Sources of categorical help

Is it me, or is trading more difficult than it used to be?

Don't get me wrong; I've been able to hammer out quite a few of them this season, and especially in the past week. But they take a few more counters, a few more e-mails, much more detailed reasoning … and your "hidden agendas" usually are sniffed out immediately. Fantasy owners are smarter than ever before, have more stats and specific fantasy advice readily at their disposal, and it's only going to get tougher from here on out.

Therefore, trading sometimes just isn't an option. When trading with your fellow owners is like getting your teeth pulled, unfortunately you have to stay away from the dentist. That said, roster turnover still is necessary to improve certain categories or positions. Sorry, my friend, all you can do is mix and match from the free-agent wire.

But there's still help to be found there, especially in mixed leagues. It's like shopping at the dollar store rather than at Target. The merchandise might not be as good, but at least it's less expensive. You just have to know what to get; buy the wrong product, and it'll break down on you.

Obviously, you're not going to get that hitter who does everything for you -- although Garrett Jones owners certainly got themselves quite a steal -- but you can get players who help you in the specific categories you need.

Who are those players? Glad you asked. Here are players who are owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN standard leagues who can help in specific categories:

Batting average

Martin Prado, 1B/2B/3B, Braves: The quietest .310 career hitter you ever saw, and check out that position versatility.

Nick Johnson, 1B, Nationals: I'm actually a little surprised he hasn't gotten more major league trade attention.

Mark Teahen, OF/3B/1B, Royals: Hitting .326 during the past 30 days.

Alberto Callaspo, 2B, Royals: I can't say that big homer he hit off Chris Tillman on Wednesday is the real him, but his .300-plus average is.

Erick Aybar, SS, Angels: Quick question: What is Aybar hitting this season? (Don't cheat by clicking on his name before you have your answer.) I'll bet your guess was off by at least 15 points.

Luis Castillo, 2B, Mets: Like him or not, he's still hitting .306 and is a career .292 hitter. He also can run a bit.

Billy Butler, 1B, Royals: Shame on us for not making him a more widespread pickup. He's on fire and is available in 90-plus percent of leagues.

Delwyn Young, OF, Pirates: We've been slow to warm to this .323 hitter; he's owned in as many leagues as MLB Network analyst Sean Casey.

Options for deeper leagues: Garret Anderson, OF, Braves; Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles; Seth Smith, OF, Rockies; Jake Fox, 3B/OF, Cubs; Matt Diaz, OF, Braves; Brendan Ryan, 2B/SS, Cardinals.

Home runs

Cody Ross, OF, Marlins: Very streaky, but when he's on, he can go on a homer purge with the best of 'em.

Jonny Gomes, OF, Reds: Clouting homers like the uber-prospect he once was, and even hitting for a decent average.

Ian Stewart, 3B/2B, Rockies: His .230 batting average is more than offset by his 17 homers and second-base qualification (he just played his 20th game there Wednesday night, for those of you with a 20-game plateau).

Jack Cust, OF/DH, Athletics: Just make sure your batting average is healthy (or being punted) before picking him up.

Ken Griffey Jr., OF/DH, Mariners: A shadow of the player he once was, but he can still get a hold of one now and then.

Mike Jacobs, 1B, Royals: Once again, a one-category slugger; he's hitting just .217.

Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals: Um, yeah, power is about all he has.

Scott Hairston, OF, Athletics: Scouts just love to watch this guy swing the bat. Tremendous raw strength.

Options for deeper leagues: Joe Crede, 3B, Twins; Andruw Jones, OF, Rangers; Marcus Thames, OF, Tigers; Ryan Garko, 1B, Giants; Brandon Moss, OF, Pirates; Kyle Blanks, 1B/OF, Padres.


Gordon Beckham, 3B, White Sox: Wait a second, how is this guy still unowned in more than 78 percent of leagues? He can do it all.

Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets: Out right now, but should return soon.

Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B, Padres: Perennially one of the most underrated players in the second half, but he's unowned in 90-plus percent of leagues. Did you realize he's on pace for 22 homers and 90 RBIs, and the second half is traditionally when he does the most damage?

Pedro Feliz, 3B, Phillies: Has enough good hitters in front of him to currently be on pace for 85 RBIs.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Cardinals: Why RBIs and not runs? Because with Mark DeRosa and Matt Holliday in town, Rasmus has moved from the No. 2 to the 6th hole, and now hits behind Albert Pujols, Holliday and Ryan Ludwick. Not bad.

Options for deeper leagues: Jeremy Hermida, OF, Marlins; Marlon Byrd, OF, Rangers; Chad Tracy, 1B, Diamondbacks.


Franklin Gutierrez, OF, Mariners: Since April, his worst OBP in a given month is .349, and it's .420 in July. That should serve him well out of that No. 2 hole.

