Late May tends to be the time when fantasy baseball managers should start to take their league standings seriously. MLB teams are roughly one-quarter of the way through their schedule, and roto squads who fall far behind in a given category are soon going to have a hard time catching up.
Despite the need to manage categories, I am still mostly focused on trading for value at this point in the season. But in a perfect scenario, I can do both — acquiring someone who fills a need and also has the potential to improve his trade-market stock the rest of the way. Below, you will find some players to target for help in specific categories.
One note: trading for runs and RBIs is sometimes a fool’s errand. The best way to move up in these categories is often to maximize plate appearances by being active with shuffling players in and out of your lineup. I would attack other categories at this point in the season, and only target runs and RBIs if desperate after the All-Star break.
Aaron Nola (SP, Philadelphia Phillies)
Nola ranks fifth in baseball in strikeouts (64) and 13th in WHIP (0.99), which means that he won’t come cheap on the trade market. But there may be a window to acquire the right-hander for a reasonable return from managers who have grown frustrated with his 3.96 ERA and low win total (1). Be sure to mention in the trade offer that this is the third time in four years that Nola has logged an ERA above 3.80 and leave out the fact that most of his ERA indicators are below 3.00.
Alex Cobb (SP, San Francisco Giants)
At first glance, I’ll lose some credibility for recommending Cobb and an ERA-based trade target. After all, the 34-year-old year old has been hurting fantasy teams with his 6.25 ERA this season. Cobb has dealt with awful luck (.411 BABIP, 49.1 percent strand rate), and his 1.82 xERA is the lowest mark of any pitcher who has logged at least 100 plate appearances this year. Cobb also owns a 27.7 percent strikeout rate and with normalized luck he could be a four-category asset the rest of the way. Those in 10-team leagues can grab Cobb from the waiver wire, while managers can 12-team leagues can add him via trade.
Corbin Burnes (SP, Milwaukee Brewers)
I know what you’re thinking “how am I supposed to trade for Corbin Burnes”?! In my preseason predictions article, I guessed that Burnes would be the No. 1 player in fantasy this season. So far, he’s 36th. That has to create a small buy-low window, right? Burnes is awesome and is being held back by two things. First, he has an unlucky win total (two). Second, so many pitchers have started the season off well that his terrific ratios (2.18 ERA, 0.87 WHIP) have had less impact than in a typical season. Since the outset of 2021, Burnes has logged a 0.92 WHIP that is nine points lower than that of any qualified hurler other than injured righty Max Scherzer. He’s the best option to move your team up the WHIP category.
Michael Brantley (OF, Houston Astros)
A consistent batting average asset, Brantley is hitting .283 with an xBA of .326. His strikeout rate is similar to his career norm, while his walk rate is better than usual. Also, his barrel rate (7.0 percent), average exit velocity (90.3 mph) and hard contact rate (47.7 percent) are some of his best marks of the Statcast era. With modest totals in the other categories (3 HR, 15 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB), Brantley should be attainable on the trade market.
Kyle Schwarber (OF, Philadelphia Phillies)
Schwarber has been predictably powerful this season (10 homers), but his .203 average should keep his value down on the trade market. The slugger’s low batting mark is mostly the result of hitting .169 in April, which is hardly surprising when factoring in that he dealt with an abbreviated spring training after being one of baseball’s last free agents to secure a contract. Hitting .234 since the beginning of May, Schwarber projects as someone who will hurt your team’s batting average but won’t drag it down to the point where you can’t recover.
Whit Merrifield (2B/OF, Kansas City Royals)
Merrifield has popped up in this article a few times this season. The 33-year-old started off the campaign in miserable fashion, and his overall numbers (.221/.261/.314 slash line) have yet to recover. But the speedster is hitting .287 in May, which is better than his .277 average from a year ago. And after ranking second in the Majors with 40 swipes a year ago, Merrifield is one of the few players who can move the needle in that category. His fantasy buy-low window remains open, but perhaps not for much longer.