Fan­tasy: Im­pacts of Justin Up­ton, Justin Ver­lan­der trades

Angels’ Up­ton, Astros’ Ver­lan­der im­prove value on stronger teams

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Steve Gard­ner sgard­ner@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports

While it’s not un­com­mon for ma­jor league teams to tweak their ros­ters just be­fore the dead­line for post­sea­son el­i­gi­bil­ity, both the num­ber and the sig­nif­i­cance of this sea­son’s Aug. 31 trades were com­pletely un­ex­pected.

The two big­gest moves were made by the Detroit Tigers, who un­loaded out­fielder Justin Up­ton and ace right-han­der Justin Ver­lan­der, giv­ing both play­ers a slight boost in fan­tasy value as they join more com­pet­i­tive teams in Ana­heim and Hous­ton.

Up­ton was en­joy­ing what might be his best sea­son, hit­ting .279 at the time of the trade with 28 homers, 94 RBI and a ca­reer-high .904 on-base-plus-slug­ging per­cent­age (OPS).

He gets a slight down­grade in home park go­ing from the No. 7 to No. 14 in over­all of­fense this sea­son, but the dif­fer­ence is neg­li­gi­ble over a one-month pe­riod. What’s more im­por­tant is the ad­di­tion of his bat to the Angels lineup — giv­ing Mike Trout far more pro­tec­tion than Al­bert Pu­jols (.665 OPS) did.

Up­ton has set­tled into the lineup hit­ting third be­hind new lead­off man Bran­don Phillips (an­other Aug. 31 ad­di­tion) and Trout. (Of course, Pu­jols had seven RBI in Up­ton’s first three games.)

If Pu­jols can drive in 83 runs hit­ting be­hind Trout over the first five months, Up­ton could be poised for a dif­fer­ence-mak­ing run in Septem­ber.

Mean­while, the Astros picked up an ace-cal­iber pitcher in Ver­lan­der, whom they hope will make a dif­fer­ence down the stretch — and in Oc­to­ber.

Sched­uled to make his Astros de­but on Tues­day, Ver­lan­der has been a much bet­ter pitcher since the All-Star break.

uFirst half: 5-6, 4.73 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 in 1042⁄ in­nings

uSe­cond half: 5-2, 2.41 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 10.4 K/9 in 671⁄ in­nings

In this case, the change in home parks could make a dif­fer­ence in Ver­lan­der’s fi­nal six starts. Sur­pris­ingly, Hous­ton’s Minute Maid Park has been the most pitcher-friendly venue in the ma­jors this sea­son, sup­press­ing scor­ing by 18.5%.

At the last pos­si­ble mo­ment, both the Astros and Angels took stock of their ros­ters and made moves to give them the best chance to com­pete for a ti­tle.

THE FAN­TASY EQUIV­A­LENT?

The ar­rival of Septem­ber also marks the be­gin­ning of the stretch run in fan­tasy leagues — and the first round of the play­offs in most head-to-head for­mats.

As a fan­tasy owner, you’ve hope­fully done ev­ery­thing you could to put your team in po­si­tion to win, just like ma­jor league gen­eral man­agers.

While the ma­jors might be the ul­ti­mate dy­nasty/keeper for­mat, the stakes aren’t quite the same.

Con­sider the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the League of Al­ter­na­tive Base­ball Re­al­ity. Our trade dead­line was also this past week­end. And I’m one of two teams bat­tling it out for the Na­tional League ti­tle.

I’m trail­ing by a cou­ple points in the stand­ings, but with a siz­able lead in both ERA and WHIP, I could trade one of my start­ing pitch­ers for a boost in the hit­ting cat­e­gories, all of which are ex­tremely close. In the past month, I made sev­eral of­fers to other own­ers that would net me a bit more power and/or speed. But no deals.

The prob­lem is, the team in first place also has ex­cess pitch­ing that he can trade for an all-im­por­tant hit­ting up­grade.

(At the be­gin­ning of Week 23: He led 223-219 in home runs, 734-730 in RBI and 84-81 in stolen bases. I led 783-767 in runs scored. If I could flip any of those cat­e­gories, I take the over­all lead.)

How would a typ­i­cal fan­tasy owner han­dle such a sit­u­a­tion? If LABR is sup­posed to be an ex- am­ple of how “ex­perts” play the game, do I have an obli­ga­tion to do ev­ery­thing I can to win? Should the rest of teams in the league con­tinue mak­ing deals to im­prove their po­si­tion in the stand­ings, even if they can’t win? Or should they not trade with the top two in prin­ci­ple to avoid af­fect­ing the out­come?

So I posed this ques­tion on Twit­ter.

You’re in 10th place in a Roto league with two teams far ahead of ev­ery­one. They both of­fer you a trade. Do you ... uAc­cept the bet­ter of­fer (49%) uHelp who you want to win (5%)

uRefuse to trade with ei­ther (32%)

uDepends on whether it’s a free or money league (14%)

The re­sults sur­prised me. A near-ma­jor­ity was in fa­vor of ac­cept­ing which­ever trade of­fer helped their team more.

While about one-third of the vot­ers said they wouldn’t trade with ei­ther of the top teams, the lack of a mon­e­tary prize for win­ning LABR made the re­sults a vir­tual toss-up.

From those fi­nal num­bers, it shouldn’t have been too dif­fi­cult to find just one owner among the other 10 will­ing to make a deal with me.

As the trade dead­line came and went, both of us ended up stand­ing pat. (In­ter­est­ingly, we in­de­pen­dently ex­pressed the same mixed feel­ings ear­lier in the week on our pod­casts and came to the same con­clu­sions. It’s bet­ter to stick with the teams we built over the course of the first five months than try to lever­age our po­si­tions to get the best deal from an­other owner who had noth­ing to gain by mak­ing a trade.)

I’m sure I’d feel dif­fer­ently with a sig­nif­i­cant amount of cash on the line for fin­ish­ing first. As sev- eral read­ers pointed out, it also would have made a dif­fer­ence if this were a keeper league and the other teams could have traded to im­prove their stand­ing for next sea­son.

In the end, as much as we like to think fan­tasy base­ball is sim­i­lar to the real game, there’s at least one ma­jor dif­fer­ence.

Win­ning isn’t the one and only ob­jec­tive. There’s an el­e­ment of fair play, com­pe­ti­tion and sportsmanship that comes with be­ing in a fan­tasy league with a group of friends.

Don’t get me wrong. Both of us would love to win LABR this year, but at the end of the day, I see my league­mates as friends more than ri­vals.

FOL­LOW FAN­TASY ED­I­TOR STEVE GARD­NER

KEL­LEY L. COX, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

In his first three games with the Angels, Justin Up­ton went 5-for-11 with five walks and four runs.

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