Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Week That Was
Relievers coming and going, the Moose seemingly fading, and hot hitting from the Gamester this week's Week That Was.

Bob Wickman: Reports out of Atlanta have the Braves designating Bob Wickman for assignment. This is a bit odd. You would at least expect the Braves to try and move him to a team in need of middle relief. That said, it is hardly a surprise that the Braves have lost faith in Wickman. It is nearly impossible to succeed as a closer while allowing over 1.5 baserunners per inning. What to do from a fantasy perspective? Well, first, cut bait on Wickman. Without the saves, he hurts your team. Second, go get Rafael Soriano. Not only is he the odds on favorite for saves in Atlanta, Sori has a WHIP under 1.00 and a K/BB of over 4:1. Hot ratios indeed. The one risk with Soriano is that Octavio Dotel will return in September and has more closing experience. For those in desperate need of saves, Dotel is worth squirreling away now.

Chase Utley: Chase Utley is set to start a rehab assignment with an eye toward returning on Sunday or early next week. If you own Utley, given how much you surely paid, you have no choice but to activate him and hope for the best. However, you need to keep your expectations in check. Players returning from hand or wrist injuries often show a significant decline in power from their pre-injury stats. For example, Lyle Overbay, who sustained a similar injury, has homered every 40+ AB this year -- a far cry from last year and pre-injury projections for this year. Miguel Tejada has had a similar experience, homering approximately every 30 AB as compared to last year's 20. Bottom line: do not rush out to grab Utley unless you get a real discount from pre-season prices.

Ryan Dempster: Cubs skipper Lou Piniella announced that Ryan Dempster has deposed the committee and is now the solo closer. It is true that Dempster has been very good since ugly back to back outings against the Mets in early August. However, Piniella is famous for disinformation. Thus, if you own Dempster, it is a good time to dump him. Piniella will change his mind. Strike while the iron is hot. This writer has no doubt that Lou will go with the hot hand the rest of the way (whether that be Howry, Marmol, or even Kerry Wood).

Joel Zumaya: Joel Zumaya was lit up Thursday, giving up three runs in one inning and taking the loss in a key divisional game. This situation presents a tough call for roto owners. On the one hand Zumaya was lights out last year. However, his 100 mph heater has not helped him be consistently effective this year. In the end, the safe play is to reserve Zumaya until he puts two or three good outings together (and given how many innings he tossed in relief at a young age in 2006, that may not happen until next year). That said, if you are out of it and can snag Joel for next year, that is a move worth pursuing.

Craig Monroe: The Cubs won the Craig Monroe "sweepstakes," acquiring the outfielder from the Tigers for a player to be named later. Boy, this situation is a tough one. On one hand, Monroe has hit 89 HR in the past 4 completed seasons. On the other hand, his batting average has been declining year after year. In the end, I think only the most power hungry, need to catch lightning in a bottle owners should take a run at Monroe. The Cubs have a lot of moving parts and it is just not clear how much Monroe will play. Just when he gets hot, you will click on the TV and see Mark Derosa move from second base to the outfield in place of Monroe. Who needs that kind of roto disappointment?

Mike Mussina: In a story that really makes me sad, there are indications out of Yankee camp that Mike Mussina may lose his spot in the rotation. Well, admittedly, the Moose has been awful in his last two starts. In fact one of the biggest Moose fans I know was forced to ask "is he even trying" while watching the latest debacle. If you own Moose, you may as well hold and see how he does against Detroit this week. Bottom line ? there is a bit of panic here that needs to be erased. Yes, Moose stunk in his last two starts. However, in the 7 preceding starts, Moose gave up more than 3 runs only once. The Yankees need Moose and will not cut bait.

Franklin Gutierrez: Franklin Gutierrez continues to stake his claim to serious playing time. Wednesday, he belted a three-run homer and added a double in the Tribe's victory over Detroit. With Trot Nixon not doing anything, there is little reason for the Indians to sit Gutierrez. After hitting .341 in AAA this year, Franklin has belted 9 dingers in just 160 AB's in the show. Look for continued production down the stretch. For those in keeper leagues, this is one to latch onto now. Soon, if not already, it will be too late.

Jason Varitek: Jason Varitek continues to struggle. Yes, he is a solid receiver and a very good leader. However, those two things and a metrocard will get you on the subway when it comes to fantasy baseball. Varitek is in danger of approaching the Mendoza line in the second half. The bottom line is that aging catchers not named Posada fade in the second half as the wear and tear takes its toll. Sell Varitek if you can find a buyer. He will drag down your offense for the rest of the year if you don't.

Milton Bradley: The gamester is back and looking strong (ok, I know he is just another injury away from frustrating his owners from Rockland County all the way to San Diego, but he is hot now). Last night, Bradley belted two dingers to further bloat his gaudy numbers since joining the Pods -- .368, 7 HR and 24 RBI in just 27 games. Buy and hope for continued health.

Chris Capuano: You know the mighty have fallen when a starter dropped from the rotation gives up 4 runs in 5 innings of relief and that is considered a decent outing. Capuano, who was dropped from the Brewers rotation, should not be active in any format. Here is one thing to watch however. If the Cap owner in your keeper league dumps him this week, make the cheap pickup if you either are out of it or can store him on taxi. There is talent there, it just has been hidden since the spring.

Last but not least, this week's Schultz Says: "If you're still reading roto-baseball columns at this point, you don't need anyone to tell you that Hanley Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and Albert Pujols have been tearing it up the last few weeks. You've been there, done that and text messaged your dorky friends about how great it was, probably sent them a fuzzy cameraphone shot of someone who really isn't Scarlett Johansson too. (For new readers, we at The Week That Was are big fans of young Miss Scarlett).

For those of you still bothering to read past the first paragraph, the least I can do is point out a few hidden talents lurking in the roto-verse; especially since its unlikely that anyone will put a Scarlett Johansson picture next to the opening stanza. Seriously, wouldn't we all rather see Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive instead of yet another stock photo of some ballplayer. Speaking of sexy though, some of these suggestions may not look and feel like sleek pickups but in a close race, they may give you that added boost into the top echelon of your league.

If you've been watching the Pirates lately, I feel bad for you as you're either from Pittsburgh or in some serious need of outside interests. However, you would among the few that are cognizant of how well Freddy Sanchez and Nate McLouth have been playing. Last year's batting champion was hindered out of the blocks with an injured knee, causing many to write off the former hot prospect as the 2006 version of Bill Mueller. Now that Sanchez is healthy, he's in a serious groove and is a tough out. Jump on him if you can, he will finish strong. McLouth is benefiting from Chris Duffy's injury and making the most of it. His overall numbers aren't impressive; his last ten days, in which he's hit 5 home runs while hitting .333 and scoring 12 runs, are. He is likely on your waiver wire waiting to help you in September.

Jeff Keppinger is another whodat that is toiling away in the anonymity of Cincinnati. Currently hitting .371, Keppinger's minor league numbers show that the high average may not be a total fluke. After uninspiring stints with the Mets and Royals, Keppinger will likely have a role in the Reds lineup for the rest of the season. He may not be a franchise player but why not ride his hot streak while he's on it? As he's shortstop eligible, there are many worse options out there.

Another hot shortstop is playing in Seattle. One of the key ingredients to Seattle's refusal to fade away has been the emergence of Yuniesky Betancourt. After a miserable first half, Betancourt has been as hot as Ichiro. Over the last month, Betancourt is hitting .367 and shown surprising pop in his bat, slugging 4 HRs to equal his career season-high. No one will be cowering in fear when you pick him up so slyly grab him and reap the benefits.

One football related note: if you take Larry Johnson with a high first round pick, you are an idiot. It had to be said.

Now, Glenn, if the season were to end today, would the Indians be in the playoffs? Would the Yankees?

Response: Good one. Not! Seriously, Schultz is right about one thing ? we are big Scarlett fans! Ok, really seriously ? Keppinger continues to rake and makes a quality pickup for the stretch run. However, I worry about McLouth and Sanchez as Pittsburgh is hardly a mecca for offensive production. As to LJ and football, I hear this LaDanian guy is pretty good.

Final thought: I bet the Yankees wish they had a lefty Joba too. Watching Sean Henn lay eggs is just getting downright sickening. If you own Henn in a fantasy league, you should be banned from playing ever again. In the heat of a pennant race, Henn has given up 9 runs in his last three outings (including 3 baserunners per inning). Geez, even Schultzie throwing with his off-hand is a better choice at this point.

Have a great weekend all.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

The Plot Thickens
As we approach the final month of the baseball season, many battles are still being fought. Nine teams remain within five games of the Wildcard. Six players are separated by a mere four points of each other in pursuit of the NL Batting Title. Each league's Cy Young and MVP awards are still up for grabs, and the future champion of your fantasy league still has a lot of work to do. The Week Ahead will preview week 22 of the fantasy baseball season to help you make those difficult lineup decisions.

Two-start pitchers:
Great options:
Jake Peavy SD vs. ARI Livan Hernandez, vs. LA Brett Tomko
Brandon Webb ARI @ SD Justin Germano, vs. COL Josh Fogg
Daisuke Matsuzaka BOS @ NYY Andy Pettitte, vs. BAL Garrett Olson
Justin Verlander DET vs. NYY Mike Mussina, @ OAK Dan Haren
Andy Pettitte NYY vs. BOS Daisuke Matsuzaka, vs. TB Jason Hammel
John Lackey LAA @ SEA Miguel Batista, vs. TEX John Rheinecker
A.J. Burnett TOR @ OAK Esteban Loaiza, vs. SEA Jeff Weaver
Tom Glavine NYM @ PHI Fabio Castro, @ ATL Lance Cormier
Rich Hill CHC vs. MIL Dave Bush, vs. HOU Woody Williams
Derek Lowe LA vs. WAS Mike Bacsik, @ SD Justin Germano
Tom Gorzelanny PIT vs. CIN Bronson Arroyo, @ MIL Yovani Gallardo
Barry Zito SF vs. COL Josh Fogg, @ WAS Mike Bacsik

More strong options:
Mike Mussina NYY @ DET Justin Verlander, vs. TB Edwin Jackson
Daniel Cabrera BAL vs. TB Jason Hammel, @ BOS Julian Tavarez
Bronson Arroyo CIN @ PIT Tom Gorzelanny, @ STL Adam Wainwright
Miguel Batista SEA vs. LAA John Lackey, @ TOR Dustin McGowan
Jake Westbrook CLE vs. MIN Boof Bonser, vs. CHW Jon Garland
Dave Bush MIL @ CHC Rich Hill, vs. PIT Paul Maholm
Paul Byrd CLE vs. MIN Carlos Silva, vs. CHW Jose Contreras
Jon Garland CHW @ TEX Kason Gabbard, @ CLE Jake Westbrook
Nate Robertson DET @ KC Leo Nunez, @ OAK Esteban Loaiza
Scott Olsen FLA vs. ATL Lance Cormier, vs. PHI Fabio Castro
Braden Looper STL @ HOU Woody Williams, vs. CIN Elizardo Ramirez
Kason Gabbard TEX vs. CHW Jon Garland, @ LAA Kelvim Escobar
Livan Hernandez ARI @ SD Jake Peavy, vs. COL Elmer Dessens
Carlos Silva MIN @ CLE Paul Byrd, vs. KC Leo Nunez
Jeff Weaver SEA vs. LAA Ervin Santana, @ TOR A.J. Burnett

Other two-starters:
Justin Germano SD vs. ARI Brandon Webb, vs. LA Derek Lowe
Esteban Loaiza OAK vs. TOR A.J. Burnett, vs. DET Nate Robertson
Paul Maholm PIT vs. CIN Elizardo Ramirez, @ MIL Dave Bush
Jose Contreras CHW vs. TB Edwin Jackson, @ CLE Paul Byrd
Woody Williams HOU vs. STL Braden Looper, @ CHC Rich Hill
Edwin Jackson TB @ CHW Jose Contreras, @ NYY Mike Mussina
J.D. Durbin PHI vs. NYM Brian Lawrence, @ FLA Daniel Barone
Josh Fogg COL @ SF Barry Zito, @ ARI Brandon Webb
Brian Lawrence NYM @ PHI J.D. Durbin, @ ATL Jo-Jo Reyes
Leo Nunez KC vs. DET Nate Robertson, @ MIN Carlos Silva
Lance Cormier ATL @ FLA Scott Olsen, vs. NYM Tom Glavine
Mike Bacsik WAS @ LA Derek Lowe, vs. SF Barry Zito
Jason Hammel TB @ BAL Daniel Cabrera, @ NYY Andy Pettitte
Elizardo Ramirez CIN @ PIT Paul Maholm, @ STL Braden Looper
Fabio Castro PHI vs. NYM Tom Glavine, @ FLA Scott Olsen

Team-by-team Game Totals:
Seven-game schedule: ARI, CHW, CLE, CIN, DET, KC, MIN, NYM, NYY, PHI, PIT, SD, SEA, TB
Six-game schedule: ATL, BAL, BOS, CHC, COL, FLA, HOU, LA, LAA, MIL, OAK, SF, STL, TEX, TOR, WAS
Five-game schedule: none
Doubleheaders CIN/PIT (Tue), KC/MIN (Fri)

Rain threatened games:
Monday, 8/27: ATL @ FLA (40%)
Tuesday, 8/28: STL @ HOU (40%)
Wednesday, 8/29: ATL @ FLA (40%), STL @ HOU (40%)
Thursday, 8/30: STL @ HOU (40%), DET @ KC (40%), MIL @ CHC (40%)
Friday, 8/31: PHI @ FLA (40%)
Saturday, 9/1 PHI @ FLA (40%)
Sunday, 9/2: NYM @ ATL (60%), PHI @ FLA (60%)

Stadium Factor:
ESPN - MLB Park Factors - Major League Baseball
Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.
A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher.

Top Hitter's Park Schedules:
1. Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.183 runs - 3 vs BAL
3. Angel Stadium (Angels) 1.142 runs ? 3 vs TEX
4. Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.128 runs ? 3 vs MIL, 3 vs HOU
5. Jacobs Field (Indians) 1.124 runs ? 3 vs MIN, 1 vs SEA, 3 vs CHW
6. Yankee Stadium (Yankees) 1.122 runs ? 3 vs BOS, 3 vs TB

No Games: 2. Coors Field (Rockies) 1.182 runs

Top Pitcher's Park Schedules:
1. Petco Park (Padres) 0.802 runs - 4 vs ARI, 3 vs LA
2. McAfee Coliseum (Athletics) 0.823 runs ? 3 vs TOR, 3 vs DET
4. Metrodome (Twins) 0.866 runs ? 3 vs KC
5. Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.886 runs ? 3 vs CIN
6. Turner Field (Braves) 0.903 runs ? 3 vs NYM

No Games: 3. Tropicana Field (Devil Rays) 0.846 runs

Caught Stealing %:
Easiest to steal against (total SBs)
1. Jason Kendall, CHC 93-for-110 SB ? 3 vs MIL, 3 vs HOU
2. Jorge Posada, NYY 80-for-105 SB ? 1 @ DET, 3 vs BOS, 3 vs TB
3. Russell Martin, LA 70-for-103 SB ? 3 vs WAS, 3 @ SD
4. Ronny Paulino, PIT 60-for-84 SB ? 3 vs CIN, 3 @ MIL
5. Brian McCann, ATL 55-for-73 SB ? 3 @ FLA, 3 vs NYM

Facing these catchers is good news for Corey Hart (19-for-23 SB), Carl Crawford (40-for-49 SB), Julio Lugo (27-for-33 SB), Coco Crisp (21-for-26 SB), Nook Logan (19-for-22 SB), Felipe Lopez (19-for-26 SB), Brandon Phillips (25-for-32 SB), Jose Reyes (69-for-84 SB), Hanley Ramirez (41-for-53 SB), David Wright (28-for-31 SB), Carlos Beltran (17-for-19 SB)

Toughest to steal against (total SBs)
1. David Ross, CIN 31-for-52 SB ? 3 @ PIT, 3 @ STL
2. Kenji Johjima, SEA 37-for-60 SB ? 3 vs LAA, 1 @ CLE, 3 @ TOR
3T. Brad Ausmus, HOU 42-for-56 SB ? 3 vs STL, 3 @ CHC
3T. Ivan Rodriguez, DET 42-for-56 SB ? 1 vs NYY, 3 @ KC, 3 @ OAK
5. Miguel Olivo, FLA 44-for-64 SB ? 3 vs ATL, 3 vs PHI

Facing these catchers is bad news for Chone Figgins (34-for-44 SB), Reggie Willits (25-for-33 SB), Orlando Cabrera (17-for-20 SB), Ryan Theriot (22-for-26 SB), Alfonso Soriano (18-for-23 SB), Shane Victorino (33-for-36 SB), Jimmy Rollins (25-for-30 SB), Willie Harris (17-for-28 SB)

American League:
Baltimore: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Boston: (3 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Chicago White Sox: (6 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Cleveland: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Detroit: (7 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers)
Kansas City: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Los Angeles Angels: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers
Minnesota: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
New York Yankees: (7 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers)
Oakland: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Seattle: (5 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Tampa Bay: (6 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Texas: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Toronto: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)

Notes: The Red Sox and Indians play three left-handers this week, while the Yankees don't see any. That's good news for Manny Ramirez (.339 vs LHPs), Dustin Pedroia (.349 vs LHPs), Ryan Garko (.327 vs LHPs), Franklin Gutierrez (.310 vs LHPs), Alex Rodriguez (.323 vs RHPs), Jorge Posada (.337 vs RHPs), Hideki Matsui (.321 vs RHPs), Derek Jeter (.329 vs RHPs)

And bad news for Alex Cora (.222 vs LHPs), J.D. Drew (.228 vs LHPs), Julio Lugo (.230 vs LHPs), Josh Barfield (.211 vs LHPs), Trot Nixon (.234 vs LHPs), Jose Molina (.227 vs RHPs)

National League:
Arizona: (7 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers)
Atlanta: (3 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Chicago Cubs: (4 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers) notes: FRI vs HOU (TBA)
Cincinnati: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Colorado: (3 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Florida: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Houston: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Los Angeles Dodgers: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Milwaukee: (2 vs. Right-handers, 4 vs. Left-handers)
New York Mets: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Philadelphia: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Pittsburgh: (5 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers) notes: FRI vs MIL (TBA)
San Diego: (7 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers))
San Francisco: (3 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
St. Louis: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Washington: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)

Notes: The Braves, Rockies, Mets, Phillies and Giants see three southpaws this week, while the Brewers see four. Also, the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Padres see just right-handed starters this week. That's good news for Matt Diaz (.357 vs LHPs), Jeff Francoeur (.320 vs LHPs), Yunel Escobar (.355 vs LHPs), Ryan Spilborghs (.388 vs LHPs), Troy Tulowitzki (.351 vs LHPs), Willy Taveras (.365 vs LHPs), David Wright (.346 vs LHPs), Moises Alou (.327 vs LHPs), Lastings Milledge (.343 vs LHPs), Paul Lo Duca (.340 vs LHPs), Jose Reyes (.327 vs LHPs), Tadahito Iguchi (.379 vs LHPs), Aaron Rowand (.331 vs LHPs), Jayson Werth (.328 vs LHPs), Jimmy Rollins (.314 vs LHPs), Randy Winn (.338 vs LHPs), Ryan Braun (.463 vs LHPs), Corey Hart (.310 vs LHPs), Kevin Mench (.311 vs LHPs), Johnny Estrada (.314 vs LHPs), Eric Byrnes (.313 vs RHPs), Orlando Hudson (.309 vs RHPs), Milton Bradley (.379 vs RHPs)

And bad news for Scott Thorman (.179 vs LHPs), Willie Harris (.238 vs LHPs), Andruw Jones (.217 vs LHPs), Brad Hawpe (.188 vs LHPs), Jeff Baker (.240 vs LHPs), Shawn Green (.193 vs LHPs), Carlos Ruiz (.188 vs LHPs), Ryan Howard (.220 vs LHPs), Dave Roberts (.182 vs LHPs), Omar Vizquel (.234 vs LHPs), Rajai Davis (.176 vs LHPs), Ray Durham (.204 vs LHPs), Damion Miller (.205 vs LHPs), Rickie Weeks (.229 vs LHPs), Geoff Jenkins (.226 vs LHPs), Carlos Quentin (.219 vs RHPs), Scott Hairston Jr. (.217 vs RHPs), Stephen Drew (.239 vs RHPs), Chris Snyder (.232 vs RHPs), Chris Young (.236 vs RHPs), Ronny Paulino (.195 vs RHPs), Marcus Giles (.224 vs RHPs), Kevin Kouzmanoff (.204 vs RHPs), Josh Bard (.223 vs RHPs), Mike Cameron (.229 vs RHPs), Morgan Ensberg (.207 vs RHPs), Russell Branyan (.191 vs RHPs)

Some scheduled two-start pitchers in week 23:
Typically pitchers that are scheduled to start on Wednesday, get two trips to the hill the following week. These players are slated to start on 8/29.
Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens, Jon Garland, Kameron Loe, Andrew Miller, Brian Bannister, Joe Saunders, Felix Hernandez, Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, James Shields, Steve Trachsel, Roy Halladay, Lenny DiNardo, Micah Owings, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Dontrelle Willis, Aaron Harang, Ian Snell, Jeff Francis, Noah Lowry, Jeff Suppan, Carlos Zambrano, Oliver Perez, Jamie Moyer, Anthony Reyes, Roy Oswalt, Shawn Hill, Brad Penny

Latest on the injury front:
Outfielders:
Rocco Baldelli (hamstring) ? out indefinitely
Michael Bourne (ankle) ? return early September
Travis Buck (hamstring) ? return early September
Endy Chavez (hamstring) ? expected to be activated any day now
Chris Denorfia (elbow) ? out for the season
Ryan Doumit (wrist) ? return early September
Chris Duffy (ankle) ? return late August
Ryan Freel (knee) ? out for the season
Jay Gibbons (shoulder) ? out for the season
Carlos Gomez (hand) ? return early September
Jerry Hairston (back) ? out indefinitely
Scott Hairston (ribs) ? return early September
Mark Kotsay (back) ? return early September
Angel Pagan (colitis) ? out indefinitely
Carlos Quentin (leg) ? return late August
Jason Repko (groin) ? might be out for the season
Juan Rivera (leg) ? return September 1st
Reggie Sanders (hamstring) ? out indefinitely
Alfonso Soriano (quadriceps) ? might return this week
Willy Taveras (quadriceps) ? return early September
Mark Teahen (elbow) ? return mid-September
Preston Wilson (knee) ? out for the season

Infielders
Willy Aybar (hand) ? out for the season
Hank Blalock (arm) ? return early September
Aaron Boone (knee) ? return late August
Eric Chavez (back) ? out indefinitely
Joe Crede (back) ? likely out for the season
Bobby Crosby (hand) ? return early September
Damion Easley (ankle) ? likely out for the season
Adam Everett (leg) ? return early September
Nomar Garciaparra (calf) ? return early September
Marcus Giles (knee) ? return mid-September
Tony Graffanino (knee) ? out for the season
Cristian Guzman (thumb) ? out for the season
Nick Johnson (leg) ? out for the season
Adam Kennedy (knee) ? return late September
Corey Koskie (concussion) ? out indefinitely
Dallas McPherson (back) ? likely out for the season
Doug Mientkiewicz (wrist) ? return September
Donnie Murphy (ribs) ? return early September
Pablo Ozuna (leg) ? return September
Neifi Perez (suspension) ? out for the season
Edgar Renteria (ankle) ? return mid-September
Scott Spiezio (restricted list) ? out indefinitely
Chad Tracy (knee) ? return early September
Chase Utley (hand) ? might be activated on Sunday
Jose Valentin (leg) ? might be out for the season

Catchers:
Rod Barajas (groin) ? return early September
Michael Barrett (concussion) ? return early September
Ramon Castro (back) ? return early September
Hector Gimenez (shoulder) ? likely out for the season
Paul Lo Duca (hamstring) ? expected to return on Monday
Mike Napoli (hamstring) ? return late August
David Ross (head) ? return early September
Vance Wilson (elbow) ? out for the season

Designated Hitter:
David Dellucci (hamstring) ? return September
Mike Sweeney (knee) ? expected to return September 1

Starting Pitchers:
Brandon Backe (elbow) ? return early September
Jason Bergmann (hamstring) ? might return this week
Chris Carpenter (elbow) ? out for the season
Gustavo Chacin (elbow) ? likely out for the season
Matt Clement (shoulder) ? return September
Bartolo Colon (elbow) ? return September
Aaron Cook (ribs) ? return early September
Jorge De La Rosa (shoulder) ? return September
Zach Duke (elbow) ? return early September
Adam Eaton (shoulder) ? return early September
Freddy Garcia (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Cole Hamels (elbow) ? return early September
Mike Hampton (ribs) ? out for the season
Rich Harden (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Luke Hudson (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Chuck James (shoulder) ? return early September
Jason Jennings (elbow) ? out indefinitely
Josh Johnson (forearm) ? out for the season
Randy Johnson (back) ? out for the season
Jon Lieber (ankle) ? out for the season
Francisco Liriano (elbow) ? out for the season
Adam Loewen (elbow) ? out for the season
Rodrigo Lopez (arm) ? out for the season
Pedro Martinez (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Mike Maroth (elbow) ? out indefinitely
Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Eric Milton (elbow) ? out for the season
Mark Mulder (shoulder) ? return early September
Russ Ortiz (elbow) ? out indefinitely
Roy Oswalt (ribs) ? expected to start Wed vs STL
John Patterson (biceps) ? return September
Carl Pavano (elbow) ? out for the season
Odalis Perez (knee) ? out indefinitely
Mark Prior (shoulder) ? out for the season
Darrell Rasner (finger) ? return September
Kenny Rogers (elbow) ? return late August
Chris Sampson (knee) ? might return this week
Jason Schmidt (shoulder) ? out for the season
Ben Sheets (finger) ? return late August
Jason Simontacchi (elbow) ? out indefinitely
John Thomson (back) ? return early September
Randy Wolf (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Jaret Wright (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Chris Young (back) ? day-to-day

Important Relievers:
Kris Benson (shoulder) ? likely out for the season
Yhency Brazoban (shoulder) ? out for the season
Jesse Crain (shoulder) ? out for the season
Brendan Donnelly (arm) ? out for the season
Octavio Dotel (shoulder) ? return early September
Justin Duchscherer (hip) ? out for the season
Mike Gonzalez (elbow) ? out for the season
Angel Guzman (arm) ? return late August
Ryan Madson (shoulder) ? return early September
Akinori Otsuka (arm) ? likely out for the season
Chris Ray (elbow) ? out for the season, out for 2008
Chris Reitsma (elbow) ? out for the season
Arthur Rhodes (elbow) ? out for the season
B.J. Ryan (elbow) ? out for the season
Duaner Sanchez (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Salomon Torres (elbow) ? out indefinitely
Ryan Wagner (rotator cuff) ? out for the season
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2007 Free Agents - Hitters
This is the first of two columns looking at this winter's free agent class. Along with projected contracts and destinations for the year's premier free agents are sections are the candidates to be traded this winter, possible non-tenders and glances at the players available in the following two free agent classes.

First up are the hitters. A column on the pitchers will follow Monday.


Catchers

Jorge Posada (Yankees) - Catchers are supposed to be well into their decline phase by age 35, but Posada, who actually turned 36 this month, seems on his way to a career year. It's perfect timing, as it guarantees that he'll get more than one- or two-year offers as a free agent. In truth, he's been so productive that a couple of teams might be willing to go four years, figuring that he could be at least a part-time first baseman by the end of the deal. It's very likely that he'll stay with the Yankees, but it will be interesting to see what happens if the Mets go to $54 million-$56 million for four years. Prediction: Yankees - three years, $39 million

Paul Lo Duca (Mets) - The Mets seemingly were pretty thrilled with what Lo Duca did as their No. 2 hitter in 2006, but they've soured on him to the point at which it's possible he won't get even a token offer from the club this winter. At the very least, GM Omar Minaya will want to see what happens with Posada and Ivan Rodriguez. Lo Duca turns 35 in April, so he can't be counted on to bounce back offensively. He'll be some team's starter in 2008, but he's not worthy of a long-term deal. I can see him landing with the Astros, Orioles or Phillies. Prediction: Astros - two years, $10 million

Michael Barrett (Padres) - After three straight seasons as one of the game's top offensive catchers, Barrett has had a disastrous 2007. Not only has his OPS dropped to 667, but his already shaky defensive reputation has taken a hit and there are concerns about his attitude after his highly publicized altercation with Carlos Zambrano. Now he'll likely have to take a one-year deal in an attempt to rebuild his value. The Padres figure to have limited interest in bringing him back. Prediction: Rockies - one year, $4 million

Jason Kendall (Cubs) - With a .306/.404/.418 line in 98 at-bats to date with the Cubs, Kendall has put himself in much better position to remain a starting catcher next year. The Cubs are likely to have some interest in re-signing him, and Houston would also make sense. The NL Central clubs just don't do much running, making Kendall's noodle arm less of a liability. Prediction: Cubs - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Yorvit Torrealba (Rockies), Ramon Castro (Mets), Jason LaRue (Royals), Brad Ausmus (Astros), Jose Molina (Yankees), Damian Miller (Brewers), Doug Mirabelli (Red Sox), Josh Paul (Devil Rays), Paul Bako (Orioles), Kelly Stinnett (Cardinals), Mike DiFelice (Mets), Sandy Alomar Jr. (Mets), Jason Phillips (FA), Raul Casanova (Devil Rays), Alberto Castillo (Orioles), Humberto Cota (Minor FA - Pirates), Miguel Ojeda (Minor FA - Rangers), Guillermo Quiroz (Minor FA - Rangers)

Torrealba and Castro could get multiyear deals, but no one else here should. Torrealba might stay with the Rockies and battle Chris Iannetta for playing time again. I believe Castro is one of the game's top 30 catchers, perhaps one of the top 20. However, the back condition that cost him a chance to replace Lo Duca also will hurt his chances of landing a starting job. ? The Astros seem ready to move on from Ausmus, but if he wants to continue his career as a backup, there will be a lot of interest. ? While it would be risky to part with Tim Wakefield's personal catcher, the Red Sox would surely like a better backup than Mirabelli with Jason Varitek getting up there in years. If they try moving on again, Torrealba and Castro would likely be at the top of their list.


Options
Ivan Rodriguez (Tigers) - $13 million club option, $3 million buyout
Rod Barajas (Phillies) - $5 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Mike Lieberthal (Dodgers) - $1.4 million club option, $100,000 buyout
Gary Bennett (Cardinals) - $900,000 club option, $50,000 buyout

Pudge has slipped enough offensively that he's not a $13 million player any longer. However, after factoring in the buyout, the Tigers will probably want to keep him at $10 million for one year. It'd be different if it was a long-term commitment. ? Barajas' option will surely be declined, leaving him to seek work as a backup elsewhere. ? The Dodgers could go in a different direction or try to bring Lieberthal back at a lower price tag. ? I'm guessing the Cardinals will hold on to Bennett.


Trade candidates: Ramon Hernandez (Orioles), Brian Schneider (Nationals), Gerald Laird (Rangers), Ronny Paulino (Pirates), Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Kelly Shoppach (Indians), Dioner Navarro (Devil Rays), Gregg Zaun (Blue Jays), Jeff Clement (Mariners), Jeff Mathis (Angels), Taylor Teagarden (Rangers), Eliezer Alfonzo (Giants), Rob Bowen (Athletics), Brayan Pena (Braves), Rene Rivera (Mariners), J.D. Closser (Athletics)

Hernandez has struggled in his second year in Baltimore, and since the Orioles might have Matt Wieters ready as soon as 2009, they're going to be open to trading the veteran with two years and $16.5 million left on his contract. The Mets, Cubs, Phillies and Astros could be interested. ? The Nats will probably want to wait more year before turning the reins over to Jesus Flores, so Schneider figures to stay put. ? Laird was reportedly a target of the Cubs at the deadline, and the Rangers could move him in order to go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. ? Paulino is believed to be one of the Mets' top choices to replace Lo Duca.


Non-tender candidates: Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Adam Melhuse (Rangers), Eric Munson (Astros), Matt Treanor (Marlins), Koyie Hill (Cubs), Robby Hammock (Diamondbacks), Pete LaForest (Padres), Chris Heintz (Twins), Kevin Cash (Red Sox), Geronimo Gil (Rockies), Corky Miller (Braves), Gustavo Molina (Orioles), Carlos Maldonado (Pirates)

Olivo has been an adequate enough stopgap for the Marlins, but the club may not want to pay the $2.5 million-$3 million it would take to keep him next year. With little in the farm system, picking up a quality young catcher should be a top priority for GM Larry Beinfest this winter. Shoppach wouldn't be a bad choice.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Kenji Johjima (Mariners), Jason Varitek (Red Sox), Johnny Estrada (Brewers), A.J. Pierzynski (White Sox), Gregg Zaun (Blue Jays)*, David Ross (Reds)*, Henry Blanco (Cubs)*, Mike Redmond (Twins)*, Toby Hall (White Sox)*, Javier Valentin (Reds)*, Vance Wilson (Tigers), Adam Melhuse (Rangers)

2009 options: Zaun - $3.75 million vesting option, Ross - $3.5 million ($375,000 buyout), Blanco - $3 million ($300,000 buyout), Redmond - $950,000 ($100,000 buyout), Hall - $2.25 million ($150,000 buyout), Valentin - $1.3 million ($75,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Victor Martinez (Indians)*, Ramon Hernandez (Orioles)*, Bengie Molina (Giants), Brian Schneider (Nationals), Miguel Olivo (Marlins), Josh Bard (Padres)

2010 options: Martinez - $7 million ($250,000 buyout), Hernandez - $8.5 million ($1 million buyout)


First Basemen/Designated Hitters

Mike Piazza (Athletics) - Piazza's numbers are well down in his first year as a DH, but he's been learning a new league and he's had to deal with a major shoulder injury. It's still pretty likely that he'll be able to help a team if he wants to continue his career in 2008, and with little else out there in the way of quality DH options, he should be able to find work. The Angels and Orioles could both use him as a part-time DH and catcher, and he'd be an intriguing option to share time with Saltalamacchia in Texas. The A's probably won't bring him back. Prediction: Rangers - one year, $4 million plus incentives

Sean Casey (Tigers) - The Tigers thought they were getting a deal when Casey agreed to come back on a one-year, $4 million contract, but he's been one of the league's weakest regulars this year. Casey could likely hang on for another five years or so as an NL reserve and pinch-hitter if he wanted to. First, he'll probably find one more team willing to take a chance on him as a starter. The Giants, Royals, Rangers and A's could be interested. Prediction: Royals - one year, $2 million

Other free agents: Shea Hillenbrand (Dodgers), Ryan Klesko (Giants), Mike Sweeney (Royals), Eric Hinske (Red Sox), Doug Mientkiewicz (Yankees), Tony Clark (Diamondbacks), Mark Sweeney (Dodgers), Olmedo Saenz (Dodgers), Greg Norton (Devil Rays), Robert Fick (Nationals), Julio Franco (Braves), Erubiel Durazo (Yankees), Craig Wilson (White Sox), Travis Lee (FA), Matthew LeCroy (Minor FA -Twins), Lance Niekro (Minor FA - Giants), Ken Harvey (Minor FA - Twins)

With few quality alternatives, Hillenbrand likely would have been in line for a nice multiyear contract had he just been his usual average self. Instead, he's likely to have difficulty finding a team willing to promise him a starting job. It'd be no surprise if he's playing in Japan by 2009. ? Klesko is about as good of a hitter as any of the first basemen available. Still, his difficulties staying on the field could have him settling for something like $1.5 million-$2 million in 2008. ? The Royals apparently wouldn't mind having Sweeney back on an incentive-laden deal. There shouldn't be any team out there willing to commit to him as a regular DH.


Options
Kevin Millar (Orioles) - $2.75 million club option (vests w/475 PA)
Scott Hatteberg (Reds) - $1.85 million, $150,000 buyout

Millar's option will kick in with another 51 plate appearances, and the Orioles will be pleased to have him back after his fine season. ? The Reds need to go to Joey Votto at first base next year, but they'll probably keep Hatteberg around as insurance. He's cheap enough to justify it, though that both he and Votto are left-handed hitters means he's not quite an ideal choice.


Trade candidates: Todd Helton (Rockies - NTC), Carlos Pena (Devil Rays), Richie Sexson (Mariners), Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers - NTC), Rich Aurilia (Giants), Casey Kotchman (Angels), Conor Jackson (Diamondbacks), Dan Johnson (Athletics), Mike Jacobs (Marlins), Kendry Morales (Angels), Ryan Shealy (Royals), Chris Shelton (Tigers), Scott Thorman (Braves), Justin Huber (Royals), Brad Eldred (Pirates), Scott Moore (Cubs), Wes Bankston (Devil Rays), Larry Broadway (Nationals)

Any suitor requiring a serious upgrade at first base will have to make a trade. ? After a fast start, Helton now has a line nearly identical to the disappointing one he posted in 2006. The Rockies should have to pick up close to half of the $73.5 million he's owed over four years in order to move him. The Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers could be interested. ? The Rays might want to consider selling high on Pena, who would be especially attractive given that he'll be under control for two years and he probably won't make more than $3.5 million in 2008. He could bring in a talented young arm. ? Sexson's value should be lower than ever, but he still didn't clear waivers this month. He's owed $14 million in 2008, the final year of his deal. ? Garciaparra has a no-trade clause and probably would wield it unless traded to an moved into an ideal situation. He's likely staying.


