Remember the good ol’ days? There was a time in baseball when starting pitchers routinely threw 20 to 30 complete games every year. There was a time when relievers finished the game by pitching the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Closers only existed in the real estate business. There was a time when runners on first were bunted over to second or (heaven forbid) stole second. There was a time when the trade deadline was June 15. And there was a time when a star on a contender was traded for another star on another contender. In 1960, two future Hall of Famers were traded for each other. The Indians sent Rocky Colavito to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn. In 1973, future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins was traded for Bill Madlock, who should be in the Hall of Fame (but don’t get me started on that soapbox).
Alas, there are no such blockbusters today. Almost every trade now involves prospects traded to a rebuilding team by a contender. However, it’s these types of deals that impact a fantasy roster the most. The rebuilding team that trades away their star players for prospects suddenly has openings in their starting lineups for players who might be on the waiver wire. And the stock of the prospects they trade for might suddenly be on the rise. Furthermore, the contender who acquires a star player might drastically shift the roles of some of their existing players. The trick, of course, is to anticipate some of these deadline deals and acquire the players most affected before anyone else does. So before the deadline, let’s try to anticipate who might be on the waiver wire who will benefit the most from the rumored deals.
Let’s start with the Chicago Cubs. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Craig Kimbrel are the rumored players to be on the move, creating several possibilities for your fantasy roster. Before the All-Star break, the Cubs traded for first baseman prospect Bryce Ball by sending Joc Pedersen to the Braves. The Cubs targeted a future asset like Ball for a reason. Perhaps they’re anticipating an opening at first base after a trade of Rizzo. Ball will not be ready for the majors this year and probably not next year either, but he would be the long-term answer at first base. He’s already escaped from the Freddie Freeman roadblock at first in Atlanta. If you’re in a dynasty league and Ball is available, act now. He’s had some swing and miss issues in the minors, but by the time he’s ready to take over first base for the Cubs, his hit tool is bound to improve, and his tremendous power potential would be an ideal fit in a park-like Wrigley Field.
Speaking of power, a trade of Bryant would create an everyday role at third base for Patrick Wisdom. While getting sporadic playing time so far this year, Wisdom has a .601 slugging percentage, a ridiculous .333 ISO (Isolated Power), and a 55.1% hard-hit percentage versus a 9% soft hit percentage. His home run to fly ball ratio is 36.8%. By way of comparison, Shohei Ohtani’s home run to fly ball ratio is 37%. These figures are enhanced by the fact that he does not play every day, but those numbers cannot be ignored when evaluating what kind of fantasy performer he could be if he takes over the third base from Bryant. So if Wisdom is available on your waiver wire, pick him up now. If he isn’t available, trade for him now when his value is lower than what it will be after the trade deadline.
Trading Kimbrel would have a trickle-down effect on the Cubs bullpen. Either Andrew Chafin or Ryan Tepera would graduate to the closer role (unless they’re traded). That move would, in turn, increase the fantasy value of Keegan Thompson. Manager David Ross has recently used Thompson in more high leverage situations, perhaps in anticipation of trading Kimbrel. But an even more intriguing beneficiary of that trade would be a reliever pitching in Triple-A for the Cubs, who only has a 6% ownership rate right now in Fantrax. Justin Steele pitched earlier this year for the Cubs and had 14.18 K/9 in 13 innings along with a 61 xFIP- (where 100 is the league average) before landing on the injured list with a hamstring. The Cubs activated him on July 8 and sent him to Triple-A Iowa but don’t be surprised if they recall him after the trade deadline and give him high leverage innings. Sometimes teams are hesitant to give the closer’s role to a lefthander, but Steele pitched a total of 5 innings this year against right-handed batters and only gave up one hit while striking out 11. You can also cash in on the fact that Steele has SP eligibility in most leagues so that you can slot him into an empty SP spot daily.
Another bullpen that will change drastically after the trade deadline will be in Pittsburgh. Closer Richard Rodriguez is expected to be traded, leaving that role for David Bednar, who only has a 17% ownership rate in Fantrax. Bednar has already done enough to warrant the closer’s role, pitching eight straight scoreless outings in which he’s only given up five hits and compiled four holds. His 11.13 K/9 checks a box for the ideal closer, as does his 97 mph fastball, which he combines with a curveball and splitter. Closers with more than just two pitches have an excellent track record in the major leagues. Bednar’s value remains the same in roto leagues that include holds as a category, but if you’re in a head-to-head points league, target Bednar now to take advantage of the extra points he’ll put up when he transitions from a setup man to closer.
