Which is worse: A) a player you picked in the first few rounds who starts colder than Shoeless Joe playing in the Alaskan winter league, or B) an equally elite guy who ends up on the DL before you have time to put away your April Fool's Day plastic dog poop?
It's a trick question since the answer, of course, is "C) all of the above."
That said, regardless of whether your opponent is offended by his player's production or lamenting a sprain, strain, tear or tweak, the lesson is the same. When you take a fantasy roster and add insult to injury, it equals "opportunity."
Casing the Joint
An unhappy owner is always a trade target, so whenever you see an opponent dealing with a cold or hobbled player, you should move in. But the question is which play should you use?
There are really only two answers. Either you're looking to buy his injured or slumping player at a discount, or you're Mr. Fix-It, offering up a healthier or hotter option in his time of need.
So let's fire through some notable players who are either hurt or hurting their fantasy owners and see whether it is better to give or receive.
Chone Figgins' fractured fingers have healed enough that he's going to start participating in "baseball activities." I've always considered drinking beer and ignoring my family to be "baseball activities", but we'll assume Figgins has a different definition. Now's the time to offer Howie Kendrick or Ian Kinsler, a pair of young second basemen who are off to egregiously hot starts. Figgins will likely struggle a bit with the bat when he returns, but that shouldn't stop him from swiping 40 bags. Buy him while he's broken.
Chris Carpenter is another story. Pitchers want to hear the words "arthritic" and "impingement" about as much as a nightclub bouncer wants to hear the words "Pacman" and "Jones". Carp's owner, who spent an early pick on him, probably isn't willing to cut bait, but he also knows that much like a person building a new home, a month without a Carpenter could leave him exposed come September. Offer him a stopgap like Ted Lilly or Daniel Cabrera. Both are pitching as if they're channeling Roger Clemens, but that won't last all season long. Meanwhile, in more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues, guys like Zack Greinke or Tom Gorzelanny are unowned and each could equal the numbers offered up by Lilly or Cabrera. If you can give up Lilly and a Sanjaya-hot Geoff Jenkins for a top-10 fantasy outfielder, you'll be helping Carpenter's owner a little, and yourself a lot.
Whether an owner reached for preseason "it" boy Alex Gordon, or instead picked the man Gordon moved to the outfield, Mark Teahen, he's probably wishing he could come up with a Royal flush that would wash away their awful starts. Both are on pace for 200-plus strikeouts and neither was batting more than .200 going into Thursday's games. So what's a swapster to do? With Gordon, I'd say you're looking to give his owner another option since anyone who grabs a prospect probably considers himself as a long-term thinker. See whether he'd feel a little more comfortable with Melvin Mora backing him up ASAP, before the notion of Mora being Gordon insurance starts sounding ludicrous. With Teahen, I'm buying, looking to leverage a true hot start by Ryan Church or Shawn Green while I can.
Michael Barrett's start looks a lot worse than it is. His hit percentage is way down at 24 percent, at least five or six points below what one would expect, so he's getting unlucky. But he hasn't started swinging at bad pitches, as evidenced by a three-to-five walk-to-strikeout ratio. Of course, all Barrett's owners probably know is he's killing them. What a grand time it is to offer him Carlos Ruiz, who still hasn't taken a walk, but is batting more than .300, and maybe something else small to get a guy who should be a top-three catcher in the National League before all is said and done.
One more slumper who I'd go buy is Adam LaRoche, as long as the price was as low as his current batting average. I know his back is aching and he'll never really have the profile of a high average hitter because he doesn't take enough walks or make enough contact, but seriously. Unless he accidentally had LASIK eye surgery to make his vision worse, he's going to come around. Offer any fringe player you have who is doing his best Chris-Shelton-in-April-of-2006 impression and see what happens.
Pulling the Job
As I mentioned last week, in the average ESPN prize eligible league, the free agent list is so stocked with valuable players, any trade that nets you the best player and an open roster spot is fantasy gold.
Well I followed my own advice last week and consolidated some talent into a top-tier stud. Last Friday, I proposed a deal that consisted of my team giving up Troy Glaus, Jason Schmidt, and Tadahito Iguchi for Aramis Ramirez and Ivan Rodriguez.
Some background on this roster includes the fact that I have Russell Martin at catcher, who I do have a man crush on (those three steals are so dreamy), but who is also somewhat unproven. I also have Rickie Weeks and Howie Kendrick, so Iguchi was at best part of a three-headed monster at second base. The idea was to stack my catcher position, get a big upgrade in batting average and overall production at third base, and open up a spot to grab someone like previously mentioned Greinke or Gorzelanny, or even Tom Glavine.
The deal was accepted a few hours later, and this is what my Consigliere, Zach Messler, had to say about it.
You did well, mostly due to the fact that the team with which you traded probably thinks he got the better of the deal.
However, especially in a shallow league, getting the best player in any particular trade is key. You certainly did that with Aramis Ramirez. He and Glaus could hit the same amount of dingers, but Ramirez will do it hitting 60 points higher. That is a HUGE boost.
Iguchi and Pudge are both fine and similar, although I'd rather have that production from my catcher, as positional scarcity is tougher behind the dish, especially considering your luxuries of Weeks and Kendrick (who has gotten very strong, very quickly).
Finally, Jason Schmidt is good, but the guys you mention are already just as good
or potentially better when you look at the peripheral numbers. Schmidt has one thing that enabled you to pull off this deal: a big name.
The deal got better for me later in the weekend when Schmidt tweaked a hammy (there's that insult and injury thing) and even though he likely won't miss time, my trading partner must've been looking for the "undo" button.
But there are no do-overs and buyer's remorse is for suckers. So remember, 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.