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Buy-High, Sell-Low: Week 1 (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Jul 29, 2020

Giancarlo Stanton can lead the league in home runs and do so by such a large margin that he puts himself into the MVP conversation.

Given how heavily we focus on “value” in fantasy baseball, it’s odd to see an article in which we are intentionally ignoring value. We’re taking it one step further. We’re going in the opposite direction.

In a typical season, we often have to make aggressive moves. Give up on a player we know can be better. Pay a high price for one who is clearly going to regress. We do this because fantasy baseball is fluid, and we have to fill the needs of our roster at a given time.

In 2020, this is unavoidable. More than ever, we need to make quick, rash decisions that probably would not be in our interest if we had a full season ahead of us. Every day brings a new opportunity to assess and improve our roster, but we can’t always target value. We simply don’t have the time to wait for a return-on-investment. We need the payoff immediately.

Below is a list of players to buy at a premium or sell at a discount as well as some suggested offers and targets. To avoid suggesting like-player-for-like-player, pitchers were often paired with hitters and vice versa.

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Hitters to Buy

Dansby Swanson (SS – ATL)
I’ll cheat for my first one, but only because he now has a premier place in an article. Months ago, I targeted players who could become “the next Christian Yelich.” It was aggressive, of course, and no one is actually projected to land in the top-two of MVP voting for back-to-back seasons, but the overall theme was clear: find a player ready to explode. Dansby Swanson was one of these players.

The problem with pouring more love into Swanson during this offseason was simply that shortstop is tremendously deep in 2020. This hasn’t changed, but it’s clear that Swanson is sliding into an area where he’s a must-own in all formats.

His stock is rising rapidly, and you can buy now with the expectation that it won’t plummet. The writing has been on the wall for a breakout season, and Swanson is showing early signs of delivering.

Players to offer: Max Fried, Joey Lucchesi

Trevor Story (SS – COL)
I’ll admit that I was sliding Trevor Story down my rankings list as the season drew nearer, and it was mainly because of his cost versus potential. In order to justify paying a late-first round pick for Story, he would have to land in the upper echelon of home run totals or stolen bases. Both were on the table — more power than speed — but it’s a lot to ask when stolen base attempts fluctuate so wildly from year-to-year.

To Story’s credit, he already put both concerns to bed. He hit two home runs in his team’s opening series, and he already has two stolen base attempts. Therein lies the key. Story has not lost the willingness to run, and our concerns can be eased. I’m now looking at Story as a cornerstone for a winning fantasy team in 2020, and I’d be ready to pay a premium to get him.

Players to offer: Shane Bieber

Giancarlo Stanton (OF – NYY)
There’s no secret as to why Giancarlo Stanton made this list: if he stays healthy, he can lead the league in home runs and do so by such a large margin that he puts himself into the MVP conversation. There’s also no secret as to why he is on this list and so few prior ones: he can’t stay healthy.

Targeting Stanton is solely about playing the lottery. Your friend has a winning ticket with one number left to reveal. He or she will sell you said ticket at a premium, but you keep all of the profits afterward. If, of course, you win. You know the odds are low, but you also know what could happen if things break in your direction.

The good news about Stanton is that people know they are holding this lottery ticket, and they also haven’t seen the last number. They are completely aware that he could hit the injured list at any time and without any warning. Certainly, they’ll try to talk you into paying a higher price — and you can oblige, within reason — but base the addition of Stanton on your roster around him. If you can survive an eventual injury, then pounce.

Players to offer: Chris Paddack, Mike Clevinger

Pitchers to Buy

Dustin May (SP/RP – LAD)
He won’t be cheap, but the sooner you can acquire Dustin May, the better. His future price inflation is multi-faceted: he was a highly-touted prospect whose name has not lost value, he is eligible as both a starting and relief pitcher, he was the player who got the ball on Opening Day following Kershaw’s inactive, and he has clearly earned more starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Can they pull the rug out from under us at any time? Of course. With only 60 games — fewer, now — to make our moves, however, we have to take calculated risks.

Acquiring May is a risk worth taking. The Dodgers were already stretching him out to be a starter in 2020, and the more aggressive timeline should only help the overall plan.

Players to offer: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Joey Gallo

Garrett Richards (SP – SD)
At the end of the offseason, I wrote a deep-league sleeper article in which I mentioned Garrett Richards. At the time, he was only worth a look in deeper leagues. Now, his ownership percentage is flying and it will take a quick add or an aggressive trade to land him. Go for it.

Richards gets some value from the San Diego Padres being a sneaky team to play winning baseball in 2020, but he helped his own case with his first start of the season. Richards has always been known for his ability to induce ground balls, and he did so at a 55.6 percent clip in his only start prior to this writing. He also struck out six batters in his five innings of work.

Remember, Richards had a total of 31 starts since the beginning of 2016. It’s completely plausible that he is finally back and healthy, where we can get him at his best before his price soars.

