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Hamilton trade offers statistical hope

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Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Angels have apparently decided they want no part in keeping troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton around any longer, as a trade to the Texas Rangers is rumored to be finalized on Monday. Hamilton delivered several strong seasons with the Rangers before signing with the Angels prior to the 2013 campaign, and there are those who believe once he’s healthy and back to his old comfort level geographically that all will be well, that the former American League MVP can return to prior heights. It sure would be a great outcome if that occurred, but it’s rather optimistic and fantasy owners shouldn’t expect a sudden infusion of difference-making offense.

Hamilton has been in steep statistical decline since the second half of the 2012 season, when his batting average and contact rates took nosedives, and the strikeouts went way up. The Angels signed him anyway, despite a rather sketchy track record off the field as well. For the Angels, Hamilton managed to hit a mere .255 with 31 home runs in 1,017 plate appearances in two years, but offered little else to help a fantasy or real team. Hamilton boasts an impressive career .519 slugging percentage; last year it was more than 100 points worse than that, and against right-handed pitching Hamilton was considerably less of a threat, slugging .377. Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ben Revere nearly slugged that well in 2014, and he’s no power hitter.

There are those who will point out Hamilton’s sole problem was being away from his support system in Arlington, Texas, and that the shoulder that eventually required surgery this offseason and will keep him out for at least another month won't be an issue. Sure, this is all possible. Statistical analysts can’t possibly measure the mental aspects of player performance, and the fact is most people don’t really know what was going on behind the scenes with Hamilton the past few years. We do know he is extremely talented, and once was a true difference-maker statistically. Therefore I don’t want to say it’s impossible Hamilton, available in 94 percent of ESPN standard leagues, becomes a fantasy-relevant option in 2015. It certainly could happen. Hamilton could hit for power and if he does this, the other stuff won’t matter. However, his statistical profile since midway through 2012 is not a positive one and he clearly brings risk, on and off the field.

I think the Rangers will welcome him back and hope he can give them half a season of power in left field. It’s not as though the team has Barry Bonds playing that position these days, you know. Unproven and currently injured Ryan Rua won the job out of spring training, and Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero haven’t done much since. Rangers left fielders are hitting .172 with a .580 OPS (eight teams are actually worse). Hamilton can and should, on raw skill alone, improve on this. If you’ve got an empty DL spot and love to dream, I’m not going to tell you that adding Hamilton is a waste of your time. Stranger things have happened. I don’t expect he's going to be a top-50 outfielder once he starts playing, but a half season with a .260 batting average and double-digit home runs, sure, I’ll go along with that, and that might be an improvement not only for the Rangers, but your fantasy roster.

Meanwhile back in Anaheim, the Angels are actually getting less production from left field than Texas, which is why sending Hamilton away along with most of the money seems a tad ill-sighted. Angels left fielders boast a .385 OPS (not OBP, not slugging, the sum of them). Matt Joyce looks abysmal, and it’s tough to make the case he’ll continue seeing playing time. Collin Cowgill is a platoon player. There’s nothing obvious lurking in the minors, unless third base prospect Kyle Kubitza gets the call and switches positions. The point is, watch the situation, there’s opportunity.

AL report: The Oakland Athletics placed Ben Zobrist on the disabled list Saturday with a tear in his left knee, and surgery will be performed. Zobrist is not expected back until late May at the earliest. Zobrist’s best quality for fantasy owners is probably his versatility, as he’s merely average statistically. Feel free to move on, as even upon his return, Zobrist doesn’t figure to burn fantasy owners who give up on him. … Detroit Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis had quite the weekend, stealing three bases and scoring six runs, but he left Sunday’s outing with groin tightness. Be prepared to look elsewhere this week. … Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit his first home run of the season Sunday, briefly quieting his many critics. Sandoval doesn’t hit .300 anymore and isn’t a major power option, but you’re making a mistake cutting him just because he’s struggled so far in three weeks. There’s a proven track record. … Houston Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick homered and stole two bases Sunday, and his excellent start to 2015 continues. Marisnick remains available in 80 percent of ESPN standard leagues, but as long as he controls the strike zone, there’s clear upside. … Chicago White Sox right-hander David Robertson delivered the rare win and save Sunday, the former in the completion of a suspended contest. Hey, it all counts. … Cleveland Indians outfielder Brandon Moss knocked in seven runs on his five hits during the weekend, reminding fantasy owners he’s not quite done yet.

NL report: Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was placed on the disabled list Sunday with a hamstring injury, and while it would be surprising if fantasy owners cut Puig, a coveted second-round choice in ESPN average live drafts, it’s a perfect time to trade for this talented player. Puig isn’t seriously hurt. He doesn’t even need 15 days off, and he’s still going to deliver excellent numbers this season. … Dodgers manager Don Mattingly finally admitted after Sunday’s game that Alex Guerrero, who embarrassingly started only one of the weekend games and of course homered yet again, will start seeing playing time in left field. Perhaps he read my Friday blog entry on the subject. Or not. The Dodgers have plenty of outfield depth, and depending on the pitcher it’s a good time to stream Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke as well. … While Puig probably didn’t need a DL stint, the Cincinnati Reds continue to bungle the Devin Mesoraco situation. Mesoraco has needed a DL stint for a while for his hip injury. He last started a game more than 15 days ago! Fantasy owners don’t want to drop this potential top-three catcher, but he’s not playing. In one-catcher formats, I’d move on. … Philly’s Revere is a great buy-low option. He hit three triples during the past week, including one Sunday, stole two bases, and his batting average has much growth left. This is the same player from 2014, and a valuable one. As for first baseman Ryan Howard, who homered twice during the weekend and knocked in five runs, it’s certainly possible he can duplicate his 2014 campaign as well. Howard is not a good player, but 20 more home runs isn’t an outrageous request and as with Hamilton, depending on your team makeup, it might be enough to help.