Daily Dose: Sell high for the second half

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While the baseball world pauses for the All-Star break, here are a
dozen players who fantasy owners should be looking to cash in for
maximum value …

Jason Bartlett – Bartlett is batting .347 compared to his career
mark of .286 and has already homered eight times in 68 games after
never going deep even five times in a season previously, so he’s an
easy sell-high pick. His speed will give him plenty of value even if
his bat returns to career norms, so there’s no need to part with
Bartlett unless the offer is strong and someone is willing to overpay.

Nick Blackburn – Aside from great control there’s little in
Blackburn’s track record to suggest that he’ll keep up an ERA in the
low 3.00s. He entered this year with a 4.26 career mark, has the single
worst strikeout rate in the league at 3.9 per nine innings, and is far
from an extreme ground-ball pitcher. Blackburn is a solid starter, but
he’s just not this good and many people seem sold on him right now.

Ryan Franklin – Franklin has the absurd facial hair, sub-1.00 ERA,
and 21 saves of a shutout closer, but his low-90s fastball and modest
7.1 strikeouts per nine innings combined with an unsustainably amazing
.207 batting average on balls in play signal that he’s not long for the
unhittable category. If you can convince another owner to value him
like a truly elite closer, pounce on the offer.

J.A. Happ – Happ has gone from undervalued to overvalued in the span
of about two months, which is what happens when a rookie goes 6-0 with
a 2.90 ERA for the defending champs. In reality Happ is a 26-year-old
who had a 4.20 ERA with strong strikeout rates and poor control at
Triple-A. He’ll keep missing bats and should remain a solid starter,
but don’t expect his ERA to stay under 4.00.

Adam Kennedy – Kennedy came out of nowhere to bat .390 with a 1.084
OPS in May, but the 33-year-old career .276/.329/.392 hitter has batted
.237/.291/.349 since. He’s already fallen back down to earth, but
there’s still more to come and it makes sense to cash him in before the
inflated value completely dries up. He’s perhaps the least risky
sell-high player on this list, so just start shopping him.

Raul Ibanez – Setting aside his quarreling with a blogger and recent
return from a groin injury, Ibanez is having a career-year at the age
of 37 and those tend not to last. He never managed even a .900 OPS
prior to this season, yet is currently sporting a 1.015 OPS that ranks
third in the NL behind Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Ibanez is a
plenty good hitter, but he’s just not an MVP-caliber player.

Brandon Inge – Getting shut out in the Home Run Derby may be a sign
of things to come for Inge in the second half. He’s always had 20-homer
power, but going deep 21 times in 86 games is something entirely
different and maintaining a .268 batting average will also be difficult
given his .239 career mark. Catcher eligibility gives Inge plenty of
value no matter what, but a .240-10-35 second half is likely.

Jason Marquis – He came into this season with a 79-70 record and
4.55 ERA, so naturally Marquis has 11 wins and a 3.65 ERA in his first
year calling Coors Field home. Marquis has legitimately improved by
supplementing his usual horrendous strikeout rate and poor control by
inducing significantly more grounders, so he’s not doomed for a 6.00
post-break ERA, but there’s no first-half repeat coming.

Joe Mauer – You’ll never find a bigger Mauer fan than Yours Truly,
but the power that he displayed upon coming off the disabled list in
May was ultimately a fluke and while Mauer without power is still one
of the game’s elite all-around players in real life his fantasy value
will never be more inflated. If shouldn’t shock anyone if he wins a
third batting title, but he has just three homers in the past 35 games.

Kevin Millwood – After posting ERAs of 4.52, 5.16, and 5.07 during
his first three Rangers seasons Millwood is currently sporting a 3.46
mark that was under 3.00 as recently as last week. Nothing has changed
within the nuts and bolts of his performance, as Millwood’s strikeout,
walk, and ground-ball rates are all sub par while his ball-in-play
batting average is 35 points better than his career mark.

Scott Rolen – He’s stayed healthy enough to play in 77 of 90 games
while hitting .320 and one or both of those things figures to change in
the second half. Rolen has never hit even .300 before and 2003 was the
last time he missed fewer than 20 games in a season. Unless he
rediscovers the power stroke that appears to have vanished after 2006,
Rolen will disappoint a lot of owners down the stretch.

Ben Zobrist – Zobrist finally figured out big-league pitching and
added power to his resume last year, so what he’s done this season
isn’t quite as shocking as it first appears. With that said, whenever a
28-year-old career .222/.279/.370 hitter who slugged just 23 homers in
364 games in the minors goes off for 17 homers and a 1.012 OPS in the
first half … well, you can feel pretty safe selling high.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.