Non-tender candidates: Ben Broussard (Mariners), Ross Gload (Royals), Josh Phelps (Pirates), J.R. House (Orioles)

Broussard, who turns 31 in September, is about as interesting as any of the free agents. Since he's making $3.55 million, the Mariners probably won't carry him as a reserve again. There's a slight chance they'd move Sexson and carry Broussard as their first baseman. However, if Sexson goes, it'd make at least as much sense to play Raul Ibanez at first. ? Barring a poor September, Gload figures to remain with the Royals as a bench player in 2008.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Mark Teixeira (Braves), Jason Giambi (Yankees)*, Jim Thome (White Sox)*, Carlos Delgado (Mets)*, Richie Sexson (Mariners), Frank Thomas (Blue Jays)*, Nomar Garciaparra (Dodgers), Ben Broussard (Mariners), Kevin Millar (Orioles), Rich Aurilia (Giants)

2009 options: Giambi - $22 million ($5 million buyout), Thome - $13 million ($3 million buyout), Delgado - $16 million vesting option ($4 million buyout), Thomas - $10 million vesting option,

Top 2009-10 free agents: Adam LaRoche (Pirates), Nick Johnson (Nationals), Carlos Pena (Devil Rays), Aubrey Huff (Orioles), Dmitri Young (Nationals)*, Jose Vidro (Mariners)*, Robb Quinlan (Angels), Ross Gload (Royals), Josh Phelps (Pirates)

2010 options: Young - $6 million vesting option, Vidro - Vesting option


Second Basemen

Luis Castillo (Mets) ? Castillo will only get more fragile as he ages, but when he's in the lineup, he's probably the most effective of any of the second basemen likely to be available this winter. He's getting on base 36 percent of the time again this year, and he's been even better since joining the Mets at the deadline. Also, his defense remains well above average. A three-year contract would be a bad idea, but someone will go to two years, and it figures that the Mets will make a bid to retain him. Prediction: Mets - two years, $11 million

Tadahito Iguchi (Phillies) - After a disappointing first half with the White Sox, Iguchi has aided his chances of remaining a starter next year by hitting .308/.362/.442 in 104 at-bats for the Phillies. He doesn't offer as much range at second base as one would like, but he likely has another year or two left before he begins to turn into a liability. With few teams likely to be in the market for a starter, there's a good chance he'll settle for a one-year deal. Prediction: Padres - one year, $4 million

Kaz Matsui (Rockies) - Matsui's .253/.303/.343 line outside of Coors Field this year is pretty scary, and durability remains a major issue here. Still, he's revived his career to the point at which he'll probably get another job as a regular this winter. That he's 28-for-30 stealing bases will really help his case. Expect the Rockies to attempt to re-sign him if they can get him for $3 million-$4 million. A mutilyear deal wouldn't be a very good idea, but he might get one if he finishes the year on a high note. Prediction: Rockies - one year, $4 million

Mark Loretta (Astros) - There were more second basemen available than jobs last year, which is why Loretta and Ronnie Belliard had to settle for reserve roles. The same could happen again this season, depending on whether the Astros and White Sox decide to go forward with Chris Burke and Danny Richar, respectively. The Astros are known to want Loretta back, possibly as a starter over Burke. However, with his average down 100 points since the All-Star break, he's looking more like a role player every day. He'd actually be a nice fit for the White Sox, as he could start over Richar against lefties and serve as a backup elsewhere. The Astros, though, figure to keep him. Prediction: Astros - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Tony Graffanino (Brewers), Damion Easley (Mets), Jerry Hairston Jr. (Rangers), Miguel Cairo (Cardinals), Todd Walker (FA), Mark Bellhorn (Reds), D'Angelo Jimenez (Nationals), Chris Woodward (Braves), Alejandro Machado (Twins), Desi Relaford (Rangers), Tony Womack (FA), Antonio Perez (Minor FA - Athletics), Nick Green (Minor FA - Pirates)

Graffanino should have been in line for the same kind of deal as Loretta, but a torn ACL is going to keep him out for the start of 2008. ? Everyone else here is sure to be a backup at best. The Mets will probably try to keep Easley, but he'd make less sense for them if they don't have a left-handed hitter for him to platoon with.


Options
Jeff Kent (Dodgers) - $9 million club option, $500,000 buyout (vests with 550 PA)
Jose Valentin (Mets) - $4.3 million club option (vests with 430 PA)
Marcus Giles (Padres) - $4 million club option

Kent is currently at 460 plate appearances, so his option will vest if he remains healthy the rest of the way. With no superior alternatives out there, the Dodgers should bring him back regardless. ? Valentin's option won't vest and the Mets figure to move on from him. He'll likely have to compete for a bench job somewhere. ? If Giles doesn't have a big finish, not only won't his option be picked up, but he might have to settle for a minor league contract this winter. He doesn't offer any versatility, so there's going to be little reason for a team to carry him unless he shows he's good enough to start at second base.


Trade candidates: Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks), Felipe Lopez (Nationals), Josh Barfield (Indians), Ray Durham (Giants), Chris Burke (Astros), Omar Infante (Tigers), Jorge Cantu (Reds), Jamey Carroll (Rockies), Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), Jed Lowrie (Red Sox), Alberto Callaspo (Diamondbacks), Mike Fontenot (Cubs), Martin Prado (Braves), Aaron Miles (Cardinals), Russ Adams (Blue Jays)

Hudson, a free agent after next year, would be the top second baseman out there if the D'Backs decided to trade him. That Callaspo was a bust makes it more likely that Arizona will stay the course, but anyone willing to dangle a quality young starter might still have a shot at him. ? Lopez just hasn't been nearly the hitter for Washington that he was in Cincinnati. The team can hope that changes in the new ballpark next year or trade him while he still has some value left. I'm guessing they'll choose the former. ? Barfield has been a complete bust in Cleveland, and the Padres have a hole at second base. Perhaps there's a chance the Indians would trade him back to San Diego and turn second base over to Cabrera.


Non-tender candidates: Jose Castillo (Pirates), Jorge Cantu (Reds), Pete Orr (Braves)

Castillo was only truly horrible during April, but the Pirates aren't going to pay him $2 million to act as a bench player again. He needs a fresh start elsewhere. ? I'm still listing Cantu at second base, but he needs to be viewed as a first baseman or maybe a corner outfielder going forward. Perhaps the Reds will ante up the $1 million or so he'll earn in arbitration and use him as a reserve.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Orlando Hudson (Diamondbacks), Felipe Lopez (Nationals), Mark Ellis (Athletics), Mark Grudzielanek (Royals), Ray Durham (Giants), Alex Cora (Red Sox), Jamey Carroll (Rockies)*

2009 options: Carroll - $2.5 million ($150,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Brian Roberts (Orioles), Placido Polanco (Tigers), Freddy Sanchez (Pirates), Mark DeRosa (Cubs), Adam Kennedy (Cardinals), Omar Infante (Tigers), Ronnie Belliard (Nationals), Jose Castillo (Pirates), Aaron Miles (Cardinals)


Third Basemen

Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) - A-Rod controls his destiny, so he gets listed as a free agent, even though I'm assuming he'll reach an agreement with the Yankees before voiding the three years and $81 million he'll have left on his contract. It makes all of the sense in the world for the Yankees to extend him for an additional three years or so. After all, the Rangers are due to pay close to 40 percent of his salary as is. If nothing can be worked out with the Yankees, then the Cubs, Red Sox and Angels would be the favorites to land him. I doubt it will come to that, though. Prediction: Yankees - three-year, $100 million extension though 2013

Mike Lowell (Red Sox) - That Lowell has already set a career high for errors this year can be overlooked when he's hitting 25 points higher than ever before and is on pace for a personal-best OPS and more than 110 RBI. The Red Sox surely weren't counting on keeping him for more than two years after taking his contract in the Josh Beckett deal, but now they'll have to make a bid to re-sign him. That said, it'd be no surprise to see him take a three- or four-year deal from another team, perhaps Philadelphia or San Francisco, rather than a two-year pact from the Red Sox. He's turning 34 in February, so a longer deal would be a poor risk. Prediction: Giants - three years, $33 million

Pedro Feliz (Giants) - It was a pleasant surprise that no team looked at Feliz's solid power numbers and offered him a three-year contract last winter. He ended up taking a one-year, $5.1 million contract to stay with the Giants, and he's gone on to post his usual line. Feliz is strong enough on defense to justify regular playing time at third, but especially since he's turning 33 in April, there's every reason to keep going year to year with him. The Giants should move on. Prediction: Twins - one year, $3 million


Other free agents: Mike Lamb (Astros), Russell Branyan (Phillies), Geoff Blum (Padres), Aaron Boone (Marlins), Jeff Cirillo (Diamondbacks), Tony Batista (Nationals), Sean Burroughs (FA), Fernando Tatis (Mets)

Lamb has established himself as a pretty valuable player, but he's no starting third baseman. An AL team could do worse than giving him a two-year, $6 million deal to serve as a part-time corner infielder and designated hitter. The Twins, Indians, Yankees, A's and Red Sox could be interested. The Diamondbacks might also like him as Chad Tracy insurance.


Options
Corey Koskie (Brewers) - $6.5 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Abraham Nunez (Phillies) - $2 million club option, $335,000 buyout

It's anyone's guess whether Koskie will be able to play next year. The Brewers will decline his option, so he'll compete for a bench job somewhere if he's sufficiently recovered from post-concussion syndrome. ? Nunez's defense will likely keep him on a major league roster, but the Phillies shouldn't want him back, at least not at that price.


Trade candidates: Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), Eric Chavez (Athletics - Limited NTC), Garrett Atkins (Rockies), Troy Glaus (Blue Jays - NTC), Hank Blalock (Rangers), Scott Rolen (Cardinals - NTC), Joe Crede (White Sox), Edwin Encarnacion (Reds), Kevin Kouzmanoff (Padres), Wilson Betemit (Yankees), Casey Blake (Indians), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Wes Helms (Phillies), Andy LaRoche (Dodgers), Brandon Wood (Angels), Andy Marte (Indians), Chase Headley (Padres), Dallas McPherson (Angels), Willy Aybar (Braves), Michael Morse (Mariners)

Yeah, that's most of the game's notable third basemen, but I did decide at the last minute to omit Adrian Beltre and Chone Figgins, both of whom were mentioned in rumors last winter. ? The Marlins are more likely to part with Dontrelle Wilis than Cabrera this winter, and I also think both Chavez and Atkins are staying. The A's might be able to find more productive ways to spend the money going to Chavez, but if they tried to deal him now, they wouldn't get much in return. I could still see the Red Sox attempting to deal for him if they lose Lowell.

Glaus and Blalock are the big-name third basemen most likely to go. Glaus, who has a no-trade clause, is believed to have a preference for the West Coast, making Los Angeles and San Diego natural fits for him. The Rangers aren't likely to win next year, and dropping Blalock would be the easiest way for them to shed salary. The Phillies and Giants likely would be quite interested if he became available.



Non-tender candidates: Joe Crede (White Sox), Morgan Ensberg (Padres), Ramon Vazquez (Rangers), Hector Luna (Blue Jays), Matt Kata (Pirates), Jason Wood (Marlins), Chris Basak (Twins), Luis Rodriguez (Twins)

Crede isn't likely to get a raise from the $4.94 million he made this year, so he should have a little trade value left, even after back surgery. The White Sox could opt to keep him and move Josh Fields to left field, but they don't seem particularly taken with the idea. It's not hard to see why after Crede pretty much bailed on the club this year. ? The Padres might like to have Ensberg back as a part-time player, but he'd likely have to accept about half of the $4.35 million he's making in 2007.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Chipper Jones (Braves)*, Hank Blalock (Rangers)*, Joe Crede (White Sox), Casey Blake (Indians), Morgan Ensberg (Padres), Craig Counsell (Brewers)*, Wes Helms (Phillies)*, Nick Punto (Twins), Scott Spiezio (Cardinals)*, Willie Bloomquist (Mariners), Pablo Ozuna (White Sox)*

2009 options: Jones - $8 million-$11 million (vests with 450 PA in 2008), Blalock - $6.2 million ($250,000 buyout), Counsell - $3.4 million ($400,000 buyout), Helms - $3.75 million ($750,000 buyout), Spiezio - $2.5 million ($100,000 buyout), Ozuna - $1.2 million ($200,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Miguel Cabrera (Marlins), Chone Figgins (Angels), Chad Tracy (Diamondbacks)*, Melvin Mora (Orioles)*, Akinori Iwamura (Devil Rays)*, Ty Wigginton (Astros)

2010 options: Tracy - $7 million ($1 million buyout), Mora ? Club option ($1 million buyout), Iwamura - $4.25 million ($250,000 buyout)
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2007 Free Agents - Hitters (2)
Shortstops

David Eckstein (Cardinals) - Eckstein has the same numbers this year as last, but he may need the Cardinals to get back in the postseason if he's going to land a big contract as a free agent. That is, after all, where he's generated much of his acclaim through the years, even if his overall postseason line is a little worse than his regular-season line. $21 million over three years seemed to be a realistic target for Eckstein at the beginning of the season. Any team that goes that far for the soon-to-be 33-year-old would be making a mistake, but it wouldn't be a big surprise to see it happen. Prediction: Giants - three years, $18 million

Tomohiro Nioka (Japan) - Nioka, who is wrapping up his ninth year with the Yomiuri Giants, could be the best shortstop available as a free agent this winter. The 31-year-old hit .289/.329/.472 with 25 homers last year and is batting .294/.340/.456 with 17 homers in 412 at-bats this season. Nioka's power probably wouldn't translate very well over to the majors and he's not a basestealer, but he would offer very good defense. The Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, White Sox, Tigers and Blue Jays all figure to take a look at him. Prediction: Cubs - two years, $10 million

Omar Vizquel (Giants) - Vizquel has been one of the game's worst hitters in his age 40 season, but he could bounce back a bit and there are still plenty of teams in love with his glove. If he wants to keep playing, there will be at least two or three teams interested in him as a starter. Prediction: White Sox - one year, $4 million


Other free agents: John McDonald (Blue Jays), Chris Gomez (Indians), Royce Clayton (Red Sox), Neifi Perez (Tigers)

The Blue Jays are spending so much money elsewhere that they'll probably have to continue to skimp at shortstop. McDonald probably won't ask for much more than $1.5 million, so he could be back as the primary starter next year. ? Perez will miss the first month of next season as a result of his 80-game amphetamine suspension.


Options
Cesar Izturis (Pirates) - $5.45 million club option, $300,000 buyout
Juan Uribe (White Sox) - $5 million club option, $300,000 buyout

Whether injuries are to blame or not, the fact remains that Izturis hasn't posted better than a 624 OPS since his career season in 2004. He's also lost a step on defense. He's only turning 28 in February, so there's some reason for hope. Still, at this point, he belongs in the same category of free agents as McDonald. The Pirates could try to bring him back at a lower price if they deal Jack Wilson. ? Uribe's power numbers are fine, but his OBP is a killer and he's going to have to shed a few pounds in order to reemerge as a Gold Glove candidate. I think the White Sox will go in a different direction.


Trade candidates: Miguel Tejada (Orioles), Edgar Renteria (Braves), Bobby Crosby (Athletics), Jack Wilson (Pirates), Adam Everett (Astros), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Clint Barmes (Rockies), Angel Berroa (Royals), Yunel Escobar (Braves), Erick Aybar (Angels), Ronny Cedeno (Cubs), Chin-Lung Hu (Dodgers), Marco Scutaro (Athletics), Ben Zobrist (Devil Rays), Eric Bruntlett (Astros), Sean Rodriguez (Angels), Anderson Hernandez (Mets), Robert Andino (Marlins), Andres Blanco (Royals)

Perhaps this will be the year the Orioles move Tejada. He could lose a lot of his value after 2008, as he'll be just one year away from free agency and he'll have no-trade protection, allowing him to dictate where he'll go. The Angels may not have any great desire for him this time around, but both Chicago teams should. ? The Braves could deal Renteria in order to save money. Again, both Chicago teams would be interested, and I think Detroit would target him. They could move Carlos Guillen to first base if they find a regular shortstop.


Non-tender candidates: Adam Everett (Astros), Alex Cintron (White Sox), Eric Bruntlett (Astros), Jason Smith (Royals), Ray Olmedo (Blue Jays), Ramon Santiago (Tigers), Augie Ojeda (Diamondbacks), Oscar Robles (Padres)

The Astros were down on Everett before he suffered a fractured leg that's cost him 2 ? months. Everett's defense makes him something close to an average regular even when he's not hitting, but the Astros could elect to go move on anyway. There's a good chance they'll make a bid for Eckstein.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Rafael Furcal (Dodgers), Edgar Renteria (Braves)*, Orlando Cabrera (Angels), Adam Everett (Astros), Cristian Guzman (Nationals), Alex Cintron (White Sox), Angel Berroa (Royals)*, Juan Castro (Reds)*

2009 options: Renteria - $11 million ($3 million buyout), Berroa - $5.5 million ($500,000 buyout), Castro - $1.1 million ($100,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Miguel Tejada (Orioles), Khalil Greene (Padres), Bobby Crosby (Athletics), Alex Gonzalez (Reds)*, Jack Wilson (Pirates)*, Marco Scutaro (Athletics)

2010 options: Gonzalez - $6 million mutual option ($500,000 buyout), Wilson - $8.4 million ($600,000 buyout)


Outfielders

Andruw Jones (Braves) - Even as disappointing as his year has been, Jones figures to get the biggest contract of any free agent this winter, assuming that Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees come to terms. Jones is a full two years younger than Torii Hunter, and this will be just the second time that Jones has had the weaker OPS of the two (Hunter beat him 784 to 772 in 2001). Both have several more years of quality defensive play in center field ahead of them, though the two are overrated defensively now because of just how good they were five years ago. Whether Andruw gets the megadeal he wants this winter could hinge on the Yankees' outfield plans. If the Bombers decide to stick with Melky Cabrera in center, there could be more center fielders available than teams willing to spend big bucks to get them. The White Sox will open the checkbook, but the Rangers and Orioles may not be willing to spend $15 million or more per year for another bat in a year in which they're not likely to contend anyway. For that reason, there's still a chance Jones could remain in Atlanta. Never count out John Schuerholz's ability to get a deal done. Prediction: Braves - six years, $108 million

Torii Hunter (Twins) - Since the belief is that he'll come cheaper, Hunter might get phone calls from more teams than Jones will. The clubs expected to be in the market for center fielders this winter are the White Sox, Rangers, Braves, Phillies, Orioles, Padres, Twins and Marlins. Other teams without such obvious needs that still could pursue center fielders include the Yankees, Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Astros, A's, Nationals, Pirates and Royals. I think the White Sox will make Hunter a priority over Jones and pursue him heavily. Barring a serious bid from the Yankees, Hunter could be Chicago bound. Prediction: White Sox - six years, $90 million

Barry Bonds (Giants) - It's difficult enough trying to figure out where the top center fielders will go. The Giants need to try something different after a third straight sub-.500 season, and if that happens, the market for Bonds might not form until late in the winter. Bonds is leading the NL in OPS at age 43, and there's no reason to think he couldn't be one of the AL's top DHs next year. Still, who will want him? Yankees GM Brian Cashman won't want to invite the added controversy, and the Red Sox are the one AL team he wouldn't help very much. The White Sox and Blue Jays also have full-time DHs they're not going to move. The Gary Matthews Jr. mess blew over quickly enough in Anaheim, so maybe the Angels would accept him. Oakland again makes sense, as would Seattle and Minnesota. I'm guessing he'll end up on one of those four teams. Prediction: Angels - one year, $14 million

Aaron Rowand (Phillies) - Rowand has probably earned himself more money with his performance this year than any other pending free agent. With a .310/.380/.518 line in 465 at-bats, he's going to be worthy of a place on the second half of MVP ballots. Rowand does have a history of injuries, mainly because of his all-out play in center field, and he's not really this good offensively. Still, he's a legitimate $10 million-per-year player because of his defense. The Phillies will attempt to re-sign him, and he'll probably be the White Sox's second choice behind Hunter. The Padres, Orioles, Braves and Rangers could also make bids. Expect him to do better than Eric Byrnes did. Prediction: Padres - four years, $42 million

Kosuke Fukudome (Japan) - With Jermaine Dye off the market, Fukudome could be viewed as the top corner outfielder available this winter. The left-handed hitter has had three 1000 OPS seasons in Japan, the last coming when he hit .351/.438/.653 in 2006. He was at .294/.443/.520 with 13 homers in 269 at-bats this year before requiring surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He should be fully recovered within a couple of months, and it's doubtful that the injury will scare any teams off. Fukudome has plenty of experience in center, but he is likely to play right field in the majors. With his 20-25 homer power and on-base ability, he projects as an above average regular. The Red Sox are believed to like him, but they have no place to put him unless they move Manny Ramirez. The Giants could do a lot worse than signing him as their Barry Bonds replacement, and the Mariners should give serious thought to signing him and trading Richie Sexson. Prediction: Giants - three years, $36 million

Jose Guillen (Mariners) - The Mariners hold a $9 million option on Guillen, but the outfielder can and will void it, barring a major slump to end the season. He's had talks with Seattle on a three-year extension, and something might get done before he becomes a free agent. If not, Guillen could be pursued by the Phillies, Astros, Cubs and Orioles, among others. Philadelphia may sign him and move Shane Victorino to center. Prediction: Phillies - three years, $30 million

Mike Cameron (Padres) - Cameron still seems to have plenty left in the tank, but that he's turning 35 in January will likely result in him getting a far lesser contract than what the top three center fielders receive. The Padres attempted to extend him earlier this year, but couldn't work out a deal. It'd be smart for them to try again before he becomes a free agent. Cameron hasn't had major problems hitting in Petco since arriving, and he still covers more ground in center than most. If the Padres go in a different direction, then Cameron might land with Texas or Baltimore. The A's should make a run at him, as he'd be a big upgrade over Mark Kotsay. Prediction: Orioles - two years, $16 million

Corey Patterson (Orioles) - All of the center fielders ahead of him on this list are quality defenders, but I think Patterson is the best of the bunch right now. Too bad his defense needs to carry him, as he's sporting a career OBP of .298. Patterson does offer enough with the glove and on the basepaths to justify a starting job against right-handers. Still, there shouldn't be any team looking to pay him for more than a year or two. He might end up as Florida's solution in center if he comes cheap enough. He'd also be a fair stopgap in Texas. Prediction: Rangers - one year, $5 million

Luis Gonzalez (Dodgers) - Gonzalez may not want to finish his career as a part-time player, and it wouldn't be completely stunning to see him retire at season's end. Still, even if he's no longer a quality regular for a contender, there would likely be several teams interested in adding his veteran leadership and playing him five times per week. It's possible he'll consider finishing his career in him hometown of Tampa. Also, the Orioles were quite interested last year and could look at him again. Prediction: Twins - one year, $4 million

Kenny Lofton (Indians) - Lofton has struggled since arriving in Cleveland, but he's still at .296/.372/.411 for the year, which should be good enough to guarantee him another year as a starting center fielder against right-handers. The Twins, Rangers, Marlins and Pirates are logical fits. Prediction: Twins - one year, $4 million

Brad Wilkerson (Rangers) - A healthier shoulder helped bring back Wilkerson's power, but it hasn't turned him back into a .370 OBP guy. He was at that level in each of his first three full years in the majors, but he's dropped to .351, .306 and .301 the last three years. The Rangers probably won't look to bring him back, and he could have a difficult time finding work as a regular next year. Still, I don't think he's done at age 30. Prediction: Athletics - one year, $2.5 million


Other free agents: Shannon Stewart (Athletics), Reggie Sanders (Royals), Trot Nixon (Indians), Sammy Sosa (Rangers), Matt Stairs (Blue Jays), Jose Cruz Jr. (Yankees), Jeff DaVanon (Athletics), Bobby Kielty (Red Sox), Marlon Anderson (Mets), Preston Wilson (Cardinals), Brady Clark (Padres), Richard Hidalgo (FA), Orlando Palmeiro (Astros), Carl Everett (FA), Juan Gonzalez (FA), Jody Gerut (FA), Steve Finley (FA), John Mabry (FA), Eli Marrero (FA), Joe Borchard (Minor FA - Marlins), Larry Bigbie (Minor FA - Braves), Hiram Bocachica (Minor FA - Padres), Michael Restovich (Minor FA ? Nationals), Josh Kroeger (Minor FA - Cubs), Dustan Mohr (Minor FA - Devil Rays), Bubba Crosby (Minor FA - Reds)

Stewart has remained relatively healthy and put up solid numbers for the A's all year long. He's no longer a strong choice for a contender, but there are worse regulars out there. I could see him rejoining the Twins or landing with the Braves. ? No one else here is a great bet to find work as a regular. Sanders might, although the team that signs him will want to have a strong backup. Nixon's on-base skills are intact, but if he can't hit for any power, there won't be any demand for his services. Perhaps the A's would take a flier on him.


Options
Bobby Abreu (Yankees) - $16 million club option, $2 million buyout
Adam Dunn (Reds) - $13 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Shawn Green (Mets) - $10 million mutual option, $2 million buyout
Geoff Jenkins (Brewers) - $9 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Moises Alou (Mets) - $7.5 million club option, $1 million buyout
Darin Erstad (White Sox) - $3.5 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Rondell White (Twins) - $3.5 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Rob Mackowiak (Padres) - $3.25 million club option, $300,000 buyout
Cliff Floyd (Cubs) - $3 million+ mutual option (vests with 100 games started or 425 PA)
Daryle Ward (Cubs) - $1.2 million club option, $50,000 buyout

Abreu probably wouldn't be worth $16 million for three or four years, but after what he's done the last couple of months, the Yankees should pick up the option for 2008. Jettisoning him and signing Andruw or Hunter to a six-year contract might not help in the short- or the long-term. ? The Reds might prefer to pick up the option and trade Dunn, but by exercising the option, they'd be granting him a no-trade clause through June 15. They should make the move anyway. There's no one better out there to spend the money on, and he can bring back prospects at the deadline if they don't want to go forward with him.

Of the rest of the options here, only those of Alou and Ward figure to be exercised. Letting Green go is a no-brainer for the Mets. Jenkins has done well enough this year to justify another multiyear contract, but the Brewers won't want to pay that much to keep him. The White Sox and Cubs could attempt to bring Erstad and Floyd back at lower prices. White is considering retirement.



Trade candidates: Manny Ramirez (Red Sox - NTC), Adam Dunn (Reds - NTC), Ken Griffey Jr. (Reds - NTC), Johnny Damon (Yankees - Limited NTC), Pat Burrell (Phillies - NTC), Austin Kearns (Nationals), David DeJesus (Royals), Coco Crisp (Red Sox), Jim Edmonds (Cardinals - NTC), Randy Winn (Giants - NTC), Mark Kotsay (Athletics), Luke Scott (Astros), Jacque Jones (Cubs), Xavier Nady (Pirates), Juan Encarnacion (Cardinals), Ryan Church (Nationals), Jay Payton (Orioles), Scott Podsednik (White Sox), Jay Gibbons (Orioles), Lastings Milledge (Mets), Carlos Quentin (Diamondbacks), Carlos Gonzalez (Diamondbacks), Wladimir Balentien (Mariners), Brian Anderson (White Sox), Brandon Moss (Red Sox), Michael Bourn (Phillies), Joey Gathright (Royals), Elijah Dukes (Devil Rays), Jonny Gomes (Devil Rays), Matt Murton (Cubs), Kevin Mench (Brewers), Chris Duffy (Pirates), Tony Gwynn Jr. (Brewers), Shin-Soo Choo (Indians), Jeremy Reed (Mariners), Jeff Salazar (Diamondbacks), Ben Francisco (Indians), Scott Hairston (Padres), Jason Lane (Astros), Jeff Baker (Rockies), Jason Botts (Rangers), Nelson Cruz (Rangers), Victor Diaz (Rangers), Brent Clevlen (Tigers), Nook Logan (Nationals), Kory Casto (Nationals), Terry Evans (Angels), Ryan Ludwick (Cardinals), Nate McLouth (Pirates), Laynce Nix (Brewers), Ben Johnson (Mets), John Rodriguez (Cardinals), Paul McAnulty (Padres), Shane Costa (Royals), Brandon Watson (Nationals), Freddy Guzman (Rangers), Kevin Thompson (Yankees), Nathan Haynes (Angels), Reggie Abercrombie (Marlins), Eric Reed (Marlins)

There's been no indication that Ramirez will issue his annual trade demand, but he has to be listed here -- it's a tradition. ? Damon has limited no-trade protection, but if the Yankees don't want to play him regularly, he'll probably accept a deal. He'd be a possibility to replace Andruw in Atlanta if the Yankees pick up a third of the $26 million he's owed through 2009. ? The Red Sox could part with Crisp and go to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, but they may prefer to wait until they're sure the 24-year-old is ready. ? The Diamondbacks may feel they have no further need of Quentin after extending Eric Byrnes. The Twins, Giants and Rangers are among the teams that should go hard after him.


Non-tender candidates: Scott Podsednik (White Sox), Craig Monroe (Cubs), Kevin Mench (Brewers), Emil Brown (Royals), Wily Mo Pena (Nationals), Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), Lew Ford (Twins), Cory Sullivan (Rockies), Jason Repko (Dodgers), Jayson Werth (Phillies), So Taguchi (Cardinals), Jason Lane (Astros), Terrmel Sledge (Padres), Luis Terrero (White Sox), Jason Tyner (Twins), Jason Ellison (Reds), Chris Snelling (Athletics), Alex Escobar (Nationals), Laynce Nix (Brewers), Jon Knott (Orioles), David Newhan (Mets), Todd Linden (Marlins), Tike Redman (Orioles), Darnell McDonald (Twins), Timo Perez (Tigers), Adam Stern (Orioles), Chris Roberson (Phillies), Sean Barker (Rockies)

Since Podsednik isn't due for much of a raise from the $2.9 million he's earning this year, he might have a little trade value left. The Twins, Cubs and Braves could be interested. ? Monroe was likely a rental in Chicago. He'll land a starting job somewhere, though he's probably best utilized off the bench. ? Mench's career has stalled in Milwaukee. He might yet have a couple of decent years as a regular in his future, but he probably won't have a starting job at the beginning of the year. ? Pena's fast start in Washington makes it more likely that he'll be kept. He could be a real force after they switch ballparks next year. ? If Ankiel goes 7-for-70 over the rest of the season, the Cardinals could non-tender him and re-sign him to a minor league contract. As is, it looks like they'll be keeping him on the major league roster.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Carl Crawford (Devil Rays)*, Manny Ramirez (Red Sox)*, Adam Dunn (Reds), Ken Griffey Jr. (Reds)*, Pat Burrell (Phillies), Jim Edmonds (Cardinals), Rocco Baldelli (Devil Rays)*, Brian Giles (Padres)*, Garret Anderson (Angels)*, Raul Ibanez (Mariners), Jacque Jones (Cubs), Juan Encarnacion (Cardinals), Wily Mo Pena (Nationals), Craig Monroe (Cubs), Mark Kotsay (Athletics), Endy Chavez (Mets), Scott Podsednik (White Sox), Jay Payton (Orioles), Juan Rivera (Angels), Kevin Mench (Brewers), Jason Michaels (Indians)*, Emil Brown (Royals)

2009 options: Crawford - $8.25 million ($2.5 million buyout), Ramirez - $20 million (additional $20 million option for 2010), Griffey - $16.5 million ($4 million buyout), Baldelli - $6 million ($4 million buyout), Giles - $9 million ($3 million buyout), Anderson - $14 million ($3 million buyout), Michaels - $2.6 million

Top 2009-10 free agents: Carl Crawford (Devil Rays)*, Matt Holliday (Rockies), Vladimir Guerrero (Angels)*, Jason Bay (Pirates), Magglio Ordonez (Tigers)*, Gary Sheffield (Tigers), Hideki Matsui (Yankees), Michael Cuddyer (Twins), Johnny Damon (Yankees), Austin Kearns (Nationals)*, Coco Crisp (Red Sox)*, Rocco Baldelli (Devil Rays)*, Jermaine Dye (White Sox)*, Randy Winn (Giants), Reed Johnson (Blue Jays), Xavier Nady (Pirates), Dave Roberts (Giants), Ryan Freel (Reds), Jay Gibbons (Orioles), Rick Ankiel (Cardinals), David Dellucci (Indians), Frank Catalanotto (Rangers)*, Marlon Byrd (Rangers), Jason Lane (Astros), Jayson Werth (Phillies), So Taguchi (Cardinals), Willie Harris (Braves),

2010 options: Crawford - $10 million ($1.25 million buyout), Guerrero - $15 million ($3 million buyout), Ordonez - $15 million ($3 million buyout - additional $15 million option for 2011), Kearns - $10 million ($1 million buyout), Crisp - $8 million ($500,000 buyout), Baldelli - $17 million for 2010-11 ($2 million buyout), Dye - $12 million mutual option ($1 million butout), Catalanotto - $5 million ($2 million buyout
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Streaks Snapped in Baltimore
Lots of interesting stuff to get to from the weekend's action, so let's skip the pleasantries and get right to the notes from around baseball ?

* Derrek Lee hit .330 in the first half and has hit just .268 in the second half, but his post-break OPS is actually slightly higher. How's that possible? Lee managed just six homers in 82 first-half games, but after homering Sunday he's already gone deep nine times in 37 games since the All-Star break. He also has 25 second-half RBIs after driving in a total of 42 runs during the first half, but has notched just eight doubles in the second half after doubling 26 times before the break.

Along with Lee's home-run power returning, the Cubs are also expected to get Alfonso Soriano back from the disabled list Tuesday. Out since August 5, Soriano has been saying that he's healthy enough to return for over a week, but the Cubs understandably took a cautious approach with his recovery timetable. Soriano figures to slide right back into the leadoff spot, where he's hit .310 with 18 homers and 17 steals in 94 games this season.

* Two Orioles saw impressive streaks end Sunday against the Twins. Erik Bedard gave up a season-high six runs over six innings to lose for the first time in 13 starts dating back to June 10. Bedard went 9-0 with a 2.22 ERA and 115-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89 innings during that stretch, holding opponents to a .173 batting average and .515 OPS. With Sunday's loss, Bedard drops to 0-5 against Minnesota during his career, compared to 40-31 against everyone else.

No doubt befuddled by his lack of success against Minnesota, Bedard called the Twins "a good-hitting team" that's "real patient." For the record, Minnesota ranks 10th among AL teams in runs and eighth in walks. Speaking of walks, Millar went 0-for-4 without a free pass Sunday as his streak of 52 straight games having reached base safely ended. Millar would have extended the streak with an extra-base hit had Torii Hunter not made a leaping catch at the wall to rob him.

* Matt Holliday continues to put up big numbers, going 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs Sunday to give him a .338 batting average, 24 homers, 44 doubles, 103 RBIs, and 88 runs in 127 games. Holliday is starting to get mentioned quite a bit as an MVP candidate, but it's important to factor in Coors Field when discussing his real-life value. Holliday's raw numbers are fantastic, but there's little doubt that he benefits greatly from playing half his games on Planet Coors.

During his career Holliday has hit .362 with a 1.074 OPS in Colorado, compared to just .271 with a .763 OPS everywhere else. So far this season Holliday has hit an amazing .381 with 18 homers and a 1.147 OPS in 65 games at home, compared to .296 with six homers and an .811 OPS in 62 games on the road. He remains a good player away from Coors Field and there's no need to adjust his raw numbers in fantasy leagues, but Holliday's real-life value is overstated.

* Andy Sonnanstine has put up ugly numbers as a 24-year-old rookie, going 3-9 with a 6.38 ERA in 16 starts even after holding the A's to a pair of runs over five innings Sunday. While Sonnanstine has been a fantasy disaster this season, his outstanding minor-league track record and equally impressive 70-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 96 innings with the Devil Rays makes him an excellent sleeper heading into 2008 and beyond.

Sonnanstine is sort of at the same stage in his development that Scott Baker was at this time last season, when he went 5-8 with a 6.37 ERA in 16 starts as a 24-year-old. Like Sonnanstine, Baker had a strong minor-league track record and sported a solid 62-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83.1 innings, which suggested that he was capable of much better. Sure enough, after holding the Orioles to a pair of earned runs over six innings Sunday, Baker is now 7-6 with a 4.42 ERA.

* After missing two weeks to be with his sick infant son, Alex Gonzalez is expected to return to the Reds' lineup Tuesday. However, Gonzalez may have a tough time reclaiming his everyday playing time with both Edwin Encarnacion and Jeff Keppinger faring extremely well in his absence. Encarnacion homered Sunday, giving him seven RBIs over the past six games, and is now hitting .329 with three homers, 14 RBIs, 16 runs, and an .872 OPS in 21 games this month.

Meanwhile, Keppinger has hit .368 with four homers, 22 RBIs, 28 runs, and a .985 OPS in 38 games overall, including .393 with 19 runs in 15 games since stepping into the starting lineup for Gonzalez on August 11. While he's not much of a power threat, the 27-year-old Keppinger is a career .320 hitter in over 2,400 minor-league plate appearances. Maintaining a .368 batting average is obviously out of the question, but he's capable of being a solid hitter long term.

AL Quick Hits: Gary Sheffield (shoulder) indicated Sunday that he may not join the Tigers on their road trip to Kansas City this week ? Joe Mauer (hamstring) is expected to miss at least the next three games, giving Mike Redmond a nice value boost ? Manager Mike Scioscia said Sunday that Casey Kotchman (fingers) will begin swinging a bat in the "next day or two," leaving Kendry Morales in the lineup for a while longer ? Kenny Rogers (elbow) threw a bullpen session Sunday, but said afterward that his control "wasn't real good" ? Apparently expecting to have a healthy Joe Crede next season, the White Sox moved Josh Fields from third base to left field Sunday ? Michael Young sat out Sunday's game because of continued back soreness ? Curtis Granderson could have settled for his MLB-leading 22nd triple Sunday, but instead turned on the jets for his second career inside-the-park homer ? Derek Jeter is expected to play Monday after sitting out Sunday's game with a sore knee ? J.D. Drew's homer Sunday was his first in 50 games dating back to mid-June ? Yankees first-round pick Andrew Brackman will undergo Tommy John elbow surgery, knocking him out for 2008.

