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The Long Game: Odds and Sods

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

With the All-Star break now behind us, it feels like time to do one of those miscellany columns, where I don't have any one idea strong enough to carry the whole thing so instead I get to string a few mini-ideas together to pad out the word count... err, I mean, provide additional content to my valued readers.

Fortunately, this particular ASB comes complete with a bunch of material to work with, including the unofficial start of this year's trade frenzy. But to get started, let's look at something I've been tracking all season: the disappearing stolen base.

Who Stole the Steals?

Back at the end of April when I last checked in on this, stolen base attempts per game and league-wide success rate on steals were down from the kinds of numbers we'd seen as recently as 2012, but consistent with the 2013-2015 period. Well, over the early summer, that's changed a bit. The original 2016 pace of 2557 MLB steals I'd calculated has dropped further, and the league is now on pace to steal just 2425 bases, which would be the lowest total of the entire post-strike period. To state it another way, teams are now successfully swiping just under half a base a game (0.499, to be more precise).

Curiously though, the league-wide success rate has actually ticked up very slightly over the last few months. In late April, the league-wide success rate was 69 percent. Post-ASB, it's 70.4 percent.

Since the 1994/1995 work stoppages, trends in league-wide steals have tended to last about a decade, give or take a year or two. If that pattern holds true, we're in for another five years or so of depressed stolen base totals. In keeper leagues, that means if you can lock up just one elite basestealer at a good price, they might be able to carry you in the category single-handedly, freeing up resources elsewhere. Stashing prospects like Trea Turner, Orlando Arcia, Jorge Mateo and Ozzie Albies could prove to be better investments than even their skill set and pedigree suggest.

What's Yulieski Gurriel Worth?

In re-draft leagues, this is a much simpler question. By all accounts the Cuban has a major-league ready bat and should be in the Astros' lineup by August, helping them push for a spot in the postseason. Prior to defecting, he posted a .305/.349/.536 slash line with 11 home runs in 62 games for Yokohama in the NPB in 2014, his only professional action outside of Cuba. Veteran Cubans have a spotty track record in the majors, but Gurriel has long been considered the best they have and seems far more likely to adapt quickly, as Jose Abreu did, rather than flaming out completely like Hector Olivera. He's also got an interesting defensive profile, playing primarily third base in Cuba but also seeing time at second base, center field and even briefly at shortstop last year. If he combines a solid stick with the position flexibility of a Luis Valbuena or Marwin Gonzalez, Gurriel could be an integral part of some dramatic finishes in fantasy leagues.

In keeper leagues however, the big number for Gurriel is not his home runs or batting average, but his age. How much do you really want to spend on a 32-year-old with no MLB experience? Star players usually come to America in their primes (Ichiro Suzuki's first campaign with Seattle came in his age-27 season, for instance) not afterwards, so there's almost no precedent for what kind of numbers Gurriel might be able to produce in the short term, much less in 2018 when his initial fantasy contract would be expiring in a standard league.

The Astros spent a lot of money to land Gurriel, so they will definitely be giving him every chance to succeed. When you factor in his age, the hype and his long layoff from facing live pitching though, you might be better off letting someone else throw big FAAB dollars at him when he does get called up. If he's expensive and struggles in his first exposure to MLB, he might well be a bargain when he gets kicked loose and is up for bid again next March at your auction table.

Of all the concerns about Gurriel though, where he'll play isn't really one of them despite the apparent “conflict” between him and Alex Bregman at third base. Jason Castro is neither hitting well enough nor playing good enough defense to keep Evan Gattis out from behind the plate (incidentally Gattis just played his 20th game at catcher just before the break, so in most leagues he'll now officially keep that precious eligibility in 2017) which opens up some DH at-bats. A.J. Reed isn't tearing it up at first base, opening up another potential avenue for playing time. Heck, if Carlos Gomez doesn't snap out of his season-long slump, Colby Rasmus could shift to center field and leave left for Gurriel. Once both Bregman and Gurriel are on the major league roster, they'll get their at-bats.

Who's Going To Get Promoted After the Trade Deadline?

Thursday night's big Drew Pomeranz for Anderson Espinoza deal marked the start of silly season for MLB, otherwise known as the trade deadline. Looking at the standings, the Rays, Twins, A's, Angels, Braves, Reds and Diamondbacks all sit more than 10 games out of even a wild card spot much less a futile run at a division title, with the Brewers and Rockies one bad series away from joining that shabby club. While most people will focus on the players who might get traded by those teams, smart dynasty league owners will be focused as much on the talent those teams have in the minors who are likely to find themselves with a clear path to playing time once their organizations start unloading contracts.