Players to offer: Max Muncy

Tyler Chatwood (SP – CHC)
It’s going to take a tough stomach to target Tyler Chatwood in a trade, but this short season is the time to take such an extreme risk. One look at Chatwood’s numbers from the past will serve as a reminder of how disastrous he could be, but let’s flip the script and focus on what the Chicago Cubs saw in Chatwood in the first place.

Chatwood had increased his strikeout rate in the final two years with the Rockies, and his ERA remained reasonable given the confines of pitching in the hitter-haven of Colorado. The arrow was pointing in the right direction.

Two years have passed since the Cubs acquired Chatwood, and they showed commitment to their plan by moving him back into the rotation to begin 2020. He rewarded them with eight strikeouts and only one earned run over six innings. This is the Chatwood the Cubs thought they were getting. You have a chance to take him from an owner looking to turn a quick profit from one start. Pay the price if you can handle the potential for implosion.

Players to offer: Michael Brantley

Hitters to Sell

Franmil Reyes (OF – CLE)
I’ll take the blame on this one. I was wrong about Franmil Reyes. More importantly, if I were to ever be right about Franmil Reyes, this season won’t give me the opportunity to find out. It’s time to cut bait.

At the time of this writing, Reyes has one RBI, three strikeouts, and no extra-base hits. The calling card for Reyes was his power potential and, while he could get there, I’d rather use that as a selling point to a potential buyer than a goal I’m hoping he reaches.

Players to target: Luke Weaver

Charlie Blackmon (OF – COL)
All else being equal, we have to question if the aftereffects of COVID-19 have anything to do with Charlie Blackmon’s slow start to the 2020 season. It’s unfair to pin everything on the virus, but it is undoubtedly part of the equation. At least, it’s part of the conversation.

This works both ways. Like Reyes, it’s important to have a selling point if anyone is willing to buy, and the argument for Blackmon is that he is still getting back into playing shape. For those who already own him, however, it isn’t worth waiting to see what he still has left. He won’t steal bases, and each passing game lowers his potential home run total for the year.

Players to target: Zac Gallen, Julio Urias

J.D. Davis (3B/OF – NYM)
I started to target J.D. Davis more-and-more as the season drew nearer. Shame on me. Davis is the perfect example of a team not willing to give playing time for a reason. Davis has appeared in every game to date but has finished only one. The New York Mets refuse to lean on him for a full workload, and we must do the same.

When Davis has played, he’s been underwhelming. Through New York’s first four games, Davis had more strikeouts than hits, and not a single extra-base hit. We can expect better days ahead — Tuesday night, he did add a single and home run — but it’s not like the Mets are giving him free rein to develop. If anything, his leash is dangerously short.

Players to target: Mike Fiers

Pitchers to Sell

Charlie Morton (SP – TB)
I’ve been down on Charlie Morton for the entire offseason, and he did nothing to ease my concerns in his first start of 2020. Six earned runs and four strikeouts through four innings is not aligned with the price many paid to get Morton, but it might be closer to his final numbers than people want to believe.

Morton is pitching in his age-36 season, and we might finally be seeing the signs of Father Time. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball is roughly three miles-per-hour slower in 2020 than it was in 2019 — although it is spread out over a few pitch types. I’m not willing to wait around and find out if Morton can regain the form that led to a great 2019. I’d rather find a fantasy owner who is still buying into Morton and quickly sell.

Players to target: Matt Chapman

Matthew Boyd (SP – DET)
While I would never do this in a 162-game season — I always preach patience in sports — I have to flip sides regarding Matthew Boyd. I was a buyer. Now, I’m a seller.

Much of Boyd’s value lies in his strikeout potential and the expectation that he will be traded. The latter still exists, but it’s not enough for me to hold in the meantime. Boyd struck out only two players on the Reds in his first start, while Cincinnati, as a team, struck out 25 times in the three games not started by Boyd. His win potential was already a concern, but he can’t afford to lose his strikeouts. It’s enough for me to pump the brakes on Boyd, and I’d go as far as shopping him before we see a decline in value.

Players to target: Miguel Sano

Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP-TOR)
Like Morton, I was already selling Hyun-Jin Ryu before the season. After one start, nothing has changed.

Ryu has never been a strikeout pitcher — only once did he finish a Major League season with an average of more than one-strikeout-per-inning — but he survived by inducing weak contact. In his first start of 2020, his soft hit percentage fell to 14.3, six full points lower than his 2019 season average.

Of course, it’s only one start, but that’s the point of this article. Any red flags need to be taken more seriously this year than they have in the past. Ryu is not going to see a spike in strikeouts. He needs to keep the ball on the ground and prevent hard contact. He may be able to do the former, but the latter is the bigger worry. Don’t wait to find out if Ryu can figure it out. The season is too short and his underlying metrics are too unimpressive.

Players to target: Lorenzo Cain

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.