NL Quick Hits: Chase Utley is scheduled to come off the disabled list Monday after missing a month with a broken hand, likely pushing Tadahito Iguchi to the bench ? Roy Oswalt (oblique) is on track to make his scheduled start Wednesday after throwing a pain-free bullpen session Sunday ? Adam Wainwright turned in his sixth straight Quality Start on Sunday, allowing one run over seven innings to give him a 3.04 ERA in 17 starts since mid-May ? After going 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs Sunday, Ryan Howard now has 34 homers and an NL-leading 105 RBIs in just 111 games ? With a scoreless ninth inning Sunday, Jose Valverde became baseball's first pitcher to reach 40 saves ? Chipper Jones took Sunday off after injuring his groin Saturday ? While the injury didn't appear serious, Jeff Kent exited Sunday's game after being hit on the helmet by a pitch ? Jason Werth collected five singles in five at-bats Sunday, driving in four runs ? Joel Hanrahan came into Sunday's outing at Coors Field with a 3.42 ERA in five starts, but watched it balloon to 5.90 after allowing nine runs in 2.2 innings ? Daily Dose favorite Chris Young went deep twice Sunday, giving him 28 homers and 21 steals through 118 games.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

2007 Free Agents - Pitchers
This is the second of two columns previewing this winter's free agent class. Below is a look at the available pitchers. Click here for Sunday's column on the hitters.

It's back to the usual notes format next week.


Starting Pitchers

Roger Clemens (Yankees) - Clemens' performance has fallen off enough in his return to the AL that it seems more likely than ever before that this is it for him. Still, there isn't one pitcher below him on this list that would necessarily be a better bet from June through September next year. If he comes back, he'll likely sit out the first two or three months again and then rejoin the Yankees. Still, I'm guessing that he's done. Prediction: Retirement

Curt Schilling (Red Sox) - Schilling is having trouble generating swings and misses these days, but he still has some of the best command in the league and he should be able to handle the game's better offenses when he's on top of his game. While the Red Sox wouldn't give him the one-year, $13 million extension he wanted this spring, they'll probably offer him that kind of money this winter if he remains healthy the rest of the way. Schilling has said he wouldn't consider the Yankees, and he seems more likely to stick to that than Johnny Damon did. If he leaves, it could be for Arizona. Tampa Bay has been mentioned as a possible destination, but it's unlikely that he'd seek to end his career with a probable non-contender. Prediction: Red Sox - one year, $13 million

Andy Pettitte (Yankees) - The downfall of the Astros started when they declined to meet Pettitte's demands, as they ended up parting with Jason Hirsh, Willy Taveras and Taylor Buchholz to bring in an inferior replacement in Jason Jennings. Unlike Clemens, Pettitte hasn't struggled with the switch back to the AL. In fact, his ERA has dropped from 4.20 last year to 3.69. The Yankees would be content to see him exercise his $16 million player option to return to the Bronx next season, and that's likely what will happen. Prediction: Exercises player option

Bartolo Colon (Angels) - Now this one is going to be interesting. With Carlos Zambrano agreeing to an extension, Colon has the best major league track record of any under-35 starter available. Of course, shoulder and elbow problems have limited him to a 6.08 ERA in 26 starts since the start of 2005. He's also had some back issues that are likely related to his weight. Colon has still displayed pretty good velocity at times this year, and since there's been no indication that he needs elbow surgery, the potential is there for him to rebound in 2008. However, he needs to return in September and put together a run of solid starts if he wants to be treated as a top property. Otherwise, he'd likely have to take a one-year deal in order to rebuild his value. That'd give him his best chance of staying in Anaheim. If he instead opts for the best multiyear deal he can get, he could join the Dodgers, Rangers, Mariners or Mets. Should he insist on the multiyear deal, take it as a sign that he thinks his arm will remain a problem going forward. Prediction: Mets - two years, $26 million

Koji Uehara (Japan) - At least, I think he's a free agent. He was supposed to be, and I'm assuming he still is, but Japan does (or did) have some odd rules about how DL stints affect service time. Uehara, who turns 33 in April, spent the first eight years of his career as one of Japan's top starters, amassing a 102-54 record with a 3.01 ERA, 1,238 strikeouts and just 186 walks allowed in 1,397 1/3 innings. Oddly, he was converted into a closer this year, apparently because of some shoulder woes. It was thought he'd be eased back into the rotation, but he's been in the bullpen all year long and collected 23 saves. Uehara was already expected to make the jump to MLB this winter, and that he prefers to start would only seem to make him more eager. He projects as a very solid No. 3 starter. The shoulder could scare off some teams, but since he's still as good of a long-term bet as any free agent starter out there, expect there to be plenty of suitors. Prediction: Dodgers - three years, $30 million

Kenshin Kawakami (Japan) - With fewer questions about his health, Kawakami might rank ahead of Uehara on some lists. The 32-year-old right-hander is 10-7 with a 3.77 ERA and a 116/18 K/BB ratio in 126 2/3 innings in the Central League this year. He had arguably his best year in 2006, finishing with a 2.51 ERA and establishing career highs in strikeouts (194) and innings (215). Like Uehara, he wouldn't overpower major league hitters with his fastball. However, his stuff is legit and his command should make him a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He'd fit well in practically any rotation baseball. Prediction: Diamondbacks - four years, $36 million

Tom Glavine (Mets) - Glavine has indicated he's leaning towards retirement, but he has the ability to return to the Mets after hitting the 160-inning mark in his last start. His player option is worth $9 million at the moment and could increase to as much as $13 million if he throws 200 innings. If the Mets win the World Series, it's assumed that Glavine will choose to go out on top. Otherwise, he could be back for one more year. He'll probably finish his career with the Mets regardless. Prediction: Exercises player option

Kenny Rogers (Tigers) - Rogers didn't help his negotiating position this month when he said he'll either stay with the Tigers or retire this winter. He'll probably keep playing unless he thinks his elbow won't be able to handle it, and the Tigers will welcome him back. If he can pull off a successful return next month, he'll likely even get a raise from the $8 million he's making this year. Prediction: Tigers - one year, $10 million

Freddy Garcia (Phillies) - Garcia pitched 200 innings in six straight seasons before finally succumbing to a sore shoulder this year. Given that he lost his best fastball a couple of years ago, there were signs that this was coming. Garcia will try to return next month and show that he still has something left. He's just 31, but his arm has a lot of miles on it, and neither his labrum nor his rotator cuff damage will just go away. I think Colon is a better bet to bounce back. Still, Garcia could get a three- or four-year deal if he impresses during September. Prediction: Rangers - one year, $9 million

Carlos Silva (Twins) - Silva pitched himself out of the rotation for a time during 2006, and he wasn't all that much better in the first half of 2007. However, he has helped himself out a ton with a 1.75 ERA over his last five starts. At 27, he'll be the youngest starter available this winter, making it likely that a nice payday is on the way. His sinker will make him especially attractive to teams in smaller ballparks, even if he doesn't get as many grounders as most like to believe. The Phillies, Reds, Orioles, Rangers, Rays and Braves are among the clubs that could pursue him. Prediction: Reds - four years, $32 million

Jason Jennings (Astros) - Had Jennings been a free agent last winter, he probably would have received Gil Meche money (five years, $55 million). Now he's a huge risk after going 2-9 with a 6.45 ERA in 99 innings for the Astros. That he had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his elbow wouldn't be a massive concern it if was his only problem. However, he also experienced shoulder issues that could have a long-term impact. A one-year deal, perhaps with an expensive option for 2009, should be in the cards here. The Astros will make an attempt to retain him, and the Red Sox, Yankees and Mets are among the large-market teams that could look to gamble. Prediction: Yankees - one year, $7 million plus incentives

Jeff Weaver (Mariners) - Even though he's making more than $8 million, Weaver was nearly released after beginning the year 0-6 with a 14.25 ERA. A DL stint followed, and he's 6-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 starts since. If he remains reliable, he might land a multiyear deal this winter after back-to-back one-year contracts. He'd be better off in the NL, preferably with a team in a big ballpark. Prediction: Nationals - three years, $24 million

Jon Lieber (Phillies) - Lieber suffered a season-ending foot injury in June, leaving him 29-30 with a 4.55 ERA in his three years with the Phillies. His fastball has declined to the point at which he's no more than a No. 4 starter. Still, because he's so good about avoiding walks, he could be of help in a bigger ballpark. The Padres and Mariners should look at him closely this winter. Prediction: Padres - two years, $12 million

Livan Hernandez (Diamondbacks) - It's amazing that he still competes as well as he does, but Hernandez's days as a reliable innings eater should be coming to an end. He hasn't managed even a strikeout every other inning this year, and his WHIP is up to 1.57. There's little enough pitching available that some team might give him a multiyear deal anyway, but he's going to be a poor investment. Prediction: Cardinals - two years, $13 million

Kyle Lohse (Phillies) - Lohse won't quite be this year's Gil Meche, but odds are that he'll receive a contract that will surprise a lot of people. That he's one of the youngest pitchers available and one of the harder throwers gives him some perceived upside, even if he's spent his entire career looking like a fourth or fifth starter. If Lohse finishes strong -- he currently has a 3.95 ERA in five starts for the Phillies -- it's conceivable that some team will go to $32 million over four years for him. $20 million for three years seems more realistic right now. Prediction: Phillies - three years, $21 million

Matt Clement (Red Sox) - Clement isn't expected to see any action next month for the Red Sox as he completes his rehab from shoulder surgery, but he will try to impress teams while pitching in the instructional league. If he shows his stuff is back, he'll be heavily pursued. There are few pitchers available with more talent. Prediction: Blue Jays - one year, $5 million plus incentives

Kip Wells (Cardinals) - Wells is 3-2 with a 3.59 ERA in his last seven starts, opening up the possibility that he'll be offered some multiyear deals this winter. It's easier to write off that disastrous first half in a market as bare as his one. Prediction: Rockies - two years, $9 million


Other free agents: Shawn Chacon (Pirates), Josh Fogg (Rockies), Rodrigo Lopez (Rockies), Eric Milton (Reds), Jaret Wright (Orioles), Byung-Hyun Kim (Marlins), Joe Kennedy (FA), Wade Miller (FA), Casey Fossum (FA), Brian Lawrence (Mets), John Thomson (Royals), Ramon Ortiz (Rockies), Russ Ortiz (Giants), Mark Redman (Rockies), Tomo Ohka (FA), Jamey Wright (Rangers), Scott Elarton (Indians), Sidney Ponson (FA), Chan Ho Park (FA), Jerome Williams (Minor FA - Twins), Dave Williams (Minor FA - Mets), Shawn Estes (Padres), Joe Mays (FA), Bruce Chen (FA), Zach Day (Minor FA - Royals)

Chacon may prefer to start, but he could have more suitors as a reliever after doing solid work in a setup role for the Pirates. He'd have a better chance of getting a two-year deal if he's willing to work out of the pen. ? Lopez would have been in line for a multiyear deal if his elbow had held up for one more year. He'll miss most or all of 2007 following Tommy John surgery. ? Milton underwent the same procedure back in June and could return for the second half.


Options
Greg Maddux (Padres) - $11 million club option, $6 million-$10 million player option
Randy Wolf (Dodgers) - $9 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Odalis Perez (Royals) - $9 million club option, $1.5 million buyout
Paul Byrd (Indians) - $8 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Kris Benson (Orioles) - $7.5 million club option, $500,000 buyout
Tony Armas Jr. (Pirates) - $5 million mutual option, $500,000 buyout
Steve Trachsel (Orioles) - $4.75 million club option, $100,000 buyout
Brett Tomko (Dodgers) - $4.5 million mutual option, $1 million buyout
Tim Wakefield (Red Sox) - $4 million club option
Joel Pineiro (Cardinals) - $4 million mutual option
Julian Tavarez (Red Sox) - $3.85 million club option

Wakefield's option is the only one here guaranteed to be picked up. I'd be curious to see exactly what he would have gotten as a free agent if he ended up winning 20 games as a 40-year-old this season. $30 million over three years isn't unrealistic. ? Whether the club option is exercised or not, Maddux and San Diego should work something out. If the Padres really believe he's been such a positive influence on Jake Peavy and Chris Young, $11 million seems like a bargain. ? Wolf's shoulder woes will probably put him back on the market. He's expected to be a reliever if he makes it back next month, giving him little chance of rebuilding his value.

The Indians will probably exercise Byrd's option. Even if they decide they could spend $8 million better elsewhere, he should have a little trade value at that price. ? Benson, who underwent season-ending rotator cuff surgery in March, could stay with the Orioles on a smaller deal. ? Armas, Trachsel and Tomko are goners. The Dodgers have already jettisoned Tomko, but I'm leaving him listed here, as there's a chance someone could claim him off waivers and inherit the option. ? The Cardinals will probably seek to retain Piniero if he stays at his current level. ? Tavarez has looked adequate enough as a fifth starter this year to justify that salary. I can see the Red Sox picking up the option and trading him.



Trade candidates: Johan Santana (Twins - NTC), C.C. Sabathia (Indians), Roy Oswalt (Astros - NTC), Dontrelle Willis (Marlins), Brett Myers (Phillies), Bronson Arroyo (Reds), Jon Garland (White Sox), Rich Harden (Athletics), Joe Blanton (Athletics), A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays), Noah Lowry (Giants), Aaron Cook (Rockies), Nate Robertson (Tigers), Daniel Cabrera (Orioles), Chris Capuano (Brewers), Zach Duke (Pirates), Mike Pelfrey (Mets), Scott Olsen (Marlins), Ervin Santana (Angels), Jeremy Sowers (Indians), Anthony Reyes (Cardinals), Edinson Volquez (Rangers), Dave Bush (Brewers), Chad Gaudin (Athletics), Wandy Rodriguez (Astros), Clay Hensley (Padres), Scott Baker (Twins), Philip Humber (Mets), Jason Vargas (Mets), Matt Morris (Pirates), Braden Looper (Cardinals), Jose Contreras (White Sox), Esteban Loaiza (Athletics), Kei Igawa (Yankees), Robinson Tejeda (Rangers), Dustin Nippert (Diamondbacks), Ryan Feierabend (Mariners), Tyler Clippard (Yankees), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Gustavo Chacin (Blue Jays), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), Mike Maroth (Cardinals), Dustin Moseley (Angels), Zach Jackson (Brewers), Edgar Gonzalez (Diamondbacks), Heath Phillips (White Sox)

It's highly unlikely that the Twins will move Santana, but they'll get phone calls from the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and others. ? The Indians probably won't be able to re-sign Sabathia after extending Jake Westbrook and Travis Hafner this year. There's a good chance they'll keep him anyway, but if someone offers up a top young starter and a potential closer, they'd have to consider it. ? The Astros have little interest in rebuilding, so Oswalt is probably staying. ? Willis is the top starter most likely to be dealt this winter. He's not bringing as many people to the ballpark as he once did, giving the Marlins more incentive to move him. ? The White Sox probably won't carry four $10 million+ starters again, and Garland figures to bring a fine return, even if he has struggled mightily lately. I think he and Willis are the name starters most likely to go.

Burnett has worn out his welcome in Toronto. Unfortunately, he wouldn't bring much in return, mostly because of his escape clause after 2008. He'll leave as a free agent if he's good next season, and if he gets hurt instead, the team that acquires him would be on the hook for $24 million between 2009 and 2010. ? Cook is a free agent after next year, and the Rockies could part with him for a Jennings-type package. Someone may pay the price to acquire his sinker. ? Capuano has gone from being regarded as one of the NL's top lefties to the odd man out in the Milwaukee rotation. The Brewers won't want to sell low, but they do have Manny Parra to replace him if they get a quality offer.



Non-tender candidates: Mark Prior (Cubs), John Patterson (Nationals), Horacio Ramirez (Mariners), Mike Maroth (Cardinals), Josh Towers (Blue Jays), Jae Seo (Devil Rays), Matt Belisle (Reds), Tim Redding (Nationals), Luke Hudson (Royals), Mike Bacsik (Nationals), Jason Simontacchi (Nationals), Brandon Claussen (Nationals), John Koronka (Indians)

Prior, who hopes to be ready for 2008 after shoulder surgery, could use a fresh start elsewhere. He's due another $3.5 million in his final year of arbitration. ? That Patterson lost his arbitration case last year should mean that he'll stick around. He's only making $850,000 this season, and the Nats can gamble a similar amount on him in 2008. Had he won his case, giving him a $1.85 million salary this season, the Nats might have figured that was too much to pay. ? Ramirez has a 6.67 ERA in 16 starts, and he's giving up about 3 ? hits for every strikeout he records. It'd take a strong finish for the Mariners to have any interest in retaining him. ? Redding will be kept by the Nats if he maintains his current performance through September. He'll have to fall off some, though.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Johan Santana (Twins), Jake Peavy (Padres)*, C.C. Sabathia (Indians), Ben Sheets (Brewers), Brad Penny (Dodgers)*, John Smoltz (Braves)*, Derek Lowe (Dodgers), Kazumi Saito (Japan), Jon Garland (White Sox), Oliver Perez (Mets), Aaron Cook (Rockies), A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays)*, Pedro Martinez (Mets), Mark Mulder (Cardinals)*, Mike Mussina (Yankees), Orlando Hernandez (Mets), Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks), Mark Prior (Cubs), Mike Hampton (Braves)*, Braden Looper (Cardinals), Matt Morris (Pirates)*, Esteban Loaiza (Athletics)*, Horacio Ramirez (Mariners), Woody Williams (Astros)*, Carl Pavano (Yankees)*, Jamie Moyer (Phillies), Mark Hendrickson (Dodgers), Mike Maroth (Cardinals)

2009 options: Peavy - $8 million-$11 million ($500,000 buyout), Penny - $8.75 million ($2 million buyout), Smoltz - $12 million (vests with 200 IP in 2008), Burnett - Opt out clause (owed $24 million in 2009-10), Mulder - $11 million ($1.5 million buyout), Hampton - $20 million option ($6 million buyout), Morris - $9 million ($1 million buyout), Loaiza - $7.5 million ($375,000 buyout), Williams - $6.75 million ($250,000 buyout), Pavano - $13 million club option ($1.95 million buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: Brandon Webb (Diamondbacks)*, Erik Bedard (Orioles), Josh Beckett (Red Sox)*, John Lackey (Angels)*, Tim Hudson (Braves)*, Dontrelle Willis (Marlins), Brett Myers (Phillies), Rich Harden (Athletics), Kelvim Escobar (Angels), Jason Schmidt (Dodgers), Chris Capuano (Brewers), Cliff Lee (Indians)*, Nate Robertson (Tigers), John Patterson (Nationals), Jarrod Washburn (Mariners), Vicente Padilla (Rangers)*, Jason Marquis (Cubs), Jose Contreras (White Sox), Adam Eaton (Phillies)*, Miguel Batista (Mariners), Brandon Backe (Astros), Claudio Vargas (Brewers), Josh Towers (Blue Jays)

2010 options: Webb - $8.5 million ($1 million buyout), Beckett - $12 million ($2 million buyout), Lackey - $9 million ($500,000 buyout), Hudson - $12 million mutual ($1 million buyout), Lee - $8 million ($1 million buyout), Padilla - $12 million ($1.75 million buyout), Eaton - $9 million mutual option ($500,000 buyout)


Relief Pitchers

Mariano Rivera (Yankees) - Rivera has followed up four straight seasons of sub-2.00 ERAs with what will likely go down as his worst year since he became a full-time reliever in 1996. However, the Yankees would surely prefer him over any of the other available relievers as their 2008 closer. It'd be terribly stunning if the two sides failed to come to terms on an extension. Rivera would seem to have at least a couple of more years left as a quality closer. He's done as the game's best, but he's still plenty good enough. Prediction: Yankees - two years, $25 million

Francisco Cordero (Brewers) - Cordero opened the season 22-for-22 in save chances, with a sparkling 0.36 ERA through June 5. Since then, he's been a lot more like his usual inconsistent self, blowing six of his last 21 opportunities and giving up at least two runs five times. Cordero has durability and one of the game's best strikeout rates working in his favor. He's also one of only two top closers sure to be available this winter. As a result, something like four years and $40 million is a possibility. The Giants, Indians, Phillies, Braves and Royals could be in the mix for him. The Yankees may pursue him if they lose Rivera, but that's a long shot. Prediction: Giants - four years, $36 million

Eric Gagne (Red Sox) - Gagne's stock was sky high again when he posted a 2.16 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP for the Rangers through the first four months. He started off terribly for the Red Sox, but he has rebounded with scoreless innings in his last four appearances. Gagne should enter 2008 as a closer. Whether he gets multiyear offers will depend on how he finishes up with Boston. It's doubtful the Red Sox could bring him back as a setup man. They might not even want to. Prediction: Orioles - one year, $10 million

Scott Linebrink (Brewers) - Linebrink may be on the decline after three years as an elite setup man, but he's still giving up less than a hit per inning and maintaining a pretty good walk rate. His main flaw is that he's prone to the home run ball, which made him an ideal fit in Petco. Still, he'd be an adequate closer for a lesser team and a solid setup man on most others. The Braves, Indians, Royals and Giants could consider turning over ninth-inning duties to him, and the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, Mets and Mariners are among the clubs that may pursue him as an eighth-inning guy. He might get the same kind of money Justin Speier did last year. Prediction: Yankees - four years, $20 million

Octavio Dotel (Braves) - Under the terms of the deal he agreed to with the Royals, Dotel has a $5.5 million player option he can exercise for 2008. However, that is voidable by the team. So, if he finishes the year healthy, he's almost surely going to hold out for a multiyear deal. If he doesn't, then the Braves would seek to void the option. Either way, he seems likely to get a new contract. Dotel, who was pursued as both a closer and a setup man last year, should interest the same teams as Linebrink. The Braves figure to try to keep him if his demands are reasonable. Prediction: Indians - three years, $18 million

Hitoki Iwase (Japan) - Unless Hiroke Kuroda or Masahide Kobayashi is posted, Iwase figures to be the most sought-after Japanese reliever this winter. Hirotoshi Ishii, who also figured to be on a lot of teams' lists, underwent shoulder surgery in January, costing him the season. Iwase has 34 saves and a 2.53 ERA this year. He's had an ERA under 2.00 in six of his previous eight seasons. Iwase doesn't possess top-notch stuff, but he does get into the low-90s with his fastball and he's deceptive. The left-hander should be able to succeed as a closer in the majors, and several large-market teams will be after him as a setup man. He'll get a bigger first contract than any Japanese reliever has previously. Prediction: Red Sox - four years, $20 million

Todd Jones (Tigers) - He's difficult to watch, but Jones has managed 33 saves in 38 attempts despite a 4.47 ERA in his age 39 season. He'd likely be a liability outside of the closer's role, but if he wants to keep pitching, he'll find another team willing to give him save opportunities. Atlanta would make a lot of sense, as he'd be pitching close to home in Georgia. He'd also be a fit in Florida, and the Orioles could ink him as a one-year stopgap while Chris Ray recovers from Tommy John surgery. Prediction: Braves - one year, $6 million

Bob Wickman (Braves) - Although they were dealing with a strict budget, the Braves gave Wickman a $6.5 million deal to return as their closer this year. He was barely competent when protecting leads in the ninth, and he was a bust when used in any other fashion. Like Jones, Wickman would prove to be a well below average reliever if he had to come in with men on base more than a couple of times per year. The Indians aren't interested in bringing him back, so Wickman's career could be over. He's talked of retirement often enough that it seems unlikely that he'd accept an incentive-laden deal in an attempt to prolong his career. Prediction: Retirement

Luis Vizcaino (Yankees) - Vizcaino, on his fourth team in four years, had a rough time early on after joining the Yankees in the Randy Johnson deal, but he's been one of the AL's most reliable setup men over the last three months. Since he's durable and he's on his way to posting an ERA under 4.00 for the fourth straight season, he should have little trouble receiving at least $15 million for three years. The Yankees will likely invite him back. Prediction: Tigers - three years, $16.5 million

Armando Benitez (Marlins) - Benitez has struck out 51 in 48 1/3 innings this year, but he's also given up 33 runs -- 26 of them earned -- and walked 25. He'd be best off in the closer's role, but he might have worn out his welcome with enough teams now that he'll have a tough time landing a job. The Royals could take a chance on him, but he probably needs to stay in the NL if he's going to have a chance. I could see him joining the Nationals if the club decides to sell Chad Cordero. Prediction: Nationals - one year, $3 million

Kerry Wood (Cubs) - Wood thought he was on his way to undergoing shoulder surgery before a sudden recovery allowed him to rejoin the Cubs' bullpen. Still, he hasn't been nearly as impressive this month as he was while in the bullpen back in 2005. Wood's hope was that he'd turn in a full year as a reliever and then go back to starting games next year. However, pitching out of the bullpen looks like his best bet for now. Another incentive-laden deal is likely, and he's a better bet to stay with the Cubs than is Mark Prior. Prediction: Cubs - one year, $2 million plus incentives

Jeremy Affeldt (Rockies) - Affeldt, who has quietly posted a 3.28 ERA in 60 appearances for the Rockies this season, could land the biggest contract of any of the free agent lefties, Japanese pitchers excluded. He's still not a very good bet, but he's just 28 and he has a better fastball than most. He'll get at least two years and probably three years this winter. Prediction: Cubs - three years, $12 million

Jorge Julio (Rockies) - Julio was a complete bust as Florida's closer to begin the year, but with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in 39 innings for the Rockies, he could be in line for another opportunity. The Rockies will make an attempt to re-sign him, and the Reds could try to bring him in to battle David Weathers. Prediction: Rockies - two years, $8 million


Other free agents: Mike Timlin (Red Sox), Keith Foulke (FA), Russ Springer (Cardinals), Antonio Alfonseca (Phillies), Troy Percival (Cardinals), Jose Mesa (Phillies), Ron Mahay (Braves), Trever Miller (Astros), J.C. Romero (Phillies), Ron Villone (Yankees), Rudy Seanez (Dodgers), Doug Brocail (Padres), Elmer Dessens (Rockies), Ray King (Nationals), Hector Carrasco (Nationals), Roberto Hernandez (Dodgers), Todd Williams (FA), Paul Shuey (Orioles), Glendon Rusch (FA), Scott Williamson (FA), Arthur Rhodes (Mariners), Cliff Politte (Indians), Tom Martin (FA), Jay Witasick (Devil Rays), Dan Kolb (Pirates), Matt Herges (Rockies), Tanyon Sturtze (Braves), Rheal Cormier (Braves), Ricardo Rincon (Giants), Aaron Sele (Mets), Mike DeJean (Rockies), Rick White (Mariners), Jim Brower (Yankees), Scott Sauerbeck (Blue Jays), Brian Moehler (Astros), John Wasdin (Pirates), Jon Adkins (Minor FA - Mets), Erasmo Ramiez (Minor FA - Marlins), Nate Field (Minor FA - Marlins), Wes Obermueller (Minor FA - Marlins)

The 41-year-old Timlin looked done a couple of months ago, but he's bounced back with an 0.93 ERA in 19 1/3 innings since the break. The Red Sox figure to give him another one-year deal if he wants to keep pitching. ? There was talk back in May of Foulke attempting a comeback after a sore elbow caused him to retire in February. It didn't happen, but it'd be no surprise to see him in a major league bullpen next year. ? Springer, who has a 2.68 ERA in 50 1/3 innings for the Cards, will be very picky as a free agent for family reasons. Unless he chooses to retire, odds are that he'll stick with St. Louis.


Options
Jason Isringhausen (Cardinals) - $8 million club option, $1.25 million buyout
Trevor Hoffman (Padres) - $7.5 million vesting option, $2 million buyout
Joe Nathan (Twins) - $6 million club option, $1 million buyout
Joe Borowski (Indians) - $4 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Scott Eyre (Cubs) - $3.8 million player option
LaTroy Hawkins (Rockies) - $3.75 million mutual option, $250,000 buyout
Eddie Guardado (Reds) - $3 million club option
David Riske (Royals) - $2.85 million club option, $250,000 buyout
Chris Reitsma (Mariners) - $2.7 million club option, $700,000 buyout
Al Reyes (Devil Rays) - $2 million club option
Darren Oliver (Angels) - $2 million vesting option, $250,000 buyout
Aaron Fultz (Indians) - $1.5 million club option, $150,000 buyout
Mike Myers (White Sox) - $1.1 million club option

The three top names here all figure to stay. Izzy's status was in doubt a few months ago, but the Cards will have to pay up to keep him now. Hoffman's option will vest, and the only way Nathan's option won't be picked up is if the Twins can sign him to an extension first. ? Borowski has a 5.51 ERA, but it seems like the Indians would be OK with keeping him in the closer's role for another year. They'll likely exercise the option even if they find someone better to pitch the ninth. ? Eyre almost certainly will pick up the player option. He's been better lately, but he'd still be lucky to make half that as a free agent.

Of the rest, only Reyes is certain to have his option picked up, though Riske only needs to keep doing what he's doing to join the club. Hawkins and Reitsma, who is considering retirement, are sure to be jettisoned. ? Guardado would have to show a lot more in his second month back from Tommy John surgery to cause the Reds to give him another try. He has a long road ahead of him if he's ever going to close again.



Trade candidates: Chad Cordero (Nationals), Brad Lidge (Astros), Jose Valverde (Diamondbacks), Brian Fuentes (Rockies), Akinori Otsuka (Rangers), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Al Reyes (Devil Rays), Jon Rauch (Nationals), Aaron Heilman (Mets), Zack Greinke (Royals), David Weathers (Reds), Dan Wheeler (Devil Rays), Chad Qualls (Astros), Joaquin Benoit (Rangers), Mike MacDougal (White Sox), Derrick Turnbow (Brewers), Damaso Marte (Pirates), Juan Rincon (Twins), Kyle Farnsworth (Yankees), Craig Hansen (Red Sox), Taylor Tankersley (Marlins), Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks), Angel Guzman (Cubs), Salomon Torres (Pirates), Juan Cruz (Diamondbacks), Brian Bruney (Yankees), Matt Wise (Brewers), Jimmy Gobble (Royals), Andrew Sisco (White Sox), Todd Coffey (Reds), Jason Frasor (Blue Jays), Kiko Calero (Athletics), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Will Ohman (Cubs), Kyle Snyder (Red Sox), Steve Kline (Giants), Sean Henn (Yankees), Lance Cormier (Braves), Brian Stokes (Devil Rays), Clay Rapada (Cubs)

The usual rule is that closers bring more in trade at the July deadline than in the offseason. Still, there's little enough available in free agency that we should see more movement on the trade front than usual this winter. Cordero's youth and reliability will make him a top target if the Nats back off their asking price a bit, and Fuentes would immediately jump to the head of the class among lefties if the Rockies let him go. ? Valverde figures to stay, but Arizona has the bullpen depth to part with him if it meant getting a quality young starter in return. The Brewers are likely to need a replacement for Cordero and have a history of making deals with the Diamondbacks.

Otsuka's elbow troubles are significant enough to scare away potential suitors, making him likely to stay in Texas. ? Heilman still wants to start games somewhere, and if the Mets can land a quality reliever elsewhere, they might grant his wish and move him. Sending him to the Rays for Reyes might make sense for both teams.



Non-tender candidates: Brendan Donnelly (Red Sox), Jorge Sosa (Mets), Neal Cotts (Cubs), Julio Mateo (Phillies), Seth McClung (Brewers), Wilfredo Ledezma (Padres), Kirk Saarloos (Reds), Tyler Walker (Giants), Matt Miller (Indians), Todd Wellemeyer (Cardinals), Brandon Duckworth (Royals), John Parrish (Mariners), Greg Aquino (Brewers), Grant Balfour (Devil Rays), Gary Glover (Devil Rays), Micah Bowie (Nationals), Billy Traber (Nationals), Dave Borkowski (Astros), Mike Wood (Rangers), Willie Eyre (Rangers), Shawn Camp (Devil Rays), Chad Paronto (Braves), Jason Grilli (Tigers), Ryan Wagner (Nationals), Brad Halsey (Athletics), Joe Nelson (Royals), Juan Padilla (Mets), Rob Bell (Orioles), Mike Koplove (Indians), D.J. Houlton (Dodgers), Clay Condrey (Phillies), Aaron Rakers (Padres), Randy Keisler (Cardinals), Kelvin Jimenez (Cardinals), Scott Dohmann (Devil Rays), Jon Switzer (Devil Rays), Chris Seddon (Marlins), Stephen Randolph (Astros), Miguel Asencio (Astros)

Donnelly is likely to miss most or all of next season after Tommy John surgery. ? Sosa has a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings since a shift to the bullpen. If he remains effective, the Mets will risk going to arbitration with him. ? Cotts went from being one of the game's best relievers to minor leaguer in less than a year and a half. He wouldn't make more than $800,000 in arbitration, but the Cubs could decide to move on anyway.


Top 2008-09 free agents: Francisco Rodriguez (Angels), Joe Nathan (Twins), Brad Lidge (Astros), Trevor Hoffman (Padres), Rafael Soriano (Braves), Brian Fuentes (Rockies), Ryan Dempster (Cubs), Al Reyes (Devil Rays), Hideki Okajima (Red Sox)*, Bobby Howry (Cubs), Dan Wheeler (Devil Rays), Brandon Lyon (Diamondbacks), Joaquin Benoit (Rangers), Kyle Farnsworth (Yankees), David Weathers (Reds), Juan Rincon (Twins), Tom Gordon (Phillies)*, Damaso Marte (Pirates)*, Alan Embree (Athletics)*, Juan Cruz (Diamondbacks), Luis Ayala (Nationals), Salomon Torres (Pirates)*, Matt Wise (Brewers), Guillermo Mota (Mets), Scott Downs (Blue Jays), Jorge Sosa (Mets), Brendan Donnelly (Red Sox), Oscar Villarreal (Braves), Joe Beimel (Dodgers), Will Ohman (Cubs), Dennys Reyes (Twins), Brian Shouse (Brewers), Steve Kline (Giants), John Parrish (Mariners), Mike Stanton (Reds)*

2009 options: Okajima - $1.75 million vesting option, Gordon - $4.5 million ($1 million buyout), Marte - $6 million ($250,000 buyout), Embree - $3 million, Torres - $3.75 million ($300,000 buyout), Stanton - $2.5 million ($500,000 buyout)

Top 2009-10 free agents: J.J. Putz (Mariners)*, Billy Wagner (Mets)*, Chad Cordero (Nationals), Jose Valverde (Diamondbacks), Mike Gonzalez (Braves), Derrick Turnbow (Brewers), Rafael Betancourt (Indians), Akinori Otsuka (Rangers), Fernando Rodney (Tigers), Danys Baez (Orioles), Mike MacDougal (White Sox)*, Justin Duchscherer (Athletics), Ryan Madson (Phillies), Kevin Gregg (Marlins), Jamie Walker (Orioles), Chad Bradford (Orioles), Duaner Sanchez (Mets), Ryan Franklin (Cardinals)*, John Grabow (Pirates), Kiko Calero (Athletics), Scott Schoeneweis (Mets), Jesus Colome (Nationals)

2010 options: Putz - $8.6 million ($1 million buyout), Wagner - $8 million ($1 million buyout), MacDougal - $3.75 million ($350,000 buyout), Franklin - $2.75 million ($250,000 buyout)
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Moose Losing Rotation Spot?
Leading up to his start Monday against the Tigers, there was plenty of talk in the New York media that Mike Mussina could be pitching for his spot in the Yankees' rotation following a string of bad outings. If that was the case?and manager Joe Torre definitely shied away from making such pronouncements when asked?Mussina likely pitched himself out of a job by allowing six runs over three innings in a game that turned into a 16-0 laugher.

Torre said prior to Mussina's start that the Yankees would not be calling up last year's first-round pick, 22-year-old Ian Kennedy, who's 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA between three levels of the minors. However, with Mussina's continued struggles in a game that also saw 24-year-old Justin Verlander shut the Yankees out for seven innings, perhaps Torre feels a little more tempted to see if another young pitcher can have a Joba Chamberlain-like impact down the stretch.

Of course, Phil Hughes is arguably the best pitching prospect in all of baseball and rejoined the Yankees' rotation early this month following a stint on the disabled list. The 21-year-old right-hander was supposed to be that young starter making a huge impact down the stretch and showed signs of being a dominant pitcher before being sidelined, but has instead posted a 6.11 ERA in five post-injury starts while serving up five homers in 28 innings.

General manager Brian Cashman tried to explain Hughes' recent struggles Monday, saying that his fastball velocity has been down since coming off the DL. "I don't know why," Cashman said. "It's our job to continue to look and see if there's anything mechanically. He could still be just building arm strength from being down for so long." Cashman added that Hughes' velocity has improved some, but also said: "He's not coming at hitters with his full ability yet."

While the Yankees' season-long rotation problems come up again at the worst possible time, here are some other notes from around baseball ?

* Pedro Martinez made his fourth minor-league rehab start Monday at Single-A, turning in his best and longest outing yet by allowing only an unearned run over six innings. "I felt good overall," Martinez said. "I feel like I used all my pitches and I was getting more confident as the game went on." Working deep into the game suggests that Martinez could be nearing a return from the disabled list, but it's noteworthy that he was pitching on six days' rest.

Allowing five hits over six innings to a bunch of 20- and 21-year-olds at Single-A doesn't really hint at upcoming greatness with the Mets, but barring a setback Martinez is likely on track to come off the DL following one more rehab start. With Brian Lawrence struggling Monday for the third straight outing while dropping to 1-2 with a 6.31 ERA in 25.2 innings overall, it's clear that he'll be the starter bumped from the rotation once Martinez is ready to go.

