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Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Post-deadline playing-time gainers

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

Even the blackest cloud can have a silver lining.

Hit Parade

That silver lining oftentimes manifests itself in the way of increased plate appearances. If the five rotisserie hitting categories are "fantasy gold," then PAs are clearly our "silver," especially in deeper leagues -- 10-plus-team AL- or NL-only formats. We might not get credit for them in our standings, but their impact is felt. In a game where four of five hitting categories are "counting numbers," stats that can never decrease like batting average, we crave PAs, PAs, PAs.

In this black-cloud/silver-lining example, the black cloud hovers over of the Houston Astros, who, following the trades of Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, now sport arguably the majors' weakest offense. As mentioned in Tuesday's "60 Feet 6 Inches," the Astros' trades of their two most valuable offensive assets could drop them close to three-runs-per-game status, perhaps well beyond this season.

In this same example, the silver lining is the new, expanded opportunity that has been presented to Astros outfielder Jason Bourgeois.

Jason Bourgeois
The speedy Jason Bourgeois has suddenly found himself in the middle of the Astros order.

Bourgeois' fans -- and there are a lot of you, judging by his ownership in 45.3 percent of ESPN leagues -- can't help but be thrilled now that there are two wide-open spots in the Astros' outfield, assuring that the player with the majors' second-best batting average among those with 100-plus PAs (.344) and 16th-most stolen bases among all players (22) will now be a near-everyday player, health willing, for the rest of the year.

Check the facts: In the 29 Astros games during which Bourgeois was on the active roster between June 1 and July 29, the date of the Pence deal, he started only 13 times and averaged 2.3 PAs per scheduled Astros contest.

Since the Pence deal, there have been four Astros games, Bourgeois has started three of them, and all of them had him as their No. 3 hitter. He has averaged 3.0 PAs in those four, despite sitting out entirely on Tuesday.

As Bourgeois' best asset, his speed, depends entirely upon his reaching base -- which depends upon his PAs, which depends upon opportunity -- it's a potentially huge development. Remember, the last time that he managed more than 450 PAs in a season, in 2009, he swiped 39 bases (36 at Triple-A and three in the majors for the Milwaukee Brewers). From 2006-10, he averaged 32 steals a year. And in his professional career, he's a .266 hitter in Double-A, .296 in Triple-A and .272 in the majors; his on-base percentages in those three are .325, .348 and .318, healthy enough to keep him productive in the steals department. It's not unthinkable he could challenge 20 steals merely from today forward.

Plus, as a No. 3 hitter, Bourgeois might be no slouch in runs and RBIs, either. Consider that gravy, because the PA boost alone makes him worth your while.

Bourgeois wasn't the only player whose stock rose as a result of trade-deadline developments. Here are seven others you should consider:

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles: I know, I'm a sucker for Chris Davis. I'm actually not even that encouraged that a breakout is now coming; it's that a change of scenery is the ideal kind of "last chance" for a player like this, so I'll give him that final chance. (This is largely the same argument I've had about Travis Snider; if Snider's current stint is another failure, I see a Davis-to-Baltimore type trade in his near future.) Davis mashed in Triple-A this year -- as he always seems to do -- with .368/.405/.824 rates, 24 homers and 66 RBIs in 48 games, and in his Triple-A career he's a .337/.397/.609 hitter with 54 homers and 207 RBIs in 226 contests. That's big-time power, Baltimore's Camden Yards isn't much of a ballpark downgrade for Davis and the Orioles have already shown they're willing to be patient with whiff kings. (Mark Reynolds, anyone?) In an AL-only league, and deep mixed ones as well, Davis is well worth the pickup.

Paul Goldschmidt
It took just two games for Paul Goldschmidt to hit his first major league homer.

Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks: Everyone loves a rookie, especially one who has 83 home runs in 315 minor league games in barely more than two calendar years. Goldschmidt has big-time power and is capable of taking a walk (owner of a 12.6 percent rate in the minors), and the concern about his strikeouts has lessened by lowering his rate from 30.7 percent in 2010 to 25.1 this season. That should make him the most popular pickup of anyone on this list, but there are reasons I didn't list him first: I think Jason Grey's May notes revealed valid questions, primarily whether Goldschmidt might be more of a lefty masher than a true, ride-him-every-week bat; and let's face it, he's making a two-level jump into a pennant race. Add him if you have the opportunity, but in a season where so many rookies have failed to justify the hype, don't let your expectations get the best of you.

