Grand Theft Roto: Free Pickups

'Tis the season to be swapping, fa la la la la, la la la la ...

Countless GTR's are popping, fa la la la la, la la la la ...

I got a lot of e-mail this past week and it seems like every one of them was from someone who has committed a dirty, filthy, borderline septic fantasy felony. It's not all that surprising, though, since late June is a great time to get deals done in all formats. The sample sizes are meaningful, teams have a real idea of where they need to improve, and by now, you should have enough information to identify your league's biggest suc ... er, ideal trading partner.

But while looking over all the steals from GTReaders, it reminded me that what is or is not considered a theft varies by league. Getting Yovani Gallardo for almost nothing in a shallow mixed league that redrafts every year is OK, but getting him for a little more in a NL keeper league is an egregious larceny. So over the next few weeks, I'm going to try to tailor this column to different types of leagues each week to try and maximize this swapping season for one and all.

Where to start? Well, this is ESPN.com, so let's look at the kinds of deals that can be done in ESPN standard mixed leagues, where player penetration is shallow, free agency is deep, and by thinking ahead a move or two, you can improve your team for free.

In the words of Martin Landau on "Entourage," is that something you might be interested in?

Casing the Joint

My premise is simple. If you can trade a player for something you need and replace what you've lost, or at least 90 percent of it, for no cost, you're stealing. So I've gone through the ESPN.com ranks and looked for players who are owned in less than half the leagues. I've then matched them up with players who are owned in over 70 percent of the leagues, yet won't give you that much more than the less-popular player. After a little research, here's what I've got.

Trade Brian Roberts and Pick Up Kazuo Matsui.
I'm a big fan of Roberts, owned in 99.9 percent of ESPN leagues, and believe that he can continue to bat .300 and steal bases like the Hamburglar pilfers, well, hamburgers. But the power we saw in 2005 has evaporated. Meanwhile, Matsui is available in 51 percent of leagues and over the last month, he too is batting over .300, with just two-fewer steals than Roberts. Remember, Kaz-Mat was supposed to be this type of player when he came over from Japan, but his skills got lost in translation. Both could swipe another 20-plus bags this season, and while Matsui's back is a worry, we all watched Roberts' elbow go flamingo at the end of 2005, reminding us that in baseball, everyone is one play away from a season-ending injury.

Trade Bill Hall and Pick Up Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Theriot or Alex Gonzalez.
You drafted Hall because you saw a shortstop-eligible player who hit 35 homers in 2006 and stole 18 bases with a .291 batting average in 2005. In short, you bought a guy who could be a five-category middle-infielder. Well, Hall's numbers as of Thursday -- a .270 batting average with eight dingers and two steals -- are actually very close to the stats you would expect if you just took his career averages and prorated them for 240 at-bats. As Bill Parcells says, "You are what your record says you are." Still, Hall is owned in 80 percent of ESPN leagues, while none of the three guys I mentioned above are owned in even 15 percent of leagues. So look at your categories, see which area is most critical, and then deal Hall while grabbing the right free agent. Pedroia offers the best batting average, Gonzalez is a fly-ball hitter in Cincy, so another 10-to-12 homers is possible, and Theriot will steal 15 more bags.

Trade Carlos Pena and Pick Up Richie Sexson.
When I see Pena, who is owned in 92 percent of ESPN leagues, has more homers than all but eight major leaguers, I think, "That's unexpected, but not impossible. He has averaged 30 homers for every 162 games he's played in his career." But when I see him batting over .300, I spit out the Kool-Aid. Pena's a career .249 hitter and it's only a matter of time before his nose starts bleeding at this batting altitude. In short, he's having a career season and still shouldn't be any better from here on out than Sexson, who is owned in 51.5 percent of leagues on the Worldwide Leader. I know, I'm fudging my own parameters, but still, Big Sexy is available in basically half the leagues and his post-All-Star-break OPS over the last three seasons is .987. Do this one quickly.

Trade Barry Zito and Pick Up Gil Meche.
I've shown Zito very little respect in the past, and I believe consistency is the hallmark of greatness, so here I go again. Zito is owned in 85 percent of leagues despite a losing record, a 4.83 ERA and a WHIP of 1.43. His next good start is the perfect time to sell, especially since the Giants are simply not a good team this year, so wins won't be easy to come by. Meanwhile, Meche has proven to be more than a salary-inflation punch line, with better ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers than Zito, yet he's only owned in 31 percent of all leagues.

Notice I never suggested what you get back for any of the above players. That's because I don't care. As long as you get better somewhere else and replace the player you dealt with someone almost as good for nothing, you're pulling a GTR.

Pulling the Job

As I said, lots of you have been making deals that would make my Consigliere envious. Here are my favorites from just this past week's e-mails.

Tim in Ottawa dealt Rafael Furcal and Curt Schilling for Jose Reyes. This was illegal in 48 states even before Schilling went on the DL.

Not to be outdone, Neil in Phoenix sent Aaron Hill to a fellow owner and got back some old guy named Roger Clemens.

Tim in Ontario moved Jose Contreras, Francisco Rodriguez and Kenny Lofton in exchange for Jeremy Bonderman and Matt Holliday, and then used the open slot to grab the suddenly save-worthy Alan Embree. Note to self: Do not trade with Canadians named Tim.

And back here in the States, Josh in Vermont grabbed Bobby Abreu a few weeks back by offering up Julio Lugo to Abreu's Sox-loving owner. All Abreu has done since then is bat .333 with two homers, four steals and 16 runs scored. I hope the other guy at least got some maple syrup in the deal.

Which of these deals is the most egregious GTR? I want to hear from you, either by e-mail or use ESPN Conversation (Beta) below. I'll chime in with my own opinion on it next week, but I will say this: All of these guys aren't just winning their leagues … they're stealing them.

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