* After insisting that he wasn't close to being ready to play while the Tigers repeatedly said that they expected him to return soon, Gary Sheffield was placed on the disabled list Monday with a sore right shoulder. The move was backdated to August 22, which means that Sheffield could return after missing just 10 more days. However, that's far from guaranteed judging by Sheffield's ongoing assessment of the injury, which has persisted through two cortisone shots and rest.

The Tigers called up Timo Perez from Triple-A to take Sheffield's spot on the roster, but it's Marcus Thames who'll likely take over as the team's everyday designated hitter. With Thames needed at DH, Cameron Maybin should see the bulk of the playing time in left field, with Ryan Raburn also potentially getting into the mix for at-bats. Prior to heading to the DL, Sheffield hit just .185 with a .544 OPS in 14 games this month.

* After going 2-for-4 while getting a rare start against a right-hander Sunday, Matt Diaz started against a left-hander Monday and went 4-for-6 with a homer and two doubles. Diaz and Willie Harris have formed a relatively strict platoon for the Braves in left field, but don't be surprised if that changes soon. Harris is just 24-for-107 (.224) in 32 games since going 6-for-6 on July 21 and has been caught on six of his seven steal attempts over that span.

Meanwhile, Diaz is batting .347 with five homers, 12 RBIs, 17 runs, and a 1.028 OPS in 80 plate appearances during that same stretch. A minor-league veteran who was finally given a shot at regular playing time by the Braves as a 28-year-old last season, Diaz has now batted .339 with 17 homers, 33 doubles, and an .869 OPS in 624 total plate appearances (essentially one full season) in Atlanta. Diaz hit .315 while making over 3,000 trips to the plate in the minors.

AL Quick Hits: Joe Mauer (hamstring) will likely be limited to pinch-hitting duties for the remainder of the week ? Unable to swing a bat yet, Chone Figgins (wrist) looks unlikely to return to the lineup until at least next week ? After holding the A's to one run over seven innings while throwing 110 pitches Monday, A.J. Burnett has a 1.63 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list ? Brandon Inge doubled three times while driving in four runs Monday, totaling multiple extra-base hits in a game for just the second time this season ? Casey Kotchman (fingers) took 15-20 swings off a tee Monday and could return as soon as Friday ? Jon Lester allowed one run over six innings Monday at Double-A and looks likely to rejoin the Red Sox's rotation Sunday ? Cruising along with six shutout innings Monday against the White Sox, Edwin Jackson served up back-to-back-to-back homers in the seventh inning on the way to a no-decision ? Monday marked Delmon Young's 162nd game with the Devil Rays and the former No. 1 overall pick has hit .295 with 17 homers, 78 RBIs, nine steals, and a .745 OPS ? Sammy Sosa said Monday that he wants to play in 2008, but he may struggle to find a taker given that no contenders wanted him for the stretch run this season.

NL Quick Hits: Chase Utley wasted no time in his return from the disabled list Monday, going 3-for-5 with a homer in his first action in over a month ? Out of the lineup Monday thanks to Utley's return, Tadahito Iguchi came off the bench with a pinch-hit homer ? Fighting the Pirates for last place three years after a World Series appearance, the Astros fired manager Phil Garner and general manager Tim Purpura on Monday ? Barring a setback, Chris Young (back) could start Thursday or Friday after throwing a bullpen session Monday ? Rocked for 10 runs Monday, Scott Olsen is now 5-9 with a 6.07 ERA over his last 18 starts after beginning the season 4-3 with a 4.76 ERA ? With a grand slam Monday off Olsen, seven of Brian McCann's 16 homers have come against southpaws ? Aiming to return this weekend, Willy Taveras (quadriceps) began a minor-league rehab assignment Monday at Triple-A ? Barry Zito tossed seven innings of one-run ball Monday and sports a 1.93 ERA over his last four starts, but has just one victory to show for it ? Jayson Werth followed up a 5-for-5 game Sunday with a 4-for-4 game Monday, putting him one knock away from tying the NL record of 10 straight hits ? Mulder (shoulder) allowed one run over four innings in the third of four scheduled rehab starts Sunday at Single-A.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Prospects: Patton and Swarzak
Minor league regular seasons start closing down early next week, signaling the beginning of the end for new prospect news and analysis. The post-season series will of course be interesting to watch on several levels, and there's always the Arizona Fall League and the various winter leagues, but none compare to the wealth of baseball the regular season brings. However, even with leagues shutting down next week, the Prospect Report will stick around through the end of September.

Next week I'll be checking in on all of the important September callups, primarily focusing on the future but also to see if any will have significant value over the final four weeks. After that I'll have two columns looking at prospects that could provide value in 2008. Finally, I'll conclude the season with an evaluation of some prospects that aren't yet big names but are nonetheless worth monitoring closely going forward. These are the types of players who could quickly shoot up prospect lists next season, and the column should serve as an early watch list for 2008. As always, feel free to suggest players of interest to the inbox.

Callups

Billy Buckner ? RHP Royals ? No, he's not related to the former Red Sox first basemen with 501 more career hits than Joe DiMaggio. However, Buckner still deserves some attention, and it's not because of the memories his name invokes. A second round pick in 2004 after transferring from Young Harris Junior College to the University of South Carolina the previous fall, Buckner impressed draft scouts with his plus curve, low-90s fastball, and solid overall command. The right-hander showed a good strikeout rate for Single-A Burlington in his first full season in 2005, but he was getting hit a little too hard for a college pitcher who was supposedly fairly refined. A move up to High-A High Desert saw Buckner's ERA balloon to 5.36, though at least part of that increase can be blamed on a significantly favorable hitting environment.

Buckner dropped his ERA back down to 3.90 while spending the first half of 2006 back at High Desert, but he was still being hit hard too often and his 47 walks in 90 innings was hardly that of a top prospect. Buckner experienced more of the same for Double-A Wichita, though that he struck out 148 batters in 165 2/3 innings between the two levels was promising. After making just four appearances for Wichita to start the 2007 campaign, Buckner was promoted to Triple-A Omaha and has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen all season. His 86/23 K/BB ratio in 104 2/3 innings qualifies as an improvement, but he's still being hit when he's in the strike zone, having yielded more hits (including 11 homers) than innings pitched.

Up in the majors for the first time, Buckner tossed five innings of one-run ball against the Indians on Saturday. It was a solid outing, though it easily could have been worse as he yielded seven hits and two walks. While not possessing much in the way of upside, Buckner should be able to contribute to a big league team. His curveball is an above average pitch and his low-90s fastball can be an average offering when he's getting sink on it. His changeup still needs work and his command is obviously still a big concern, but Bucker should be good enough to be at least a No. 5 starter with a normal growth curve. Perhaps moving to the bullpen full-time might allow him to throw harder and become a quality setup man, but his future remains in the rotation for now. He could be of some use in fantasy leagues down the line, but not just yet. Recommendation: Ignore for now in AL-only formats.

Radhames Liz ? RHP Orioles ? A big and athletic right-hander signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, Liz has always wowed observers with an impressive but raw arsenal of pitches. His fastball, which sits at 93-95 MPH and can hit 97, is certainly a plus pitch and is his calling card. His curveball can also generate swings and misses and is an asset when it remains near the strike zone. Liz's changeup is also a pitch than can be a plus at times, so there's plenty to like when it comes to his raw stuff. The promising arsenal of pitches is what has allowed Liz to strike out 447 batters in 364 2/3 minor league innings.

However, Liz still has one major issue to work through, and that's the command of all of his pitches. I wrote back in July after viewing the Eastern League All-Star game that I had concerns about his delivery. There's a lot of effort and movement when he deals, so it's easy to see how repeating his delivery could be tough. As a result, it's not particularly surprising that he's walked 187 batters in those same 364 2/3 innings.

That Liz has failed to make progress in that department as a 24-year-old in Double-A is troublesome. He could probably keep his heater in the mid-to-upper-90s if he worked out of the bullpen, and concentrating on just two pitches might help his command. That he's consistently pitched better in the first inning of games provides further reason to make a switch. However, the Orioles believe his three-pitch repertoire is ideal for starting and they're likely to give him one more year to work on his command in that capacity.

With the big club needing an extra starter this week, Liz got the call and did an admirable job against the Twins. He ended up getting charged with five runs in six innings of work, but three of those runs came in the sixth inning and he hardly looked overmatched. Liz will head back to the minors for now, and he'll likely open up next season at Triple-A Norfolk. He has No. 2 starter upside if everything breaks right, though that seems unlikely at this point. He's more likely to contribute as a setup man or closer down the line. Those in deeper keeper formats can consider him, but he's a risky option and not likely to provide much value until 2009 or later. Recommendation: Monitor in AL-only keeper leagues.

Troy Patton ? LHP Astros ? One of the best southpaw prospects in the game entering the season, Patton possessed a very impressive resume ever since being selected in the ninth round of the 2004 draft. The left-hander was considered to have first-round talent entering the draft, but a commitment to the University of Texas scared teams off. Patton decided to sign with the Astros and forgo college, a decision the club has thoroughly enjoyed thus far. The 6'1", 190-pound Texan dominated Single-A Lexington and High-A Salem in his first full season in 2005, showing both the requisite command and strikeout rate of a top prospect.

The club decided to play it conservative with Patton, and he dominated Salem for 19 more starts in 2006 before finally moving to Double-A Corpus Christi. While his command continued to look fine, Patton's strikeout rate dropped some and he surrendered hits more frequently after the promotion. The result was a 4.37 ERA, but it was hardly much reason to get down on the left-hander as he didn't turn 21 years old until the end of the season. Patton still had a fastball that was often in the low-90s to go with a quality curve and quickly developing changeup, so the stuff was there for his stint at Double-A to be considered an aberration.

Interestingly, the 2007 season has brought a mixed bag for Patton. His 2.99 ERA in 16 starts for Corpus Christi was certainly encouraging, but that it came with a continued drop in strikeout rate was very concerning. While Patton was striking out more than a batter per inning at lower levels, he was at just 7.35 per nine innings at Double-A in 2006 and just 5.98 at the same level in 2007. A move up to Triple-A Round Rock has seen that number continue to decline while his ERA has risen to 4.59. Since the left-hander isn't fooling advanced hitters yet, his stock needs to be downgraded. It's very possible that his changeup and approach eventually catch up to his other attributes, but he's not there yet.

With the Astros short on starting pitchers, Patton was given a chance in the big leagues this week. He responded well by yielding three runs and striking out four in 5 2/3 innings of work. That it was against the Pirates means it needs to be discounted, but it still wasn't a bad debut. The club will let him stick around for at least another start or two, but he's probably not ready to contribute in NL-only leagues just yet. While he does have a reputation for stepping up in big games, Patton's recent track record just doesn't lend itself well to success in the majors. I still like his changes for the long-term, but I'd avoid for now in most leagues. Recommendation: Monitor in NL-only one-year leagues, claim in keeper formats.

Craig Stansberry ? 2B Padres ? A 2003 fifth round selection out of Rice, Stansberry projected to be a solid bat off the bench who could fill in at the infield spots. He's had moderate success in the minors since then, but never enough to change his projected role on a big league team. That Stansberry lacks much speed and doesn't have a great defensive reputation will limit his value, but the 6'0", 190-pound right-hander can still be useful while filling in at second or third against left-handed pitching.

Claimed off waivers from the Pirates this winter, Stansberry got off to the best start of his career this spring. He hit .313 with six homers and 17 doubles between April and May for Triple-A Portland, leaving him looking like a potential callup. The Padres resisted even with some of their big leaguers at similar positions struggling, and the move turned out to be the right one as Stansberry has returned back to earth since the hot start. Overall he was at .273/.370/.446 in 124 games before being promoted to the majors.

With Marcus Giles out of commission, Stansberry will serve as Geoff Blum's backup at second base for a couple of weeks. He isn't likely to play much down the stretch with the club in a playoff race, so fantasy value shouldn't be expected. He's capable of helping NL-only leaguers a little in the event that he's ever handed a starting gig, but that seems unlikely to happen at any point in the foreseeable future. A career as a utility player still seems the most likely outcome. Recommendation: Ignore in NL-only formats.

Prospect Profiles

Kyle Blanks ? 1B Padres ? The Padres took a flier on Blanks in the 42nd round of the 2004 draft, hoping that the draft-and-follow candidate would continue to develop his considerable raw power potential. Blanks did just that while playing at a junior college the next spring, and the Padres liked him enough to give him a $260,000 bonus just before the 2005 draft. Assigned to the Arizona Padres after signing, Blanks hit .299 and slugged .500 in 164 at-bats. That he also drew 25 walks was impressive, but striking out 49 times in so few at-bats was a red flag.

Moved up to Single-A Fort Wayne the following season, Blanks continued hitting for average and drawing walks. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate remained high and his power output declined some. He also missed the last few weeks of the season with a leg infection, but it was still a solid performance for the then 19-year-old. Blanks is a huge young man at 6'6" and ranging from 270-to-300 pounds. That he beefed up some at the end of 2006 lead to some concerns, so the Padres had him work in an instructional league last fall. The club also got Blanks focused more on keeping in shape, having him do more off-season lifting and conditioning. The result was a more fit Blanks this season, though he's still at around 280 pounds.

The results have been encouraging, as Blanks is having his best season to date. At Lake Elsinore of the California League since the start of the campaign, Blanks has put up an impressive .300/.378/.539 line in 436 at-bats spread over 111 games. Included in that productivity is 22 homers and 30 doubles; impressive numbers in their own right, but even more appealing given the pitcher-friendly nature of his home park and the fact that he's still 20 years old. The big first basemen even has 11 steals, though that's not something he's ever likely to repeat.

Blanks does have a decent eye at the plate, but cutting down on his strikeouts and avoiding swinging at pitches he can't drive will be the keys to his development. His 93 strikeouts in 111 games this season is an improvement, but it's still a poor number and he's not likely to continue hitting .300 at higher levels while putting the ball in play so infrequently. Keeping in shape is the other big concern for Blanks, but that he displayed such a good work ethic this winter is a big plus. If Blanks can improve in those areas, he has the raw power to be a productive first basemen in the majors. He's capable of hitting long home runs when he gets all of a pitch, and he's not a bad defender or all that poor on the bases despite his size.

Blanks will move to Double-A next season and should debut with the Padres at some point in 2009. His young age means he'll probably struggle initially, but I like his chances of adjusting with time. He compares favorably to Richie Sexson, and not just because both players are tall. Sexson had a very similar statistical profile while at High-A as a 20-year-old, and Blanks projects to provide comparable value at the big league level. If he keeps his weight in check, Blanks has the potential to hit .260 with 35 homers and a number of walks and strikeouts in his prime. If he stays in San Diego he'll have to deal with Petco Park, though it should affect him less than some players given his propensity for big home runs. While there's still a good amount of risk here, Blanks' power and young age mean there's also plenty to like.

Anthony Swarzak ? RHP Twins ? Swarzak had been on scouts' radars for some time leading up to the 2004 draft. The right-hander was considered raw but projectable at the time of the draft, and a commitment to LSU was also an obstacle in signing him. The Twins liked his potential and gambled that they could get him signed by taking him with the 61st overall selection. The gamble worked as Swarzak signed quick enough to make 11 appearances in the Gulf Coast League that season. With a 2.63 ERA and 42/6 K/BB ratio at the level, the early returns were certainly favorable.

Moved up to Single-A Beloit to begin the 2005 campaign, Swarzak had a disappointing 4.04 ERA but strong peripherals with a 101/32 K/BB ratio in 91 1/3 innings. He was giving up a few more hard hit balls than you'd like to see and the walks were slightly high, but it was still a quality performance. A move up to Single-A Fort Myers for 10 starts went similarly well, and the Twins decided to send Swarzak back there to begin the 2006 season. Swarzak made 27 starts at Fort Myers that year, leading the Florida State League in strikeouts with 131 in 145 2/3 innings of work. That he walked 60 batters was of concern, but that he was still just 20 years old was reason to give him somewhat of a pass.

Despite the mostly impressive results, Swarzak still had work to do to continue improving his game at this point. His plus curve and low-90s fastball were working well, but he had trouble keeping his mechanics consistent ant it contributed to some of his high walk totals. He also needed to continue developing an already solid changeup and decide if he should scrap a slider or not. Despite the work needed, I still saw Swarzak as a very impressive prospect that was often undervalued this pre-season. I thought he had legitimate No. 2 starter upside, and with time would eventually reach that mark.

That projection was derailed some this season, as Swarzak started the year with two poor performances at Double-A New Britain and then was suspended 50 games for violating the league's drug abuse policy. Surprisingly, the suspension wasn't for a performance-enhancing drug, but instead because he had tested positive for marijuana for the second season in a row. That it wasn't a PED he was suspended for allowed for more confidence that he could rebound, but it raised some serious doubts about Swarzak's commitment to reaching his potential. Once might not have been so bad, but that Swarzak continued to use the drug after being caught showed either an addiction, an immaturity, or both.

Swarzak went to Florida after the suspension was announced and continued to work out. He claims to have reevaluated his approach and is saying all the right things about commitment, growing up, and focusing on baseball. Perhaps the suspension did indeed serve to focus Swarzak more, as he's returned to pitching with excellent results. In 91 1/3 innings (mostly at Double-A) since being reinstated, Swarzak has a 2.37 ERA and 84/19 K/BB ratio. If he was posting those types of results without the cloud of the suspension, he'd be a lock Top 50 prospect in the game right now. As is I wouldn't recommend completely ignoring the suspension when evaluating the right-hander, but everything from his performance to his attitude has looked better since then and there's reason for optimism as a result.

If Swarzak can continue to stay out of trouble and remain dedicated towards the game, there's no reason he can't reach that No. 2 starter potential. He'll probably head to Triple-A Rochester to start next season, and a good first three months should allow him to become the Twins' sixth starter. A debut in the second half if one of the Twins' starters is injured or underperforming seems likely. He probably won't contribute much to fantasy leagues until 2009 or 2010 as an adjustment period will be necessary, but his long-term potential is considerable and he needs to be watched very closely.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Kennedy Replaces Mussina
This fantastic news leaves me far too frenzied to write a proper introduction today?hey, she's one of my 250 pretend "friends" on the seemingly pointless MySpace account that people keep telling me has some sort of purpose?so let's get right to the news from around baseball ?

* In case it wasn't abundantly clear already, Ian Kennedy replacing Mike Mussina in the Yankees' rotation Tuesday should make it obvious that manager Joe Torre has no control over personnel moves and is perhaps even kept out of the loop when decisions are made. Torre said earlier this week that the Yankees had no plans to call up Kennedy, who was the Yankees' first-round pick in 2006, but 48 hours later Kennedy was pegged to replace the struggling Mussina in the rotation.

A 22-year-old right-hander, Kennedy has gone 12-3 with a 1.91 ERA, 163-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .182 opponent's batting average in 146.1 innings split between Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. He lacks overpowering stuff, typically working in the high-80s with his fastball, but changes speeds well and has a track record that's tough to argue with. He'll step in for Mussina and make his big-league debut Saturday against the Devil Rays. Stash him in AL-only leagues.

It's unclear what the move from the rotation signals for Mussina's career, because he still has another year and $11 million remaining on the contract extension he signed this offseason. Torre indicated Tuesday that the demotion could be temporary, saying: "We'll skip the one start and we'll see what we have." However, given his lack of knowledge about how close Kennedy was to getting a call-up it seems unlikely that Torre has the ultimate say in the matter anyway.

For now Mussina will essentially be shut down, because he's not expected to be available out of the bullpen after pitching each of his first 498 games as a starter. He's been awful of late, but there's little in his peripheral numbers?strikeouts, walks, homers allowed?to suggest that he's no longer capable of being a decent mid-rotation starter. Of course, the pressure of a playoff race and the microscope of the New York media means that probably wouldn't be good enough.

* As someone who attended the Winter Meetings in December, I remember all too well that the Mets and Royals making the seemingly minor Brian Bannister-for-Ambiorix Burgos swap was one of the few moves during an action-starved week in Orlando. At the time Burgos seemed more likely to have a big impact this season given that he was joining a contending team in what was potentially a late-inning bullpen role, but it's turned out to be Bannister who's had the big impact.

On the same day that Burgos underwent Tommy John surgery that ends his season and likely sidelines him deep into 2008, Bannister picked up his 11th victory Tuesday with six innings of two-run ball against the Tigers. Bannister winning 11 games for a team that has just 57 total victories is noteworthy, but the feat becomes even more impressive when you consider that he didn't join the rotation until the end of April and went 0-3 with a 4.54 ERA through six starts.

He's gone 11-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 16 outings since then, showing fantastic control by walking just 36 batters in 140.1 innings overall. However, Bannister's 71 strikeouts suggest that he's unlikely to keep this type of performance up long term. Ground-ball pitchers can thrive despite low strikeout rates, but he's a fly-ball pitcher who's been fortunate to keep the ball in the ballpark thus far. At 26 years old he has a solid future, but don't expect another 3.27 ERA any time soon.

* Ervin Santana's turnaround lasted exactly one start. Demoted to Triple-A after going 5-11 with a 6.22 ERA through mid-July, Santana returned on August 17 and held the Red Sox to one run over 6.1 innings in his first start. He then allowed five runs over six innings against the Blue Jays in his next outing and completely imploded Tuesday, recording just one out before exiting having coughed up five runs to the Mariners.

The Angels amazingly came back to win Tuesday's game despite Santana's horrible outing, thanks largely to 5.1 shutout innings from Dustin Moseley, a big game from Vladimir Guerrero, a bad start from Jeff Weaver, and Mariners manager John McLaren misguidedly thinking that Rick White is still a major league-caliber pitcher. However, the comeback likely won't save Santana's job, with Moseley the seemingly obvious candidate to replace him in the rotation.

Moseley has pitched well in various roles for the Angels, going 4-2 with a 4.70 ERA in 76.2 total innings, but his 39-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and mediocre minor-league track record suggests that he's not a good bet in the rotation long term. On the other hand, Santana is still just 24 years old and has a decent 96-to-45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 122.2 innings despite all his problems. Asked to pick which guy will win more games going forward, I'd go with Santana in a heartbeat.

* Out since mid-July with a sprained finger, Ben Sheets is expected to come off the disabled list to start Wednesday against the Cubs. Assuming that he's at close to full strength, getting Sheets back will provide a huge boost to the Brewers down the stretch. Along with Sheets' return, the rotation will also see Manny Parra replace Claudio Vargas after the latter was placed on the DL with a sore back Tuesday. Parra is a good long-term prospect who could have NL-only value.

AL Quick Hits: For the first time since Eric Gagne was traded, it was Joaquin Benoit getting the save chance Tuesday instead of C.J. Wilson ? Jim Thome's homer Tuesday was the 494th of his career, moving him past Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff into 23rd place on the all-time list ? Manny Ramirez left Tuesday's game with back spasms and replacement Bobby Kielty exited one inning later with his own back injury ? Magglio Ordonez failed to drive in a run Tuesday, but singled four times to boost his batting average to .359 ? Travis Buck (hamstring) is expected to come off the disabled list when eligible Friday, but general manager Billy Beane said Tuesday that both Eric Chavez (back) and Mark Kotsay (back) may miss the remainder of the season ? Starting his fifth straight game Tuesday, Kendry Morales went 3-for-5 with a homer to make him 9-for-20 over that stretch ? Scott Podsednik (ribs) took batting practice Tuesday and hopes to return this week, but he's no longer a starter with Josh Fields in left field ? With a pair of homers Tuesday, Miguel Tejada has gone deep nine times in 98 at-bats this month after totaling seven homers in 302 at-bats from April through July.

NL Quick Hits: Alfonso Soriano returned from the disabled list Tuesday and jumped back into the leadoff spot, but said that his injured quadriceps isn't fully healed ? Cole Hamels (elbow) threw a pain-free bullpen session Tuesday, putting him on track to come off the DL for a start Sunday ? Chris Young (back) has been cleared to start Thursday against Arizona ? In an effort to limit his workload, the Giants plan to skip Tim Lincecum's next turn in the rotation ? Jayson Werth failed to tie the MLB record with 10 straight hits when he struck out against Tom Glavine in his first at-bat Tuesday ? Ryan Howard upped his NL-leading RBI total to 108 with a walk-off bomb in the 10th inning Tuesday ? With four hits Tuesday, Norris Hopper is now batting .319 in 113 big-league games after batting just .289 in 890 career games in the minors ? Matt Cain held the Rockies to one run over seven innings Tuesday, picking up his fourth win this month after totaling just three wins in his first 21 starts ? Braden Looper tossed seven shutout innings Tuesday, turning in his fourth straight Quality Start following a stretch that saw him go 4-7 with a 7.39 ERA over 13 outings.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Clemens Lacking Strikeouts
Pitching against the Red Sox for the first time since the ALCS in 2003, Roger Clemens took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Wednesday before eventually allowing one run over six innings to pull the Yankees within six games in the AL East and more importantly put them into a virtual tie for the Wild Card. Clemens pitched well, serving up a David Ortiz homer for his only run allowed, but needed 98 pitches to record 18 outs and struck out just two of the 25 batters he faced.

Clemens' comeback began against NL competition and he racked up 22 strikeouts through his first 17.2 innings (11.2/9). However, he's faced strictly AL lineups in a dozen starts since then and has managed just 40 strikeouts over 71.1 innings (5.0/9). Clemens has gone 5-3 with a 3.91 ERA over that dozen-start span, but the lack of strikeouts are noteworthy for a pitcher who hasn't whiffed fewer than 7.5 batters per nine innings since he was a 22-year-old back in 1985.

While the Yankees predictably make everyone who wrote them off prior to the All-Star break look silly, here are some other notes from around baseball ?

* After exiting Tuesday's game with an injury that has since been diagnosed as a strained left oblique, Manny Ramirez was out of the lineup on both Wednesday and Thursday. Ramirez will likely avoid the disabled list because of the upcoming roster expansion, but the Boston Globe reports that he's "out indefinitely" and the Boston Herald quotes Ramirez as saying that expects to miss as many as 10 games.

Manager Terry Francona said Wednesday that Ramirez has been struggling with back problems for the past six weeks, which may help explain why he's hit just .264 with two homers and a .750 OPS in 24 games this month. With Bobby Kielty also sidelined and no timetable for his return established yet, Eric Hinske figures to see nearly all the playing time in place of Ramirez. Hinske has hit just .201, but it's come with five homers and 16 RBIs in 160 plate appearances.

* Continuing this season's trend of teams simply letting contenders take on contracts after claiming players off waivers, the A's handed Esteban Loaiza to the Dodgers for nothing Wednesday. Signed to a three-year, $21 million contract two winters ago, Loaiza went 12-9 with a 4.62 ERA while making just 26 starts for the A's because of injuries. He's owed $1 million for the remainder of this season and will make $6.5 million in 2008, plus a $375,000 buyout for 2009.

Signing Loaiza never seemed like a typical A's move to begin with and saving $8 million by parting with an oft-injured 35-year-old makes sense for a team that's constantly working to stay competitive on a limited budget. The Dodgers don't worry much about payroll, so bringing Loaiza in on essentially a one-year deal makes plenty of sense. While far from reliable, he's pitched well since returning from the disabled list and provides depth for an injury-wrecked rotation.

* Felix Hernandez's up-and-down season continued Wednesday as he coughed up six runs on a career-high 13 hits while the Angels completed a three-game sweep over the Mariners. King Felix has been disappointing for a second straight season, but that's largely due to the immense hype he's received coming into each year. Viewed without the hype, a 10-7 record, 135-to-47 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 4.08 ERA are mighty impressive from a 21-year-old pitcher.

Still, given Hernandez's potentially overpowering stuff and frequent flashes of dominance there's no reason for the league to be knocking him around to the tune of a .286 batting average. Herandnez suggested that perhaps he was tipping his pitches Wednesday, saying: "I don't know what happened, everything I threw they hit hard. Every pitch I threw, they felt comfortable." Manager John McLaren agreed, saying that "it's something we need to talk to him about."

* Sidelined since mid-July with a sprained finger, Ben Sheets returned from the disabled list Wednesday by tossing six innings of one-run ball in a win over the Cubs. The victory was just the Brewers' fourth in the past 15 games, but closed the gap in the NL Central to 1.5 games. Ryan Braun provided the game's biggest hit with a bases-loaded double in the seventh inning, giving him an amazing 50 extra-base hits (25 homers, 20 doubles, five triples) in just 84 games.

* After allowing a season-high six runs against the Twins in his last outing, Erik Bedard will skip his scheduled start Saturday because of a sore oblique. Bedard said Wednesday that injury has been a problem for close to a month, but prior to the poor showing against Minnesota he had gone 2-0 with a 2.54 ERA and 37-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 28.1 August innings. With Bedard out, Radhames Liz will start Friday and Garrett Olson will go Saturday.

* Matched up against Sheets, Carlos Zambrano lost his fourth straight start Wednesday by allowing six runs over 6.1 innings. Once 14-7 with a 3.42 ERA after reeling off a dozen-start stretch that saw him go 9-2 with a 1.43 ERA, Zambrano is now 14-11 with a 4.06 ERA after posting an 8.14 ERA, 16-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .340 opponent's batting average over his last four starts.

AL Quick Hits: Casey Kotchman (fingers) returned Wednesday after missing six games, but Kendry Morales remained in the Angels' lineup at designated hitter ? Manager Joe Torre said Wednesday that the Yankees may abandon "The Joba Rules" and use Joba Chamberlain more often down the stretch ? Meanwhile, Brian Cashman said Wednesday that he expects Mike Mussina to be in next season's rotation ? Expected to swing a bat Friday, Chone Figgins (wrist) likely won't return until at least next week ? After recording just two outs while allowing five runs Wednesday, Andrew Miller could be in danger of losing his rotation spot ? With a loss Wednesday, Johan Santana dropped to 0-4 against the Indians and 14-6 with a 2.85 ERA against everyone else ? In beating Santana, C.C. Sabathia won for the first time since August 3 ? Alex Rodriguez's 44th homer proved to be the deciding run Wednesday, giving him 124 RBIs and 121 runs in 130 games ? Limited by a strict pitch count, Zack Greinke tossed four shutout innings Wednesday against the Orioles ? Reduced to a pinch-running role since losing his job two weeks ago, Josh Barfield isn't likely to rejoin the starting lineup.

NL Quick Hits: Scott Rolen (shoulder) took Wednesday off and also won't be in the lineup Thursday ? Garrett Atkins homered twice Wednesday, giving him 16 homers over the past 67 games after going deep just six times through 61 games ? After missing his last start with a strained oblique, Roy Oswalt celebrated his 30th birthday Wednesday by shutting the Cardinals out for seven innings ? With another ugly outing Wednesday, Dontrelle Willis lost his 14th game and saw his ERA rise back above 5.00 ? Micah Owings held the Padres to one run over seven innings Wednesday and picked up his 14th hit in 50 at-bats (.280) ? Chuck James (shoulder) is expected to return from the disabled list to start Saturday ? Knocked around for seven runs over 5.1 innings Wednesday, Ian Snell saw his ERA climb above 4.00 for the first time ? With Trevor Hoffman getting Wednesday off, Heath Bell picked up his second save in a week ? Jeff Francis tossed his second career complete-game shutout Wednesday to match his career-high with 14 wins ? Continuing to build a case for everyday at-bats, Matt Diaz went 3-for-5 with two homers Wednesday ? Showing no signs of slowing down, Kaz Matsui notched four hits Wednesday.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Bullpen Report: Week 22

The Braves designating Bob Wickman for assignment this past week came out of left field. That he hadn't exactly done a great job as the club's closer probably made the decision easier, but the Braves cited the fact that Wickman voiced displeasure after entering a tie game as the reason for the move. Some closers do prefer only working in save situations, but it's still surprising that any player would complain about entering a tie game while in the middle of a playoff hunt. I applaud the club for showing some backbone when Wickman wouldn't back down.

Wickman's fate has still yet to have been decided, but his mediocre results mean he's unlikely to end up closing for another organization. A move back to his old organization, Cleveland, might actually make some sense with Joe Borowski continuing to struggle, but it's late in the season and Wickman wouldn't seem to be much of an upgrade. Since he'll turn 39 years old next season and has seen his production drop off, Wickman may have saved his last game. With a number of closing options available this winter, Wickman is unlikely to end up near the top of anyone's list. Perhaps he'll admit the error of his ways and reconcile with the Braves, but I'm betting against it. Since I don't expect him back with the club next season, Rafael Soriano's value goes up considerably in both the short and long-term.

All closers are rated in one of the following categories: Locked In, Secure, Shaky, In Danger, Filling-In, Co-Closer or DL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Jose Valverde (Locked In)

Key setup men: Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten

After notching two saves with a pair of scoreless innings this week, Valverde became the first player to record 40 saves this season. Both his durability and results have been the absolute best any owner could hope for, making him perhaps the most successful bargain among closers drafted this spring. Pena had struggled some of late, but he notched 1 2/3 scoreless innings this week and lowered his ERA back down to 2.75 ERA. Lyon has been more consistent, but Pena is still the better long-term property.

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Shaky)

Key setup men: Octavio Dotel (DL), Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates, Ron Mahay, Oscar Villarreal

Manager Bobby Cox announced that he'll use a committee in the ninth inning with WIckman gone. That could mean anyone from Soriano to Moylan to Dotel (when healthy) to Mahay getting a save opportunity. However, Cox also announced that Soriano is the favorite for now. I'd be surprised if Cox went to someone other than Soriano in the ninth, so he's worth picking up in all formats. While his ERA is only in the mid-3.00s, his WHIP is under 1.00 and he's been pitching much better of late.

Dotel's shoulder is still bothering him, and there's currently no timetable for his return. The Braves could look to the former Royal in the ninth, but Dotel's had his own struggles and injury problems this season. I'd wager that the Braves would much rather see Soriano step up and take the ninth inning role. Not only is he a better bet to stay healthy, but he's the most likely player to be closing for the club in 2008. If he can succeed down the stretch, Soriano may be able to lock up a job entering next season as the top ninth inning option.

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Danys Baez (Shaky)

Key setup men: Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, James Hoey

Baez blew his first save of the season this week while giving up one run in 1 2/3 innings against the Devil Rays. He also allowed an inherited run to score in the outing, so it was a pretty poor effort all around. He's also yielded eight runs over his last eight appearances, and he remains one of the worst closing options for fantasy purposes.

Hoey looked good for six appearances after rejoining the Orioles this month, but he's been awful of late by yielding 10 runs over his last three outings. He's still a good long-term option and a sleeper for 2008, but he's unlikely to rise to closing duties this season. Walker and Bradford would be more likely to form a platoon should something happen to Baez.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (Locked In)

Key setup men: Eric Gagne, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin

Papelbon is working on quite the five-game stretch, posting 12 strikeouts and just two baserunners allowed in his last 5 2/3 innings. Gagne has rebounded from his rough patch with four straight scoreless innings. He can be left active in AL-only leagues for now, though there are plenty of safer plays.

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Ryan Dempster (Secure)

Key setup men: Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman (DL), Mike Wuertz, Kerry Wood

A shaky return from the disabled list put Dempster's job in jeopardy, but his oblique injury must be feeling better of late. He hasn't given up a run in any of his last 10 outings, so he's got some job security again. Dempster should remain the club's closer through the rest of the regular season.

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks (Locked In)

Key setup men: Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, Boone Logan

Jenks pitched just once this week, notching a save with another scoreless inning of work. Although his record streak was broken, just one of the last 51 batters Jenks has faced was able to reach base. His late season surge is going to drive his draft day price through the roof. He shouldn't be picked as one of the top three closing options in the American League next season, but it seems likely that he will be in quite a few leagues.

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: David Weathers (Secure)

Key setup men: Jared Burton, Bill Bray, Eddie Guardado, Mike Stanton

Weathers hurled two more innings and picked up another save this week. His ERA is now a respectable 3.38 to go with a 1.14 WHIP and 28 saves. Bray has done a solid job as a setup man, and has already picked up three wins in just nine appearances. I think he's more likely to take over the closer's role at some point in the future than Burton, through the right-hander is probably ahead of Bray with his recent stretch of scoreless innings. Both players will need to continue refining their command to become long-term options.

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski (Shaky)

Key setup men: Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, Tom Mastny

It was another poor week from Borowski, who almost blew two three-run leads. The first came against the division rival Tigers when Borowski gave up one run and then allowed the winning run to come to the plate. The right-hander retired Ivan Rodriguez before the Tigers could tie the game, but it was still a rough outing. The second scare was against the Twins on Tuesday as Borowski yielded two runs in the ninth before finally closing out the game. I'm not sure the club would look to make a change late in the season and while in first place, but Borowski is no better than the club's fourth best option out of the bullpen right now.

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas (Shaky)

Key setup men: Brian Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, Jorge Julio, Jeremy Affeldt

Though he didn't pick up any more saves this week, Corpas continues to roll along with quality outing after quality outing. It's going to be very hard for the club to remove the young right-hander from the closer's role with how well he's pitched. That Fuentes has also pitched well of late and is now throwing on back-to-back days certainly helps, but the Rockies have a tough decision to make.

Moving Fuentes back to the closer's role and then dealing him next trade deadline is the best option for the club long-term, but it's a tough message to send to Corpas after doing everything they could have asked. It's looking less likely that Fuentes retakes the job this season, but I still consider him the favorite for next spring. Corpas can then take over in July of 2008, so his value isn't going to take much of a hit in keeper leagues even if he enters next season as a setup man.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones (Secure)

Key setup men: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Seay

Jones pitched another scoreless inning this week to notch his 33rd save. He has more saves than strikeouts (27) on the season. Zumaya gave up three runs in his second appearance since returning from the disabled list, but he bounced back with 1 2/3 scoreless innings later in the week. He's fine to keep active in AL-only formats.

