- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
For years I recommended the versatile Ben Zobrist to whoever would listen for fantasy baseball purposes. I acquired him myself, pointing out the many positions he could play and the many statistics he could annually produce. These days, however, Zobrist isn’t much of a fantasy option at all, and while the Kansas City Royals surely upgraded their big league team by acquiring him Tuesday from the Oakland Athletics, and all proper congratulations should be bestowed upon them, it’s fair to wonder if the narrative on Zobrist works any longer.
After all -- and I’m aware Zobrist missed a month this season due to knee surgery -- there aren’t many other players owned in nearly 90 percent of ESPN standard leagues hitting .268 and on pace for 10 home runs, 53 RBI, 2 stolen bases and 63 runs scored. Doesn’t that make Zobrist, 34, overrated in fantasy? Well, unlike Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and others owned in most leagues sans current statistical evidence to support the love, Zobrist is eligible at second base, shortstop and outfield in our game, though next season he’ll lose the shortstop part. He’s not among the top 20 on the Player Rater at either middle infield spot, and he's outside the top-70 outfielders. Still, he is an annual provider of lofty Wins Above Replacement figures, thanks to defense and walk rate, which is valuable in real life.
For fantasy purposes, Zobrist has been in annual statistical regression for a while now, to the point he finally left the top 100 on draft day 2015, settling in the 14th round, but even that looks a bit generous. There’s only so much that positional versatility can be worth, though it can’t truly be defined. Again, nothing against Zobrist, but he has become the proverbial better-player-in-real-life than in fantasy, and that’s important to distinguish while the many trades occur this week. His power continues to decline annually, his stolen base attempts are barely existent, and leaving the Athletics for the Royals doesn’t help him, because instead of batting second or third regularly, he’s likely to find himself sixth or seventh in the lineup. Manager Ned Yost isn’t going to mess with the top of his batting order. Zobrist should push speedster Jarrod Dyson to the bench until Alex Gordon is back, and then the vilified Omar Infante should sit more at second. I still like Zobrist as a fantasy team’s middle infielder, but he sure is making it tougher to justify.
In other Tuesday trade news, Washington Nationals right-hander Drew Storen, who entered the day fifth among true relief pitchers on the Player Rater, saw his value drop off the table when the organization traded for the happy Jonathan Papelbon, the No. 23 reliever. That’s not entirely fair, of course, because Papelbon wasn’t getting as many save chances for the last-place Philadelphia Phillies. The point here is that Storen won’t be getting any chances with Papelbon in town, and he wasn’t too pleased when discussing it with his agent and reporters. It’s the third time Storen was unceremoniously replaced by someone else for the role. Yeah, it’s painful, but cut Storen in fantasy. As with right-hander Tyler Clippard, dealt from Oakland to the New York Mets, they’re not getting saves and they’re not Wade Davis or Dellin Betances, so move on.
As noted earlier this week, the Mets will clearly keep right-hander Jeurys Familia in their closer role. By the way, the Mets reliever suspended for a full year Tuesday was not Familia, as many on Twitter seemed to confuse, but troubled right-hander Jenrry Mejia. It doesn’t affect Clippard. He was the eighth-inning option regardless. The big winner in the Papelbon trade, of course, is Phillies setup man Ken Giles. He earned Tuesday’s save and should be good for at least 10 more the rest of the season, with many strikeouts. When you’re dropping Storen and Clippard -- and you need to do this -- add Giles and Oakland right-hander Edward Mujica. They’re closers now!
The Los Angeles Angels' outfield is also in the news, though I’d argue what’s happening with the awesome Mike Trout is far more important than the acquisitions of David DeJesus and David Murphy. On Trout, dealing with a balky wrist from attempting a diving catch Sunday, the MRI came back clean and he’s day-to-day, just like all the rest of us. For now, don’t try to assume facts that aren’t in evidence and sell him for Zobrist. Hope he’s fine by the weekend. The Angels, so bereft of outfield depth, intend to employ DeJesus in a left-field platoon with Shane Victorino, who used to switch-hit but now does his hitting from the right side, and Murphy can vie for designated hitter at-bats with C.J. Cron. Or not. We’ll see. Regardless, these guys stay in the AL, and aren’t worth much in fantasy. Trout is.
AL report: Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis, apparently the new and valuable team new leadoff hitter with Jose Reyes gone, homered to lead off the first inning Tuesday, but left later with shoulder discomfort. His value should be rising, but if he’s not healthy, forget it. … Four more hits for Chicago White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera, who began July in a three-month slump, and after hitting .374 this month is up to a .281 season batting average. Hey, own him while he’s hitting, though there’s no power or speed. … Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Bourn stole three bases Tuesday, which wouldn’t have garnered much notice five years ago, but does today when he entered the evening with seven steals in 86 games. I doubt Tuesday’s outing is a harbinger of Billy Hamilton-like upside. … I think we can rule out Detroit Tigers right-hander Neftali Feliz, a former closer, for saves. He permitted five runs while retiring one hitter Tuesday. In his past four outings, he has allowed 13 runs and 12 hits, while getting eight outs. Ouch.
NL report: The Nationals not only added bullpen depth, but welcomed back outfielder Jayson Werth and corner infielder Ryan Zimmerman from the DL to the lineup. They combined for three hits in Miami. I’d add Werth first -- he’s hitting ahead of Bryce Harper and offers some stolen bases, more runs and more power. … Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon returned from the DL as well, getting two hits and scoring a run. Hopefully Gordon, who was caught stealing for the 13th time, keeps on running. … Good luck trying to figure out Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran. He struck out 11 in his previous outing, and was thriving in July. Then he was lit for five runs in four innings Tuesday. It’s tough to move on from this upside. … The Colorado Rockies demoted Wilin Rosario to the minors. Rosario hasn’t been hitting much, but doesn’t need to in order to be a decent No. 2 catcher. Time to move on. It appears the Rockies have. … Cincinnati Reds right-hander Mike Leake continues to roll, tossing eight shutout innings at St. Louis Tuesday. He has permitted two runs in four outings covering 30 innings. Leake’s available in more than half of ESPN’s standard leagues.