phil Niekro to Charlie Hough to Tim Wakefield, history has given us countless examples of knuckleballers who retain their effectiveness into their mid-40s. Granted, Dickey throws the pitch harder than most, which is the key to both his command and swing-and-miss ability, but it's not like he's rifling it in there at 95 miles per hour. He should be able to top 80 on the radar gun for however long he wants to stick around.

Given his age and out-of-nowhere emergence, I could see Dickey falling to the sixth or seventh round in mixed leagues -- outside the top 15 starting pitchers in Fantasy -- but he'd be a bargain at that point.

As for Butler, even though he's on pace for a career high in homers at an age (26) when power breakthroughs are common, his value doesn't figure to change that much heading into next year's draft. The home runs have come at the expense of other numbers (doubles, walks, etc.) to make him just the 10th-ranked first baseman in Head-to-Head leagues and the 11th-ranked first baseman in Rotisserie, which would probably make him no more than a seventh- or eighth-rounder on Draft Day. That said, if the rest of the Royals lineup continues to improve around Butler, he could see enough of a boost in RBI and runs scored to close the gap significantly, making him something of a bargain pick himself.

LaHair might seem like an early sleeper candidate for next year given his sudden emergence in April, but he's already 29. This year was supposed to be his grand opportunity to establish himself in Fantasy after years of stellar minor-league numbers, but the Cubs have all but squandered it by confining him to a platoon role. With only 21 starts in the team's last 37 games, his swing has gotten so out of whack that his batting average, which was once in the .340 range, is all the way down to .284.

Ballplayers thrive on consistency. Without it, LaHair's numbers will continue to decline to the point that his 2012 will go down as a failure. Unfairly labeled a Quadruple-A player, he might not get an opportunity for regular at-bats next season. And if that's the case, aside from a late-round pick here or there, I wouldn't expect him to get drafted at all.

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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Player News
Indians want Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Indians want outfielder Michael Bourn to get back to his base-stealing ways, according to the Plain Dealer

Prior to joining the team, Bourn had compiled five straight seasons with at least 40 steals. Since joining the team, he's stolen 33 bases in two seasons. Injuries have played a role in his decline. Bourn admitted he had some trouble adjusting to the American League in his first season with Cleveland. He tore his hamstring on the final day of the season, and had offseason surgery, but the issue still plagued him in 2014. 

Manager Terry Francona agreed, saying "When he gets on base, he has to disrupt the game." Francona added, "he wants to do it really bad, he just wasn't in position to do it the last couple of years. Hopefully, those injuries are limited and he can use his legs because he's a huge part of what we do."

Bourn, 32, hit .257/.314/.360 over 444 at-bats last year.


Rockies, Adam Ottavino avoid arbitration
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rockies have avoided arbitration with pitcher Adam Ottavino, according to MLB.com.

Ottavino agreed to a one-year deal with the club. Ottavino will make $1.3 million next season, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The 29-year-old posted a 3.60 ERA over 65 innings last year.


Astros looking at pitcher Kevin Correia
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Astros are looking to add pitcher Kevin Correia, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

Houston is said to be seeking a backend starter, and Correia fits the bill. The 34-year-old posted a 5.44 ERA over 154 innings with the Twins and Dodgers last year. 


Angels hopeful Garrett Richards will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Angels are hopeful that pitcher Garrett Richards will be ready by opening day, according to the Orange County Register

If Richards isn't ready for the start of the season, the team expects him to be back shortly after that. Richards had knee surgery in August, but he's been able to make progress. General manager Jerry DiPoto said he was "optimistic" about Richards' status. Richards has been able to increase his running on a treadmill, and hasn't experienced any issues with his throwing program, according to DiPoto. Richards is currently throwing from 125 to 150 feet about five times per week.

Richards posted a 2.61 ERA over 168 2/3 innings last year.


Orioles' Matt Wieters throwing from 150 feet
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Orioles catcher Matt Wieters has begun throwing from 150 feet, according to MASN.

Wieters underwent Tommy John surgery last season, and is working his way back from the surgery. He was cleared to start throwing from 150 feet on Monday. Wieters had previously been throwing from 120 feet. He said he's preparing as if he'll be ready for opening day.

Wieters hit .308/.339/.500 over 104 at-bats last year.


Orioles bring in Parmelee, De La Rosa on minor-league deals
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Orioles have signed outfielder Chris Parmelee and pitcher Dane De La Rosa on minor-league deals, according to MLB.com.

The 26-year-old Parmelee spent his first four seasons in Minnesota before becoming a free-agent during the offseason. Parmelee hit .256/.307/.384 over 250 at-bats last year.

De La Rosa, 31, pitched just 2 1/3 innings with the Angels last season. He had knee surgery in September.


David Buchanan will compete for one of two spots in Phillies' rotation
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Phillies starting pitcher David Buchanan said refininig his curveball has been a point of emphasis this offseason, as he prepares to compete for a spot in the rotation this spring, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I had success with (my curveball) in certain games,” he said. “It started coming along there toward the end. But it’s definitely something that has a lot of work still to go. It’s definitely something I’m working on. It’s getting better, which is all I can ask for.”

There is two spots currently open in the rotation behind Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Aaron Harang. Buchanan, Jerome Williams and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are considered the leading candidates for the openings in the rotation. 

“There’s going to be some competition,” Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I think that’s the only way that you can get better is by creating competition. I can’t sit here and tell you today that David Buchanan’s going to be one of our guys in the rotation, but he absolutely is going to get an opportunity to pitch in spring training and be ready and compete for one of those spots.”


Santana fine after throwing bullpen session; winter-league status is TBD
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Free agent starting pitcher Johan Santana threw a bullpen session Sunday and is said to be feeling fine, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. It is now up to his Venezuelan winter league team to decide if he will pitch for them in the finals.

Santana has been dealing with some shoulder discomfort, which has put his status for the remainder of the winter-league season in doubt. Santana is hoping to latch on with another major-league team after suffering a torn Achilles in June.

The Yankees, Padres and Blue Jays are among the teams showing interest in signing the former two-time AL Cy Young award winner.


Mariners planning on batting Smith, Ruggiano in second spot in lineup
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said he is tentatively planning to bat the right-field tandem of Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano second in the lineup, per The New Tribune.

The Mariners ranked last in the majors last season in on-base percentage (.260) from their No. 2 hitters. No other team was lower than .279.

Smith had a .367 OBP last season for San Diego, while Ruggiano had a .337 OBP in 81 games for the Cubs.


Rays' Jake McGee plays catch for first time since elbow surgery
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Rays announced Monday reliever Jake McGee played catch for the first time since undergoing elbow surgery in December. McGee is still expected to miss the start of the season.

 
 
 
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