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Friday, August 7, 2009
Fear not Gonzalez's average

By Shawn Peters
Special to ESPN.com

Grand Theft Roto

You want improvement? If so, you need repetition.

When a football player shows up for training camp, he goes out and throws or catches hundreds of balls a day, knowing that if every one of them makes him 1/1000th more efficient, they'll add up.

The best musicians in the world, the ones who can play a piece of sheet music the first time they see it, practice their performance pieces over and over again. They understand that perfection, if it's attainable, will only come from that kind of total immersion.

The same goes for writers. Even though I write on deadline every week, I decided to give myself a writing assignment to blog every day for 38 days leading up to my 38th birthday (I'm 15 days into the process) to make sure that my craft is getting sharper, not duller.

Improvement comes with repetition. In fact, one might even say improvement comes with repetition.

So now that there is less than a week before the ESPN.com trading deadline Friday, Aug. 14, at noon, if you want to improve your team, repeat after me.

"Offer, counter, repeat."

Casing the joint

For most of this season, I've used this space to suggest statistical and tactical approaches for getting trades done, putting forward my ideas of how to uncover value and identify when a player is at the top of his market value. But for this penultimate GTR of the season -- I'll come out with a deadline special edition a few days before the end of trading for my grand finale -- I'm going back to basics.

The biggest mistake owners make at this time of year, when they only have a handful of days left to improve their teams, is they make far too few offers. No matter what your team needs right now, be it a speedster, a power arm or a gaggle of closers to take your squad from worst to first in saves, the one unifying truth is that there are many combinations of players out there who can accomplish those goals.

The 20 extra steals you need to add the rest of the way could come from upgrading a moderately speedy outfielder to Jacoby Ellsbury or Carl Crawford, or it could be accomplished by trading a pair of middle infielders with pop and no speed, say Miguel Tejada and Jose Lopez, for Troy Tulowitzki and then picking up Chris Getz off the waivers.

So why just make one of those offers? This is the time to make them both. In fact, make them both, plus three others. You're working in volume now, and if you can make four deals that will improve your roster, if only by a small margin, between now and the deadline, you'll be significantly better by the time the dust clears.

So here it is in a nutshell. Your assignment is to get as many lines in the water as possible right now and start pulling up fish with both hands. If someone counters and it doesn't work for you, counter back. Give people options. Don't be afraid to have three different offers out to one owner. Because at 12:01 p.m. on Friday, the trading ends and your offers are going to be worth less than Paula Abdul's comments to American Idol contestants.

Three I'm stealing

Kendry Morales
Morales is on pace to hit 35 home runs on the season.

Kendry Morales, 1B, Angels: For those of us who play in deep AL-only keeper leagues, Morales has long been a bit like the giant squid they're always looking for on Discovery. We've heard the legends, seen some evidence but never actually seen the magnificent beast … until now. Morales is tied for the most homers in either league since the All-Star break, and the power he's showing is right in line with the expectations set in 2005, when he blasted 22 minor league homers in only 401 plate appearances in his first U.S. season. There is nothing defective about this Cuban slugger, who is only 26 years old and truly in his prime. I'd kill to be in one of the 25 percent of ESPN leagues where he's not owned so I could get him for free, but I'll happily trade for him in the other three-quarters of the leagues.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres: Maybe I just want to trade for him because I want to close the deal that my beloved Red Sox couldn't. Still, I believe that Gonzalez is a tad undervalued right now because his homer pace has slowed and his average isn't helping anyone. Both of these are true. But I love the approach the Padres slugger has taken since it became clear he's the only hitter opposing pitchers fear. Gonzalez walked 50 times and struck out only 36 times in June and July. Intentional walks aside, the fact that he's not getting impatient means he'll stay ready to crush mistakes. I believe he has another dozen homers in his bat, and in leagues that use on-base percentage, he'll be a straight-up monster.

Joe Blanton, SP, Phillies: Owned in less than a quarter of ESPN leagues, maybe you get him for free. If so, enjoy it. But in deeper formats, it's time to accept that Blanton is an above average fantasy starter. It's easy to forget that Blanton's numbers were scary good as a minor-leaguer before he hit the Pacific Coast League, where ERAs go to inflate. He exhibited decent dominance and exquisite control, as evidenced by his 338 strikeouts and only 68 walks in 365.1 minor league innings. He's replicating that profile now as a big-leaguer, and with 16 strikeouts to only one walk in his first three starts in the second half, now is the time to buy.

Three I'm dealing

John Danks, SP, White Sox: I'm officially worried about Danks, or at least I'm officially no longer comfortable. Even in May, his one awful month of 2009 -- 6.32 ERA and 55 base runners in 31.1 innings -- he was striking out batters at a rate of more than one per inning. Since the All-Star break, Danks has struck out 16 in 24 innings and walked 12 batters. I think he's a guy whose overall trade value right now might exceed what he gives you the rest of the way. If you could get the previously mentioned Mr. Blanton and big upgrade elsewhere in a deal, I'd take it.

Michael Bourn, OF, Houston: I'll admit, I don't know whether Bourne's recent "groin strain" is nothing or something, but I do know that guys who are nursing that kind of injury don't run too often. And by the time it becomes clear he isn't stealing bags, his trade value will have dried up. I also look around and see players like Nyjer Morgan, Everth Cabrera and Wily Taveras offering Bourne's production for less, so now feels like a time to start shopping.

Matt Capps, RP, Pirates: All closers have some trade value, even mediocre ones, if they're not in immediate danger of losing their gigs. But the Pirates raised one of the largest white flags in decades at the trade deadline, and so it's fair to guess there might only be another 20 wins all season for Pittsburgh. Even if he gets saves in half of those games, is that a make or break total for your team? Find someone in need of saves and move on. That way, if the Pirates do finally wake up and realize that they should try someone a little less hittable since the season is over anyway, you don't get stuck holding the bag.

Pulling the job

In the S.T.E.A.L., I followed my own advice and made a play for Brett Anderson in a deal accelerated by a surprise non-baseball injury. I offered "East Philly" owner Samantha Layton the injured Torii Hunter and the floundering Mike Jacobs for Anderson and Corey Hart, one of the bigger disappointments so far this year. The deal was out there only a dozen hours before Hart went on the disabled list with an appendectomy, and the S.T.E.A.L.'s lone female owner didn't waste time with a long courtship, accepting the deal.

But that was just one deal of many in the league. This past Monday alone saw 20 players exchanged in four different deals. There's a pack of owners chasing Simon "The Brain" Jones for first, but he may have sealed the deal when he dealt Nick Markakis, Carlos Quentin, Josh Johnson and Felipe Lopez to Jordan "Ally McSteal" Zeichner for Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Jose Valverde and David Hernandez. The message boards are still smoldering from that one.

Only one more GTR to go, so get to work. Get some reps in and steal your league while you can.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.