Randy Winn, OF, Giants: Once again, the second half of the season has been his time to shine.

Skip Schumaker, OF/2B, Cardinals: Hitting .304, is about as consistent as it gets, and hits leadoff for a now-potent lineup. He has the same number of runs scored this season as Miguel Cabrera and is on pace for 92 runs. And he's unowned in more than 85 percent of ESPN leagues.

Jerry Hairston Jr., OF, Reds: Should play a lot, and hit near the top of the lineup (he hit second on Wednesday), with Chris Dickerson out.

Options for deeper leagues: Mark Ellis, 2B, Athletics; Craig Counsell, 3B/2B, Brewers; Chris Dickerson, OF, Reds (when he returns); Chris Coghlan, OF, Marlins.

Stolen bases

Scott Podsednik, OF, White Sox: Didn't even play in the majors till May, and already has 15 steals.

Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: His batting average isn't pretty, but his OBP is steadily rising (thanks to walks), and that's a good thing for a guy with his wheels.

Kazuo Matsui, 2B, Astros: Still on pace for 18 steals despite some missed time, and combined for 52 steals in 2007 and 2008.

Everth Cabrera, SS, Padres: Quietly a stolen base machine, with 13 of them in 143 at-bats. Very impressive, and it makes him someone to target as a sleeper next season if he can nail down a starting gig.

Options for deeper leagues: Fred Lewis, OF, Giants; Maicer Izturis, 2B/SS, Angels; Julio Lugo, SS, Cardinals; Chris Getz, 2B, White Sox; Willie Bloomquist, SS/OF, Royals; Josh Anderson, OF, Tigers; Alexi Casilla, 2B, Twins.

Fortunes Rising

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners: Remember what Beltre was doing when he went down with a shoulder injury? Yup, he was batting .319 in June. Remember what Beltre did his last walk year? Yup, he had a monster .334-48-121 season. Remember how good he can be when healthy and motivated? Yup, he's about to get to that point. He has a season to save, and he reportedly has been hitting tape-measure homers in batting practice. He'll return next week, and I see a monster final two months of the season from him.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: No. 9 hitter or not, every hitter in the Yankees' dangerous lineup (they're No. 1 in runs scored) should be considered in fantasy, especially someone who is already hitting .290 with a .354 OBP. Melky now has center field to himself following Brett Gardner's thumb fracture. Oddly enough, as of Wednesday, his ownership percentage in the past seven days had actually gone down to 16.6 percent.

Gordon Beckham, 3B, White Sox: I don't want to belabor or overstate this, but I don't know that I could be more impressed with a young hitter than I am with this 22-year-old. I haven't seen him play live, but on television I am thoroughly impressed with his approach at the plate and the way he plays the game. And now he's batting second in the lineup. He's very reminiscent of Evan Longoria last season, and I see a similar breakout, if not this season, then next one. This guy is moving way up my ranking lists, and fast.

Fortunes Falling

Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets: Is 80 percent to 85 percent of the normal Carlos Beltran worth keeping him on your roster another 2-3 weeks? It probably is, but it's disturbing nonetheless that Beltran told a New York Post reporter that coming back at 100 percent is "not going to happen. Eighty, 85 percent, I'll take that." And he won't return till mid-August from his knee injury. Consider that some of his value is wrapped up in his steals potential, which would be all but gone. His ballpark has all but sapped his power; he has eight homers in 241 at-bats, and while he's hitting .336, he's a .283 career hitter and had an astronomical (for him) .365 BABIP before his injury. Like I said, you likely have no choice but to hang on to him, but one more setback could be the final straw.

Russell Branyan, 1B, Mariners: This is your last warning: It's time to sell off this hot stock now, before it's too late. He's hitting .153 in July and now is battling a back injury, yet because he has 24 homers, five this month, an owner out there is destined to give you something good for him. Thank Branyan for his time and fine service, and then send him packing.

Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: By all accounts, Ankiel is the odd man out with Matt Holliday manning left field, Colby Rasmus in center and Ryan Ludwick in right field, so his fortunes are technically falling. But let's not forget how Tony La Russa operates. He likes to move people around, change lineups constantly, and keep his players rested. And he likes to play veterans, at least when they're hitting, which Ankiel is now. Plus, Rasmus is bothered by a sore heel and has admitted to reporters that the injury might not be right until the offseason. When he's right, Ankiel is a very capable starting big league outfielder, with legit 30-homer power, and he'll be dropped in a lot of leagues. That might provide a nice buying opportunity if you have a roster spot to put him in until you figure out how much he'll play.