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg (Locked In)

Key setup men: Armando Benitez, Matt Lindstrom, Taylor Tankersley, Lee Gardner

Gregg failed to record a save this week, but he did strike out nine batters while yielding two runs in five innings of work. Benitez continued his up-and-down season with a couple of outings in which he looked good and another in which he looked rather poor. He's unlikely to be a setup man next season.

Houston Astros

Closer: Brad Lidge (Secure)

Key setup men: Chad Qualls, David Borkowski, Trever Miller

Lidge entered the week with five straight scoreless innings for saves, but he blew yet another save by giving up one run in the ninth inning against the Pirates. The run came on a Xavier Nady homer with two outs and the Pirates went on to win the game in 15 innings. Lidge bounced back with a scoreless inning and a save against the same Pirates later in the week. He remains a high-upside option, but expect continued inconsistency.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Joakim Soria (Locked In)

Key setup men: Joel Peralta, David Riske

Zack Greinke was moved back to the rotation with Odalis Perez sidelined. It may only be for another couple of starts, but it's clear now more than ever the club still sees Greinke's future as a starter. That's good news for Soria owners, as it should allow the rookie right-hander plenty of job security both this season and next. That Soria has given up five runs over his last four outings has hurt his owners, but it's nothing that should affect his title as closer. He could probably record a stretch just as poor and three times as long yet still keep his job.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scot Shields, Justin Speier, Darren Oliver

Rodriguez hurled two scoreless innings and picked up a pair of saves this week, lowering his ERA to 2.75 to go with his 33 saves. He's 18 strikeouts away from registering 90 for the fourth time in as many years.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jonathan Broxton, Scott Proctor, Chin-Hui Tsao (DL), Rudy Seanez

Saito pitched in five games this week, including on four straight days to end the session. He picked up three saves while striking out nine and giving up no runs this week. Saito hadn't previously pitched on four consecutive days since joining the Dodgers, so I thought he'd get Wednesday off. Instead he was called upon in a 12 inning game against the Nationals. The club has an off day on Thursday, but Saito may be given a second day off after going on four straight days. If he does, Broxton could get a save chance on Friday.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Francisco Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scott Linebrink, Derrick Turnbow, Matt Wise

Cordero pitched just once this week, hurling a scoreless inning in a non-save situation. He's been stuck on 37 saves for nine days, in part because the Brewers are playing so poorly. Part of that problem has been Linebrink, who has a 4.97 ERA since joining the club. He's taken three losses in just the last 10 days, and the club is going to need him to step up if they have any hope of catching the Cubs. I wouldn't bench him in NL-only leagues just yet.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan (Locked In)

Key setup men: Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon

Nathan tossed another scoreless inning and picked up a save this week. He's given up just one run in the last month of games and is now just two saves shy of his fourth 30-save season. With Neshek still pitching well and Rincon struggling, expect the latter player to be dealt this winter. The Twins have relief depth and they'll find better ways to spend $3 million than on a reliever who just posted an ERA around 6.00. Other teams may be willing to gamble on him if he finishes well, and that the Twins have a lot of free agency issues to deal with means they'll be looking to pinch pennies.

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner (Locked In)

Key setup men: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Guillermo Mota

With Wagner unavailable for Saturday's game due to a dead arm, Heilman was given a save opportunity against the Dodgers. He completed the task with relative ease, yielding just one runner in the 4-3 victory. Wagner had given up four runs in his three outings prior to sitting out a game, so hopefully some rest is doing him good. He hasn't pitched since Heilman's save opportunity, but Wagner is downplaying the situation and I wouldn't recommend worrying all that much.

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera (Locked In)

Key setup men: Luis Vizcaino, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Farnsworth

Rivera started the week with a scoreless inning of work against the Tigers, then added two more shutout innings to record a pair of saves against the Red Sox. The Yankees badly needed to come through against the AL East leaders, even if they're still not likely to catch Boston. At least now they can say they're tied with the Mariners for the wild card lead.

The "Joba rules" are quickly becoming a saga to behold in New York. The flame-throwing right-hander has been nothing but dominant since being promoted to the majors, and he's clearly the club's best option in the eighth inning right now. However, manager Joe Torre is under strict orders not to use Chamberlain on back-to-back days, and he must rest him one day for every inning he throws. The front office is concerned that using Chamberlain frequently could lead to arm issues since he was just recently converted into a reliever.

Torre is known for overusing relievers when they're going good, so it's a legitimate concern of the front office. Chamberlain could be a special arm for the team for a long time, and they clearly don't want to jeopardize his health while making a late playoff push. Add in that there will be great temptation to use Chamberlain frequently if the team makes the playoffs, and it's easy to see why the Yankees want to be cautious.

With all of that said, there's better ways to handle the situation than using a steadfast rule of not pitching on back-to-back days. That the club chose to go that route signals how little faith some in the organization have in Torre. It's becoming enough of a faction that I doubt he'll be managing the Yankees in 2008 if they don't at least reach the playoffs, if not make a significant run.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Huston Street (Secure)

Key setup men: Alan Embree, Santiago Casilla, Kiko Calero

It was a rough week for Street, who gave up four runs in four innings of work. Two of those runs came on a Carlos Pena two-run blast in a non-save situation against the Devil Rays. The other two came as Street blew a two-run lead by yielding a pair of solo homers in the ninth inning against the Blue Jays. Street was looking just fine for a handful of outings prior to this week, so it's not something I'm concerned with. He has plenty of job security in Oakland and I expect he'll turn it around in short order.

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brett Myers (Secure)

Key setup men: Tom Gordon, Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson (DL)

Myers didn't have the easiest of weeks. On Saturday he gave up two runs in a tight game against the Padres and ended up taking the loss in a 4-3 contest. Both runs came on solo blasts by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Terrmel Sledge. After the game, Myers got into an altercation with a reporter after the right-hander referred to the two homers he gave up as really "just pop ups". The always classy Myers lashed out when pressed on the statement and ended his rant by calling the reporter a derogatory slang. Upon being asked if he could actually spell said slang, Myers became even more upset. It was pretty unprofessional of the reporter to take it that far, but it was nonetheless hilarious and there are few players more deserving of being berated.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps (Locked In)

Key setup men: Salomon Torres (DL), Damaso Marte, Shawn Chacon

Capps just keeps plugging along, picking up another save and recording four scoreless innings this week. His ERA is all the way down to 2.09 and he now has 15 saves in three months while acting as the Pirates' closer. Torres is rehabbing a shoulder injury and should be back in two weeks after no structural damage was revealed in an examination this past week.

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman (Locked In)

Key setup men: Heath Bell, Kevin Cameron, Cla Meredith

Hoffman pitched in four games this week, picking up three saves and a win despite yielding one run in two different outings. Since he had pitched on back-to-back days to end the week, Bell was given a save opportunity on Wednesday. He successfully converted the chance for his second of the season. He remains next in line.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brad Hennessey (Secure)

Key setup men: Randy Messenger (DL), Brian Wilson, Kevin Correia

Hennessey notched four more saves without giving up a run this week. Wilson also picked up a save while working 1 2/3 innings in a four-run game. The young right-hander hasn't given up a run in 10 2/3 innings since being promoted. I still have long-term concerns about his command, but he's fine to use in NL-only leagues for now as he's clearly next in line and throwing well.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: J.J. Putz (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brandon Morrow, George Sherrill, Eric O'Flaherty

With a 1.35 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, Putz is having one of the more dominant relief seasons in recent memory. He's going to be rather costly at drafts next season as a result, but I have confidence that he can put together something close to a full repeat.

Morrow was throwing well of late, posting 16 straight scoreless innings while walking "only" seven batters. However, the Angels lit him up for four runs in an outing to end the week, highlighting how he's still inconsistent to be trusted in fantasy leagues. Even if he's not moved back into the rotation in the minors, Morrow is going to have to finish strong to earn the right to be Putz's setup man in 2008.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen (Locked In)

Key setup men: Ryan Franklin, Troy Percival, Tyler Johnson, Russ Springer

Isringhausen notched two more saves with scoreless innings this week. He's three saves shy of his seventh 30-save season in eight years.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Closer: Al Reyes (Shaky)

Key setup men: Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Brian Stokes, Juan Salas

Reyes bounced back from a poor week with three scoreless innings that included five strikeouts and two saves. Wheeler gave up one run in 3 1/3 innings while striking out six this week. He remains a quality option in AL-only formats.

Texas Rangers

Closer: Akinori Otsuka (DL), C.J. Wilson (Filling-In)

Key setup men: Joaquin Benoit, Frank Francisco, Wes Littleton

Manager Ron Washington finally made good on his word to use other relievers in the ninth inning this week. On Tuesday he turned to Joaquin Benoit in a save situation against the White Sox. It was a notable decision as Wilson hadn't pitched the day before and was presumably available. The lineup due up also wasn't very right-handed heavy, so there was no clear platoon advantage to going with Benoit. That Wilson had been chosen for every save chance up until today means he's still the favorite, but maybe Benoit will pick up a few more saves before the year is out.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo (Secure)

Key setup men: Casey Janssen, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor

Accardo picked up a win and a save thanks to two scoreless innings to start the week, then gave up two runs in just two-thirds of an inning against the Athletics to end his week. He wasn't charged with a loss or a blown save in the A's game, and the Blue Jays did end up winning that one.

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome, Luis Ayala

Cordero started the week by giving up two runs in a three-run game against the Astros, but he managed to pitch out of the jam and record a save anyway. He followed up that showing by yielding five runs ? four earned ? without retiring a batter in the ninth inning of a 5-1 game against the Rockies. Cordero wasn't charged with a blown save because Jon Rauch allowed the tying and winning runs to score after the closer left, but the runs were still charged to Cordero's account. It's not something to be concerned with
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

September stars in demand
When it comes to pitching, September is all about damage control.

The Baltimore Orioles' doubleheader debacle on Aug. 22 when they were swept 30-3 and 9-7 is an extreme example of what a disastrous outing or two can do to a fantasy team's ratios. Granted, we may not see 30-run game for another 100 years and most fantasy leaguers didn't have Brian Burres, Rob Bell or Paul Shuey active for their respective implosions in that game, but the lesson remains: it doesn't take much to shake up the league standings in ERA and WHIP.

The Orioles' team ERA rose from 4.39 (seventh in the American League) before the doubleheader to 4.66 (11th) afterwards. Likewise, the 40 hits and 16 walks O's pitchers gave up in one day lifted the team WHIP from 1.405 to 1.433. So fantasy owners beware. It's a lot easier to lose ground in those categories down the stretch than it is to gain ground.

That's why starting pitchers who can get the job done consistently in September are such valuable commodities.

With that idea in mind, here are some starters who not only are pitching well now but have demonstrated an ability to stay healthy and remain effective in the regular season's final full month.

Best of the best

*Johan Santana: The undisputed king of the second half flashed his brilliance again with a 17-strikeout performance Aug. 19 against the Texas Rangers. In five September starts last year, Santana went 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA. Over the last three years, he's 10-2 with a 1.29 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in September. That's why you pay top dollar for him every year.

*Roy Oswalt: A tweak in his side forced him to miss a start last week, but he's been money in the bank down the stretch in his career. He was 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA last September. Over the last three years: 13-2, 2.61 ERA.

*Orlando Hernandez: El Duque's postseason exploits are well-known, but his September stats aren't bad, either. He had a 2.01 ERA a year ago, and over the last three Septembers, opponents have hit just .222 against him.

*Andy Pettitte: Another proven veteran with an excellent playoff track record, Pettitte has been the ace of the New York Yankees staff this August, winning six consecutive starts. In his last four Septembers (excluding 2004, when his season ended early because of injury), the lefty has gone 14-1 with a 2.59 ERA.

*Other no-brainers: Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay.

Keep an eye on?

*Rich Hill: He didn't have many major league innings under his belt when he hit his stride late in the year, so it's hard to predict a repeat of his 3-1 record, 1.93 ERA and major league-leading 50 strikeouts in September. Still, he's given up more than three earned runs in a game once (at the Colorado Rockies) since this year's All-Star break, and he's not yet close to the 200-inning mark.

*Ted Lilly: With the Toronto Blue Jays down the stretch last season, Lilly went 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA. (He had a similar run with the Oakland Athletics in 2003 when he was 4-1 with a 2.05 ERA.) From 2003 to 2006, his September record is 13-6 with a 3.64 ERA.

*Bronson Arroyo: The durable right-hander led the majors in September innings a year ago with 51⅓ and was also among the majors' best in ERA at 2.45. Over the last three seasons, he's gone 11-3 with a 3.72 ERA for the month. It's been a down year so far for Arroyo, but he had won three of his last four starts entering the week.

*Woody Williams: He went 4-1 with a 2.51 ERA in September with the San Diego Padres a year ago and could still be dealt to a contender this season with the Houston Astros out of the playoff race. He's pitched well lately (3-0, 2.05 ERA in last four starts) and has an 8-2 record and 3.83 ERA over the last three Septembers.

*Also: John Lackey, Matt Cain, C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Millwood, Jeff Suppan.

Beware

*Jon Garland: Over the last three seasons, September is the only month in which he has a combined losing record.

*Tim Hudson: He's won five of his last six starts but has a 5.18 ERA over the last three Septembers.

*Dan Haren: He seemed to wear down at the end of last season (5.80 ERA in September) as he set a career high for innings pitched in a season. He was on pace to come close to last year's mark (223 innings).

*Chris Capuano: Hit with a double whammy here. Capuano had been sent to the bullpen temporarily and has a history of struggles in September (6.03 ERA over the last two seasons).

*Others: Brad Penny, Jeremy Bonderman, Daniel Cabrera, Noah Lowry, Barry Zito.

With rosters expanding and pitchers' arms being stretched to the limit, September can be the most unpredictable month from a fantasy perspective. Youngsters often run out of gas or are shut down because of the number of innings they've already thrown. But veterans can wear down as well. It might be a smart move for many Roto teams ? especially those at the top of the ERA and WHIP categories ? to protect themselves by swapping out hit-or-miss starting pitchers for less risky relievers as the season nears its end.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Weeks Worth A Look Next Month
As we near September, it's a time for spot-starting in both real and fantasy baseball. You probably can't move the needle much on team ERA and WHIP (assuming you're playing roto and not the inferior head-to-head style). If you're comfortable with your pitching ratios and can take a minor hit, it may be time to start streaming pitchers in hopes of picking of wins quickly. Suddenly you're convincing yourself the Tim Reddings and Joel Pineiros of the world are reliable hurlers.

Random aside: is it just me, or did ESPN remove their Batter vs. Pitcher stats from the pitcher player pages? What gives? I used those for matchups. Now Yahoo gets my business.

American League

Radhames Liz, SP, BAL ? Liz snags his second career start tonight against the Red Sox in place of Erik Bedard. Liz is a small flamethrowing righty who turns 24 in October. His fastball and curve are both plus offerings; now he just needs to learn how to pitch. He was dominant in 25 Double A starts this year, though walks continued to dog him. This kid looks promising but you can't gamble on him against Boston, even without Manny in the lineup. AL: No, Mixed: No.

Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B, CLE ? Cabrera came up in this column a couple weeks ago as a solid AL-only pickup and possible Josh Barfield usurper. Now, a decent 17-game stint seems to have moved him past Barfield on the depth chart. It's hard to predict how Cabrera will perform in September. He's a speedy high-contact guy, making average and stolen base contributions possible. He's also a 21-year-old with little Triple A experience, making a flop possible. Depending on your needs I'd chance it in most leagues. AL: $11, Mixed: $1.

Kevin Slowey, SP, MIN ? Because of the Twins' doubleheader today, Slowey will start Tuesday against the Tribe. There's no room for the 23-year-old command master to join the September rotation, however. And event though Cleveland's offense hasn't done much in August, he's not worth the gamble. AL: No, Mixed: No.

Ian Kennedy, SP, NYA ? Kennedy makes his big league debut Saturday against the Devil Rays. I think there's a chance, maybe 25%, that the Yankees keep Kennedy in the rotation in place of Mike Mussina if he does well on Saturday. The D-Rays have a middle of the pack offense; how will Kennedy fare? You'll notice Tampa Bay is third in the AL on OPS vs. "finesse" pitchers. I'm not sure how ESPN categorizes finesse vs. power pitchers statistically, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Kennedy's strong strikeout rates and low hit rates in the minors wouldn't lead you to believe he's a finesse guy. I'm not a scout or prospect guru, so here are some quotes from Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=6649):

"Kennedy is pretty much the poster child for the kind of player who can put up ridiculous numbers in the minor leagues, but when it comes to the majors, he's not as good.

Close your eyes, and try to think of every starting pitcher in the big leagues. Now think of every good right-hander who is six-foot or under and sits in the upper 80s. Done with your list? It's not a long one, is it?"

OK, it's Tim again. Whether Kennedy has immediate success is anyone's guess. Personally I won't spot-start him Saturday, but who knows, that changeup could baffle the Rays the first time they see Kennedy. AL: $1, Mixed: No.

Jack Hannahan, 3B, OAK ? Hannahan is sitting at .264/.371/.453 in 53 at-bats this year. With Eric Chavez perhaps sidelined for the season, Hannahan could play regularly in September. Who is this guy?

I didn't know much about Hannahan; he's a 27-year-old rookie. I read that he battled drug and alcohol problems while playing college ball, but was still selected 87th overall by the Tigers in 2001. Looking at the numbers, he seems to have below average power for his position but a knack for drawing walks. Those in AL-only leagues using OBP may want to consider him. AL: $1, Mixed: No.

Edinson Volquez, SP, TEX ? Volquez, 24, has a plus fastball and changeup but has yet to harness it at the big league level. He pitched well at Double A and Triple A this season, though it wasn't his first time seeing either league. He seems to have improved his control, and his strikeout rate was strong. He'll go Saturday against the Halos for his season debut. The Rangers might as well let Volquez make four or five starts in September, but he's too risky for fantasy owners. AL: No, Mixed: No.

Joaquin Benoit, RP, TEX ? Outside of April, Benoit has been awesome this year. He was supposed to be in the mix for saves after Eric Gagne was traded, but all the opportunities went to C.J. Wilson until Tuesday. Benoit finished off last night's game, but he had a four-run lead so it wasn't a save. You really can't go wrong with a Benoit pickup. He's been untouchable for months, so the worst case scenario is that he snags you some Ks. Best case, he closes exclusively in September and saves five or six. AL: $14, Mixed: $3.

National League

Dana Eveland, SP, ARI ? Eveland, an almost 24-year-old southpaw, has been compared to David Wells by Baseball America. He's not a flamethrower, but has good command and a plus slider. Eveland missed some time this year with a torn tendon in his pitching hand, but he's better now and will face the Rockies Saturday. It'll mark his first start as a Diamondback. If he succeeds and holds onto the fifth starter job for the rest of September, it'll be on the strength of groundballs and not his strikeout rate. The Rockies haven't hit much on the road, and Eveland might be worthy of a fantasy spot-start if you are in a deep NL-only. NL: $1, Mixed: No.

Tom Shearn, SP, CIN ? Shearn is a feel-good story, a 30-year-old rookie who won his debut against Florida. Prior to his call-up he was living in a trailer outside his Triple A park to avoid paying rent. His control has never been great, and he doesn't strike out many. Can he catch lightning in a bottle again today against the Cardinals? I hope so, but I wouldn't risk any part of my fantasy standing on it. NL: No, Mixed: No.

Esteban Loaiza, SP, LAN ? Loaiza will make his Dodger debut Monday against the Cubs. Oakland gave him away simply for salary relief. Those who risked using Loaiza for his first two starts of the year against Toronto came away pleased. After watching him top out around 86, a return to the NL seems Loaiza's most likely path to continued success. Back in 2005 with Washington he was both healthy and effective.

Among Cubs hitters, only Aramis Ramirez and Cliff Floyd seem to have Loaiza's number. He's a decent pickup for Monday's game. NL: $9, Mixed: $1.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, MIL ? Weeks is finally playing like we thought he could, raking at a .500/.658/.962 pace over his last eight games. That includes four homers and two swipes. Looks like the wrist isn't bothering him, and he could be primed for a big September. I'm still seeing him on a lot of mixed league waiver wires, but it won't last for long. NL: $24, Mixed: $12.

Mike Pelfrey, SP, NYN ? Pelfrey will start Saturday's game against Atlanta, but won't stick in the rotation when Pedro finally returns. Pelfrey, a 2005 first-rounder, has really disappointed this year at both Triple A and the Major League level. There's definitely no reason to start him against one of the league's top offenses. NL: No, Mixed: No.

Jack Cassel, SP, SDN ? Another player whose name didn't ring a bell. Cassel starts today against the Dodgers and could be in the mix for more starts in September. He's a 27-year-old righty and organizational soldier with 793 minor league innings under his belt. He was halfway decent in his third look at Triple A this year, but remained quite hittable (11.66 hits per nine). I'll pass on this one. NL: No, Mixed: No.

Heath Bell, RP, SDN ? Bell picked up his second save of the month recently when Trevor Hoffman was unavailable. Still, he's not much of a saves pickup and has come down to Earth in recent months. Snag him mainly for Ks and WHIP help. Though as I said, it's hard to move your WHIP in roto in September. NL: $7, Mixed: No.

Jonathan Sanchez, SP, SFN ? Sanchez will start Saturday against the Nationals in an effort to keep Tim Lincecum's innings down. That's nice to see after Bruce Bochy said earlier that they had no plans to even monitor Lincecum's innings. Remember, Bochy was a major contributor to Adam Eaton's Tommy John surgery in '01. OK, off my soapbox.

Since it's the Nationals, Sanchez is an intriguing spot start. The southpaw was dominant in his brief time at Triple A and will have success in the Majors if he can keep his walks down. NL: $1, Mixed: No.

Braden Looper, SP, STL ? Looper's had a respectable August, with a 4.08 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and three wins. His last four starts have been quality efforts; he draws the Reds on Sunday. The Reds have one of the league's better offenses and it's been the NL's best in August. Looper is definitely a risky start next time out. Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and Josh Hamilton have all homered off him before. NL: $15, Mixed: $3.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Mister Wright
Along with being the last day of August, today is also my final baseball Daily Dose of the season. With the NFL season right around the corner, beginning next week I'll be switching over to the football side of things, where I'll be penning the football version of this same column on a daily basis. Fear not though, my very capable Rotoworld colleague Rob Blackstien will be taking over the baseball Daily Dose.

I'd encourage everyone to continue checking this space every day for Rob's well-crafted thoughts on all the news and notes from around baseball. If nothing else, you won't be forced to read nearly as much about the Twins. For the football fans reading this right now, I promise not to cram too much Vikings talk down your throats if you check out my football Daily Dose too. I might be a Minnesotan, but not even I can conjure up ways to justify significant Tarvaris Jackson talk.

While I hand the keys over to Rob and hope he takes good care of my baby, here are some notes from around baseball ?

* David Wright is on his way to a third straight 25-homer, 100-RBI season, but it's his base-stealing ability that has made him a fantasy superstar. While not a prototypical speedster, Wright has had success swiping bases dating back to his days in the minors. After stealing a half-dozen bases without being caught in a 69-game stint with the Mets as a 21-year-old rookie in 2004, Wright bumped that number up to 17 in his first full season the next year.

In 2006, Wright cracked the 20-steal mark for the first time, going 20-for-25 (80 percent) to go along with a .311 batting average, 26 homers, and 116 RBIs. He won't match that lofty RBI total this season, but Wright's on pace to establish new career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, homers, runs, and walks. And after going 3-for-4 with a steal Thursday, he's now 30-for-34 (88 percent) swiping bags to rank sixth in the league.

With a strong power showing in September he could join the 30-30 Club, and he'll likely top the century mark for both RBIs and runs to go along with another .300 average. A spectacular season for a 24-year-old third baseman, not only is Wright a legitimate MVP candidate in real life, only Hanley Ramirez has been more valuable in fantasy terms among NL hitters. After a solid first half, Wright has batted .375 with a 1.090 OPS and a dozen steals in 46 second-half games.

Lost in all the gaudy numbers is that Wright has drawn 39 walks compared to just 31 strikeouts in the second half, giving him a Barry Bonds-like .490 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. Always a patient hitter, Wright may top 100 walks for the first time. Not only are the boost in walk rate and improved strikeout-to-walk ratio good signs for Wright's overall development as a hitter, it's excellent news for fantasy owners who're counting on him continuing to pile up steals.

* Earlier this week general manager J.P. Ricciardi revealed that Vernon Wells has played through shoulder problems for the entire season. Wells refused to comment on the status of his shoulder when asked about Ricciardi's comments Thursday, but an injury would certainly help explain the tremendously disappointing season that Wells has turned in after signing a seven-year, $106 million contract extension in December.

After batting .303 with 32 homers, 106 RBIs, and an .899 OPS last season, Wells has hit just .256 with 15 homers, 74 RBIs, and a .737 OPS this year. He'll need a strong September to avoid missing 20 homers for the first time in his career and figures to set new lows in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. Ricciardi suggested Thursday that Wells may need offseason surgery to repair the shoulder, so his situation is worth monitoring heading into 2008.

* With seven innings of one-run ball Thursday against the Royals, Jeremy Bonderman won for the first time since July 13. While going winless for eight starts, Bonderman went 0-6 with an 8.12 ERA, 35-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio, .332 opponent's batting average, and nine homers in 47.2 innings. His ERA rose from 3.50 to 4.87 during the stretch and he fell from 10-1 to 10-7, but Bonderman looked good Thursday and remains a must-play down the stretch.

* Unlike Bonderman, Chris Capuano wasn't able to snap a long winless streak Thursday, taking a loss in relief against the Cubs. Demoted to the bullpen earlier this month, Capuano came into Thursday's game when starter Manny Parra exited early with a bruised thumb and proceeded to allow two runs over four innings. The loss dropped Capuano to 5-12 after beginning the season 5-0, and more amazingly the Brewers have now lost 18 straight games in which he's pitched.

AL Quick Hits: Richie Sexson is considered day-to-day after leaving Thursday's game with a tight hamstring ? After going 0-for-4 Thursday, Coco Crisp is hitting .213 with 26 strikeouts this month ? Bartolo Colon (elbow) reportedly reached 95 miles per hour with his fastball while allowing three runs over innings in a minor-league rehab start Thursday at Triple-A ? Starting for just the eighth time in a month, Adam Jones went 2-for-4 with a homer Thursday ? Jason Botts went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Thursday and has hit just .207 with limited power in his chance to secure a job heading into 2008 ? Nick Markakis' homer Thursday was his fourth in eight days and he now has 22 RBIs this month ? Robinson Cano smacked a pair of opposite-field homers Thursday and now has his slugging percentage within 33 points of last season despite a 40-point drop in batting average ? For the second time this week the Mariners paid the price for manager John McLaren using Rick White in a huge spot, as the washed-up veteran walked in the game-winning run Thursday while J.J. Putz again went unused.

NL Quick Hits: Scott Rolen is scheduled to fly to Cincinnati on Friday to have his sore left shoulder examined by Dr. Tim Kremchek ? Starting Thursday after sitting out his last scheduled outing with a sore back, Chris Young walked six and allowed five runs over 4.1 innings ? Asked to convert a rare two-inning save Thursday after sitting out the past six days with a tired arm, Billy Wagner coughed up three runs to blow the lead ? As expected, Freddy Garcia underwent surgery Thursday to repair a torn labrum, knocking him for most of next season ? If his final minor-league rehab start goes well Friday, Mark Mulder (shoulder) could return to the Cardinals' rotation next week ? Rickie Weeks led off Thursday's game with a homer to extend his hitting streak to 10 games ? With a pair of homers against them Thursday, Pat Burrell now has 41 long balls in 131 games (.31/game) against the Mets and 171 homers in 989 games (.17/game) against everyone else ? After going 3-for-5 with a homer and career-high five RBIs Thursday, Mark Reynolds is now hitting .351 with four homers and 18 RBIs this month after batting a combined .178 with four homers and 17 RBIs between June and July ? Willy Taveras (quadriceps) is expected to come off the disabled list Saturday.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

AL Team-by-Team Notes
Two days after the Chicago Tribune said he was "making third base his own," Josh Fields was turned into an everyday left fielder last week. If the switch works out, it sounds like Joe Crede will be staying in Chicago next year, with Scott Podsednik getting traded or non-tendered in December. Fields was never going to be more than a below average third baseman, and the switch to the outfield is something that's been thought about for a long time. He'll need to show better on-base skills to be a quality regular there, but it could happen in a couple of years. Regardless of whether it looks like he'll be good for more than a .300 OBP, his power-speed combination will make him recommended in fantasy leagues next season. He may not hit better than .250-.260, but he could deliver 25-28 homers and swipe a dozen bases. Attempting to steal is something he should feel a lot more comfortable doing as a sophomore.

American League Notes

Baltimore - Getting two potentially useful pieces for Steve Trachsel was a nice move for the Orioles. Scott Moore and Rocky Cherry won't be stars, but they could be helpful while making the minimum salary through 2010. Moore is a left-handed hitter with 25-homer power. He's a subpar defender at third base and he'll never be good enough to start against lefties, but by 2009, he could be an asset while getting 400 or so at-bats per year. The 28-year-old Cherry flashes a low-90s fastball and a plus slider when healthy. Unfortunately, his velocity does tend to fluctuate. If he can avoid additional arm problems, he could be an upgrade in middle relief. The Orioles will give both youngsters opportunities to contribute this month. ? With Trachsel gone, it looks like both Garrett Olson and Radhames Liz could stick in the rotation the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the team's schedule isn't kind at all, making both youngsters poor risks. The Orioles should just be hoping Olson shows enough to enter next year as a top candidate for a rotation spot. Liz is probably going to begin 2008 in Triple-A.

Boston - And that's why Clay Buchholz took over as the game's No. 1 pitching prospect in the Midseason Top 150. Now I just have to decide whether to keep him there with Joba Chamberlain also expected to remain eligible for the 2008 list. It's going to be very interesting to see what the Red Sox do with Buchholz, who only got the chance to throw a no-hitter Saturday because Tim Wakefield was scratched with a sore back. The team is very concerned about his inning total, so even if he comes through with a big September, he probably wouldn't be included in the postseason rotation. He currently looks like a better bet than Jon Lester, and it'd very disappointing if the Red Sox didn't make him their fifth starter for the rest of the regular season. It looks like he has to be picked up in shallow mixed leagues. ? What if Buchholz does force his way into the postseason rotation? Could Wakefield potentially lead the league in wins and then be relegated to bullpen duty in the playoffs? It seems highly unlikely. Wakefield was hoping he'd have to miss just the one start with his back issues. Unless there's some bad news on Sunday, he'll have to be kept active in AL-only leagues. ? Manny Ramirez (oblique) could miss another 7-10 days or show up at the ballpark on Sunday and say he's ready to play. There's just no way to tell. It's risky either way, but it looks like he'll have to be benched this week. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brandon Moss should share time in his place after being called up Saturday. Eric Hinske has showed few signs of being able to get the job done.

Chicago - Podsednik is pretty much worthless in fantasy leagues with Fields in left field now. The White Sox aren't going to use him in center over Jerry Owens, so there isn't going to be much for him to do unless Fields gets hurt. ? Andy Gonzalez, who took over at third base for Fields, could post a 750 OPS only once in the minors, that happening in Rookie ball in 2001. He's actually bad enough to make Alex Cintron a welcome alternative, and Cintron might get the majority of the playing time after returning from the restricted list Saturday. ? In yet another course reversal, the White Sox have put Gavin Floyd back into the rotation, meaning that the club won't be penciling in Gio Gonzalez, Heath Phillips or any other minor leaguer for starts this month. John Danks will apparently be a part of a jumbled six-man rotation, though he's not expected to start this week and he could yet have his season ended a week or two early. Neither Danks nor Floyd should be of any use in AL-only leagues this month.

Cleveland - Travis Hafner has had to deal with leg problems, but it hardly seems enough to explain his awful season. He's gone from finishing second in the AL in OPS in both 2004 and 2005 and first in 2006 to right around the middle of the pack this season. He's been under 800 each of the last three months. Each time it looks like he might be bouncing back, he falls right back into another slump. Hafner hit the ball hard several times in the first half of last week, only to go 3-for-15 with no extra-base hits in the last four games. Hafner is 30 and he definitely has an old player's skill set, so maybe this is the start of his decline. It's unlikely that he's completely finished as a premier hitter, but odds are that he has peaked. I wouldn't count on him ever hitting 40 homers again. ? Josh Barfield made his first start in 17 days on Friday, but Asdrubal Cabrera was back at second base on Saturday and doubled twice. Cabrera, who has looked very good on defense even when he's not hitting, will likely be the regular for the rest of the month. ? Cliff Lee is expected to pitch out of the pen after being recalled Saturday. It will take a couple of poor showings from Aaron Laffey to get Lee another opportunity.

Detroit - Cameron Maybin has collected six hits and struck out 15 times in 34 at-bats as a major leaguer. A hot streak is always a possibility, but it just doesn't look like he's ready. Manager Jim Leyland's fondness for Timo Perez could result in the veteran being penciled into the outfield three or four times per week. That would leave Maybin with little value in AL-only leagues. ? Andrew Miller's sloppy performances in two starts back from the DL apparently will result in him spending the rest of the year in the bullpen. While his talent is obvious, the 22-year-old just hasn't been locating well enough to retire major league hitters. He still might get a chance to compete for a rotation spot next spring, but it looks like the odds favor him beginning the year in the minors. ? The Tigers currently have one hole in the rotation and perhaps another if Kenny Rogers (elbow) isn't ready to come off the DL this week. Virgil Vasquez, who struggled Friday against the A's, is one candidate to start Thursday. Yorman Bazardo is another. Neither comes recommended in AL-only leagues. ? Gary Sheffield (shoulder) is eligible to return Thursday, but there's no telling whether he will. Barring a favorable update on Sunday, he'll have to be left reserved.

Kansas City - The Royals are going to try some different things with their rotation this month. It looks like Zack Greinke will stay there with Gil Meche, Brian Banninster and Odalis Perez, but Billy Buckner, Brandon Duckworth and Leo Nunez could also get starts in a possible six-man rotation. Greinke has impressed in two outings since moving back into the rotation and hasn't given up a run in his last 14 innings. He's not the safest of plays, but he will be worth using in AL-only leagues, except when he faces the Yankees. Buckner and Duckworth won't be options. Buckner has been effective as a reliever, but that's likely to be his long-term role in the big leagues. Nunez will pitch out of the pen this week and could stay there if everyone remains healthy. ? Ryan Shealy's season-ending hamstring injury will prevent him from working his way back into the Royals' plans for 2008. Kansas City could have Billy Butler and Ross Gload split time evenly at first base the rest of the way. Mike Sweeney will DH when Butler is at first, and Gload could see some time in the outfield. Craig Brazell, who has 39 homers between Double- and Triple-A, could be up later this week to figure into the mix at DH. For fantasy purposes, the players should be ranked: Butler, Gload, Brazell, Sweeney. ? Mark Teahen (elbow) is eligible to return Monday and could be activated then.

Los Angeles - Juan Rivera will come off the disabled list Sunday after missing the first five months with a broken leg. The Angels figure to use him as a part-time DH, but he'll probably take a back seat to both Reggie Willits and Kendry Morales initially. Morales is 15-for-34 since being called up when Casey Kotchman got hurt, so he's going to have to be in the lineup most of the time for now. As hard as it would be to bench a guy with a .400 OBP, Willis could be the big loser here. He's hitting .267/.377/.305 since the break, and he hasn't been as much of a factor on the basepaths of late. He might find himself on the bench against most right-handers if Morales stays hot or Rivera comes back strong. Morales is the best play of the group in AL-only leagues at the moment. ? The Angels activated Mike Napoli even though his strained hamstring will sideline him for at least a few more days. AL-only leaguers could sit him for another week. ? The Angels are keeping Ervin Santana in the rotation even after he was shelled by the Mariners. It won't matter much if the Angels get Bartolo Colon (elbow) back as hoped next week.

Minnesota - He didn't seem the type to ever get so close to a perfect game, but Scott Baker is back looking like a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation starter after a disastrous 2006 season. He's mixing up his pitches far better after throwing too many belt-high fastballs last year. Baker doesn't have above average velocity and is an extreme flyball pitcher. As a result, left-handers can eat him alive when he's even a little bit off his game. He's good enough to last as a third or fourth starter, but he's probably not going to be a big-time fantasy pitcher unless he lands in one of the NL's bigger ballparks someday. ? Joe Mauer's hamstring injury may cost him most of the week. Mixed leaguers should reserve him. ? The Twins were considering putting Glen Perkins back into the rotation, but with his shoulder still a problem, it looks like he could be shut down for the year. Surgery might be necessary. ? Kevin Slowey will be up to start Tuesday against the Indians. He should be able to hold his own in his second stint in the majors, but the Minnesota schedule is tough enough to make him a poor pickup in AL-only leagues.

New York - Mike Mussina probably isn't done as a useful major league starter, but the Yankees couldn't wait for him to turn it around and going to Ian Kennedy was the right move. Kennedy won't be confused with Joba Chamberlain when it comes to stuff, but he has more on his fastball than Mussina and he throws plenty of strikes. While the Rays had several loud outs against him Saturday, they never could break through. Kennedy looks like a solid enough option in AL-only leagues, especially with such a strong offense in his corner. It looks like Mussina could get one more chance Monday with Roger Clemens battling a tender elbow and foot blisters, but even if does well, he probably wouldn't get the permanent spot back right away. ? Doug Mientkiewicz returned Saturday, but he'll only be a defensive replacement. Jason Giambi is suddenly playing a lot of first base, allowing the Yankees to keep both him and Johnny Damon in the lineup, and Andy Phillips will keep starting versus lefties. Damon is back looking like a fine play in mixed leagues. Wilson Betemit couldn't seize a starting job while starting off hot, and he could be buried now that he's cooled off.

