Fantasy baseball: Time to trade Shohei Ohtani?

If your fantasy team isn't winning with Shohei Ohtani, does it make sense to try and win without him? Getty Images

It's June, and the standings matter now.

Let's paint a picture: Your team stands in fifth place, within striking distance of first place, but it's in clear need of some help. Between underperforming hitters and the misfortune of rostering multiple pitchers lost to long-term injuries, your team has turned into an effective one-man show: Shohei Ohtani. He is, by far, your biggest star.

This can be quite the predicament for many fantasy managers.

On one hand, we're dubious when faced with moving our most valuable asset, especially in a split trade (dealing one player for multiples). Many of us, this columnist included, tend to prefer being the team making consolidation trades (dealing multiples for one) to acquire the most prominent player involved.

On the other hand, when our rosters have weaknesses that cannot be filled via free agency and our prospects of rallying to win fade during the summer's approaching weeks, maybe it does make sense to move, say, an Ohtani?

A primary reason we prefer consolidation to split trades is that many fantasy managers fail to understand fair valuation with them. These don't follow the rules of simple math -- no, one plus one does not equal two in this case -- instead demanding an assessment of the players' worth relative to replacement value.

In short, Ohtani has scored roughly 100 more fantasy points than the best-performing player on an ESPN standard league's free agent list so far, assuming 100 rostered hitters (nine starters plus a guesstimated one bench hitter per team). The rest-of-season projections say he should be worth about 125 more fantasy points than said typical free agent. That means that any trade return for him should include players who, combined, are projected for at least 125 points more than the respective replacements at their position and/or on the fantasy teams involved.

This is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Again using ESPN standard settings and rest-of-season projections, that might demand a return including Logan Gilbert, himself the No. 18 SP thus far, and Corbin Carroll, a universal first-round pick during the preseason who has struggled with the bat all year. Both Gilbert and Carroll are projected to score in the ballpark of 65 fantasy points above replacement value the rest of the way, though their name brands might make their managers balk at such a move.

But that's the goal, if you're Ohtani's fantasy manager. Acquire players who either have a high probability of making the math work, and/or deal for players like Carroll, who could pick up his pace and approach his elite 2023 level of production, in the hopes that the extra push can make up some of the deficit your team faces in the standings.

Toss out multiple offers to teams with a wealth of roster depth and see what sticks, but don't for a second assume that, say, a 195-point projected Brady Singer and 170-point projected Jonathan India add up to plenty enough for your 285-point projected Ohtani. Singer and India are only marginally more valuable than an ESPN standard league's replacement player, so that deal fails the math test.

Here are three prospective split trades that Ohtani's managers who are staring up at a standings deficit could consider:

Ohtani for Ozzie Albies and Cole Ragans: Second base has proven to be one of the tougher positions to fill this season, and Albies projects for 65-70 fantasy points above replacement value the rest of the way, a similar number to Ragans (+55). Ragans' workload might come into question by late summer, but he has metrics that prop him up as a pitcher just outside the positional elite.

Ohtani for George Kirby and Manny Machado: This one is for the teams in need of a pitching boost as, despite Kirby's sluggish start, his underlying metrics reflect similar excellence to his 2023 figures. Machado is another consistently reliable year-over-year hitter who should improve his performance in the coming weeks. Kirby projects for 75-80 points above replacement value and Machado 40.

Othani for Adley Rutschman and Francisco Lindor: It's never easy to trade for the top player at a given position, but catcher can be a tricky spot, with more depth than necessary to fill the 10 starting spots in a standard league. It's conceivable that a manager might have an excess, affording them the opportunity to move the +75 projected Rutschman for one of the game's top hitters, while including the historically slow-starting, but +65 projected Lindor.

Ohtani isn't the only star who fits this description.

Scouring the rankings, eight other players fit this "seemingly undealable" description. They're listed below, along with a synopsis of what it should take to trade away each:

Mookie Betts, OF/2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: He's a tough player to trade primarily because of his positional eligibility, as the projections say he should score as many as 160 fantasy points more than the No. 11 player at any of his three eligible spots the rest of the way. If Betts doesn't demand one of the next seven names (or Ohtani) as part of the trade return, he'd almost assuredly require someone just outside this group, such as a Gunnar Henderson or Yordan Alvarez.

Corbin Burnes, SP, Baltimore Orioles: He's one of two pitchers who shapes up as a clear franchise piece, projecting for 100 fantasy points better than replacement value the rest of the way. From a mere 2-for-1 pitching perspective, Burnes in an ESPN standard league would be the trade equivalent of, say, Bailey Ober and Grayson Rodriguez.

Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees: A player with greater appeal in rotisserie than the ESPN standard, Judge's performance when healthy rivals anyone's from within this group, hence his inclusion. A healthy Judge could be 130 fantasy points (or more) greater than replacement value, but if you're worried about his durability over the summer months, that would be the level at which you should cash in.

Juan Soto, OF, New York Yankees: If not for Betts' position eligibility, Soto and his +160 projection would be the most valuable player in ESPN standard points leagues. Expect a similar return to Betts in a trade.

Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Guardians: Perhaps the most underrated fantasy superstar in the game, he's the third player in the +160 range in terms of projected points above replacement value. Ramirez for Soto straight up is plenty fair, but otherwise, seek someone in the aforementioned Henderson-Alvarez tier as half of the return.

Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros: One of the most complete, consistent, universally excellent players in all of fantasy baseball, Tucker projects for about 155 fantasy points above replacement value the rest of the way. He's nearly the star that Betts, Judge or Ramirez are.

Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies: He might be the toughest pitcher to trade currently, the No. 1 fantasy starting pitcher who projects for roughly 125 more points than replacement value. Wheeler is also not far off the Betts/Judge/Ramirez level of fantasy valuation, so adjust your expected return accordingly.

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals: Included in part because of his massive rotisserie value -- he's tops on the Player Rater, ahead of Ohtani, then Soto, then Ramirez -- Witt is plenty valuable in points leagues as well, projected for 115 points above replacement value. He'd be the type of player who would warrant a near-first-round talent in the former format as half of any return.