Some time ago, a writer for ESPN.com -- Bill Simmons, you may have heard of him -- proposed a standardized set of rules for all fantasy football leagues as a way to make the sport more fun.
I pretty much agreed, and not just because I'm a company man. It would save me from generating dozens of different cheat sheets each year and needing the Dewey Decimal system to organize them.
But that kind of cookie-cutter approach would never fly for fantasy baseball. The game has been around for too long and spawned too many Mason-Dixon lines on the landscape. Rotisserie or head-to-head? Mixed-league or single-league? Draft or auction? These may seem like decisions unworthy of the Supreme Court, but believe me when I say that something as trivial as the number of bench and DL slots can be grounds for someone to join or leave a league. That said, there is no greater chasm in fantasy baseball than the one between single-season "redraft" leagues and keeper formats.
Usually, this space is dedicated to people in shallower leagues in which team construction is a one-and-done. However, it's June, which means that in dynasty leagues, struggling squads are selling off their high-priced talent to contenders in exchange for a bunch of guys who still aren't old enough to drink legally.
It's dump-trade season, and so this one goes out to any owner who is asking the eternal question: "Am I a buyer or a seller?"
Casing the joint
Most of the trades discussed in fantasy columns would never come close to happening in the real world. Can you imagine the Cardinals sending Albert Pujols to the Yankees for CC Sabathia and Johnny Damon? No, but in fantasy parlance, that swap might make sense for both sides. What's far more common in "real" baseball is a deal like the one consummated by Pittsburgh and Atlanta this past week, with the non-contending Pirates "dumping" Nate McClouth to the contending Braves in exchange for three minor leaguers, including one named "Gorkys." I can't make this stuff up.
The same thing defines buyers and sellers in fantasy, but what about those middle-of-the-packers? Many take a wait-and-see attitude. I'm not a fan. That usually just ensures that by the time you decide whether you're buying or selling, the guys you'd most want back have already been moved.
So do the research and be decisive. Don't just say, "I'm 14 points out of first, so if I can pick up a point a week, I'll be in first by Yom Kippur." See which categories you'll gain in without doing anything if others dump. Divine whether it'll take one good player, one great player, or a flotilla of stars to move you up more than a few points. Examine your own roster to see whether you have the kind of keepers people will want, or whether you're already loaded with players in their final contract year.
If after all of these steps, you still don't know then I say make a run at the title. First of all, it's more fun than sitting around and waiting for your hardball seedlings to sprout. Second of all, it's better for your league when more teams are in the hunt, and last time I checked, being in lame leagues isn't very much fun. Finally, by going for it now, you have eight full weeks to reconsider. If the end of July rolls around and you're still in fifth or sixth, your wealth of "dumpable" assets will let you make several dump deals to get the best remaining keepers from the top teams. Who knows, with two more months worth of stats, you might even have more data to target the players you want.
With that said, the players I'm stealing this week are all not-yet-marquee guys I'd want in deep mixed or single leagues if I were dumping. Sure, you lust after Justin Upton, Max Scherzer and Adam Jones, but right now, they're kinda helping their teams win in 2009. Meanwhile, the players I'm dealing are the ones who look like keepers now but might not be worth as much at the trade deadline.
Three I'm stealing
James Loney, 1B, Dodgers: Loney isn't a key cog in anyone's championship machine for 2009, mostly because he doesn't hit for power and his minor league numbers don't suggest that he will. But the kid knows the strike zone, as evidenced by his 23 walks to 23 strikeouts, and he's young and big enough -- 25 years old and 6-3, 220 pounds -- for the power to still come. Remember, Kevin Youkilis didn't hit double-digit homers in any minor league season and then stroked 29 in his third full major league campaign at age 29.
Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: The main reason minor league speedsters don't keep up their thieving ways in the majors is because they can't get on base enough to do so. Fowler has been slumping, and he strikes out too much for a guy whose main asset is speed, but he also takes plenty of walks and has the ability to turn them into stolen-base doubles. And he wasn't just a singles hitter in the minors, posting a slugging percentage better than .500 in his 2008 campaign in Double-A. He turned 23 this past March and never played a day in Triple-A. He's way ahead of schedule and could be a dangerous fantasy force in 2010 and beyond.
Phil Hughes, SP, Yankees: Looking for next year's Zack Greinke? Yeah who isn't? Ain't gonna happen, since seasons like Greinke's come around once every decade or so. But I like Hughes' chances of being a fantasy anchor in 2010 better than any other untested AL pitcher, and that includes David Price. Hughes has nothing left to prove after a minor league career that stands at 31-8 with a 2.38 ERA, a WHIP of 0.925, and 367 strikeouts in 329 2/3 innings. He turns 23 this month, and next year, he'll have a rotation spot all year. Sign me up.
Three I'm dealing
Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, Indians: With a breakout season and now a hurt shoulder, he's perfect trade bait for teams playing for the future since there's very little guarantee that he'll continue his hot hitting when he returns. The guy is a batting-average-driven performer, unless you believe his 20-steal pace was for real. I don't. He is only 23 and likely will still develop, but his current upside is a 10-homer, 15-steal season, and while that's plenty usable in AL leagues, it's not the explosive potential I look for in keepers.
Zach Duke, SP, Pirates: So far, Duke's 2009 has been almost a mirror of his outrageous half-season of 2005, which imbued him with "next big thing" status. In the next three years, his lowest ERA was 4.47, with a record of 18-37 in that span. I love his comeback, but he still isn't striking out enough guys, and his control is merely good. Maybe he'll become one of those rare aces who don't need the strikeout. Prove me wrong, but if I'm writing off my season in June, I want the next Nolan Ryan, not the next Jarrod Washburn. (And yes, I know Washburn is pitching well, but I stand by the statement.)
David Aardsma, RP, Mariners: While Aardsma may be the first guy on your list alphabetically, he's not the first cheap, unexpected closer you'd want for the future. He has always had the swing-and-miss stuff you want from someone pitching the ninth inning, but he walks far too many batters. This year, opposing batters are hitting just .174, nearly 100 points worse than they did in 2008 and 80 points below his career mark. Seattle still has to hope that Brandon Morrow reclaims the role at some point since his arm doesn't seem suited for starting, so even a slight regression for Aardsma could kill his keeper value.
Pulling the job
No deals in my keeper league to report, nor did I get anything done in the STEAL. However, in one of my anonymous public leagues, I followed my own advice from a week ago and traded Derek Lowe and the newly returned Vlad Guerrero for Cole Hamels and the ultra-mediocre Kendry Morales. I may drop Morales for any number of free-agent bats, but in getting Cole Hamels, I hooked up with my very public man-crush.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it, and keep stealing the keepers.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.