At the beginning of June, the answer to this question would be to drop Calhoun for Bruce. But of course, Bruce would not have been on waivers at the beginning of June. Bruce is 27 years old and coming into 2014 he had posted three consecutive 30-homer seasons. In an era when power is at a premium, Bruce is exactly the kind of slugger that fantasy owners covet. He can even offer a bit of speed, as he swiped 24 bases from 2011-13 while averaging more than 100 RBIs in those three campaigns.
At the beginning of June, Trumbo (had he not been on the DL) would also have been an easy choice over Calhoun. The slugger averaged more than 30 homers and 90 RBIs from 2011-13, and he also chipped in 18 steals over that three-year stretch. Calhoun and his limited Major League portfolio would have been no match for elite homer hitters such as Bruce and Trumbo.
But it is not June, and the focus of fantasy owners needs to change at this point in the season. Bruce is on pace to hit fewer than 15 homers, and he is struggling to keep his batting average over .200. The lefty slugger has yet to go deep in the second half, and he has driven in just two runs since the Midsummer Classic. Trumbo is having similar struggles, hitting .211 with zero homers and four RBIs since the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, Calhoun has become the leadoff hitter for one of the highest-scoring offenses in baseball. Since the beginning of June, he has hit over .300 with eight homers and 39 runs scored. Calhoun's production has tailed off in the past two weeks, but with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton hitting behind him, he only needs to get on base to be a productive fantasy asset. Even though Calhoun is the least famous of the three player options in this question, he offers the best chance for production over the final two months of the season.
This question raises a great point that all fantasy owners can learn from. Once we hit the home stretch of August and September, words like "upside" and "potential" go out the window. During the first half of the season, it makes sense to stick with players such as Bruce. They have long track records of success, and they could turn their seasons around. They can also be assets on the trade market, because their name value will get attention from other fantasy owners.
When Jay Bruce is playing well, he can fetch a return that Kole Calhoun cannot. But it is too late for Bruce and Trumbo to recoup their trade value in time to meet most fantasy league trade deadlines. And more importantly, there is little reason to believe they will snap out of their slumps right away.
It is hard to say why players such as Bruce, Trumbo, Shin-Soo Choo, Bryce Harper and David Wright are having subpar seasons. Their struggles could be due to injuries, or they could be mental. It does not really matter what the problem is, because it is unlikely to resolve itself in time for these players to get on track in August. And fantasy owners cannot absorb another month of poor production from these players and then hope they surge in September. At this point in the season, decisions should be made based on what individual players can offer in the coming weeks.
Here are some players that are providing surprisingly strong statistics. These players make great trade targets as their owners may not value them, because they lack the fame of players such as Bruce, Trumbo, Choo and Wright. But these players are better options for the stretch run.
Marlon Byrd: The 36-year-old is on pace for 30 homers and 90 RBIs, and he has fairly even home-road splits, so he could continue to hit well even if he is traded this month. Fantasy owners should not be so surprised with Byrd's success, because he hit .291 with 24 homers and 88 RBIs last season.
Corey Dickerson: The youngster has had to fight for playing time, but with a .311 batting average, 13 homers and eight steals, he has proven that he deserves regular work. As the Rockies look to 2015, Dickerson should be in the lineup on a daily basis down the stretch, and he could be a five-category stud.
Brett Gardner: It is true that last week's outstanding work in Texas has boosted Gardner's numbers dramatically, but he is on pace for over 20 homers, over 25 steals and over 100 runs scored, and those paces were not established solely in one series. Gardner is a true five-category contributor for the stretch run, and he will likely be more productive than many higher-profile outfielders.
Yan Gomes: Smart owners ensure that they get plenty of production from the catcher position, which is traditionally the weakest in fantasy baseball. Gomes is one of the few backstops who can hit for power and average, and he has proven that he is no flash in the pan.
Lucas Duda: The lefty slugger reached the 20-homer mark on the first day of August. Just 20 Major Leaguers have reached the 20-homer plateau, so Duda has quietly become one of the top power threats for the stretch run.
Tanner Roark: The 27-year-old owns an impressive 2.94 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Prior to Monday's letdown against a tough AL offense in the Orioles, he had allowed four runs over 28 frames since the All-Star break. Fantasy owners who need to add starting pitching should avoid the high-priced hurlers and deal for underrated arms such as Roark.