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers: Gordon is the kind of speedster who makes Bourgeois look slow. Consider this: Gordon has swiped 174 bases in 394 career minor league games, or 72 per 162 contests. The problem: He has walked in only 6.5 percent of his PAs, and although he owns a .303 batting average, he's not renowned for being great with the stick. Gordon's bat is devoid of power, and he'll need to rely on legging out a large number of infield hits, meaning any investment you make in him should be 100 percent focused on his steals. Expect double-digit -- maybe even 20 -- steals, but nothing else.

Trayvon Robinson, Seattle Mariners: Now we're speculating! Robinson, a slick pickup by the Mariners in the three-team Erik Bedard deal, was enjoying a phenomenal year for Triple-A Albuquerque at the time of the trade, with .293/.375/.563 rates and 26 home runs that seemed to come out of nowhere. The hitting-friendly nature of the Pacific Coast League probably contributed, but coupled with his 17-homer 2009, Robinson sure looks like the kind of player who could reach double-digit homers while swiping 20 bags on an annual basis. Frankly, I'm surprised the Mariners didn't immediately promote him, but they should before the season ends. Once they do, they'll probably play him every day, making him an instant asset in AL-only formats.

Brandon Allen, Oakland Athletics: He's another speculative add, as the Athletics, like the Diamondbacks so many times before them, didn't immediately add Allen to the roster after acquiring him in the Brad Ziegler deal. Allen deserves an opportunity; he has .287/.406/.554 rates, 56 homers and 192 RBIs in 243 career games at the Triple-A level. Perhaps they'll need to sneak a Conor Jackson, Hideki Matsui or Josh Willingham through waivers and trade one in order for it to happen, but considering the Athletics are already focused upon 2012, they'll find room for Allen at some point in the near future. Stash him now in AL-only leagues.

J.D. Martinez, Houston Astros: Now that Bourn and Pence are on other teams and Carlos Lee has shifted to first base to replace the recently demoted Brett Wallace, the Astros have themselves a completely new outfield. That means enough opportunities for not only Bourgeois, but also Martinez. (Heck, even Jordan Schafer should help, once he's healthy.) Manager Brad Mills already hinted to the Houston Chronicle that Martinez, who owns a .342 lifetime minor league batting average and has batted .300 or better at every professional stop he has made, will play every day, so he should be instantly appealing to NL-only owners. Martinez has double-digit-home-run power and had a 17.5 percent strikeout rate that suggests he'll contribute in terms of batting average, and he could quickly grab a prime lineup spot.

Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres: The past year and a half has been challenging for Blanks, most notably Tommy John surgery in July 2010, but things appear on the rise for him following the trade of Ryan Ludwick. Blanks is the most logical replacement in left field, starting each of the Padres' past three games at the position. Sure, he's just 3-for-29 (.103 AVG) with 15 strikeouts so far in the majors this season, but don't ignore the success he enjoyed during his rehabilitation in the minors; he had .312/.382/.579 rates and 15 home runs in 79 games, striking out 25.1 percent of the time. Blanks has as much power as any slugger, enough to clear even the deep Petco fences. Consider adding him in NL-only formats.

Three up

Emilio Bonifacio, Florida Marlins: Maybe someone needs to legally change his name to Emilio Bona-FIDE, because "Bonifacio," at least the way we define his name on the podcast, no longer appears to apply. What Bonifacio has done since the All-Star break is remarkable -- and unexpected: He's a .329 hitter (the 24th-best batting average of players with at least 75 PAs), and has nine stolen bases and 18 runs scored, both of those second-most in the majors. But here's what truly catches our eye: Bonifacio's on-base percentage is a robust .407 during that span, 18th-best in the bigs, thanks to 10 walks, which amount to a 11.5-percent walk rate. To put that into perspective, his major league career walk rate heading into the 2011 All-Star break was 8.0 percent, and his on-base percentage .319. Now, you'll notice that in spite of this, Bonifacio didn't crack my weekly top 125, and it's because it's extremely difficult to accept this 19-game sample over the 341 of .259/.319/.333 production before it as the more accurate measuring stick. But he just missed the cut, and considering the increase in walks plus his everyday status atop the Marlins' lineup, might Bonifacio's be a tad more than a brief hot streak? Hmmm … it just might be…

Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres: Consider the Maybin Bandwagon officially boarded. He has been included in the "Hit Parade" rankings since the June 29 edition, but considering his year-to-date performance, there's an excellent chance that he's not only going to remain in the top 125 until season's end, but rather a weekly member of the top 100. Although Maybin hasn't amazed people with the bat, as an owner of a .276 batting average and just six home runs, look beyond those numbers for glimmers of hope: He has cut his strikeout rate from 31.4 percent during his sporadic big league opportunities from 2007-10 to 23.1 percent this season, and if you're willing to forgive him for that homer-killing ballpark, you might notice that he's a .320/.369/.500 hitter in road games this season. Maybin's Petco hitting numbers are atrocious -- .233/.290/.308 -- so this is a spot-him-out-in-home-games player (if your roster affords you the luxury). But even in his defense, he has 13 steals in 47 games. He's contributing despite that obstacle, and, at 24 years old, he might very well be reaching his career breakout point.

Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves: What a season turnaround. While Adam Dunn continues to languish in "Stinkville," Uggla has returned, in this columnist's opinion, nearly to the value he garnered during the preseason, that being an unquestioned top-50 hitter. Check the numbers: In his first 70 games, Uggla was a .174/.244/.322 hitter with nine homers and 19 RBIs, looking like a hitter who was pressing in his new digs. In 40 games since, however, coinciding with the beginning of June interleague play, Uggla is a .276/.345/.579 hitter with 13 homers and 30 RBIs. Sure enough, he has lowered his "chase rate" (the percentage of swings at pitches judged outside the strike zone) from 26.7 in those first 70 games to 24.6 in his past 40, and 21.1 percent since July 1, which is right in range of his 2010 number in the category (21.0). Ah, it's so good to see the old Uggla officially back …

Three down

Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals: Don't say you weren't warned. Although Espinosa's two-hit effort on Tuesday offers hope that perhaps his next hot streak is coming, the fact remains that he has slipped into a dreadful, fantasy-team-killing slump of late. In his past 20 games, he's a .141/.230/.218 hitter with one homer, three RBIs, four runs scored and one stolen base, almost equally painful as the 24-game slump he endured from April 20-May 15, when he managed .138/.242/.241 rates, two homers, six RBIs and three steals. This is Danny Espinosa, period. His 23.6 percent strikeout rate is 17th-highest among qualified hitters, and his 27.1 percent miss rate on his swings is 15th-highest, and when you miss as often as that, you're bound to fall into funks like this. Now, Espinosa does remain on pace for 25 homers, 82 RBIs and 18 steals, so there's value in him. But owning him requires patience, and in shallow mixed leagues -- think an ESPN 10-teamer -- the slumps are painful enough that he must be benched during them.

Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves: At some point, at least in re-draft leagues, you simply have to let go. Heyward ranks among 2011's most notable disappointments -- though not nearly as much as the aforementioned Dunn -- as he's the owner of .224/.315/.399 rates and full-season paces of 16 homers and seven stolen bases. Strikeouts are actually not the problem; his 18.4 percent rate ranks 121st out of 193 hitters with 300-plus PAs, and it's identical to the major league average of 18.4. No, Heyward's problem is that his swing needs some adjustment, as he's hitting a slew of ground balls. A whopping 55.8 percent of his total balls in play have been grounders, that the 16th-highest rate among hitters with 300-plus PAs, and the names surrounding him in the rankings are mostly speedsters: Juan Pierre, Alcides Escobar and Jason Bartlett types, who try to leg out infield hits. I'm still convinced Heyward has a fine career ahead of him. Right now, however, we can't afford to be so patient, or so optimistic.

Carlos Pena, Chicago Cubs: Like Espinosa, Pena's propensity for strikeouts makes him one of the greatest risks for slumps in the game, and he's sure in the midst of one right now. He's a .172/.310/.276 hitter with one home run and four RBIs in 18 games since the All-Star break, striking out 24 times in 58 at-bats (41.4 percent of the time) during that span. For the season, Pena has the game's eight-highest strikeout rate among qualified hitters (27.3 percent), and the fourth-highest swing-and-miss rate (32.7 percent). And like Espinosa, this is a player with whom you must be patient in deeper leagues, and willing to bench in shallow ones, except for a key difference: He's a first baseman, which is a much easier position to fill. It's understandable if you're not quite so patient with Pena.

New position eligibility

The following players have become eligible at new positions -- it's 10 games to qualify at a new spot -- in ESPN standard leagues during the past week: Brandon Allen (1B), Jeff Baker (3B), Daniel Descalso (SS), Yamaico Navarro (3B), Eric Young Jr. (OF).

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.