In Colorado, a trade of shortstop Trevor Story seems to be imminent. That trade would allow the Rockies to make the move they have been planning for a couple of years now–moving Brendan Rodgers from second to his natural shortstop position. The Rockies view Rodgers as their long-term answer at shortstop. That would open a door for Ryan Vilade to step through. Initially a shortstop, Vilade would play third base with Ryan McMahon playing second. Vilade would provide an instant advantage at third base for any fantasy manager because he would be the rare commodity of a third baseman capable of double figures in home runs and stolen bases. In 2019 at Single-A Lancaster, he hit 12 HRs with 24 SBs and filled up the rest of the stat sheet with double-figure doubles (27), double-figure triples (10), and a .303 batting average. The Rockies skipped him to Triple-A this year, where he has responded reasonably well with 11 doubles, three triples, 3 HRs, and 8 SBs in 58 games. It’s a move the Rockies very much want to make, so it’s a move you should make now. Vilade only has a 15% ownership rate in Fantrax. Oh, by the way, did I mention you would be adding a hitter at Coors Field to your roster?
I hope Jon Daniels has an unlimited data plan for his smartphone. The president of the Texas Rangers has no doubt fielded a dizzying number of phone calls asking about the many players about to leave the Rangers for a contender. The most likely to be dealt are Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy. As a fantasy manager, root hard for a Kyle Gibson trade because that would open a spot in the Rangers’ starting rotation for a pitcher who only has an 8% ownership rate in Fantrax and has been getting much praise within the organization. Yerry Rodriguez entered 2021 ranked only as of the Rangers’ number 17 prospect. But his standing within the organization has risen drastically during the season. First of all, he’s on the 40-man roster, which facilitates a quick promotion to the majors. Now 23 years old, he’s started 13 games in Double-A this year with a 2.98 ERA, 10.32 K/9, and perhaps most significantly gives up only 0.6 HR/9, an essential skill to possess if you plan on pitching in Texas. His skill to limit the home run ball has been a hallmark in his professional career, as he allowed only 0.61 HR/9 in Single-A in 2019 and only 0.23 HR/9 in rookie ball in 2018. Any organization will highly value starting pitchers who can limit the home run ball, particularly since all batters seem to try to hit nowadays. YRod’s fastball is regularly 92 to 95 mph, but that’s not what stands out to evaluators inside the Rangers’ organization. They point to the fact that he can make that fastball either rise or sink. They also rank both his spin rate and his changeup as the best in the organization. Shortly, the time will be now for Yerry Rodriguez, as it should be for fantasy managers.
If Ian Kennedy is traded, it’s hard to tell to whom the Rangers will turn to close out games, if anyone. DeMarcus Evans has been a candidate since the beginning of the year when Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez sustained severe injuries. But his problem is and has always been his habit of walking people all the time. His BB/9 figure for the last three minor league teams he pitched for was 6.85, 5.26, and 5.52. When he got into ten games for the Rangers this season, he issued 6.35 BB/9 with a 7.15 ERA. Major league teams will rarely hand over the closer’s role to a reliever who walks that many batters. More than likely, the Rangers will employ some closer by committee for the rest of this season, consisting of guys like Joely Rodriguez, Brett Martin, Josh Sborz, and perhaps Evans. You don’t want to see any of those guys on your fantasy roster. Instead, how about taking a flier on a relative unknown reliever currently pitching in Triple-A for the Rangers? How unknown? He now sports a 0% ownership rate in Fantrax. His name is Jimmy Herget, and he’s turned his career around this season. After toiling for five seasons in the Reds’ minor league system, he joined the Rangers last year for the shortened season and did not pitch well, issuing 13 hits and 14 walks in 19.2 innings. However, in Triple-A this season, he has 11.41 K/9 and only 3.06 BB/9, which has drastically improved from the 5.52 and 4.26 figures he had for the last two Triple-A teams pitched for in the Reds’ system. He’s also given up only 0.84 HR/9 this season. His out pitch is a devastating slider which he delivers from a funky sidearm angle. That’s the type of delivery that can have some success at the major league level as a closer. Just take a look at Tyler Rogers this year.
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