Oakland - The A's announced Friday that they were shutting down Eric Chavez (shoulder), Travis Buck (elbow) and Mark Kotsay (back) for the season. The moves with Chavez and Kotsay weren't unexpected, but it looked like Buck would be back. Instead, he's opted for surgery. Fantasy leaguers are going to have to be very careful with him next year. He could be a $16-$18 player, but he's already looking like a Milton Bradley-type when it comes to durability. ? Jack Hannahan should play third base for the rest of the season in place of Chavez. ? Jettisoning Esteban Loaiza gives the A's a lot more flexibility this winter and provides a chance to evaluate Dallas Braden and Dan Meyer this month. Neither lefty is a great bet to open next year in the rotation. Those hoping Braden would rack up stirkeouts with his screwball have been left disappointed, and his fastball also isn't going to get a lot of swings and misses. Meyer just doesn't have the same stuff he did pre-shoulder troubles, though there's hope he'll keep getting stronger in the future. Meyer is probably the better bet to make an impact in 2008. It'd be tough to trust either in AL-only leagues this month. ? The A's likely will call up Daric Barton after Sacramento's season ends, resulting in fewer at-bats for Mike Piazza and Dan Johnson. He could have a little value in AL-only leagues. Just don't expect more than one or two homers.

Seattle - It looks like Jose Guillen and the Mariners may not have been as close to a deal on an extension as reported. If so, it's a good thing for Seattle. Guillen has been solid enough this year, but his OPS against right-handers is just 728, which isn't any good for a corner outfielder. On performance alone, perhaps a three-year, $30 million contract could be justified anyway. However, there's a very good reason Guillen has played for nine teams in his career. If the Mariners sign him now, I can't help but feel there's at least a 50-50 chance they'll be looking to dump him prior to 2009. Besides, they have Adam Jones ready to start and Wladimir Balentien not far behind. They can afford to let Guillen go and use his money to upgrade the rotation. ? The Mariners are bringing up both Jeff Clement and Balentien this week, but they've had a hard enough time finding at-bats for Jones, suggesting that neither Clement nor Balentien will be penciled into the lineup at all until the Mariners' playoff chances have been decided. ? Richie Sexsion seems likely to miss at least a couple of more games with a sore hamstring, so he's not to be used in mixed leagues this week. Ben Broussard can be activated in AL-only leagues.

Tampa Bay - Delmon Young is playing better again lately, but with just one homer and one steal since the All-Star break, he hasn't turned into a big-time fantasy outfielder in his rookie season. I'll want to see more power from him this month before recommending him next year. He hasn't fallen too far short of expectations this season, but he just hasn't pulled the ball out of the park with any frequency. He's currently hitting .294/.324/.412 with 10 HR, 58 R, 71 RBI and 7 SB in 537 AB. I had him projected at .290/.322/.454 with 16 HR, 74 R, 85 RBI and 15 SB in 566 AB. ? The Rays didn't call up any minor leaguers on Saturday, and with Durham heading to the International League playoffs, it might be a while before they expand their roster. The Rays still haven't said whether Southern League MVP Evan Longoria, who is with Durham now, will be up to see time at third base. It looks like they'll probably let him rest up for the Arizona Fall League season. The Rays are expected to go to a six-man rotation later this month, with Jeff Niemann, Mitch Talbot and J.P. Howell candidates to be added. Jason Hammel could be replaced, making room for two members of the aforementioned group. Niemann is very interesting, but it would be difficult to take a chance on any Rays starter this month. The team has 11 games remaining versus the Yankees and Red Sox.

Texas - Joaquin Benoit picked up one save last week, but C.J. Wilson remains manager Ron Washington's preferred option to close. With five runs and five walks allowed in his last 6 2/3 innings, Wilson has struggled some lately. Still, he hasn't blown a save. He even got one after giving up a three-run homer on Saturday. That's because two of those runs were charged to Benoit after Garret Anderson went deep. Benoit was coming off a month of August in which he picked up three wins and struck out 22 in 16 scoreless innings. Those who rushed to pick him up after Eric Gagne was traded can't be too disappointed with the results. ? Hank Blalock (rib) was activated Saturday and will act as a part-time DH this week. The hope is that he'll be able to return to third base next week. In the meantime, Jason Botts will lose at-bats, making him a weak play in AL-only leagues. Blalock is worth using in deep formats, but he's probably not going to be an option in mixed leagues at any time this month. ? Edinson Volquez should remain in the rotation the rest of the way after turning in a solid performance in his major league debut Saturday. Still, picking him up would be too much of a gamble.

Toronto - The Jays are downplaying Vernon Wells' shoulder injury, but offseason surgery could be a possibility for him. He's had a very disappointing season offensively after getting a seven-year, $126 million contract over the winter. It's not like he's a superstar hitter ? in six years, he's had an OPS over 810 only twice ? but he certainly should be better than this. That he has just two homers since the break is a strong indication that physical issues are taking a toll. ? Reed Johnson is back looking like a fourth outfielder and Matt Stairs isn't part of the future, so the Jays have the opportunity to give Adam Lind considerable time this month. It'd be for the best if Lind stepped up and put in a strong claim for the job as the left fielder against right-handers next year. Johnson has always looked like a better fit as a part-time player getting 350 at-bats per season. ? With three youngsters in the rotation, the Jays could add a sixth starter this month. Josh Banks might assume the spot, even though he's again been a disappointment in Triple-A. A Josh Towers-type, Banks combines excellent command with underwhelming stuff. His fastball has gone from nearly average to well below average over the last couple of years, making it unlikely that he'll have a career in the majors.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Something To Prove
It's September now and we are officially in the final month of the fantasy baseball season, as well as the first month of the fantasy football campaign. Many owners have already been blinded by the excitement and potential of the next four months of Sundays on the gridiron, but if you're still in contention on the diamond, it's vital to finish strong. The Week Ahead will get you caught up to help you set your strongest lineup, including two-start pitchers like Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, C.C. Sabathia and Carlos Zambrano.

On Saturday, MLB rosters expanded from 25 to 40 so we'll be seeing a lot of new faces around the league in the final month. Prospects like Cameron Maybin, Craig Brazell, Jack Hannahan, Ian Kennedy and Clay Buchholz ? fresh off a no-hitter in his second career start ? will get extended looks to prove their worth for 2008. It's also a time for fantasy owners to discover some potential diamonds in the rough as well.

Two-start pitchers:
Great options:
Johan Santana MIN vs. CLE C.C. Sabathia, @ CHW Jon Garland
C.C. Sabathia CLE @ MIN Johan Santana, @ LAA Ervin Santana
John Smoltz ATL vs. WAS Joel Hanrahan, vs. WAS Jason Bergmann
Carlos Zambrano CHC vs. LA Brad Penny, @ PIT Paul Maholm
Brad Penny LA @ CHC Carlos Zambrano, @ SF Barry Zito
Aaron Harang CIN vs. NYM Oliver Perez, vs. MIL Ben Sheets
Josh Beckett BOS vs. TOR Roy Halladay, @ BAL TBA
Felix Hernandez SEA @ NYY Roger Clemens, @ DET Jeremy Bonderman
Roy Oswalt HOU @ MIL Ben Sheets, @ NYM Oliver Perez
Jeremy Bonderman DET vs. CHW Jon Garland, vs. SEA Felix Hernandez
Jered Weaver LAA vs. OAK Lenny DiNardo, vs. CLE Aaron Laffey
Roger Clemens NYY vs. SEA Felix Hernandez, @ KC Leo Nunez

More strong options:
Ben Sheets MIL vs. HOU Roy Oswalt, @ CIN Aaron Harang
Micah Owings ARI vs. SD Greg Maddux, vs. STL Kip Wells
Esteban Loaiza LA @ CHC Ted Lilly, @ SF Matt Cain
Jon Garland CHW @ DET Jeremy Bonderman, vs. MIN Johan Santana
Paul Maholm PIT @ STL Kip Wells, vs. CHC Carlos Zambrano
Curt Schilling BOS vs. TOR Shaun Marcum, @ BAL Jeremy Guthrie
Greg Maddux SD @ ARI Micah Owings, @ COL Franklin Morales
Jeremy Guthrie BAL @ TB Scott Kazmir, vs. BOS Curt Schilling
Chad Gaudin OAK @ LAA Ervin Santana, @ TEX Kameron Loe
Ted Lilly CHC vs. LA Esteban Loaiza, @ PIT Matt Morris
Matt Cain SF @ COL Franklin Morales, vs. LA Esteban Loaiza
Oliver Perez NYM @ CIN Aaron Harang, vs. HOU Roy Oswalt
James Shields TB vs. BAL TBA, vs. TOR Jesse Litsch

Other two-starters:
Joel Pineiro STL vs. PIT Ian Snell, @ ARI Dana Eveland
Matt Morris PIT @ STL Anthony Reyes, vs. CHC Ted Lilly
Jamie Moyer PHI @ ATL Tim Hudson, vs. FLA Rick VandenHurk
Ervin Santana LAA vs. OAK Chad Gaudin, vs. CLE C.C. Sabathia
Kip Wells STL vs. PIT Paul Maholm, @ ARI Micah Owings
Jesse Litsch TOR @ BOS Daisuke Matsuzaka, @ TB James Shields
Aaron Laffey CLE @ MIN Kevin Slowey, @ LAA Jered Weaver
Kameron Loe TEX vs. KC Zack Greinke, vs. OAK Chad Gaudin
Jason Bergmann WAS vs. FLA Rick VandenHurk, @ ATL John Smoltz
Franklin Morales COL vs. SF Matt Cain, vs. SD Greg Maddux
Rick VandenHurk FLA @ WAS Jason Bergmann, @ PHI Jamie Moyer
Leo Nunez KC @ TEX Kevin Millwood, vs. NYY Roger Clemens
Gavin Floyd CHW @ DET Virgil Vasquez, vs. MIN Boof Bonser

Team-by-team Game Totals:
Seven-game schedule: BAL, BOS, CHC, CHW, CLE, DET, LA, LAA, PIT, SD, STL
Six-game schedule: ARI, ATL, CIN, COL, FLA, HOU, KC, MIL, MIN, NYM, NYY, OAK, PHI, SEA, SF, TB, TEX, TOR, WAS
Five-game schedule: none

Rain threatened games:
Tuesday, 9/4: KC @ TEX (40%)
Wednesday, 9/5: KC @ TEX (40%)
Friday, 9/7: OAK @ TEX (40%), SD @ COL (40%), NYY @ KC (40%), MIN @ CHW (40%)
Saturday, 9/8 MIN @ CHW (40%), STL @ ARI (40%), SEA @ DET (40%)
Sunday, 9/9: SEA @ DET (40%), NYY @ KC (40%)

Stadium Factor:
ESPN - MLB Park Factors - Major League Baseball
Park Factor compares the rate of stats at home vs. the rate of stats on the road.
A rate higher than 1.000 favors the hitter. Below 1.000 favors the pitcher.

Top Hitter's Park Schedules:
1. Coors Field (Rockies) 1.200 runs ? 3 vs SF, 3 vs SD
2. Fenway Park (Red Sox) 1.168 runs ? 3 vs TOR
4. Wrigley Field (Cubs) 1.124 runs ? 4 vs LA
5. Angel Stadium (Angels) 1.116 runs ? 3 vs OAK, 4 vs CLE
6. Camden Yards (Orioles) 1.088 runs ? 4 vs BOS

No Games: 3. Jacobs Field (Indians) 1.133 runs

Top Pitcher's Park Schedules:
2. McAfee Coliseum (Athletics) 0.811 runs ? 3 vs LAA
3. Tropicana Field (Devil Rays) 0.853 runs ? 3 vs BAL, 3 vs TOR
4. Metrodome (Twins) 0.861 runs ? 3 vs CLE
5. RFK Stadium (Nationals) 0.882 runs ? 3 vs FLA
6. Busch Stadium (Cardinals) 0.905 runs ? 4 vs PIT

No Games: 1. Petco Park (Padres) 0.795 runs

Caught Stealing %:
Easiest to steal against (total SBs)
1. Jason Kendall, CHC 99-for-117 SB ? 4 vs LA, 3 @ PIT
2. Jorge Posada, NYY 87-for-113 SB ? 3 vs SEA, 3 @ KC
3. Russell Martin, LA 75-for-112 SB ? 4 @ CHC, 3 @ SF
4. Johnny Estrada, MIL 61-for-72 SB ? 3 vs HOU, 3 @ CIN
5. Ronny Paulino, PIT 60-for-86 ? 4 @ STL, 3 vs CHC

Facing these catchers is good news for Juan Pierre (74-for-91 SB), Russell Martin (21-for-28 SB), Nate McLouth (17-for-18 SB), Ichiro Suzuki (37-for-40 SB), Ryan Theriot (23-for-27 SB), Alfonso Soriano (18-for-23 SB), Brandon Phillips (25-for-33 SB)

Toughest to steal against (total SBs)
1. David Ross, CIN 31-for-52 SB ? 3 vs NYM, 3 vs MIL
2. Yorvit Torrealba, COL 38-for-52 SB ? 3 vs SF, 3 vs SD
3. Kenji Johjima, SEA 38-for-65 SB ? 3 @ NYY, 3 @ DET
4. Brad Ausmus, HOU 44-for-69 SB ? 3 @ MIL, 3 @ NYM
5. Miguel Olivo, FLA 45-for-66 SB ? 3 @ WAS, 3 @ PHI

Facing these catchers is bad news for Jose Reyes (74-for-91 SB), David Wright (30-for-34 SB), Corey Hart (21-for-27 SB), Carlos Beltran (18-for-20 SB), Rickie Weeks (15-for-17 SB), Bobby Abreu (22-for-28 SB), Johnny Damon (20-for-22 SB), Alex Rodriguez (20-for-22 SB), Mike Cameron (15-for-20 SB), Gary Sheffield (20-for-24 SB), Curtis Granderson (17-for-18 SB), Shane Victorino (34-for-37 SB), Jimmy Rollins (28-for-34 SB), Felipe Lopez (22-for-30 SB), Nook Logan (19-for-23 SB), Michael Bourne (18-for-19 SB)

American League:
Baltimore: (5 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Boston: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers) note: SAT vs BAL (TBA)
Chicago White Sox: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Cleveland: (6 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Detroit: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Kansas City: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Los Angeles Angels: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers
Minnesota: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
New York Yankees: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Oakland: (3 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers) note: FRO vs TEX (TBA)
Seattle: (4 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers) note: SAT vs DET (TBA)
Tampa Bay: (5 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers) note: MON vs PHI (TBA)
Texas: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Toronto: (6 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers)

Notes: The Angels play three southpaws this week, while the Devil Rays and Blue Jays don't see any. The Orioles, Twins, Yankees and A's also see two left-handers. That's good news for Orlando Cabrera (.327 vs LHPs), Chone Figgins (.346 vs LHPs), Reggie Willits (.358 vs LHPs), Howie Kendrick (.326 vs LHPs), Garrett Anderson (.315 vs LHPs), B.J. Upton (.324 vs RHPs), Carl Crawford (.311 vs RHPs), Freddie Bynum (.417 vs LHPs), Miguel Tejada (.346 vs LHPs), Corey Patterson (.312 vs LHPs), Torii Hunter (.322 vs LHPs), Michael Cuddyer (321 vs LHPs), Jason Bartlett (.339 vs LHPs), Mike Redmond (.325 vs LHPs), Jorge Posada (.331 vs LHPs), Robinson Cano (.319 vs LHPs)

And bad news for Gary Matthews Jr. (.191 vs LHPs), Robb Quinlan (.239 vs LHPs), Josh Paul (.175 vs RHPs), Dioner Navarro (.215 vs RHPs), Elijah Dukes (.164 vs RHPs), Greg Norton (.230 vs RHPs), Jonny Gomes (.220 vs RHPs), Reed Johnson (.214 vs RHPs), John McDonald (.228 vs RHPs), Gregg Zaun (.215 vs RHPs), Troy Glaus (.225 vs RHPs), Ramon Hernandez (.237 vs LHPs), Kevin Millar (.229 vs LHPs), Nick Punto (.165 vs LHPs), Justin Morneau (.220 vs LHPs), Bobby Abreu (.234 vs LHPs), Bobby Crosby (.222 vs LHPs), Kurt Suzuki (.176 vs LHPs), Jack Cust (.237 vs LHPs)

National League:
Arizona: (6 vs. Right-handers, 0 vs. Left-handers)
Atlanta: (3 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers) note: MON vs PHI (TBA)
Chicago Cubs: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Cincinnati: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Colorado: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Florida: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Houston: (3 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers) note: TUE vs MIL (TBA)
Los Angeles Dodgers: (4 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)
Milwaukee: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
New York Mets: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Philadelphia: (5 vs. Right-handers, 1 vs. Left-handers)
Pittsburgh: (5 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
San Diego: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers))
San Francisco: (4 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
St. Louis: (5 vs. Right-handers, 2 vs. Left-handers)
Washington: (3 vs. Right-handers, 3 vs. Left-handers)

Notes: The Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals see three left-handers this week, while the Diamondbacks see just righties. That's good news for Aramis Ramirez (.380 vs LHPs), Russell Martin (.355 vs LHPs), Jeff Kent (.337 vs LHPs), Matt Kemp (.371 vs LHPs), James Loney (.361 vs LHPs), Rafael Furcal (.348 vs LHPs), Andre Ethier (.319 vs LHPs), Ryan Zimmerman (.407 vs LHPs), Dmitri Young (.336 vs LHPs)

And bad news for Angel Pagan (.236 vs LHPs), Mike Fontenot (.208 vs LHPs), Ramon Martinez (.220 vs LHPs), Nomar Garciaparra (.217 vs LHPs), Olmedo Saenz (.171 vs LHPs), Brian Schneider (.208 vs LHPs), Ryan Church (.232 vs LHPs), Justin Upton (.213 vs RHPs), Carlos Quentin (.219 vs RHPs), Miguel Montero (.214 vs RHPs), Chris Snyder (.228 vs RHPs), Tony Clark (.230 vs RHPs), Chris Young (.235 vs RHPs)

Some scheduled two-start pitchers in week 24:
Typically pitchers that are scheduled to start on Wednesday, get two trips to the hill the following week. These players are slated to start on 9/5.
Radhames Liz, Andy Sonnanstine, Gavin Floyd, Virgil Vasquez, Fausto Carmona, Scott Baker, Kyle Davies, Vicente Padilla, Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Jarrod Washburn, Phil Hughes, Shaun Marcum, Curt Schilling, Sergio Mitre, Tim Redding, Wandy Rodriguez, Yovani Gallardo, David Wells, Sean Marshall, John Maine, Tom Shearn, Kyle Lohse, Buddy Carlyle, Matt Morris, Anthony Reyes, Jack Cassel, Livan Hernandez, Kevin Correia, Ubaldo Jimenez

Latest on the injury front:
Outfielders:
Rocco Baldelli (hamstring) ? likely out for the season
Michael Bourne (ankle) ? return early September
Travis Buck (hamstring) ? out for the season
Chris Denorfia (elbow) ? out for the season
Ryan Doumit (wrist) ? return early September
Chris Duffy (ankle) ? out for the season
Juan Encarnacion (eye) ? out for the season
Ryan Freel (knee) ? out for the season
Jay Gibbons (shoulder) ? out for the season
Carlos Gomez (hand) ? return early September
Scott Hairston (ribs) ? return early September
Angel Pagan (colitis) ? out indefinitely
Scott Podsednik (ribs) ? day-to-day
Manny Ramirez (back) ? day-to-day
Jason Repko (groin) ? out for the season
Juan Rivera (leg) ? expected to return Sunday, September 2
Reggie Sanders (hamstring) ? out indefinitely
Mark Teahen (elbow) ? return mid-September
Preston Wilson (knee) ? out for the season

Infielders
Eric Aybar (hamstring) ? return early September
Willy Aybar (hand) ? out for the season
Aaron Boone (knee) ? out for the season
Eric Chavez (back) ? out for the season
Joe Crede (back) ? out for the season
Bobby Crosby (hand) ? return early September
Damion Easley (ankle) ? out for the season
Adam Everett (leg) ? return early September
Nomar Garciaparra (calf) ? return early September
Marcus Giles (knee) ? return mid-September
Tony Graffanino (knee) ? out for the season
Cristian Guzman (thumb) ? out for the season
Nick Johnson (leg) ? out for the season
Adam Kennedy (knee) ? return late September
Corey Koskie (concussion) ? out for the season
Dallas McPherson (back) ? likely out for the season
Travis Metcalf (hamstring) ? return mid-September
Donnie Murphy (ribs) ? return early September
Pablo Ozuna (leg) ? return September
Neifi Perez (suspension) ? out for the season
Edgar Renteria (ankle) ? return mid-September
Scott Rolen (shoulder) ? out for the season
Ryan Shealy (hamstring) ? out for the season
Richie Sexson (hamstring) ? day-to-day
Scott Spiezio (restricted list) ? out indefinitely
Chad Tracy (knee) ? return early September
Jose Valentin (leg) ? might be out for the season
Ben Zobrist (ribs) ? out indefinitely

Catchers:
Ramon Castro (back) ? return early September
Hector Gimenez (shoulder) ? likely out for the season
Shawn Riggins (elbow) ? out for the season
Vance Wilson (elbow) ? out for the season

Designated Hitter:
David Dellucci (hamstring) ? return mid-September
Gary Sheffield (shoulder) ? return mid-September

Starting Pitchers:
Erik Bedard (ribs) ? day-to-day, will likely miss next start
Chris Carpenter (elbow) ? out for the season
Gustavo Chacin (elbow) ? likely out for the season
Matt Clement (shoulder) ? return September
Bartolo Colon (elbow) ? might return next week
Aaron Cook (ribs) ? might return next week
Jorge De La Rosa (shoulder) ? return September
Zach Duke (elbow) ? return early September
Freddy Garcia (shoulder) ? out for the season
Cole Hamels (elbow) ? return mid-September
Mike Hampton (ribs) ? out for the season
Rich Harden (shoulder) ? return September
Luke Hudson (shoulder) ? out for the season
Jason Jennings (elbow) ? out for the season
Josh Johnson (forearm) ? out for the season
Randy Johnson (back) ? out for the season
Jon Lieber (ankle) ? out for the season
Francisco Liriano (elbow) ? out for the season
Adam Loewen (elbow) ? out for the season
Rodrigo Lopez (arm) ? out for the season
Pedro Martinez (shoulder) ? return Mon 9/3 vs CIN
Brandon McCarthy (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Eric Milton (elbow) ? out for the season
Mark Mulder (shoulder) ? return Wed or Thu vs PIT
Russ Ortiz (elbow) ? out for the season
John Patterson (biceps) ? out for the season
Carl Pavano (elbow) ? out for the season
Odalis Perez (knee) ? return September
Mark Prior (shoulder) ? out for the season
Darrell Rasner (finger) ? return September
Kenny Rogers (elbow) ? might return this week
Jason Schmidt (shoulder) ? out for the season
Jason Simontacchi (elbow) ? out for the season
John Thomson (back) ? out indefinitely
Claudio Vargas (back) ? return mid-September
David Wells (suspension) ? will miss Wednesday's start
Randy Wolf (shoulder) ? out for the season
Jaret Wright (shoulder) ? out indefinitely

Important Relievers:
Kris Benson (shoulder) ? likely out for the season
Yhency Brazoban (shoulder) ? out for the season
Jesse Crain (shoulder) ? out for the season
Brendan Donnelly (arm) ? out for the season
Octavio Dotel (shoulder) ? return early September
Justin Duchscherer (hip) ? out for the season
Mike Gonzalez (elbow) ? out for the season
Angel Guzman (arm) ? out indefinitely
Ryan Madson (shoulder) ? return early September
Akinori Otsuka (arm) ? likely out for the season
Chris Ray (elbow) ? out for the season, out for 2008
Chris Reitsma (elbow) ? out for the season
Arthur Rhodes (elbow) ? out for the season
B.J. Ryan (elbow) ? out for the season
Duaner Sanchez (shoulder) ? out indefinitely
Salomon Torres (elbow) ? out indefinitely
Ryan Wagner (rotator cuff) ? out for the season
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

NL Team-by-Team Notes
Pedro Martinez says the velocity will be there when he needs it, but I doubt we'll see any dominant outings from him either this month or in the postseason. Martinez can succeed at 87-89 mph, but he's been more frequently in the mid-80s while in the minors, and if he's going to pitch in the majors at 85-87 mph, he'll need to have everything else working, something that just doesn't seem likely to happen too often when he's 11 months removed from major rotator cuff surgery. If the Mets get six solid innings from him every six days down the stretch, they'll be happy. A 4.00-4.50 ERA is my optimistic projection. I can also see him getting lit up in his first three starts, leaving the Mets with little alternative but to shut him down and hope he's stronger in 2008.

National League Notes

Arizona - Justin Upton has made 10 starts to Jeff Salazar's three since Aug. 20. The recently turned 20-year-old still isn't doing a lot offensively, but neither is Salazar, and it looks like the Diamondbacks will stick with him. Carlos Quentin doesn't have an at-bat since being recalled prior to Saturday's game. ? The Diamondbacks have soured on Yusmeiro Petit and Dana Eveland did nothing with his start Saturday, so it looks like the club may go primarily with a four-man rotation the rest of the way. If manager Bob Melvin is willing to keep his top four starters on four days' rest, a fifth starter would be needed just twice this month. Edgar Gonzalez might be the favorite to get the nod next time a fifth starter is required. ? Conor Jackson is expected back in the starting lineup for Monday's game after suffering a bruised wrist Friday.

Atlanta - Willie Harris is hitting just .238/.317/.388 and has been thrown out in seven of his 10 steals attempts since the All-Star break, so it looks like we'll finally be seeing more of Matt Diaz in left field against right-handers. The Braves would take a hit defensively by running Diaz out there regularly, but it will be worth the trade off. Unfortunately, while Diaz is a legitimate .300 hitter, he doesn't have the power or speed to be of much use in mixed leagues. Only those in a desperate fight for batting average should consider picking him up. ? The Braves made it sound like it'd be a closer-by-committee when they released Bob Wickman, but Rafael Soriano is the obvious favorite for saves for now. He could retain the role all month even if Octavio Dotel (shoulder) returns in a couple of weeks. ? There's a chance Edgar Renteria (ankle) will be activated when eligible on Friday. Still, the safe play would be to sit him in NL-only leagues. Yunel Escobar will continue to fill in.

Chicago - Time will tell if the Steve Trachsel acquisition proves to an upgrade for the rotation. Sean Marshall is getting skipped this week, and although the Cubs won't confirm it, he could spend the rest of the year working out of the pen. Trachsel was able to hold his own in the AL despite a 45/69 K/BB ratio in 140 2/3 innings. 45 of those walks came versus lefties, as it seems Trachsel has learned a lot from Tom Glavine when it comes to pitching around the hitters likely to do the most damage. His stuff isn't really major league quality these days, but maybe he'll continue to surprise and be a reliable fourth starter for the Cubs. I wouldn't gamble on it in an NL-only league. ? The Cubs' only September callup with much chance of helping out in fantasy leagues is Ronny Cedeno. Ryan Theriot has been less productive of late, and much of what he has done this year has come against lefties. Cedeno, who offers more range at shortstop, might prove to be the Cubs' better option against righties. Still, it's not all that likely that he'll get the chance to start anytime soon, and he doesn't have a lot of upside anyway. It's more OF a situation to watch than something to act on now.

Cincinnati - The Reds are going to call up Joey Votto this week, but will they play him? Like Scott Hatteberg, Votto is a left-handed hitter, and Hatteberg has been remarkably solid all year long, even if his 47 RBI seems like an abysmal total for a starting first baseman. The Reds would be better off playing Votto anyway, but if they were willing to sit Hatteberg, they could have made the switch a month ago. Odds are that Hatteberg will get the majority of the starts, leaving Votto with little fantasy value. ? It remains to be seen what else the Reds will do. Jay Bruce, who will likely enter 2008 as the game's top position prospect, is a candidate for a callup, even though there would seem to be little for him to do in the majors with the Reds' outfield healthy. Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Matt Maloney look like possibilities to receive starts this month, though there's just no certainty with any of them. Bailey (groin) was supposed to pitch in the FSL playoffs this week, but since he's been ruled ineligible, the Reds apparently will have to evaluate him in simulated games. Cueto would be a better gamble than Bailey in NL-only leagues if he gets the call, but the Reds have resisted the temptation to promote him several times already. Maloney, a left-hander picked up from the Phillies for Kyle Lohse, wouldn't be quite so interesting.

Colorado - Aaron Cook will miss the rest of the year after suffering a setback with his strained oblique, leaving the Rockies with a rotation of Jeff Francis, Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and Elmer Dessens. There's still a chance Jason Hirsh (leg) will make it back during the second half of the month, but it appears to be a slight one. If the Rockies decide to replace Dessens, it looks like fellow veteran Mark Redman would be first in line to take over. ? Colorado will add a couple of more bats this month, but there's no one likely to have any fantasy value. It wouldn't be such a bad thing if Todd Helton got hurt, giving the Rockies some time to evaluate Joe Koshansky. Koshansky probably would get a chance to win a starting job next spring if Helton's contract is dumped this winter, but he has a lot to prove. His 870 OPS in Triple-A this year was inflated by the terrific offensive environment at Colorado Springs, and since he's not very good against lefties, he would have to be platooned in the majors.

Florida - The Marlins are waiting until after Albuquerque wraps up its season before making callups. It looks like it'll probably happen Monday, though there's still a chance that the Isotopes could make it into the PCL playoffs. Hitters likely to be added are Joe Borchard, Reggie Abercrombie, Eric Reed, Brett Carroll and Robert Andino. Since they have other outfielders to call on, veteran Val Pascucci probably won't get the call despite hitting 34 homers this year. There aren't any Triple-A pitchers of real interest, but the Marlins are reportedly leaning towards calling up top prospects Chris Volstad and Gaby Hernandez from Double-A. If so, both could make a couple of starts this month. Volstad, a sinkerballer, had a 3.11 ERA in six Double-A starts, which is quite an improvement over where he was in the FSL. Hernandez finished 9-11 with a 4.22 ERA, 144 H and 113/56 K/BB in 153 2/3 IP for Carolina. Volstad has the superior stuff, but Hernandez is the more polished product and should be the first to get an extended look in 2008. ? Josh Willingham is expected to start Monday after missing a couple of games with a sore back. ? Matt Treanor's bizarre success since the beginning of June has resulted in him stealing quite a bit of playing time from Miguel Olivo behind the plate. It's another sign that Olivo, one of the Marlins' highest-paid players, won't be back in 2008.

Houston - Brandon Backe's return from Tommy John surgery has caused the Astros to go to a six-man rotation. Roy Oswalt will stay on regular rest, which figures to lead to some shuffling throughout the month. Backe will be something of a sleeper in 2008, but he isn't a very good bet in NL-only leagues this month. I don't yet trust Troy Patton, though he has plenty of long-term potential. Matt Albers is a better gamble in NL-only leagues after turning in three quality starts in his last four outings. ? The Astros have made it clear Chris Burke will get a lot of playing time this month, and since they don't want to disrupt Craig Biggio's farewell tour, it looks like Luke Scott will sit frequently to open up a spot in right field. Jason Lane should be a complete non-factor. Burke has been a pretty massive disappointment, but since the at-bats will be there, he should be an asset in NL-only leagues from here on in. ... Mark Loretta has been awful for two months now, and the Astros figure to cut back on his playing time. He can be dropped in NL-only leagues.

Los Angeles - Still desperate for pitching help even with David Wells looking pretty good, the Dodgers claimed Esteban Loaiza off waivers last week. He'll debut with his new team on Monday. Loaiza had been surprisingly effective for Oakland since returning from the DL, so he's worth grabbing in NL-only leagues. ? The Dodgers were originally planning to using Loaiza on Tuesday, but he switched places with Brad Penny, who showed clear signs of fatigue in his start last week against the Nationals. A September swoon is a real possibility. Penny hasn't thrown 200 innings in a season since 2001. He's at 178 right now, putting him on pace to finish at 220 or so. ? With Shea Hillenbrand looking even weaker defensively than on offense and little optimism on the Nomar Garciaparra front, the Dodgers recalled Andy LaRoche on Sunday and plugged him right into the starting lineup. Ideally, he'll run away with the job and remain a starter even if Nomar can make it back from a strained calf for the final two weeks. LaRoche likely would have been the choice to replace Garciaparra initially if not for back troubles. His power may not be there right now, but he will still be a clear upgrade over Hillenbrand. NL-only leaguers should pick him up. ? Wells' seven-game suspension will put Eric Stults back into the rotation this week. Wells is expected to make his next start Saturday.

Milwaukee - Carlos Villanueva was struggling as a reliever before being sent down and moved back to the rotation last month, but I like the idea of picking him up in NL-only leagues now that he'll be replacing the injured Manny Parra (thumb) against the Astros on Tuesday. The Brewers won't be afraid to keep him in the rotation the rest of the way if he pitches up to his ability. ? Corey Hart, who had driven in a run in five straight games before going 0-for-3 on Sunday, seems to be back playing regularly. That's bad news for Bill Hall owners, as Hall could do a lot of sitting against right-handers in favor of Gabe Gross. It had been Hart losing time to Gross, but Hart has outproduced Hall versus righties all season long. ? Yovani Gallardo has been very inconsistent lately, but he's worth using in mixed leagues with Houston and Pittsburgh next on the schedule. ? Rickie Weeks has also reemerged as an option in mixed leagues, especially for those owners in need of steals. It looked like his wrist problems would completely ruin his season, but he's back hitting the ball with authority on occasion now.

New York - Mike Pelfrey's terrific performance Saturday gives the Mets a little more flexibility in dealing with Orlando Hernandez. El Duque's sore right foot isn't supposed to keep him from starting later this week, but the Mets might benefit from giving him a full week off. As good as Hernandez has been this year, it's easy to forget just how brittle he is. The Mets aren't locked into a postseason spot yet, but making sure El Duque will be strong in October still needs to be viewed as a priority. ? If Hernandez starts this week, Pelfrey probably won't. It's still possible that he'll be worth using in NL-only leagues later this month.

Philadelphia - Still limited by a strained right calf, Shane Victorino has been unable to reclaim his starting job in right field. The Phillies don't need him back as a regular with Jayson Werth hitting .409 with 21 RBI in 93 at-bats since at coming off the DL, but they could use him as a part-time player if his calf responds. As is, Victorino isn't an option in NL-only leagues this week. ? Cole Hamels (elbow) was supposed to return Sunday, but because of what's being called a mild setback, he's set to miss at least one more week. The Phillies would be fortunate if he returned at full strength to make three starts later this month. In the meantime, the Phillies will have to keep both Adam Eaton and J.D. Durbin in the rotation. It looked like Eaton was going to be bumped to make room for Hamels, but Durbin was so awful on Saturday that the Phillies may have to consider replacing him before Hamels returns. ? Freddy Garcia won't be the replacement after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum Thursday. The free agent-to-be would be fortunate to return for the second half of 2008. ? The Phillies seem to be against giving Tadahito Iguchi any playing time at third with Chase Utley back. Since they let Russell Branyan go, they're left with Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez battling for playing time. Dobbs is the only one of the group with value in NL-only leagues, and he hasn't done much of anything since the break. Branyan was the club's best option to start at the hot corner against right-handers.

Pittsburgh - The Pirates seem willing to use Steve Pearce in right field as well as at first base, so the slugging 24-year-old should have a little value in NL-only leagues this month. Pearce hit .333 with 31 homers at three levels in the minors this season. ? With Chris Duffy done due to shoulder surgery, Nate McLouth will remain the everyday center fielder. He's proving to be a real force on the basepaths lately, and with the Pirates likely to continue to give him the green light, he's worth trying in mixed leagues. He's always had a fair amount of pop in his bat, and the seven homers he hit in August shouldn't be written off as a complete fluke. ? The Pirates haven't decided when to bring Zach Duke (elbow) back, but a weak outing Saturday in Triple-A makes it less likely that it will happen this week. It's doubtful that he'll prove to be helpful in NL-only leagues this month.

St. Louis - Juan Encarnacion's potential career-ending eye injury makes Rick Ankiel an everyday player in right field. He's actually been terrific in limited action against lefties to date, so it's worth a shot. It's only a matter of time before a steadier diet of breaking balls eats into his batting average, but he's already quite close to being penciled in as a starting outfielder for 2008. ? Scott Rolen is expected to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery. The Cardinals seem content to play Aaron Miles at second and Brendan Ryan at third for now. They traded for Branyan, but they've yet to give him a start against a right-hander. Also contending for time is Miguel Cairo, but he's clearly the weakest option of the group. ? The Cardinals are putting Mark Mulder and Mike Maroth back into their rotation, with Anthony Reyes losing his spot. I doubt either lefty will better the 4.25 ERA that Reyes had in seven starts since being recalled, but Reyes had struggled enough lately that the switch wasn't surprising. Maroth's performance Thursday will determine whether the Cardinals stick with a six-man rotation into next week. ? That the Cardinals don't have a single off day the rest of the way makes their hitters a little more valuable. Ankiel and Jim Edmonds are worth using in mixed leagues, and the slumping Chris Duncan will be, if only he can put a couple of good games together.

San Diego - Chris Young's back issues pretty clearly led to one of his worst performance as a Padre on Thursday. The soreness is something he's going to have to manage the rest of the way, and it'd be no surprise if he missed another start or two. The Padres would love to be in a position to get him some additional rest. ? Michael Barrett was activated Saturday after missing time with a concussion, but he's going to play behind Josh Bard, at least until Bard cools off. ? Milton Bradley is expected back for Monday's game after taking a day off to nurse a sore side. ? Minor league veteran Jack Cassel will remain in the rotation and face the Diamondbacks on Wednesday. However, because of off days, he'll probably go 10 days without a start after that.