Some teams have already starting promoting their next generation due to injuries or pure need (Blake Snell and Cody Reed come to mind) but that still leaves plenty of talent in the high minors chomping at the bit to prove themselves in the majors. Here's a quick look at some of the names most likely to see significant playing time over the final two months after a trade opens up a spot for them:

Jose Berrios, SP, Twins – Berrios' first exposure to the majors earlier in the year didn't go so well, but it didn't seem to phase the 22-year-old. Over his last 10 starts at Triple-A, he's got a 2.98 ERA and 65:22 K:BB in 66.1 innings. The potential future staff ace appears more than ready for his second chance, ideally after the front office finds some poor sucker willing to take on Ricky Nolasco's contract.

David Dahl, OF, Rockies – Based purely on the quality of the prospects pushing for playing time, the NL West could be the center of the trading universe at this year's deadline. Dahl is the headliner, a potential five-category outfielder playing his home games in Coors. He was just promoted to Triple-A and in eight games at Albuquerque (a hitting environment just as inflated as the one in Denver) he's merely slashing .543/.579/.1.114 with five home runs. Let me repeat that: five homers in eight games since his promotion. CarGo who?

Ryon Healy, 3B/1B, A's – Healy just got promoted by the A's amid a flurry of Danny Valencia trade rumors. The 24-year-old slugger had a strong first half at Triple-A, hitting .318/.362/.505, but his bat profiles more as a second-division starter than a fantasy stud. Think solid batting average with a dozen or so homers, the kind of numbers Joe Randa used to churn out. That's still got plenty of value in AL-only league though if he's improved enough with his glove to stick at the hot corner.

Austin Hedges, C, Padres – Granted, El Paso is a great place to hit, but nobody expected Hedges to put up a line like .380/.420/.767 with 16 homers in 40 games during the first half. Hedges' defensive reputation has carried his prospect status to date, but if he's starting to put it together at the plate as well he could be a future All-Star, starting as soon as Derek Norris is sent out of town.

Jeff Hoffman, Rockies – The other big-time Colorado prospect at Triple-A, Hoffman has been in Albuquerque longer than Dahl but has held his own in an offensive hellscape, posting a 4.03 ERA and 99:34 K:BB in 98.1 innings. A young Rockies that already features Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson could be about to get a bit younger.

Manuel Margot / Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres – These two are a bit of a matched set, as sometime soon Margot will be patrolling center field while Renfroe mans a corner spot for the Padres. The crucial difference for 2016 though is that Margot is already on the team's 40-man roster, while Renfroe isn't. It's not a huge obstacle either way, but it's worth noting. The 21-year-old Margot's hitting .298/.347/.418 with 23 steals in 82 games at Triple-A while the 24-year-old Renfroe's got a .331/.358/.604 line and 21 homers through 85 games. Despite the difference in production I think Margot's got the brighter future, as much due to Renfroe's strikeouts as Margot's slick glovework, but Renfroe's made some real progress in that area this season so his adjustment period to the majors might be shorter than I expect. Either way, they'll both be in San Diego as soon as Matt Kemp and/or Melvin Upton Jr. aren't.

Josmil Pinto, C, Brewers – Remember this guy? The former Twin is only hitting .350/.405/.522 in 55 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs, and has put himself in position to get a look with the Brewers should Jonathan Lucroy get dealt away. The organization views Jacob Nottingham as their catcher of the future, but that could still leave Pinto with a couple of years in the starting role until Nottingham (currently hitting .245 at Double-A) is deemed ready.

Jesse Winker, OF, Reds – If you look at Winker's minor league stats, on the surface he doesn't seem like much, especially given his .282/.374/.359 line at Triple-A so far this season. In six games since returning from a wrist injury though, he's hitting .350 (7-for-20) with two home runs – his first two homers for Louisville on the year. More importantly, his 33:32 BB:K in 243 plate appearances is outstanding and is a sign that he could adjust quickly to the bigs once he gets the call. With Jay Bruce's time in Cincinnati probably drawing to a close, Winker could soon be a perennial threat to hit .300 with double-digit power, a fantasy asset in just about any format.