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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
Dilson Herrera leaves with leg injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:30 pm ET) Mets infielder Dilson Herrera left Saturday's game with a leg injury.

Herrera injured himself running to first base. He was replaced by a pinch runner in the fifth inning. Herrera was 2 for 3, with a home run before being pulled from the game. 


Mike Minor pulled from start with shoulder discomfort
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:42 pm ET) Braves pitcher Mike Minor lasted one inning Saturday due to shoulder discomfort.

Minor walked the first batter he faced, and hit the second. With two men on, he induced a flyout, putting both runners in scoring position. A sac fly brought home one run, but Minor was able to escape the inning without any more damage. The club did not provide an immediate update on Minor's status. 

Minor is slated to take on the Pirates in his next start if he's healthy enough to go. 


Josh Hamilton aiming for Wednesday return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:39 pm ET) Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton is hoping to return Thursday, according to the Orange County Register

Hamilton has received 12 cortisone shots over the past month in order to combat his issues. He's been dealing with shoulder and chest injuries. The shots typically take 3-4 days to work, so Hamilton is hoping he can be back on the field Wednesday. "I’m doing everything I can to get back," Hamilton said. "I have more confidence I’ll come in every day feeling a little better."


Mark Teixeira wants to play through injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:33 pm ET) Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has expressed a desire to play through his wrist injury, according to MLB.com.

Teixeira reinjured himself during Saturday's game, but still wants to play. He will ask the doctor whether it's safe to receive another cortisone shot in his wrist. 


Aaron Hicks scratched with sore back
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:30 pm ET) Twins outfielder Aaron Hicks has been scratched from Saturday's game due to a sore back.

Hicks was set to play left field, but will be replaced. He also had back issues back in May. Hicks is hitting .209 over 163 at-bats. 


Jimmy Rollins may not play again
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:12 pm ET) Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins may not play again this season, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

Rollins is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, and manager Ryne Sandberg is unclear if he'll play again. "I'm not going one way or another on it," Sandberg told reporters. Rollins has hit .243/.323/.394 over 538 at-bats.


Carlos Beltran may not return
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:40 pm ET) Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran may not return this season, according to the YES Network. 

Beltran has been dealing with a lingering elbow issue most of the season. Manager Joe Girardi said he's unsure whether Beltran will play again this season due to the issue. Beltran is hitting .233/.301/.402 over 403 at-bats. 


Mark Teixeira may be held out for the rest of the year
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:38 pm ET) Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira may not play again this season, according to the YES Network.

Teixeira re-injured his wrist during Saturday's game, and has been dealing with pain. Manager Joe Girardi admitted after the game that he's not sure Teixeira will play again this season. Teixeira is hitting .217/.318/.397 over 423 at-bats.


Casey Janssen manages 24th save
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen saved his 24th game Saturday against the Yankees.

Janssen entered with a three-run lead, and had to get out of a tough situation. With a man on and one out, Janssen hit the first batter he faced. He regained his composure, striking out Brendan Ryan and getting Chris Young to line out to end the game. 


Marcus Stroman wins one Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:32 pm ET) Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman turned in a strong start Saturday against the Yankees.

Stroman allowed two runs on eight hits over six innings. He struck out seven and did not allow any walks during the outing. Stroman gave up his only two runs in the third and fourth innings. Two straight singles plated a run in the third, while three singles drove in the other run in the fourth. Stroman managed to settle in over his last two innings, not giving up another run. Stroman threw 107 pitches during the outing.

Stroman improved to 11-6. He’ll take on the Mariners in his next start. 


 
 
 
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