San Francisco - The Giants skipped Tim Lincecum in the rotation last week, but they still haven't given any indication that they plan on shutting him down early. The 23-year-old is at 161 1/3 innings for the season heading into his start Tuesday. ? Noah Lowry, on the other hand, is looking like a definite candidate to be shut down. The left-hander complained of arm fatigue after a second straight poor outing Wednesday, and he missed a start early last month with forearm stiffness. The Giants have no reason to take any chances with him, so if he remains sore, he could find himself replaced by Pat Misch or Jonathan Sanchez the rest of the way. ? It sounds like the Giants will rest their veterans frequently this month, with Barry Bonds and Ray Durham likely to sit the most. Taking a look at Nate Schierholtz should be a priority, and there's nothing wrong with giving him at-bats at Rajai Davis' expense. With Fred Lewis still nursing a sprained ankle and unavailable to play, it's possible Schierholtz will have a little value in NL-only leagues. The Giants also want to give Kevin Frandsen more time at second base. If Frandsen is successful, the team could eat some salary in order to move Durham this winter.

Washington - Top pitching prospects Collin Balester and Ross Detwiler appear to be candidates to join the Nationals this week, possibly as starters. The 21-year-old Balester is 4-10 with a 3.93 ERA this season. Since moving up to Triple-A, he is 2-3 with a 4.34 ERA, 45 H and 32/22 K/BB in 45 2/3 IP. Detwiler, the sixth overall pick in this year's draft, is 2-2 with a 3.56 ERA, 32 H and 26/9 K/BB in 30 1/3 IP in the low minors. I can see calling up Balester, but Detwiler looks like quite a reach. Neither would be a very good bet in NL-only leagues. Balester has plenty of long-term potential, but I'm not as high on him as most. ? The Nationals are now saying they hope to get Cristian Guzman back from a torn thumb ligament for the last two weeks. If it happens, Felipe Lopez could ride the pine. The Nationals seem more frustrated with the 27-year-old than ever before and could shop him or maybe even non-tender him this winter.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Roger, Over and Out?

The Yankees, already dealing with a struggling moose, now face a grounded rocket.

Roger Clemens, after getting lit up by the Mariners for eight hits and five runs in just four innings on Monday, was off for an MRI examination on his right elbow ? an injury that had put last night's start in doubt in the first place.

The Yanks probably wished they had never sent the 45-year-old Rocket out for his start in the first place. But it's not as if the alternative ? the seemingly lost Mike Mussina ? was an attractive option.

But the team did its due diligence: "we checked twice with him before the game," Manager Joe Torre said.

New York has plenty invested in Clemens' pitching arm, so there is much to be concerned about here. At the very least, he'll miss his next start, so ready or not to rejoin the rotation, Mussina will get another chance. He sure didn't look ready Monday, however, giving up seven hits and two runs in 3 2/3 innings of relief behind Clemens.

Another concern for the Yanks: last night's loss dropped them seven back of the BoSox in the AL East. It's looking more likely that the Wild Card will be the way to go to continue their run of playoff appearances. Unfortunately, the loss to Seattle shaved the Yanks' Wild Card lead to a single game, and with two more to play against the Mariners, the team doesn't really have the luxury of worrying about anything but the here and now.

So the fact that Clemens felt "grabbing" in the fourth inning is going to have to take a backset for the time being.

Clemens first experienced inflammation in his elbow after beating the Red Sox Wednesday, and up until game time, it wasn't necessarily a given that he'd be taking the mound last night. To add to his problems, the Rocket has also been dealing with blisters on his right foot.

While the freak-of-nature that Clemens is realizes what normal people already know about the body breaking down in your mid-40s, let's check in on the rest of the baseball happenings for Monday?

  • While Clemens was suffering, another veteran hurler was making a long-awaited comeback. Although he's a veritable babe-in-the-woods at 10 years Clemens' junior, Pedro Martinez has been around long enough to qualify for veteran status. Uh, yeah?I guess three Cy Young Awards will do that. At any rate, the big story in the NL on this night was that Pedro returned to the mound 11 months after shoulder surgery, and he won his debut ? limiting the Reds to five hits and three runs (two earned) over five innings. He struck out four, including the 3,000th K of his career, the 15th pitcher in history to achieve that feat. Not bad for a kid. Now, Pedro was hardly blowing people away. He spent much of the night throwing in the low-80s on the radar gun, but did get his fastball up to 89 mph at one point. That's obviously a concern going forward when assessing how much we can expect from him from a fantasy standpoint. If you're desperate for starting pitching, roll the dice and activate him for his next start; otherwise, let this play out for another start or two.

AL Quick Hits: Even if Erik Bedard were available for duty ? and there's still concern that he may not pitch again this season ? do you really want an Oriole starter active right now? This team is in free fall mode, having lost 12 of 13 and being outscored by a ridiculous 128-56 count during this stretch?.As we discussed in Monday's Dose, many are worried about Dice-K hitting the wall. If you watched him almost blow a 10-1 lead last night, you know what I'm talking about?Reports suggest Brandon League's velocity ? which inexplicably disappeared this spring ? is coming back. Watch how he does this month; he could be a 2008 sleeper?Hank Blalock will keep DHing for the time being; he says he's about a week to 10 days away from returning to third base?Akinori Otsuka starting throwing from flat ground as we discussed Monday. I can't wrap my head around why he's so hell bent to pitch again this year. Something tells me this well end badly?What's the deal with this Rocco Baldelli situation? It's obviously not his hamstring strain that's keeping him out, but the Rays won't say what kind of tests he had last week or even if there is something wrong with him. It makes me wonder what's really going on. Is there a curse on Rays outfielders (Josh Hamilton, Elijah Dukes, Delmon Young, Ben Grieve are just a few that come to mind who either had personal problems or got into hot water with the team)?

NL Quick Hits: Chin-Hui Tsao is still unable to throw, making it likely that he's done for the year. Oh, what could have been with this kid. Once upon a time, he was filthy?If Nomar Garciaparra can run without pain today, the Dodgers will activate him. Remember a time when people would have cared about this news?...Promotions continue this week and the 'Stros plan to bring six up Tuesday, including Jason Lane. Lane hit .319 for Triple-A Round Rock this season, but he's struggled badly with the big club whenever called upon. Don't expect much from this guy, just two years removed from a 26-homer season in the bigs?Bobby Livington, who showed some promise for the Reds this year, will undergo surgery Thursday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He should be able to begin throwing again in January, so will hopefully be ready to compete for a job in spring training?Angel Pagan is getting closer to returning to the Cubs. Out since early last month because of colitis, he's now off to the team's off-season facility to start working out?.The Padres are thinking about bringing Jake Peavy back early so he can face the D-Backs on three days' rest Wednesday. If he can handle the short rest, it's a great idea ? the dude has dominated the Snakes this year, going 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 45 Ks in 26 1/3 innings.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Prospect: AL September Callups
Up this week is a look at all of the important September callups. I'm going to start today with the American League options, then post the National League promotions on Wednesday. As of this writing not all callups have been processed or announced, so I'll also add to tomorrow's column any additional AL callups that get announced during the next 24 hours. As a reminder I'm focused primarily on the future here, in part because September callups don't often have a tremendous amount of value. However, I'll also keep an eye on current value so those in deep leagues can see if any of the recent transactions will help augment their contending teams.

American League Callups

Nick Blackburn ? RHP Twins ? A former 29th round selection by the Twins back in 2001, Blackburn first began to show considerable life as a prospect in 2005. During that season Blackburn pitched at three levels, starting as low as High-A Fort Myers and making it all the way up to Triple-A Rochester. His low strikeout totals kept him off many prospect radars, but his season was still noteworthy. Sent back to Double-A New Britain in 2006, Blackburn struggled to repeat his success. However, he got things going back at New Britain to start the 2007 campaign, and he continued pitching well upon reaching Rochester. In 148 2/3 innings between the two levels this season, Blackburn had a 2.36 ERA and 75/19 K/BB ratio.

While the ERA is nice, there are plenty of other considerations that drag down Blackburn's stock. The right-hander turns 26 this winter, so he's already too old for his level of play. His strikeout rate is also far from ideal and he's not an extreme groundball pitcher, so he's not exactly a top prospect. That Blackburn's fastball sits in the high-80s also doesn't help, but he does throw three secondary pitches and commands all of them well. He'll do his best to keep hitters off balance in middle relief for now. He profiles best as a swingman going forward, but maybe he'll fool enough hitters to post solid numbers and help those in deep AL-only leagues. Recommendation: Ignore in all leagues.

Clay Buchholz ? RHP Red Sox ? Perhaps the best pitching prospect who could still have Rookie of the Year eligibility in 2008, Buchholz made his presence felt in a big way by hurling a no-hitter in just his second big league start. The tall right-hander mixed his low-90s fastball with his curve and changeup very well in the outing against the Orioles, and he ended up walking three and striking out nine to go with the no-hitter. The right-hander is still wild at times, but his three plus offerings and advanced approach give him ace potential and his command is good enough to succeed in the majors right now. His ERA jumped some after a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, but he was still posting quality peripherals and overall he had a 2.44 ERA and impressive 171/35 K/BB ratio in 125 1/3 innings in the minors this season.

Manager Terry Francona said before the no-hitter that under no circumstances would Buchholz be allowed to stay in the rotation, but the no-hitter has changed the club's mind. Buchholz just turned 23 years old and the club wants to keep his innings count down, so how they're going to manage the last few weeks is going to be interesting. Buchholz has already thrown 140 1/3/ innings on the season, and the no-hitter was the first time all year he went past the seventh inning. Maybe the club will just give him two more starts to help secure the division title, then shut him down for the remainder of the season. However, if he succeeds, it's going to be awfully tempting to keep calling his number. He's worth claiming in all leagues right away, even if it's only for two more starts. He's currently in line to face the Orioles on Thursday. Recommendation: Claim in all formats.

Jacoby Ellsbury/Brandon Moss ? OF Red Sox ? While not as exciting as the Buchholz callup, the Red Sox did promote two other prospects when rosters expanded this week. Ellsbury is the club's top position prospect and is known for his excellent defense and plus speed. The club's leadoff hitter of the future, Ellsbury is also known to control the strike zone well and he continued to display that skill by posting a 54/38 K/BB ratio in 104 games mostly at Triple-A Pawtucket this season. He doesn't have much power to speak of, though he could reach double digits as his body matures. A trade of Coco Crisp this winter could open up center field for Ellsbury, but it seems more likely that he spends at least another half season in Triple-A. Once he's ready for the majors, Ellsbury should hit .300, steal 40 bases, and score plenty of runs.

Moss has had an up-and-down career, at first looking like a future regular while succeeding at Single-A in 2004. He didn't continue to hit as well in 2005 or 2006, though he did rebound somewhat as a 23-year-old in Triple-A. Moss doesn't do anything particularly well, but he does have solid gap power and decent athleticism. He could be a decent corner outfielder on a small market team if his plate discipline improves, but a career as an average regular is his ceiling. He's likely to be trade bait for the Red Sox this winter or at some point in 2008.

Both players are up in the majors for now and could see some action with Manny Ramirez hurting. Ellsbury figures to get most of the playing time, and he's already hit his first big league homer since the promotion. He probably won't play much when Ramirez returns, but that could mean up to a week of playing time. Once Ramirez is back, Ellsbury will get the occasional start and will serve as a pinch-runner often. I'd guess he plays enough to amass some value in AL-only leagues down the stretch. Moss could get starts from time to time, particularly later in the month if the club can rest some starters, but fantasy value is unlikely. Recommendation: Claim Ellsbury in AL-only and keeper leagues. Ignore Moss for now.

Charlton Jimerson ? OF Mariners ? Plus speed and raw power will always get Jimerson noticed by scouts and fantasy players, but it's past time that he turns his tools into production. The 6'3", 210-pound outfielder turns 28 years old later this month, and his 139/34 K/BB ratio in 99 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season speaks to the lack of progress he's made the plate. It's impressive that he's still managed to hit .282 despite all of the strikeouts, but it's not a trend that should continue in the majors. His 35 steals and 25 homers are certainly promising, but he's going to get fooled too often in the big leagues to put either tool to much use. Given his advanced age, the odds are against him ever proving to be a major leaguer. The Mariners have other outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart and they're trying to make a playoff push, so he's unlikely to get a look this month. Recommendation: Ignore in all leagues.

Ian Kennedy ? RHP Yankees ? Going to Kennedy over the struggling Mike Mussina was the right move, but it was still a surprising one. Mussina has plenty of quality post-season outings and is a high-salaried veteran who was pitching pretty well not that long ago. Manager Joe Torre also looks favorably on the right-hander, but Kennedy is taking over in the rotation for now. A former star at USC, Kennedy slipped to the 21st pick of the 2006 draft after a somewhat disappointing junior season. The lack of a big-time fastball also hurt his stock, though Kennedy had never had much problem succeeding without it. His excellent command, plus changeup, and developing curve were good enough to allow him to post a 1.91 ERA and 163/50 K/BB ratio in 146 1/3 innings between three levels this season.

Kennedy will remain in the Yankees' rotation for the rest of the season if he can keep them in ball games. His first outing went well, as he struck out six and gave up three runs ? one earned ? in seven innings of work against the Devil Rays. While the right-hander is going to set a career-high in innings pitched this season, he's shown no signs of slowing down just yet. He and Clay Buchholz could be the last two players to make a significant impact in AL-only leagues, so both are worth pursuing aggressively. Kennedy could be a No. 3 starter right away, and further development into a No. 2 starter can't be ruled out even with a fastball that sits in the high-80s. If he pitches well in September he should have a spot in the rotation next spring. Recommendation: Claim in all leagues.

Adam Lind ? OF Blue Jays ? Lind was promoted earlier in the year and spent enough time on the roster to amass 235 at-bats. While he played well initially, Lind eventually began to struggle as big league pitchers figured him out. Once his OPS dropped below 700, the Blue Jays sent him back to the minors for more seasoning. Lind hit .297 with four homers in 38 games for Triple-A Syracuse after being demoted, so perhaps he's ready for a big league job. He could steal playing time away from Matt Stairs in left field down the stretch, so he's worth claiming in AL-only leagues. If he plays well, there's a good chance he'll open next season as the club's starting left fielder against right-handed pitchers. He should develop into a full-time player eventually, and he may hit .300 with 25 homers during his peak. Recommendation: Claim in AL-only and keeper leagues.

Scott Moore ? 3B Orioles ? Acquired from the Cubs this past week, Moore was once a first round pick in the 2002 draft. He's never quite lived up to that lofty billing, but it looks like he'll carve out a career in the majors. The now 23-year-old Moore was batting .265/.373/.526 with a 100/48 K/BB ratio in 103 games for Triple-A Iowa before the promotion. Though he used to play some shortstop, Moore profiles better at third base or a less demanding position such as first base or a corner outfield spot. The Orioles would like to get the left-hander some at-bats down the stretch, so he's worth a flier in deep AL-only leagues. Maybe his plate discipline won't allow him to succeed right away, but he's one of the better bets to amass 50 at-bats during the last four weeks. He's capable of hitting .250 and smacking 20 homers as a platoon player down the road, though he's not a good enough bet to be carried in most keeper leagues. Recommendation: Claim in AL-only leagues.

Garrett Olson ? LHP Orioles ? Olson was sent down to the majors just two weeks ago, but he's back now that rosters have expanded. The left-hander is still a good bet to develop into a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but his 7.22 ERA and 25/26 K/BB ratio in six big league starts so far doesn't bode well for immediate success. He gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox in his latest outing. The Orioles want to give Olson some major league experience, so it's unlikely they'll pull him from the rotation unless he's truly poor. He'll be worth a late flier in AL-only leagues next season and value in 2009 and beyond is likely. Recommendation: Claim in AL-only keeper leagues.

Kevin Slowey ? RHP Twins ? Slowey is an excellent example of when fantasy owners overreact to players who get off to a slow start. The right-hander had an excellent 2006 campaign with a 1.88 ERA and 151/22 K/BB ratio in 148 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. Slowey was off to a similarly good start with an ERA under 2.00 and a 57/5 K/BB ratio for Triple-A Rochester this season, and the Twins finally decided to give him a shot in the rotation on June 1. However, Slowey's excellent command of his 90-MPH fastball wasn't enough to succeed against big league hitters. That his changeup and slider aren't as advanced as his numbers indicate also didn't help, and Slowey ended up with a 5.84 ERA in seven starts for the Twins. His stock dropped considerably in many leagues, and I've seen him offered for 50 cents on the dollar all too often.

Back in the minors, Slowey once again dominated Triple-A hitters with a 2.21 ERA and excellent peripherals in 11 starts. That Slowey doesn't have a top-notch fastball hurts his ceiling, but there's still plenty to like here. Slowey's command is the best in the minor leagues, and the deception in his delivery helps his fastball look better than its radar reading. His changeup is looking like a better pitch now than it did prior to this season, and he's begun to mix his pitches more. It makes sense to think that Slowey will need more time to adapt to the majors leagues since he relies on command and deception, and I'm not going to bet against someone who's always found ways to succeed. How his secondary pitches progress will determine if he's a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but Slowey is still one of the game's top prospects.

The Twins will give Slowey a spot start against the Indians on Tuesday. If he pitches well perhaps they'll keep him in the rotation down the stretch, but the club insists it's a spot start for now. He's a risky option in AL-only leagues, but I'd take the flier. If he gets an opportunity and pitches well this month, Slowey will enter next season in the Twins' rotation. If he doesn't, a debut early in the season is still likely. Since his poor major league numbers to date have some worried, it's a good time to strike in keeper leagues. Recommendation: Claim in AL-only and keeper leagues.

Richard Thompson ? RHP Angels ? Thompson is technically in his age 22 season, though he turned 23 on July 1, and was having an excellent campaign in the minors before being promoted this past week. In 76 innings mostly at Double-A Arkansas or Triple-A Salt Lake, Thompson posted a 2.01 ERA and 85/20 K/BB ratio. Thompson hadn't looked all that promising the previous few seasons, but his command has improved dramatically and he's always has an excellent curveball. A lack of a top-notch fastball means he won't likely develop into a closer, but the pitch grades out as at least average and he could have a long career as a setup man. He did give up a pair of homers in an outing on Monday, but he's still worth grabbing for both the short and long term in any league that values middle relievers. Recommendation: Claim in deep AL-only leagues.

Edinson Volquez ? RHP Rangers ? Volquez spent all of his 2006 campaign at Triple-A Oklahoma or in the majors, posting a 3.21 ERA and 130/72 K/BB ratio in 120 2/3 innings for Oklahoma. He was hit hard in most his starts in the majors and posted a 7.29 ERA in 33 1/3 innings against big league hitters. The Rangers liked his fastball, changeup, and impressive strikeout rate, but his delivery needed work in hopes of improving his command. The club sent him all the way back to Single-A to work on the issue, and he struggled initially while working through the new delivery. However, the right-hander improved upon moving up to Double-A and he's been truly excellent since moving back to Oklahoma. In eight starts since returning to the level, Volquez had a 1.41 ERA and 66/21 K/BB ratio in 51 innings of work. The right-hander credits the new delivery for the improvements he's made, so it appears it's here to stay.

The Rangers are going to give Volquez another look this month. He turned 24 years old just two months ago, so he's still a very intriguing prospect. As is his command still isn't going to be good enough to succeed in the majors, but he's made progress from where he was a year ago. I'd also like to see Volquez succeed over a longer stretch of games before completely buying into his improvements, but they look real enough for now. He gave up three runs in five innings during his return to the majors this past week. Maybe he'll strike out enough batters to provide value in AL-only leagues down the stretch, but he's a very risky play and the odds are against it. Going forward, Volquez still has No. 2 starter upside, but he'll need to improve his command considerably. A move to the bullpen remains a possibility, and he'll be an excellent closer prospect if that happens. Recommendation: Monitor in AL-only and keeper leagues.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Livin? la Vida Lo-du-ca

It's hard to believe that less than a week ago, the Mets season seemed to be unraveling. They had just been swept by the Phillies, with their NL East lead trimmed to a tenuous two games and were heading out for three games in Atlanta ? never a safe haven for the Mets.

But my how thing change fast in this game: suddenly the offense has exploded for 46 runs in the last six games, reaching double digits three times; John Maine got back on track; Mike Pelfey finally got his first win and in impressive fashion; and Pedro Martinez made a victorious return.

The result is a season-high five-game winning streak that's increased the Mets' grip on the East to five games. An upcoming nine-game homestand could allow this team to nail down the division once and for all.

On Tuesday, the Mets turned to an unlikely source to supply the offensive fireworks in an 11-7 win over the Reds. Paul Lo Duca hit a pair of three-run blasts and added an RBI single to enjoy a career-best, seven-RBI night.

Where did that come from? I'm sorry, but I want to know what he ate for breakfast Tuesday morning.

This is a dude who hadn't gone yard at all since June 30, and suddenly he's clouting long balls like Carlos Beltran? For Lo Duca, it was his third career two-homer game, but first since October 2001. Not bad for a guy who's been relegated to the eighth spot in the batting order the past three days. More games like this will change that soon enough.

Of course, Lo Duca, batting .319 at the end of May, has been in free fall for a while, and a hamstring injury helped spin his season off track. However, the veteran believes he's over that, and last night's explosion is certainly a testament to that. "This is the healthiest I've been in a while," he said.

A big September could help take the sting out what's probably been the worst season of Lo Duca's career. He has just half as many runs as he scored last season, his power had disappeared until last night and his OPS is over 100 points lower than 2006.

As we marvel at Lo Duca's big night, let's check in on the rest of the action from Tuesday?

  • The MRI on Roger Clemens' right elbow has revealed inflammation in the joint. No kidding. And? It's more what's not being said here that's discomforting for Clemens' owners. We've been told that there is not a torn ligament or structural damage, but beyond that, it's unclear how serious or minor this injury is. Clemens is headed to Houston today to have a cortisone shot that he hopes will allow him to get back on the mound after missing just one start. When asked about what the MRI showed, Clemens, rather ominously, said: "I kind of know what it says. I know what they read for me at home. He's going to tell you something a little lesser." Well, that clears things up, doesn't it? It's not as if Clemens has something left to hold back for, though. You'd have to assume he's thinking more about the World Series than he is making a 23rd comeback in 2008.
  • We've got to give a Daily Dose salute to Miguel Cabrera today. His RBI single Tuesday gave him 500 RBI for his career, making him, at 24 years, 139 days old, the third-youngest player to hit that lofty total. Beating him to the mark was Mel Ott (23 years, 74 days) and Ted Williams (24 years, four days). Perhaps you've heard of those guys? With four more RBI, Cabrera will join that pair again and become the third youngest player with four straight 100-RBI campaigns. Cabrera's peripherals have slipped this season, but there's no denying he's one of the great young talents in the game, and we have yet to see his peak performances.

AL Quick Hits: Jermaine Dye suffered a left quad strain Tuesday, and had to come out after four innings. This is not the same quad he hurt in June, by the way. Darin Erstad will get a chance to play for a day or two while Dye recuperates?Tim Wakefield is looking like he'll be able to take the mound Thursday, so Clay Buchholz has been sent to the bullpen for the time being. He's about 15 innings shy of his season limit?Gary Sheffield says his shoulder is feeling much better and he's expected to be activated tomorrow night?Jon Garland looks to be righting the ship after a very rough August. Of course, facing Detroit always seems to bring out the best in him ? Garland is 13-6 in his career against the Tabbies?For those of you who have been scanning the Jay bench in search of Ray Olmedo (strangely, someone asked me about him last night), wonder no more: he's gone back to Syracuse to tend to his wife, about to punch out a child.

NL Quick Hits: Aaron Boone underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery Tuesday. He's expected to be ready for spring training, but the free-agent-to-be will likely need to find a new employer?Scott Olsen is going to get a few extra days before his next start. The team wants him to work on a flaw in his delivery. A flaw? Oh, so is that why he's 1-5 with a 7.77 ERA in his last eight starts?...Taylor Buchholz was given a cortisone shot in his right elbow yesterday. The plan is for him to throw on the side Friday and possibly be available to pitch out of the bullpen by Monday?Steve Trachsel's first start with the Cubs since 1999 wasn't bad ? in six innings, he scattered seven hits and three runs, striking out three and walking just one ? but the end result was a loss. Of course, he's made a habit of losing to the Dodgers over the years, with last night's effort dropping him to 4-11 in his career against the men in blue?Matt Belisle had looked pretty decent in his first two starts after his recall, but last night, uh, not so much. In 5 1/3 innings, he gave up six hits and five runs, walking one and striking out none with two homers allowed. His ERA is up to 5.44, but Belisle's improved control this season is definitely worth noting.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Lessons of a lost season
With just under a month to go, there's still plenty of drama left in the fantasy baseball season. But for those who've missed the playoffs in their head-to-head leagues or who will be merely spectators as others battle for a Roto championship, maybe there's a reason the box scores won't mean as much to you this September.

A losing season shouldn't be considered a failure, but rather a chance to see what strategies did and didn't work.

Keeper decisions

Depending on the number of keepers allowed per team, a league's balance of power can be established long before draft day. Make smart decisions and you already have an advantage heading into the new season. Make a mistake (or several) and you're forced to work twice as hard to contend.

One of the most common pitfalls is being seduced by a low price tag. If you're using a valuable keeper spot on a $1 player, it should be someone who will help you on a weekly basis or has the potential to take another giant step forward.

So be careful if you're thinking of keeping players such as Ryan Theriot, Reggie Willits, Jason Bartlett, Marlon Byrd, Nate McLouth, Shaun Marcum, Brian Bannister, Jeremy Guthrie or Lenny DiNardo just because they come at a bargain-basement price.

They're all decent players in AL- or NL-only leagues and are worth a late speculative pick, but don't use them in keeper spots.

Personnel decisions

Mistakes on draft day can linger all season. If your draft results are available, look at the differences between your original roster and your current one.

Did you overpay for players early or did you have too much money at the end? Perhaps you waited too late to fill your middle infield positions or you relied on too many rookies. Those things will become clearer now that the season is nearly over.

It's also helpful to have a list of transactions so you can see how your roster has evolved. Free agent pickups and trades will say a lot about your ability to improve your team during the season. For example, if you were quick to spot a potential closer on the waiver wire, you may not want to make closer a top priority in next year's draft (which isn't a bad idea anyway).

Injuries

Injuries can strike even the most unlikely targets. Freddy Garcia and Chris Carpenter have been among the most reliable pitchers over the last several years, but Garcia made only 11 starts in 2007 (with one win and a 5.90 ERA) before shoulder problems eventually led to season-ending surgery, while Carpenter made only one start before he had Tommy John surgery in July. Both pitchers expect to be sidelined at least through next year's All-Star break.

While pitchers' injuries can be more catastrophic, hitters often have to deal with the aches and pains of playing every day. Just this past week, we found out that Vernon Wells may have been playing through shoulder problems all season. That would help explain his subpar numbers (.250, 15 HRs, 74 RBI through Tuesday).

Meanwhile, nagging injuries to fantasy stalwarts Manny Ramirez, Joe Mauer, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Travis Hafner, Gary Sheffield and Johnny Damon added a little extra degree of difficulty to filling out a lineup card each week.

Avoiding injuries is mostly luck with a little bit of skill thrown in. Since the injury bug can bite at any time, it makes sense to spread the risk and not invest too much in any one player, no matter how healthy he's been in the past.

Underperforming players

Sometimes a lost season all comes down to picking the wrong players. Experts always urge fantasy owners to exercise patience over the early part of the season, but it's hard to know exactly how long to wait.

This year, it took a while for National Leaguers Garrett Atkins, Albert Pujols, Pat Burrell, Doug Davis, Adam Wainwright and American Leaguers Bobby Abreu, Robinson Cano, Chone Figgins and Scott Kazmir to get rolling, but they all overcame their slow starts and will probably come close to equaling or exceeding their preseason values.

On the other hand, what if you remained patient and stuck with underachievers Jermaine Dye, Jason Bay, Josh Barfield, Marcus Giles, Morgan Ensberg, Mark Teahen, Michael Barrett, Craig Monroe, Jon Garland, Mike Mussina, Chris Capuano and Dontrelle Willis?

Looking back, it's easy to second-guess your decisions. But all you can do is make the best choices with the information available at the time. In the end, a successful fantasy season takes a combination of good planning, good timing and good luck.

If things didn't happen to go your way this time around, take an objective look at the some of the reasons why. The perspective you gain and the lessons you learn just might pay off with a title next year.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

A-Rod Brings his A-Game

I'm going to qualify today's column by stating that I'm not an Alex Rodriguez fan. I never have been, really. Yes, I respect his accomplishments, but have never considered him someone to look up to.

But you'd have to be pretty jaded to not be in absolute awe over what A-Rod did Wednesday night, and really, what he's been doing all season.

We must remember that just under a year ago, this guy ? already entrenched as one of the all-time greats ? was suffering through yet another horrible playoff, and was embarrassed by the team when he was slotted in the eight-hole for the Yankees' final playoff game. He had sunk that low in New York.

But Rodriguez came into this season on a mission and he's never stopped.

Last night was just the latest in a series of dramatic moments he's supplied this season.

After Adrian Beltre fell on his leg Tuesday night and he showed up at the park Wednesday afternoon limping with a sprained right ankle and sore knee, it sure looked like Rodriguez was going to have to sit out a vital game, with the Yanks playing Seattle, the team chasing them for the Wild Card.

He was sent for an MRI, but scurried back from the hospital and told manager Joe Torre "I can give you quality at-bats." Uh, no kidding.

A-Rod, acting as DH for the evening, mashed not one, but two home runs in the seventh inning Wednesday to propel the Yankees to an eight-run frame and a 10-2 win over the Mariners, stretching the Pinstripers' lead in the Wild Card race to three games.

Rodriguez's exploits gave him a major-league leading 48 homers, 134 RBI and 127 runs, to go along with a .312 BA, 22 steals and 28 doubles.

Can you say AL MVP?

But let's examine his season in a historical context.

At his current pace, A-Rod is headed for 56 homers, 155 RBI and 147 runs. Exactly three times in history have those totals been eclipsed in a single season: Babe Ruth in 1921 and 1927 and Jimmie Foxx in 1932. Think about that for a moment.

The 48 homers ties the team record for right-handed hitters that he already owns.

And with each dinger he hits, Rodriguez reaches rarified air. Last night, he passed Mel Ott (511) and tied Ernie Banks and Eddie Matthews for 17th place on the all-time home run list with 512. Oh, did I mention that A-Rod is just 32 years old?

Imagine the glee agent Scott Boras is feeling today, knowing that his star client can opt out of his contract after the season.

Was the ankle a factor? It's hard to say, because it's not as if A-Rod had to run much. Home run trots don't tend to tax your ankle much.

Rodriguez is just the fourth Yankee to homer twice in one inning, joining Joe DiMaggio (1936), Joe Pepitone (1962) and Cliff Johnson (1977).

Yes, he still has those playoff ghosts to exorcise, but Rodriguez has already put the nightmare of last season far in the rear view mirror.

While we begrudgingly marvel at the exploits of one of the greatest players of our generation, let's turn our attention to other noteworthy Wednesday happenings?

  • The Mets will be without first baseman Carlos Delgado for the next seven-to-10 days because of the strained right hip flexor he suffered Tuesday. He had an MRI Wednesday and the Mets have opted to play it safe. They have that luxury considering how well the offense is rolling and carrying the club currently. Jeff Conine got the start last night and went 0-for-4. Shawn Green will likely get his crack at first base as well, which will allow Endy Chavez and Lastings Milledge to play in right field. Delgado is suffering through a very un-Delgado like year. He's batting just .255 through 129 games with 22 homers and 80 RBI. However, the timing of this injury is really awful for Delgado owners given that the veteran looked to be turning things around on the just-finished road trip. In the first nine games of the trip, Delgado was hitting .389 with four homers and 10 RBI.
  • If he played for almost any other team, Carlos Pena would be getting some MVP love right now. But the fact that he toils in Tampa Bay means that probably the greatest offensive season in franchise history is not much more than a footnote. Still, we've got to give Pena his due. He is absolutely locked in right now, smacking another two homers ? a grand salami and a two-run shot ? to go along with a sac fly for seven RBI Wednesday. He also walked twice and scored four runs. Give him 37 homers and 105 RBI now, making him the fourth Ray to go over 100 RBI in a season. The seven ribbies is also a new team mark. At this point, Pena has to be considered the front runner for AL Comeback Player of the Year. I hate to embarrass the Orioles (it just seems like piling on, and that's too easy), but last night's final ? 17-2 for TB ? takes the team's composite score over their last 15 games to 149-66 for the opponents. Do the per-game math and think about that for a minute.

AL Quick Hits: Manny Ramirez has been left in Boston as the team travels to Baltimore for a four-game set, so we won't see him again until at least next week. On the plus side, this gives us ample opportunity to marvel at the plentiful tools that Jacoby Ellsbury brings to the table?Carl Crawford has been slapped with a two-game suspension for his tirade on Monday. "I was willing to accept whatever they gave to me," Crawford said. And then he appealed the suspension. Uh, okay. Whatever you say, Carl?Victor Martinez had two hits and two RBI to back the Indians to a win over Minny, probably sticking the final nail in the coffin on the Twins season (if there was still any hope). V-Mart has put up back-to-back multi-hit games and has driven in four runs in the last three games to reach 100 for the second time in his career. He ranks sixth in the AL in RBI -- his increased productivity this season making up for a BA that's slipped a bit along with his walk rate.

NL Quick Hits: Matt Treanor, who bruised his knee Sunday, is expected to be ready to go Friday. He's enjoying a fine year with the stick, batting .295 with a .385 OBP, and deserves to get plenty of hacks this month?Josh Hamilton had to come out of Wednesday's game early for a pinch hitter, allowing him to rest a sore hamstring he says he's been playing through for about a month. Hamilton has been very productive ? when healthy ? but his constant injuries woes are frustrating for owners. Still, he's intrigued me enough to recommend him as a good option for 2008?Barry Bonds took Colorado rookie Ubaldo Jimenez deep and then paid him a compliment: "He's going to be good. He's got a lot of talent." Translation: "He might have a chance to be decent, but I'm Barry Bonds and no one is getting a fastball by me. Now, where's my meal supplement?"
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Bullpen Report: Week 23
Despite the fact that the Red Sox now have a comfortable lead in the AL East, Jonathan Papelbon got more work in this week than he has in any week this season. The right-hander pitched on three straight days for the first time all season this week, and he also appeared in a fourth game just two days prior to that stretch. That Papelbon's pitch counts were low during the outings certainly helped, and he showed no ill-effects by hurling 3 2/3 scoreless innings during that span. Perhaps the club was trying to stretch him in hopes of using him frequently in the playoffs, but if that's the case using Papelbon for more than one inning at a time would be better preparation. Either way, fantasy owners certainly won't mind if Papelbon gets a few more appearances because of it.

All closers are rated in one of the following categories: Locked In, Secure, Shaky, In Danger, Filling-In, Co-Closer or DL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Jose Valverde (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten, Tony Pena

Valverde notched his 41st save of the season to start the week despite giving up one run against the Padres. He blew a save by giving up a run in the ninth inning against the Rockies the next day. The Diamondbacks ended up losing that game, so the blown save did hurt. It wouldn't be surprising if Valverde, who has had trouble staying healthy before, tired down the stretch, but it's not something to worry about too much right now.

Lyon has moved up to next in line after Pena struggled in August. The young right-hander entered August with a 1.89 ERA and left the month with a 2.82 mark. It's not surprising that Pena struggled while already having exceeded 70 innings, and the club is going to move him to a reduced role down the stretch. He'll be back acting as a setup man next season, and I expect both Pena and the Diamondbacks to work on pacing themselves better in 2008.

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Secure)

Key setup men: Octavio Dotel (DL), Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates, Ron Mahay

Manager Bobby Cox initially said he'd use a committee approach to closing while utilizing both Moylan and Soriano. However, Soriano has received the lone save opportunity since Bob Wickman departed, and the club has clearly saved him for close games in hopes of using him in the ninth. Maybe Moylan or another reliever will pick up a save or two, but Soriano is the clear favorite. That Dotel still doesn't have a return date means Soriano should remain the favorite for the rest of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Danys Baez (Shaky)

Key setup men: Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, James Hoey, Fernando Cabrera

Baez did pick up a save against the Red Sox this past week, but that wasn't before he surrendered a pair of runs in the ninth. He also allowed the tying run to reach base with one out, but Jason Varitek bailed him out with a double play ball to end it. Baez remains atop the team's depth chart and will probably remain there for the rest of the season. He's a poor option in most leagues, though he still needs to be left active in many of them.

Hoey looked like he might challenge Baez for the role if the veteran struggled, but those hopes ended as he's completely lost it of late. Hoey has given up 14 runs over his last five outings and is unlikely to see action in close games as a result. He needs to be benched in all leagues for now, but he's still a sleeper in 2008. Since he'll now come very cheaply next spring, he'll be worth a late flier, particularly in keeper leagues.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (Locked In)

Key setup men: Eric Gagne, Hideki Okajima, Clay Buchholz

Buchholz will work out of the pen for now despite throwing a no-hitter just this past week. It's a role he should succeed at as the team tries to keep his innings total down. AL-only leaguers in desperate need of ERA help should consider claiming him even if he's not going to pitch on back-to-back days or record any wins or saves. A move back to the starting rotation is a possibility but still rather unlikely.

Gagne looked like he was rebounding with four scoreless appearances in late August, but he hasn't pitched since the 26th due to shoulder tenderness. The right-hander says he's feeling better, but no return date has been given. Even if he comes back quickly he's no lock to succeed right away, so he can be benched in AL-only leagues for now.

