Bargain shopping in the NL

If you read my columns regularly, in addition to being in need of a more fulfilling Internet experience, you’ve probably read me make many references to buying risk at the right price. To me, the ideal risks don’t cost an arm and a leg and have generally tolerable downside, injury outcomes excluded. This week, I’d like to look at a few sensible, mid-priced risks I find enticing going into next year. My intent here is to highlight players who could likely be available outside the top 100. As a point of semantic clarification, this is not a column about sleepers, but one about projected bargains.

Casey McGehee. Many people seemed to think that McGehee’s hot second half in 2009 was a fluke. He hadn’t an illustrious minor league track record and was not a highly touted prospect. His 2009 success and power surge seemed to come out of nowhere. Yet, in 2010, he basically did the same thing he did in 2009, over the course of a full season. The peripherals were similar enough that it does not seem like it was a fluke.

But, there’s nothing sexy about McGehee. He doesn’t seem to do anything amazingly well, but he’s poised to turn in very useful numbers in three of five standard categories. He’s something of an afterthought when people think of a potent Brewers line-up that boasts Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, a rejuvenated Corey Hart and a Rickie Weeks who waited until the hype died to live up to it. In 2010, much was made of a somewhat newly thin and top-heavy 3B position, and I presume the same storyline will pervade 2011 hot stove fantasy talk. In these situations, solid upper middle class products that avoid luxury price tags aren’t usually plentiful, but McGehee could be one.

Carlos Beltran. Beltran, or Bel-TRAN as the no longer ESPN-affiliated John Miller would say, had a pretty awful 2010. He missed most of the season with an injury, and if you were a Mets fan it seemed like his return date just kept getting pushed further and further back. When he finally returned he was abysmal at the dish and looked like he had lost more than a step in CF. Coming off a stretch in which Beltran was legitimately one of the most valuable players in the entire sport for several seasons, it was a bit of a foray into bizarro world to hear droves of Mets fans clamor that he should be benched and that late-bloomer, post-prospect-hype Angel Pagan was the Gehrig to Beltran’s Pipp.

Short tangent here. My fellow Mets fans have always been ingrates regarding Beltran. He really was one of the best players in baseball; Gold Glove 30/30 centerfielders don’t exactly grow on trees, you know! Yet, he never got his due from the Flushing faithful. I guess much of it comes down to the called third strike in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. But can we have a little perspective here? That curveball was vicious; Beltran admitted that if he had it to do over, he would have went down looking again—he just got beat by a great pitch. The man who threw that pitch was at the time an unknown St. Louis reliever who inherited the closer role ostensibly by accident. But this isn’t 2006 anymore, so can we take a minute to amend our understanding of the situation with new information gleaned from our post crime scene investigation? Beltran got beat by Adam Wainwright who is possibly the second best pitcher in the sport right now, a perennial Cy Young Award candidate, and the possessor of one of the best curveballs in the game. Our best player went down, perplexed, at the hands of an Adam Wainwright curveball—making him merely the signature member of a club that many of the best hitters in baseball have subsequently joined. None of this context seems to matter to the average Mets fan.

Back on track here, Beltran actually emerged to have a torrid September and October. As a reminder to Mets fans, those are the months when other teams play meaningful baseball games. In 2011, Beltran will have had more time to fully heal, and he’ll have the benefit of having an actual preseason to ready himself. He’ll be playing for more than pride; he’ll be playing for his future. And, he’s guaranteed ABs in the middle of a decent offensive team (though in a hitter’s nightmare of a ballpark). He’s certainly a big risk, but his price to peak ratio is worth a gamble. I liken this situation to gambling on Magglio Ordonez last season.

Ike Davis. With so many firstbasemen capable of gaudy stats, how wise is it to invest in somebody who put up a .264/19/71 line and who plays in a big time pitcher’s park? I think deep leaguers, as well as shallow leaguers looking for CI or Util fillers could do a lot worse than Davis. Flushing fans like Ike. His 2010 campaign was fairly impressive for a rookie thrust into the spotlight of NYC with the pressure of swinging clean-up. His slash line against lefties was acceptable, and those who saw him blast off know that his power eruptions are Citi-proof. It’s unlikely that Davis will continue to inhabit the four hole in the order next year, but .275/85/26/90/5 would be an achievable, incremental step forward. Players like Davis, Adam LaRoche, and Gaby Sanchez are great examples of the replacement value argument against taking a first round plunge on Mark Teixeira or Ryan Howard.

Gaby Sanchez. Like Davis, Sanchez put up a quietly impressive rookie season, but will be largely left out of the two-man NL ROY race between Buster Posey and Jason Heyward. Like Davis, Sanchez showcased above average pop in the minors. Sanchez has a few years on Davis, but looking to 2011 they seem to fit a similar archetype—respectable production at a deep position with limited risk and nice, but not stupendous upside.

Geovany Soto. Soto may not fly as far under the radar as I hope simply because of the abject dearth of offensive prowess at catcher. The list is pretty short with Joe Mauer, Brian McCann and Victor Martinez joined by Buster Posey in the top tier of options. Carlos Santana could be an attractive option, presuming he’s fully recuperated, and Mike Napoli can provide punch. But other than that, the well is rather dry. However, Soto’s return to elite catcher producer seemed to have gone largely unnoticed. That may not be the case by draft time 2011, but my gut tells me many will forget about him in 2011.

Drew Stubbs. Stubbs has the potential to become a darling of the fantasy writer community in the off-season. The power half of his power-speed combo has to be taken seriously now, and he has the speed to improve on his 30 steals in 2010. Last season, he basically provided 95 percent of Matt Kemp’s production for 5 percent of the cost. Going into 2011, he has to be one of the cheapest chances at 30/30 available, even if he inherits the super-sleeper tag, inflating his price. One would think that at the minimum he should go ahead of B.J. Upton, and should be considered where Curtis Granderson was going into last season.

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Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross

Interesting names. I like Beltran as a good buy low next year, but I really dont think Soto slips thru the cracks, which is a shame because he only had a limited 2010. I hate not having full seasons of underrated play 🙁

Binod  Kumar Chourasia
Binod Kumar Chourasia

first time read you column. interesting names….


Nice article Derek, but these were good sleepers for 2010!  I had them all on my team this past season (save Beltran) and finished first in my keeper league.  I really don’t think they will go too cheaply in most league auctions in 2011, but you are correct in noting they will all give solid performance for less than optimum prices!