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Thursday, July 12, 2007
Grand Theft Roto: Second-half targets

By Shawn Peters
Special to ESPN.com

I'm not the first person to say this, but there is no such thing as a second-half All-Star team.

Guys who have great first halves are celebrated, given bonuses and flown on private jets to hobnob with legends like Willie Mays and Ted Williams.

But guys who turn it on after the midsummer classic fly coach … or at least fly under the radar for many owners. Don't be one of them. Because no matter how good your team is, you haven't won anything yet, not even if you have a 20-point lead and your nearest pursuer was just diagnosed with narcolepsy.

Right now, before there are any summer trends to speak of, is the time to create your own second-half All-Star team, and if that means parting with a few guys who played in San Fran on Tuesday before they drag your team down into McCovey Cove, so be it.

Casing the joint

I'm going to trust that you -- as members of the GTR family -- already know the sky is blue, Fatburgers taste good and Johan Santana will have an ERA lower than Nicole Richie's dress size the rest of the way. Likewise, unless this is your first fantasy rodeo, you're aware that Mike Lowell and Paul Lo Duca tend to fade like blue jeans in a swimming pool once the All-Star break ends.

But there are other players whose splits aren't as well-known, and these are the players you need to be ready to acquire or ship off if you're making a serious move this season.

I am not a die-hard Rafael Furcal fan. 2006 was stupendous, but another season of 37 steals, .300 batting average and 15 homers never seemed likely. I expected a slight regression in average, power and speed. But you know who's even less of a Furcal fan than I am? The guy who took him in the fifth round and has watched him steal only 10 bases, hit just two dingers and bat a career-low .273 as of the All-Star break.

In short, Furcal's trade value should be as low as it's going to get, and it could go up pretty quickly. Over the past three seasons, Furcal's post-break batting average is .314, a full 49 points higher than his first-half mark. His post-break slugging average goes up 82 points in that span, as well. Opportunity is knocking.

Furcal's old teammate, Adam LaRoche, has even more extreme splits. Batting .239 as of the break, LaRoche is now owned in only 62.5 percent of ESPN leagues. His balky back gives me pause, but because it will take so little to get him, even in NL leagues, I'd be remiss not to point out that LaRoche has been going nuts in July with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.319. No one can keep that up, but this is LaRoche's time of year. For the past three years, his second-half OPS is .909, which is 130 points higher than his first-half stats. LaRoche's home run rate jumps by more than a third after the All-Star break, as well, and although that trend didn't hold up in 2005, it has been unmistakable in 2004 and 2006. If there's a time to take a LaRisk on LaRoche, it's now.

Raise your hand if you've been burned by Adrian Beltre before. Yeah, me too. But the fact remains he's having a decent year, with 13 homers and six steals to go with a respectable (but far from helpful) .277 batting average. Those numbers are exactly in line with his pre-All-Star-break averages since 2004. But he has been a different guy after the break, batting .297 and averaging 18 homers a year. I'm buying from anyone who views him as a middle-of-the-road corner infielder.

Of course, for every yin, there is a yang. There are a few players, guys who either made the All-Star team or had the numbers to earn a trip, who have a history of cooling off as the weather warms up.

Ivan Rodriguez has made a dozen appearances at the midsummer classic, but one can't help wondering whether all those All-Star Games are thanx, at least in part, to his tendency to blow up in the first half and simply blow in the second. Pudge's three-year batting average splits show him to be a .323 hitter before the break and .276 after. Even if he didn't have those kinds of numbers, I'd be expecting slippage considering I-Rod has taken only five more walks all year than I have … and I'm not currently playing in the major leagues.

Lastly, Eric Byrnes deserved a spot on the NL All-Star roster with a .306 batting average, 14 long-balls and 17 steals, but he ended up chewing on some Snubba-Bubba. Maybe voters took into account the fact that from 2004 through 2006, Byrnes OPS has dropped from .838 in the first half of the year to .701. Granted, Byrnes' .191 batting average in the second half of 2005 skews those numbers down in a big way, but then again, his first half of 2005 wasn't so hot, either. I do believe Byrnes is a better player this year than he's been in the past. But I don't think he's going 30-30, which means selling now is selling high.

Pulling the job

The All-Star break is a good time to sell certain players, but the day a player goes on the DL is an even better time to make a deal.

In my 10-team AL 5x5 league, I'd had an owner who'd been trying to get Carl Crawford and Ian Kinsler from me for a month. He was offering only Dan Haren and Jose Guillen, and while Kinsler was playing, it just wasn't gonna happen. But as soon as I read the words "stress fracture" in regards to Kinsler's foot, I realized that his speed would evaporate for the rest of this year, and there have been plenty of good players whose production gets short-circuited by plantar fasciitis. So I countered, asking for Haren and Nick Markakis (we all remember his second half last year) for Kinsler and Crawford and the deal was accepted the day Kinsler was shelved.

I gave up a ton of talent but got a lot back. Let's see what my consigliere, Zach Messler, says about the deal.

Whenever you give up the best player in a deal -- in this case Carl Crawford -- a trade stands to be a GTR ... for the competition. But in this case, I think you did pretty well. Haren is experiencing the breakout season expected of him in 2006, and he certainly appears for real. His numbers have been Johan-esque.

Plus you got Nick Markakis, a lock for double-digit homers and steals. So you just got a topflight starter and a guy who should add some pop to your lineup for the cost of 15-20 steals.

That is, of course, assuming Ian Kinsler does not return soon at 100 percent. His injury pretty much rules out the 10 more steals he would have brought. But I gather that's why you closed the deal. Overall, I like it.

Me too, though I'd argue that Haren might be the best player in the deal right now if Crawford's expected power surge continues to be invisible … or at least transferred to Carlos Pena.

Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball and football analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He can be reached at GrandTheftRoto@TalentedMrRoto.com.