Buy Low, Buy Now

Here we are just a week and a half from baseball's July trade deadline, but also nearing two thirds completion of the season.  If you're in the average fantasy league, that means you have little more than a month to make trades before the final mad dash to the finish.  There are a number of good second half sleeper lists out there but I just wanted to cover a few guys who look like promising buy low candidates.  These guys have performed so far below expectation that you should be able to get them in trade for far less than they will be worth. 

The two most obvious candidates are Carlos Delgado and Chipper Jones.  Both guys have been beset by injuries, but both appear to be healthy and in good situations to produce.  But both guys have such long track records that I don't think any fantasy owner is going to sell them at a steep discount.  If they do, you need a more challenging league.

No, the guys I want to focus on are players who haven't been playing regularly long enough to establish a solid track record and there might still be some question as to whether they are as good as they looked previously or as bad as they looked this year.

Kevin Millar
I can't explain why his home run numbers are down.  His doubles are pretty much in line with what he did last year, so it's not a case of long hits just not clearing the fence.  I do know that he's really been pressing with men in scoring position and hopefully once Nixon and Garciaparra get back to normal he won't have that pressure on himself.  Over the last 3 years he's hit .313 with runners on base, .309 with them in scoring position; this year, he's hitting .229 and .236 respectively.  There's no guarantee that the power will return, but the RBIs should as he trends toward his norm.  That should be helped by the fact that Boston still has thirteen games left against Baltimore (against whom Millar has a career .851 OPS), six against Toronto (.859), twelve with Tampa Bay (.904), and seven with Detroit (.982).

Joe Crede
I think everyone knows that Crede has a history of strong second halves: he's a career .230 hitter before the Break, .293 after.  But what I especially like about his chances this year is that he has twenty-four games left against the two worst pitching staffs in the AL - Kansas City and Cleveland.  In addition, he has nineteen games left against Detroit, against whom he has a lifetime OPS of 1.030.  The White Sox line-up will miss Frank Thomas getting on base all the time, but they still have enough good hitters to provide RBI and run scoring opportunities for Crede hitting in the 7th and 8th spots in the line-up.  If past is prologue, he's due for a big power explosion.  He hit 11 homers after the Break last year; 12 the year before, the same year he hit 24 in AAA before his call-up.

Scott Spiezio
Spiezio has looked awful all year.  After getting off to a strong start back from his rehab, he's finishing his third consecutive month of hitting under .200.  There's a very good chance that will change.  The first reason is that, like Crede, he always seems to do better after the Break.  His career batting average after the Break is more than 30 points better than it is before, and his OPS goes up over 80 points.  The second reason is that he has the lowest G/F ratio (0.53) of any regular hitter in the majors.  The only other guys below 0.60 are Jose Valentin, Mike Lowell and Adam Dunn.  The third reason is that he's swinging at good pitches to hit.  His walk/strikeout ratio the past 2 months is 16/19.  He's just not hitting his pitches.  I don't know that he'll have a monster second half, but he does look like a textbook buy low candidate.  And since the M's gave him a 3-year deal before this season, he'll get plenty of opportunity to prove it.

Toby Hall
People have been predicting a breakout season for Toby Hall for three years now yet it still hasn't happened.  However, the characteristics are there: good walk-to-strikeout rates, good contact rates, peak age... so this maybe the year.  Last year, he appeared to have bought into his own hype as the next great offensive catcher and reported to camp out of shape.  That extra weight contributed to a disappointing season, the first in which he did not record a strong second half.  This year, he's in shape and having a good season, but not anything to get really excited about.  That will change very soon if his yearly trend of increasing his slugging percentage by an average of almost 80 points after the Break continues.  Plus the D-Rays still have six games against Kansas City and twelve against the Blue Jays left, the two teams Hall has had his greatest success against.

Jay Payton
Petco Park has played a significant role in the muted production of many of the Padres' hitters, but Payton's low output should have been anticipated to some degree.  For the last two years, most of his production has come after the Break and for his career his OPS is 70 points better in the second half.  Much of his improvement in 2002 was due to moving from Shea Stadium to Coors, but last year his post-Break OPS went up 100 points without the benefit of a team switch.  Considering how poorly he's hit so far, an improvement of at least that magnitude should be expected.

I have a few exceptions to my "haven't played regularly long enough" rule, but I thought these guys were worth mentioning, too

Edgardo Alfonzo

Alfonzo is another one of those guys who seems to turn it up in the second half: .281/.771 OPS before, .295/.829 OPS after.  The back problems that have plagued him for the past several years remain a concern, but this is a hitter who averaged 20 homers every 500 at bats from 1999-2002 playing in two of the toughest pitchers parks in the majors.  He won't reach that many this year, but he could get to the mid-teens and it will have absolutely nothing to do with where he hits in the line-up. 

Andruw Jones
He doesn't have the record of second half performances that the previous hitters do, but something has clicked on for Jones this month and he looks like the hitter that rivaled Vlad Guerrero in the minors as to who would end up being the better hitter.  After the first 3 months of walking less than half as many times as he struck out, Jones is now walking almost as much.  The improved eye at the plate is paying dividends; he's hitting .281 and slugging .596 this month and if this is a trend rather than just a hot month, he could be in for a monster second half with a healthy Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, Chipper Jones and JD Drew hitting ahead of him. 

Shawn Green
I find it hard to believe that I'm writing this because after seeing him struggle the last year and a half, it really looked as though Green was on a serious downspin.  But he's actually a decent candidate for a second half surge.  Last year's absence of home run power was largely due to an uncharacteristic surge in doubles power.  He has a history of strong second half performances with an OPS nearly 50 points better after the Break.  He's a streak hitter, as evidenced by his 7-homer, 24 RBI September last year and his 22-homer surge in May and June of 2002, so you never know when he'll go on a tear.  Unfortunately, you also never know when he's going to disappear either, like he did in July of 2002, hitting only 3 homers.  He still has seven games at Coors left on his schedule so if he doesn't have a strong second half, at least there will be a week's worth of games where he'll be studly.  But I suspect he'll be worth trading for.