Rizzo, Kluber among best candidates to seek in trades
By Jason Catania
Believe it or not, the season is already about a quarter gone. All the more incentive for you, dear fantasy owner, to act now.
In first place? Hey, congrats! But you do know you're gonna need to maintain that position the rest of the way, right? Stuck in the middle of the standings pack? You're not going to catch those ahead of you by staying pat. And if you're down near the bottom, the time is now to throw some caution to the wind, shake things up a bit and [insert obligatory third cliche] already!
But which players should you seek via trade? The five buy-low options below can help you get a head start on making your team better over the final three-quarters of the season.
Anthony Rizzo, first baseman, Cubs
While Rizzo does have six homers, 19 RBIs and even four steals so far, chances are high his owner was counting on a lot better than a .213 batting average from a second-round draft pick.
On the plus side, Rizzo's plate discipline remains stellar. In fact, his 14.0 percent strikeout rate is a career best, and his 12.9 percent walk rate is his highest since his debut year in 2011. Moreover, the 27-year-old's .216 BABIP not only is well below his .286 career number, but also just outside the 10 lowest in baseball this season. Finally, almost the entire Cubs offense is in something of a malaise, with a .236 average that is tied for the sixth-worst mark in the sport.
Both Rizzo's average and the Cubs' as a whole will pick up at some point soon. And when they do, all of his stats -- not just that .213 batting mark -- are going to get a whole lot better. Fast.
Corey Kluber, starter, Indians
Here's a draft of the e-mail you should send to the Kluber owner in your league today: Hey there. So I noticed you're in a tough spot with Kluber and his bad back -- not to mention, that 5.06 ERA and 1.37 WHIP -- stuck on your DL. Who knows when he'll come back or how he'll pitch when he does, right? I mean, he did throw a career-high 249 1/3 innings last year, including the postseason. How about swapping him for [insert active pitcher off to a nice start (e.g. Ervin Santana, Jason Vargas, Gio Gonzalez)] so you can help your hurting rotation with a healthy arm off to a hot start?
While the above points provide pause for anyone looking to acquire Kluber, owners should note that the 31-year-old has resumed throwing and also has a history of starting slowly (career 4.04 ERA, 1.24 WHIP in March/April) before turning it on as the season progresses.
Rougned Odor, second baseman, Rangers
After Odor broke out by hitting .271 with 33 homers, 88 RBIs and 89 runs last season, he rocketed up draft boards this past March. Owners, no doubt, dreamed of even bigger numbers from a player who had only just turned 23.
Alas, that hasn't happened to date. Even following his huge 2016, the question remained whether Odor could continue to hit for average after walking just 19 times in 632 plate appearances. His six home runs, 17 RBIs and 17 runs put him on a decent enough pace, but those numbers are nowhere near enough to offset that .197 average.
While Odor may never be a patient hitter, a peek at his walk rate shows he is at least displaying some improvement with nine free passes already -- or almost half of his total from a year ago. Add in the fact that he's fighting off a .211 BABIP (ninth worst in MLB) -- compared to his .284 lifetime mark -- and fantasy owners have multiple signs that Odor will start having success.
Todd Frazier, third baseman, White Sox
Hitting only .181, Frazier fits right into this week's low-batting-average theme. The third baseman also has just three homers after being picked primarily for his power, so those who invested in him may be panicking.
True, Frazier was expected to be a batting-average drag coming into the year, as he had trended down from .273 in 2014 to .255 in 2015 to a career-low .225 last season. Owners should have been preparing for the possibility -- or even the likelihood -- he would hit below .250. But Frazier still has plenty of room to improve on his current figure.
For one, Frazier has the fifth-lowest BABIP in the Majors at .192. Even for a fly-ball hitter like him, that BABIP will likely regress toward his .275 career figure. The big flies are bound to come, too. Frazier has a fly-ball rate of 48.7 percent -- right in line with the past two seasons -- but his HR/FB rate of 8.1 percent is way below his norm (career 15.4 percent).
Still not sold on the 31-year-old as a super-cheap buy-low target? Then take a look at his career-best strikeout (18.0 percent) and walk (12.6 percent) rates. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect peak Frazier, but you won't have to pay anywhere close to that to acquire him.
Gregory Polanco, outfielder, Pirates
Looking to persuade a Polanco owner to sell? Simple. Bring up his early season struggles (.252 BA, 15 R, 1 HR, 9 RBIs, 6 SB), note that he may not have taken to a new position (left field) on defense, and close by casually mentioning that Polanco exited Sunday's game with left hamstring discomfort, which affects his ability to contribute in the one fantasy category he was providing consistently (stolen bases).
So why would you want Polanco, given all of that? For starters, you just might get his owner to give him away. As for a production point of view, though, Polanco is walking at a career-high rate (10.4 percent) while whiffing at a career-low pace (13.3 percent). That's promising.
So, too, is his pedigree as a top prospect only three years ago, as well as the fact that he's just 25 years old and still developing. Throw in the flashes of fantasy-friendliness he showed in 2015 (83 R, 27 SB) and 2016 (22 HR, 17 SB), and Polanco has a history of production to be mined.
Jason Catania is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.