Pickups of the Week

Mixed: Lastings Milledge, Pirates. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, GM Neal Huntington "strongly suggested" Milledge will be called up Friday, not coincidentally to face his former team, the Nationals. Milledge has fantastic all-around skills, and they won't bring him up to sit on the bench.

AL-only: Tommy Everidge, 1B, Athletics. With Jason Giambi and now Daric Barton out, Everidge will start for the A's at first base in the interim. He was hitting .306 with a .489 slugging percentage in Triple-A.

NL-only: Kyle Blanks, Padres. The big fella (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) seems to be adapting to the outfield and has hit .320 in his past eight games, with three homers.

Points Watch

I know I address this every season, but I just can't help myself: Like him or not, Adam Dunn is a points-league god. He has his batting average back up to .279, which helps these numbers, but he's 10th in the majors in OBP (.409), with a higher mark than such guys as Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter and even .368-hitting Ichiro Suzuki. He's tied for 16th in total bases, with more than Raul Ibanez. He's tied for sixth in RBIs. He's second in the majors in walks, tied with Albert Pujols. His K's might work against you in this setup, but still, he's a top-20 player and perennial keeper in just about any standard points league scenario.

Position Watch

Chris Snyder/Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks: Forgive the obscure "Family Guy" reference, but the only visual that comes to my head when I think about Snyder's 2009 value is Peter Griffin watching the movie "Failure to Launch." Halfway through, Peter throws up his hands and remarks: "Done!" Montero is your new D-backs starting catcher, no matter what the team might say. Obviously, Snyder will get work, just like any backup catcher. But the job is Montero's, and should have been much earlier than this month.

On the docket

Just something to keep in mind: With postponed games having been moved back, and Mother Nature disturbing fewer games, August and September tend to be very heavy months. The Rangers and Phillies, for instance, have 63 games to play in 67 days, a slightly heavier schedule than they've played so far. So number of games becomes a little less prevalent in weekly lineup-setting and head-to-head playoffs. Also note that with imbalanced schedules and designed playoff-race games planned in September, for better or worse, each team has a lot of games remaining against division opponents. That's good for teams such as Detroit, which has three teams ranked in the bottom eight in team ERA in the AL Central.

Lineup Card

Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers: Josh Hamilton, a No. 7 hitter. It doesn't even sound right. I grumbled and dived into the numbers, and while it does seem odd to have Andruw Jones hitting in front of him, especially with a righty on the mound, it did make sense. Whether his timing is off or he's just not healthy, which is my theory, Hamilton just isn't right at this time. And here's the unfortunate thing: He's still Josh Hamilton, and teams still fear him. I mean, they saw the homer display he put on in last year's Home Run Derby and the year he had in 2008. So if you think him hitting No. 7 will allow him to see better pitches and get going, you have another thing coming. Now he has Jarrod Saltalamacchia (or Taylor Teagarden) and Elvis Andrus batting behind him. So he'll actually get fewer pitches to hit down there, and his value continues to dive in the process.

On the farm

Eric Young Jr., 2B, Rockies: Reports out of Denver are that the Rockies have been reluctant to trade Young, even though a team or two has inquired about him. And with Clint Barmes struggling along (below the Mendoza Line this month), I think we might see Young for at least a cup of coffee at some point in August. And how valuable is he in fantasy? Well, he has 50 steals for Triple-A Colorado Springs. Fifty! Nobody is within 13 steals of him. And his .297 average and .381 OBP aren't too shabby, either.

Khalil Greene, SS, Cardinals: The reports on Greene at Triple-A Memphis have been positive; he's doing well mentally and physically, which is great to hear. But the Cardinals are already talking about bringing him back up, and I'm almost hoping they don't. Leave him in the minors and let him get his confidence fully back. The team doesn't need him in the lineup, and he's hitting .365 in Triple-A. Sure, he's no longer a prospect's age (29), and he's making decent money, but here's hoping they think long term and leave him down there to find himself again.

Final thoughts

First of all, some great responses to last week's Hit Parade, with a few people commenting that younger players should actually be less susceptible to injuries because of their youth. Makes sense, but it doesn't work that way. Veteran position players know how to take care of and preserve themselves for a full season better than youngsters. Next time you're at a game and there's a rain delay, look at which players are out running sprints and re-stretching once the game is about to resume. It's often veteran players, many of whom had to really work their way to get/keep a major league roster or lineup slot. Sure, young players might not need to, or so they think until an injury strikes. They have a sense of invincibility that can be their downfall. Just wanted to add that, as well as the fact that injuries to any of the young players I noted last week hurts me, too. If Ian Kinsler (hamstring), one of the prominent players I mentioned, is down more than just a few games, I'm done in one league.

And finally, most trade deadlines are duds, but this one is already looking like a winner. Should be an exciting few days.

Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.