Josh Hamilton: Biggest wild card of all

Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton enters Wednesday ranked a sterling 13th on the ESPN Player Rater this season, so one might think he'd be a great guy to trade for in fantasy this week. Perhaps you're contemplating moving the incredible Mike Trout for Hamilton plus a pitcher such as Zack Greinke. Or maybe you're enjoying the fine work of Colorado Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge and love your middle infield depth, so you figure it'd be OK to move New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano for Hamilton.

Here's the thing: Trends are far more significant than season numbers this time of year. Hamilton is an obvious but important case of a player who clearly has not done his best work lately -- or in his specific case, since May -- and that makes each of the above potential trades seem unbalanced today.

For example, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera has been incredible since the All-Star break, and is about the only fellow currently keeping up with Trout for AL MVP honors. But for the season, Cabrera and Hamilton boast similar numbers.

Each has hit 29 home runs, tied with a few others for second in baseball behind Adam Dunn. Cabrera and Hamilton rank No. 1 and 2 in season RBIs with 95 and 91, respectively. Neither provides much in terms of stolen bases, and the main Player Rater difference is, of course, in the batting average category, where Cabrera has a big edge. That said, Hamilton is hitting .284, so it's not like, in a vacuum, his batting average has been an issue. However, it certainly has been the past two months!

The Hamilton owner in one of my leagues has been trying to trade him for a month, without success, mainly because we don't want to give what would appear to be proper season-long value for a player who enters Wednesday not only hitting .202 with an Omar Vizquel-like .552 OPS since the All-Star break, but after hitting .368 through May, Hamilton is hitting .208 since.

Essentially, if you trade for Josh Hamilton this week, in advance of Friday's ESPN standard-league trade deadline, you're getting a guy who has been Adam Dunn, but with half the power, for more than two months. Since June 1, Hamilton has eight home runs and 34 RBIs with that .208 batting average. Dunn has hit .184 with 15 home runs and 38 RBIs.

OK, so those numbers aren't easy to look at if you own Hamilton, but the point, again, is that trends are far more important than season numbers as we get to the final two months of the season. Look at Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz; I'm guessing the reason he remains available in roughly 20 percent of leagues -- and that's up 20 percent in the past week -- is because his season ERA is 4.48. It's also 1.98 in five starts since the All-Star break, and in nine starts since the start of June -- when Hamilton started struggling -- his ERA is 2.17. Now, would you trade Hamilton for Buchholz? Whether you needed pitching or not, based on more than two months of data, you should! Hamilton is hurting fantasy teams since June began, and even the most optimistic among us wouldn't predict a return to April/May production. Hopefully he can hit .275 the rest of the way and increase his power a bit.

I can't begin to imagine what it's like to be Hamilton. By now we all know of his past, the demons he has dealt with, but he's also one of the most skilled, talented hitters in the game, and he'll make tons of money as a free agent this winter. Rangers president Nolan Ryan recently ripped his star about his plate discipline, which was dead on. Hey, Hamilton walked Tuesday night. The last time he drew a free pass prior to that was July 29. Season numbers tell us he's not a wild, impatient swinger, but in the past few months, he has been.

Hamilton is not the same hitter he was in April and May, and fantasy owners need to take this into serious account this week. Do you trade for him, hoping he turns things around? Do you trade him away, assuming he won't? Do you do nothing because of all the players in the game, his value is the toughest to pinpoint? Um, yeah, the final one makes sense there.

Baseball fans and fantasy owners often forget these people are not machines. They're human beings, and other issues factor into on-field performance. Hamilton claims he has been trying to quit using smokeless tobacco, and there have been rumors of off-field problems. It's possible that Hamilton hits .350 the rest of the season with 15 home runs. It really is. But it's also possible he continues to hit about .200 with modest power.

What am I doing with Hamilton this week? Well, if I can get anything close to market value for him, I trade him. And if I can acquire him for a package that would have seemed embarrassing in May, I do it. But neither of those situations seems viable today. With Buchholz, Cabrera, Trout and a hundred others, we know the value. With Hamilton, he's just a big risk.