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Ryan Dempster (Secure)

Key setup men: Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Angel Guzman (DL), Mike Wuertz

Dempster picked up three saves this week despite giving up runs in two of his three outings. Manager Lou Piniella says he's going to keep using the bullpen in the same fashion despite the fact that rosters expanded. It makes sense given the club's quality relievers. That means Dempster should have plenty of job security, with Marmol and Howry setting him up. Piniella also said that Wood could get into the mix, but he's clearly the fourth best option right now. His 11/8 K/BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings is rather underwhelming.

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks (Locked In)

Key setup men: Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, Boone Logan

Jenks notched his 37th save with a scoreless inning this week, but he did give up a hit and a walk in the outing. It was just the second and third baserunners he's allowed since July 17. Let that sink in for a moment before reading on.

Manager Ozzie Guillen came out this week and publicly criticized the club's bullpen, specifically calling out how disappointing Andy Sisco, David Aardsma, and MacDougal were after fast starts. He went on to say that only Jenks is safe when the club goes to camp next spring. Expect general manager Kenny Williams to spend early and often in the reliever market this winter.

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: David Weathers (Secure)

Key setup men: Jared Burton, Bill Bray, Eddie Guardado, Mike Stanton

Weathers had his doubters this season, and way too much ink was spilled discussing who could take over when the right-hander eventually faltered. It didn't happen, and Weathers is now just one save shy of his first 30-save season. With a 3.41 ERA and a career-best 1.15 WHIP, he's been an excellent draft day bargain. There's no reason for the club to look and make a change in the ninth this winter.

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski (Shaky)

Key setup men: Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, Tom Mastny

Borowski has fallen on hard times of late in Cleveland, and that he blew another save by giving up a run in the ninth inning against the Mariners hardly helped matters. He did end up recording a win in that outing and a save with a scoreless inning in his next outing, so not all is lost. Still, Borowski can't afford too many more poor outings while the club is fighting for a playoff spot. It'd take guts to go with a closer for 5+ months and then change at the most important time of the year, but manager Eric Wedge might just be the man for the job. The odds are against it, but I'm not completely ruling it out yet.

Betancourt did record a save this week, but that was only after Borowski had worked on three consecutive days. Perez also was credited with a save after the Indians turned a one-run lead into a four-run lead in the top of the ninth inning against the Twins on Wednesday. Since it wasn't a save situation for a new pitcher, Perez stayed in to finish the ninth after recording two outs in the eighth. Neither is a sign of things to come for Borowski, but the club should have plenty of confidence in their two setup men right now.

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas (Secure)

Key setup men: Brian Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge Julio, Juan Morillo

Corpas keeps chugging along, posting four more scoreless innings while earning two saves and a win this week. Fuentes also pitched well with three scoreless innings. The left-hander is said to be ready to pitch on back-to-back days, though he's yet to do so. I still think the club would prefer to move him back to the closer's role, but Corpas has an ERA under 2.00 and it's pretty hard to justify removing him. I wouldn't drop Fuentes yet, but Corpas is becoming close to a lock to remain the ninth inning option through the end of September. At this point he's also the favorite to be closing next April, though I believe the club will take a long look at Fuentes this winter.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones (Secure)

Key setup men: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Seay

The Tigers' bullpen had a terrible meltdown this weekend. On Friday, Zumaya took a loss after giving up a run in the eighth inning against the Athletics. Then, things got worse when the club's relievers blew a 7-2 lead against the Athletics on Sunday. Rodney gave up three runs in seventh inning to make it 7-5 in that outing, and Jones blew the save by giving up two runs in the ninth. Rookie Yorman Bazardo gave up the winning run in the 10th. The Tigers can't afford to be losing close games like that while trying to make the playoffs, and those two loses could be pointed to as reasons why they won't end up making it.

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg (Locked In)

Key setup men: Armando Benitez, Matt Lindstrom, Taylor Tankersley, Lee Gardner, Justin Miller

Gregg picked up two saves to start the week, then blew a save and took a loss against the Nationals after allowing two runs to score in the ninth inning. Even after the poor outing, Gregg still has a very fine 3.24 ERA to go along with 28 saves.

Houston Astros

Closer: Brad Lidge (Secure)

Key setup men: Chad Qualls, David Borkowski, Mark McLemore, Trever Miller

Lidge had an uneventful week for a change, pitching just twice and giving up a run in neither outing. That he's gotten results on most days should help him entering 2008, but Lidge has been shakier than some care to admit and he's not completely out of the woods just yet. A strong first half in 2008 could make me a believer, but owners shouldn't automatically be counting on the Lidge of old when evaluating him next spring.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Joakim Soria (Locked In)

Key setup men: Joel Peralta, David Riske, Jimmy Gobble

Soria pitched just once this week, recording a scoreless inning in a non-save situation. Zack Greinke's success since moving back into the rotation gives Soria even more job security for next season. If Soria lucks out and Greinke is in the rotation there isn't a comparable long-term option working out of the bullpen in the entire organization.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Locked In)

Key setup men: Justin Speier, Scot Shields, Darren Oliver, Richard Thompson, Chris Bootcheck

The big news for the Angels this week was Shields getting demoted from setup duties. The right-hander has been up and down this year, but his recent stretch of games has been particularly tough as Shields has given up 15 runs in his last 11 1/3 innings. The organization is blaming an inconsistent release point for the struggles. As long as Shields' release point hasn't been altered as he tries to pitch through an injury, it's actually good news. Shields has thrown an incredible 350 innings since the start of the 2004 campaign, but if all he needs to do is get his mechanics back on track he's a fine candidate to rebound. However, the chances of an injury striking at some point in 2008 seem fairly high.

Shields claims that a simulated game this week went well after he initially struggled, so perhaps he'll be back working the eighth inning in a week or two. The Angels will need him in the playoffs, so they'll do everything they can to get him on track for October. In the meantime, expect Speier to take over the eighth inning duties. Oliver, Thompson, and Bootcheck could also be used in close games.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jonathan Broxton, Scott Proctor, Jonathan Meloan, Joe Beimel, Rudy Seanez

Saito pitched in four straight games two weeks ago, so he was used just once this week in part because he needed a few days off.

Broxton and Proctor remain ahead of him on the depth chart, but Meloan should finish the 2008 campaign as no worse than the club's third best reliever. The right-hander has a hard slider and fastball that can reach the mid-90s, and his results have been superb in the minors. Since the start of the 2006 season, Meloan has a 1.97 ERA and an insane 182/43 K/BB ratio in 118 2/3 innings of work. Broxton's presence blocks him in terms of being considered a future closer, but Meloan has the stuff to succeed in the role and he should still provide plenty of value while working as a setup man. If he pitches well in September he could be up for good.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Francisco Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scott Linebrink, Derrick Turnbow, Matt Wise, Seth McClung

Cordero picked up three saves this week, making him the first Brewer ever to record 40 saves in a season. Both Dan Kolb and Turnbow had 39-save seasons for the club, but Cordero has cleared their mark with over three weeks to go.

Linebrink wasn't perfect this week, but he did improve by starting the week with three scoreless innings in close games. In his fourth outing of the week he was charged with two unearned runs, but the Brewers were up four runs at the time and still ended up winning the contest. He could be activated again in NL-only leagues, but if the Brewers fail to catch the Cubs in the NL Central then part of the blame should rest on Linebrink's shoulders.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan (Locked In)

Key setup men: Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, Nick Blackburn

Nathan blew a save against the Indians this week after surrendering a two-run homer to Travis Hafner in the ninth inning. It was his third blown save in 32 chances this season. Blackburn, a September callup, could help those in desperate need of decent relievers.

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner (Locked In)

Key setup men: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Guillermo Mota

Wagner continues to struggle down the stretch for the Mets, but it's hardly been an issue as the club has a five game lead in the NL East. The left-hander has complained of a dead arm recently, and he's given up at least one run in each of his last five outings. He's too good to bench even while struggling, and it seems likely that he'll turn things around in short order. The club hasn't said they'd go to anyone else in a save situation yet, but if they do Heilman will be the choice.

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera (Locked In)

Key setup men: Luis Vizcaino, Joba Chamberlain, Kyle Farnsworth

Rivera hurled 2 1/3 scoreless innings this week while also picking up his 23rd save. It seems unlikely that he'll reach 30 saves for the 10th time in 11 years. Chamberlain still hasn't given up a run in 12 1/3 innings of work. He's struck out 17 batters, walked four, and given up just five hits. Continued value in AL-only leagues is likely. His future should still be in the rotation, but he's a big guy and his success in front of Rivera could convince the club to abandon plans to move him back to starting games next spring. It's still more likely that he competes for a rotation spot next spring, however.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Huston Street (Secure)

Key setup men: Alan Embree, Santiago Casilla, Kiko Calero

Street started the week by blowing a save after yielding two runs to the Tigers. He was credited with a win after pitching a scoreless 10th inning and then watching as the Athletics rallied for the victory. Street threw two more scoreless innings after that outing, recording a victory in one of them. He remains comfortably atop the team's depth chart. Casilla has pitched better of late, but Embree is still next in line should something happen to Street.

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brett Myers (Secure)

Key setup men: Tom Gordon, Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson (DL)

Myers started the week fine by notching a save with a scoreless inning. However, things didn't go as well in his second outing, when Myers and Gordon combined to blow a six run lead against the Braves. Gordon was charged with four of the runs, but Myers was responsible for allowing three of them to score. Myers then allowed three runs on his own account in the ninth inning. It's nothing that will shake up the team's depth chart, but it was a disappointing week for fantasy owners.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps (Locked In)

Key setup men: Salomon Torres (DL), Damaso Marte, Shawn Chacon, John Grabow

Capps took a loss after allowing one run in a tie game against the Reds this week. It was his sixth loss of the season despite the fact that he's blown just one save since moving into the closer's role. His ERA is still a stellar 2.15, so there's little reason to worry. He'll enter next season as a safe but low-upside option in fantasy leagues.

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman (Locked In)

Key setup men: Heath Bell, Kevin Cameron, Cla Meredith

Hoffman picked up his 36th save of the season despite allowing a run in his lone outing this week. He's just four saves shy of his ninth 40-save season of his career. Meredith's ERA has clawed all the way back to a respectable 3.48. He still gives up too many hits even when he's going good, but he's an asset in NL-only leagues again.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brad Hennessey (Secure)

Key setup men: Randy Messenger (DL), Brian Wilson, Kevin Correia

Hennessey never looks much more than adequate, but he keeps getting the job done as the Giants' closer. His ERA is just a touch over 3.00, and he's given up a total of seven runs since the start of July. Messenger is still at least two weeks away and Wilson has struggled some of late, so Hennessey shouldn't have to worry about losing closing duties at all this season.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: J.J. Putz (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brandon Morrow, George Sherrill, Eric O'Flaherty

As the Mariners have stalled down the stretch, so has Putz. The right-hander has just four appearances and one save in just over two weeks. It's pretty difficult to save a game your team isn't winning in the first place, and Putz has been hurt more than any other player by the Mariners forgetting how to win. Maybe they'll turn things around shortly and try and catch the Yankees, but that looks unlikely given how poorly they've played of late. Putz obviously must be left in lineups, but he could disappoint over the season's final three weeks.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen (Locked In)

Key setup men: Ryan Franklin, Troy Percival, Tyler Johnson, Russ Springer

Isringhausen struggled by giving up runs in both of his outings this week, but he picked up a save in one of the appearances and the other was a non-save situation so little harm was done. Since he'll turn 35 years old this month and is coming off the best ERA of his career, he'll be overvalued in 2008.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Closer: Al Reyes (Shaky)

Key setup men: Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Brian Stokes, Grant Balfour, Juan Salas

It was another mediocre week for Reyes, who gave up one run and picked up a save against the Orioles to start the week and then yielded three runs in a non-save situation against the same club. He's going to enter next season as the Devil Rays' closer, but Wheeler will push him all season long.

Texas Rangers

Closer: C.J. Wilson (Co-Closer), Joaquin Benoit (Co-Closer)

Key setup men: Akinori Otsuka (DL), Frank Francisco, Wes Littleton

Wilson had been manager Ron Washington's choice to close on most days, but his performance has dipped of late. The left-hander has given up six runs in his last five outings and has made several save opportunities interesting. In the meantime, Benoit has given up all of two runs since the start of August. Washington turned to Benoit for a save opportunity on Wednesday, so it appears he's open to trying other options. Both players are candidates for saves as a result. Washington still likes Wilson more, but Benoit is more deserving at the moment. They're both worth using in most formats this week.

Otsuka could still return on September 15 or later, but it's more likely that he won't pitch in the majors again this season. Surgery is still a possibility on his injured elbow, and even if he does return he likely won't move back into the closer's role immediately. He can be dropped in all leagues.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo (Secure)

Key setup men: Casey Janssen, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor

Accardo notched two saves and a win with 3 2/3 scoreless innings this week. He's lowered his ERA to 2.30 after giving up just two runs since the start of August. The save Janssen recorded this week was only because Accardo needed a day off.

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome, Luis Ayala

Despite playing on poor teams, Cordero managed his third season with at least 29 saves after notching three more this week. He notched 47 during 2005 when the Nationals played well early in the season, 29 when the Nationals were awful last year, and he now has 31 so far in 2007. He's not as productive as quite a few other closers out there, but he is reliably solid. Expect more of the same in 2008.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

NL Team-by-Team Notes
Losing Orlando Hudson to a torn thumb ligament doesn't kill the Diamondbacks' playoff chances, but it surely will hurt the team in October. The plan is for Alberto Callaspo to get a look as the primary second baseman. Callaspo was a bust through the first 2 ? months, and his arrest in May for allegedly assaulting his wife didn't help his case for receiving more opportunities in Arizona. Still, he hit .341/.406/.491 after being sent down to Tucson, and since Augie Ojeda is the alternative, it makes all kinds of sense to give him one more try. Callaspo strikes out so infrequently that he should be able to hit .290-.300 in the majors. He doesn't have much home run power and he's not a basestealer, so his fantasy upside is limited. Still, he should have some value the rest of the way.

National League Notes

Arizona - Conor Jackson and Tony Clark are both thriving while splitting time lately. It has to frustrate fantasy owners, but manager Bob Melvin won't alter the arrangement while it's working. Jackson would be a fine mixed-league first baseman if he were playing regularly right now. As is, he's only an option in NL-only leagues. ? Edgar Gonzalez gets the Giants in a spot start Tuesday, so he can be used in NL-only leagues. Dana Eveland and Yusmeiro Petit are expected to remain in the pen through the final three weeks.

Atlanta - The save opportunities haven't been there, but Rafael Soriano has been flawless since Bob Wickman was released. He's allowed just four hits while pitching 8 1/3 scoreless innings in his last seven appearances. His only problem this year has been the home run ball. He's given up 11 bombs, accounting for 16 of the 25 runs he's surrendered. Meanwhile, he has a .195 average against and a 0.90 WHIP. Overall, he's been strong enough that the Braves shouldn't be afraid to enter next season with him as their closer. The big concern with him is his history of injuries, but he's avoided arm problems the last two years, and the Braves will have a great insurance policy if Mike Gonzalez makes a successful return from Tommy John surgery. ? Edgar Renteria was supposed to miss the entire Nationals series while rehabbing his sprained ankle, but he started both Saturday and Sunday. He should be activated in mixed leagues.

Chicago - The Cubs are trying to take look at PCL MVP Geovany Soto in order to see whether he can be their primary catcher next year. Jason Kendall's strong offensive showing since his return to the National League has complicated things. There's reason to think Kendall has some solid years left back in the NL Central, and it probably wouldn't take more than a one-year commitment to re-sign him this winter. However, his arm is a major problem and the Cubs would pretty much have to live with the fact that teams would run on them all year long if they brought him back. Soto, a career .262/.344/.371 hitter in six minor league seasons before this year, had a suspiciously strong .353/.424/.652 line for Iowa. He's a solid defender, so if he keeps hitting, he'd be a fine choice as a regular. It'd make sense to pair Soto and Kendall and then just go with the hot hand all year long. However, Henry Blanco is owed $2.8 million next year and could be difficult to trade after missing much of 2007 with a herniated disc. ? The Cubs have eight games this week, so guys like Mark DeRosa and Jacque Jones are better plays in mixed leagues. Cliff Floyd is worth activating in NL-only leagues. ? Since Steve Trachsel's second start was a dud, she Cubs might go back to Sean Marshall as their fifth starter. Marshall isn't necessarily worth using in NL-only leagues this week, but if he reenters the rotation, he'd be a fine play during the last two weeks because of the Cubs' weak schedule.

Cincinnati - Ken Griffey Jr. has already played in more games this year than he has since 2000, which was also the last time he finished 100 RBI or 500 at-bats. His bat has quieted down, as he has just seven homers since the break (23 before), but he's still hitting for average and he has his highest OBP since 2000. His 87/85 K/BB ratio is a very nice turnaround from last year, when he had a 78/39 mark in 428 at-bats. It appears that the switch to right field has played a big role in keeping him healthy, and he'll enter 2008 as a better bet for fantasy purposes than he has been in several years. Still, the inflated price tag will probably keep me from recommending him. ? With a .500 average and two homers in five games, Joey Votto seems all set to shove Scott Hatteberg aside in Cincinnati. The veteran should be dropped in most leagues. ? Josh Hamilton could return Monday after sitting out two games with hamstring tightness. If you ask Hamilton, he was ready to play Saturday.

Colorado - Willy Taveras appears to be doubtful for the final three weeks after aggravating his quad strain Saturday. The Rockies will get by with Ryan Spilborghs and Cory Sullivan in center field. Spilborghs will get all of the starts versus lefties and could split time pretty evenly with Sullivan against righties. He's cooled down quite a bit recently, so he no longer looks like an option in mixed leagues with Taveras out. Sullivan should have a little value in NL-only leagues. ? Also going down Saturday was Kaz Matsui, who strained his right hamstring. He's expected to miss at least a couple of more games, so mixed leaguers will have to sit him this week. NL-only leaguers can keep him active and hope for the best.

Florida - The Marlins seem to have figured out that Alejandro De Aza isn't the answer in center field and are trying Cody Ross, who has been on fire at the plate and is currently sporting a 1061 OPS in 138 at-bats. While Ross is hitting everyone right now, the fact remains that he has a sub-700 OPS against righties in 284 career at-bats. Also, he doesn't really possess the range to be an everyday option in center. As a platoon partner for a left-handed hitter, he's fine. The Marlins still figure to make upgrading in center field a priority this winter. They've at least considered the idea of putting Hanley Ramirez there -- something I'm strongly in favor of -- but they're currently unwilling to move him off shortstop.

Houston - J.R. Towles has yet to receive a chance to audition for a starting job behind the plate next year. In fact, the 23-year-old hasn't been written into the lineup once since being called up. If the Astros don't think he's ready, then they'll almost certainly invest in a free agent this winter, possibly Paul Lo Duca or Kendall. Free-agent-to-be Brad Ausmus would only be invited back as the personal catcher for Roy Oswalt. Eric Munson, who has been getting at-bats at Ausmus' expense since June, still isn't making much of an impression offensively and is one of the worst defenders in the league. Humberto Quintero is only an option as a backup. Towles still has a ways to go defensively, so starting him off in Triple-A next year is the right idea. He's solid enough offensively to be an $8-$10 catcher come 2009. ? The Astros skipped Troy Patton last time through the rotation. It'll be Matt Albers getting passed over this time. As a result, Brandon Backe is set to make starts this week versus the Cubs and Pirates. He's still a bad risk in his second week back from Tommy John surgery.

Los Angeles - Juan Pierre hasn't been any good at all, but for the Dodgers, and especially for fantasy owners, he's been far less of a disappointment than the other player at the top of club's lineup, Rafael Furcal. The 30-year-old shortstop is currently sporting the worst OPS of his career and he's on pace to finish with his weakest totals in all five fantasy categories since 2001 or 2002. I still think manager Grady Little blew it by hitting him ahead of Pierre, rather than behind him (well, Pierre should have been batting eighth all along, but I'm trying to be realistic). Furcal is the far more patient hitter of the two, and Pierre would have had a chance to steal ahead of him, whereas Furcal has had little chance to run because of Pierre's aggressive approach. Furcal also would have driven in Pierre once in a while, while Pierre almost never drives in Furcal, since 85 percent of his hits are singles. Of course, that change alone probably wouldn't have salvaged Furcal's season. He's played like he's been banged up all year long, and that probably has something to do with the ankle his sprained in March and the Dodgers' decision to let him rush back in mid-April. ? Nomar Garciaparra (calf) made a surprise return to the starting lineup Friday. The Dodgers are downgrading by playing him over Andy LaRoche, but that's nothing new for them. Garciaparra is only an option in NL-only leagues this week.

Milwaukee - While he is swinging better of late, Bill Hall is still finding himself on the bench in favor of Gabe Gross and Corey Hart against most right-handers. Hall has improved defensively in center field as the year has gone on, but he's still barely average, and the home run power just hasn't been there like it was in 2006. He's still good enough to play regularly, and the Brewers won't be afraid to go back to him if Gross slumps. However, it is possible that he'll be traded after the season. There are a lot of teams out there that would be interested in acquiring someone so versatile, and Milwaukee might be able to use him to pick up a closer to replace Francisco Cordero. If Hall does stay, it'd make a lot of sense for the Brewers to move him to third base and turn Ryan Braun into a permanent left fielder. They could then use the money freed up by Geoff Jenkins' departure to make a bid for Aaron Rowand or Mike Cameron. ? Claudio Vargas came off the DL on Sunday, but he'll join Chris Capuano in the bullpen, as Carlos Villanueva will stay in the rotation for now. Villanueva is recommended in NL-only leagues and in deeper mixed leagues for his two starts this week.

New York - Pedro Martinez was probably about as sharp as he's going to be all month Sunday. His fastball is pretty hittable when he's throwing 87-88 mph, but his changeup was a strikeout pitch against the Astros and it looks like he'll regain consistency with his curveball soon enough. The Mets have been very wise to keep him on five days' rest, and with the lead they have, they'll probably be able to continue to use him that way even though they have no off days during the final two weeks. If that's how they do it, he'll make three more starts (vs. Phil, at Fla and vs. SL). I wouldn't trust him in a mixed league this week, but he'll probably be OK to use in the last two. ? Carlos Delgado should miss most or all of the week with his strained hip flexor. Lastings Milledge and Jeff Conine are picking up his at-bats. ? Orlando Hernandez (foot) gets the Braves and Buddy Carlyle in his return Tuesday. Get him active.

Philadelphia - Ryan Howard has a shot at breaking Adam Dunn's single-season strikeout record of 195 in a year in which he spent time on the disabled list. With 20 games left, he's 22 away from matching Dunn's mark. Howard was rested Sunday, but it's doubtful he'll miss any additional games as long as the Phillies remain in contention. On the other hand, it's entirely possible that he'll do some sitting during the last week if the club is out of the race. ? The Phillies' rearranged their rotation because of Adam Eaton's struggles against the Marlins and success against the Mets, pushing him back to Tuesday. Both he and Kyle Lohse will face the Rockies and Mets this week. The first matchup isn't bad, since it will be at home, but it's still too risky to use either. ? Shane Victorino (calf) returned to the starting lineup on Saturday, but he didn't start Sunday and Jayson Werth drove in two more runs while playing over him. Victorino should be reserved in mixed leagues again.

Pittsburgh - With Jason Bay (knee) and Xavier Nady (concussion) limited and Ryan Doumit apparently done with a sprained ankle, it looks like we'll be seeing plenty of Steve Pearce and Nyjer Morgan the rest of the way. Pearce, 24, established himself as one of the top power hitters in the minors while batting .333/.394/.622 at three levels this year. He's a natural first baseman trying to get by in right field right now. If he proves to be an adequate defender there, it'd make sense for the Pirates to go forward with him at the position and trade Nady this winter. However, the early returns aren't positive. Pearce will probably return to Triple-A next year and try to make Adam LaRoche expendable by midseason. In the meantime, he has some value in NL-only leagues. ? The 27-year-old Morgan is another Chris Duffy-type player for a team that hardly needs one. He can fly in center field, though he isn't as steady defensively as Duffy. He has no power, and he'd be lucky to post a .330 OBP in the majors. If the Pirates opted to start him next year, his 40-steal potential would make him a big-time fantasy sleeper. However, he'd make more sense as a fifth outfielder. Those NL-only leaguers in need of steals can try him for the rest of the month. ? Zach Duke (elbow) is coming off the DL this week, but he's set to pitch out of the pen. Even though he didn't impress in his first start, Bryan Bullington will remain in the rotation.

St. Louis - While the New York Daily News reports merely claimed that he received hGH during his pitching days, it's a good guess now that Rick Ankiel received some assistance in going from 25- to 35-homer potential. No one who dabbles gets the benefit of the doubt from me. If he can avoid additional controversy, Ankiel figures to enter 2008 as the Cardinals' everyday right fielder. I still think his average is going to come down, but it's obvious that he has the strength to hit the ball out to all parts of the field. ? Chris Duncan is iffy for this week with a groin injury. As much as he's slumping, he can be sat in all formats. ? Yadier Molina should be ready to go Monday after missing two games with a head injury. ? Joel Pineiro is worth using in NL-only leagues with back-to-back starts versus the Cubs this week. Mark Mulder gets the Reds on Tuesday and the Cubs on Sunday, but he's not an option.

San Diego - Chris Young pitched a little better Sunday, but it still seems like his back troubles are leading to control problems. Only because he has a home start against the Giants is he worth taking a chance on this week. ? Milton Bradley appears doubtful for Tuesday because of his strained oblique. Mixed leaguers should sit him. NL-only leaguers without quality alternatives can hope for the best. ? Brett Tomko is the favorite to get the nod when the Padres need a fifth starter on Friday. He has the same matchup as Young, but he still shouldn't be used. ? Marcus Giles had a nice game Sunday in his return from the DL, going 2-for-3 with two walks. Meanwhile, Geoff Blum hasn't had a multihit game in two weeks. If Giles can keep it up for another game or two, he could win back his starting job. Still, neither he nor Blum is a very good play this week.

San Francisco - It's not official, but Noah Lowry isn't expected back this season because of his sore elbow. If he's done, he ends his Rueter-esque year with a 14-8 record, a 3.92 ERA, a 1.55 WHIP and an 87/87 K/BB ratio in 156 innings. With Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum set to form a strong top three in the rotation next year, the Giants should consider trading Lowry while he still has a great deal of value. The team desperately needs some young power hitters, and Lowry could bring in something like two of Jose Lopez, Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement from Seattle. ? The Giants weren't kidding about going younger this month, as they've pretty much benched Ray Durham and they sat Barry Bonds three times in a four-game span. Bonds should be in there more frequently with the Giants facing the top two teams in the NL West this week, but Durham will probably continue to take a backseat to Kevin Frandsen. Also, Nate Schierholz will keep playing quite a bit, giving him some fantasy value. ? Fred Lewis, who wasn't called up on Sept. 1 because of an ankle injury, is rehabbing in the minors and seems poised to return for the final 2 ? weeks. He'll take playing time away from Rajai Davis.

Washington - Ryan Zimmerman has remained pretty clutch, hitting .282 with RISP and going 5-for-8 with 16 RBI with the bases loaded, but as expected, there just haven't been as many opportunities for him this year. As a result, he's going to fall well short of his rookie total of 110 RBI. The really disappointing thing is his 682 OPS against right-handers. Versus lefties, he's at a whopping 1156. Zimmerman didn't have much of a split last year, finishing at 825 versus righties and 811 against lefties. His flyball/groundball ratio is the same as last year, and he isn't trying to pull the ball a whole lot more often, so at the moment, there's no reason not to write it off a fluke. Perhaps Zimmerman has lost some luster with fellow third basemen Ryan Braun exploding onto the scene and David Wright putting up an MVP-type season, but that might be a good thing for those looking to draft him next year. With the new ballpark shaping up to be nicer to hitters, there could be some bargains among Nationals regulars.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

No Joshing Around

In assessing the field for the 2007 American League Cy Young contenders, recent developments have really trimmed the number of pitchers who are in serious consideration for this honor.

News that Erik Bedard is being shut down for the season more or less remove the talented Canadian southpaw from consideration; Chien-Ming Wang has been a real stopper for the Yanks and is tied for the major league lead in wins, but he's been inconsistent and lacks the dominance that traditional Cy Young winners tend to possess; John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar have both enjoyed wonderful years, but could potentially cancel each other out, and, honestly, as much as I like them both, neither is quite up to snuff as a candidate; Dan Haren's brilliant start has faded and, in fact, his ERA has risen in each of the last 16 starts; Johan Santana's peripherals are wonderful again, but his 15-11 record is less than impressive.

That leaves the Tribe's C.C. Sabathia and Boston's Josh Beckett as perhaps the two best candidates with less than three weeks remaining in the season.

On Sunday, Beckett did his part, earning his 18th win to gain a share of the major league lead, as he backed the BoSox to a 3-2 win over the woeful Orioles.

On a Boston team that is worried about three key starters (Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzka), the importance of Beckett's ability to take the ball every fifth day and give the team a great chance to win can't be understated.

The numbers are there: in addition to sharing the lead in wins, he's second in the AL in winning percentage (18-6), fifth in WHIP (1.14) and seventh in both ERA (3.27) and strikeouts (173). Beckett's command has never been better; in fact, with a 4.81 K/BB ratio, he's blown away his previous best. And the homer problems that plagued Beckett during his first season in Boston (when he gave up 36 dingers, tied for second-most in the AL) have disappeared. Yes, he gave up two solo blasts yesterday ? but that was about all the O's could muster against Beckett, and for the year, he's allowed just 14 long balls, a dramatic improvement over 2006.

And when the team has needed him the most, with the hated Yankees rolling and making a push, Beckett has been there. Since the break, he's recorded a solid 3.10 ERA and has averaged better than a strikeout per inning.

The 27-year-old righty has clearly emerged as the Sox' ace this season, and a first 20-win season beckons for Beckett. Will a first Cy Young Award follow?

While we mull Beckett's Cy Young possibilities, let's check in on some of the weekend's highlights from around the world of baseball?

  • The Tigers' pitching woes, which we discussed in the Dose a week ago today, increased dramatically on Sunday when Jeremy Bonderman, complaining of elbow soreness after his ugly outing, had to examined by doctors. He's headed for an MRI and manager Jim Leyland has already said that he'll "possibly, and probably, shut him down." That would force the Tigers to turn back to rookie Jair Jurrjens, who is currently on the DL with shoulder problems, but is expected to be activated Tuesday to start one game of the doubleheader. The Tigers had planned on using Jurrjens out of the bullpen, but there's really not much time to fool around here given that the AL Central (six games back) and Wild Card (four games back) are both rapidly slipping away. The good news on Bonderman is he believes it's the same pain he had in 2005 ? located at the back of the elbow. He's not a doctor, of course, but assuming he's correct and the pain is not near the ligament, Tommy John surgery won't be a necessity. We'll know more once the MRI results are in.
  • Ryan Braun cranked another two long balls Sunday to solidify what probably already was a lock on the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The dude now has 30 homers to go along with a BA of almost .330 and 79 RBI plus 74 runs in 94 games. His OPS is an ungodly 1020 (for perspective, Albert Pujols is currently at 986). Oh, and Braun has swiped 14 bases. Forget about his lackluster defense for now; Braun has stepped into the majors this season and been a man among boys in this rookie class.

AL Quick Hits: Add Jay Gibbons to the list of major leaguers being fingered for HGH. The client list for Signature Pharmacy is growing on a daily basis it seems. This situation is like a really stinky onion for baseball, getting peeled back layer by layer as we slowly come to realize the magnitude of this situation?Of course, Gibbons' problems just add to a growing list of issues for the Orioles, losers of 16 of their past 19, a run that assures they will suffer through a 10th straight losing season. We've touched upon the Bedard news above, but you can add Jeremy Guthrie to the injury list after he had to come out of his start Sunday with a strained oblique ? the exact same health woe that has ended Bedard's season. With injured rookie Garrett Olson still recovering, the rotation for the time being will likely be Daniel Cabrera, Jon Leicester, Radhames Liz, Victor Santos and Victor Zambrano. Do that strike fear in your hearts? How much rocking do you think Baltimore pitching coach Leo Mazzone will be doing between now and season's end?

NL Quick Hits: Despite a less-than stellar start Sunday in which he was outpitched by Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt is 6-1 with a brilliant 2.20 ERA over his last nine starts?Speaking of Pedro, those five goose eggs he threw at the 'Stros were very encouraging. His heater isn't back yet, but I'd say it's time to activate him?Daryle Ward, enjoying a big season off the Cubs' bench, will have his knee drained Monday and is expected to be ready to go Tuesday?That didn't take long. Steve Trachsel, rocked for six hits and six runs in just two innings yesterday, is in jeopardy of losing his rotation spot. "Oh, right," the Cubs are thinking, "this is why we let him walk after 1999."? Josh Hamilton, still slowed by his hamstring issue, didn't start again on Sunday, but at least he did pinch-hit, so assumedly he's very close to getting back in the starting lineup.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Central Issues

The Cubs' offense, underperforming recently as the team has spun its wheels this month, broke through in a big way Monday night, helping tighten things in an already crowded NL Central picture.

Chicago's 12-3 win over St. Louis in a rain makeup date ? combined with the Brewers' loss against Pittsburgh Monday ? put Chicago back into a tie for first place with Milwaukee atop the Central.

The key for the Cubs last night was the play of their big bats, with Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez sparking a 17-hit attack. If Chicago is going to win this division, it will need to be carried by those two sticks.

Lee has definitely been doing his part. His leadoff homer in the fourth snapped a 1-1 tie and sparked a five-run inning that allowed the Cubs to take complete control of this game. With another three hits Monday, Lee is now batting .410 this month and he's up to 12 homers since the break after hitting a mere six leading up to the All-Star game.

But it was the breakout game for A-Ram ? just 6-for-23 with one homer since September 2 ? that was a really welcome sight. He cranked two homers for the first time this season and added two doubles to pace the revitalized Cubs' attack.

This is the 25th time that Lee and Ramirez have gone yard in the same game for the Cubs. While that's miles shy of the team record of homers by teammates in the same game ? Ron Santo and Billy Williams did it 64 times ? it's a great sign for the Cubbies that their main men are delivering.

The Cubs need this one-two punch to be at their best over the next three weeks if they plan to emerge victorious in a tight Central race. With four more games coming this weekend in St. Louis, losers of four straight since the Rick Ankiel story broke, the Cubs can really deliver the knockout blow by taking at least three of those tilts. St. Louis has dropped three games off the pace, and seems to be slipping at a most inopportune time, especially considering how poorly (4-8) the Cards have fared against the Cubs this season.

The Cubs' offense was so productive Monday that even Ted Lilly, who matched his career high with win No. 15, got into the act. His RBI double in that big fourth inning was the first extra-base hit of his career.

While we ponder whether the Cubs' offensive resurgence can help carry them past the Brewers and Cards, let's check in on a fairly quiet Monday night in the bigs?

  • The MRI on Jeremy Bonderman's barking right elbow came back negative, which is great news if you were worried that surgery was a possibility. However, we still have no idea when or if he'll retake the mound this season. Detroit is going to play this one smart, prohibiting Bonderman from pitching again until the pain subsides. At this point, the onus will be on Bonderman to come clean about how he's feeling. While it remains quite possible we could see him return for a final September start or in the playoffs (an eventuality that grows dimmer by the day for the Tigers), betting on it seems foolhardy. Bonderman owners have to assume the worst and scour the wires for replacements. Jair Jurrjens might be worth a claim for Bonderman owners.
  • As if things weren't going bad enough for Atlanta, the Jones boys were both held out of the lineup Monday, with Chipper straining a muscle on his right side during BP and Andruw feeling ill. Both are day-to-day, but the Braves' season is now on life support. Last night's 3-2 loss to the Mets dropped Atlanta 9.5 games behind New York in the NL East, so you can kiss the division goodbye. Of greater concern, the Braves have fallen five back of the Padres for the Wild Card race, with too many teams to pass in between. Although Chipper and Andruw are just day-to-day (Yunel Escobar and Willy Harris started Monday at 3B and CF, respectively), with them, things looked grim; without them, this becomes a Sisyphean task. Those of you up on your Greek mythology know of what I speak. For those of you who don't, try rolling a huge boulder up a steep hill and see how that goes.

AL Quick Hits: Young Royal starter Billy Buckner was certainly much better Monday than he was in his first big league start, but he came away with his first loss after walking five batters in just 5 1/3 innings. Giving up just three hits was promising, but Buckner needs to throw strikes to get major league hitters out, and just 50 of his 95 pitches last night found the strike zone. His 3.80 ERA over 15 Triple-A starts has definitely put him into consideration for a rotation spot next year, but not if he doesn't trust his stuff?Joe Saunders' peripherals scream out that he's been worse than he was during his rookie season last year, yet his results (7-3, 3.71 ERA) have been better. Saunders seems to be spinning his wheels with three less than impressive outings in a row, but I like his chances Tuesday against the moribund Orioles?Speaking of the woeful O's, not surprisingly, Jay Gibbons will be getting an invite to have a little chat with MLB executives in the wake of SI's story about him receiving HGH shipments?Ian Kinsler credits his off-season regimen ? especially the work he did on his legs ? with helping him avoid another late-season slump. He's batting close to .400 over the last three weeks.

NL Quick Hits: Paul Maholm will throw in the bullpen Tuesday, but his back is now pain-free, so he is expected to rejoin the Buccos' rotation this weekend. Maholm, in the midst of his first double-digit win season, looked very good in his last two outings before his back acted up, so he could provide a boost to your rotation down the stretch?Xavier Nady, out since September 3 because of post-concussion symptoms after getting beaned by a pitch, had an MRI on his head that came back negative. (Sorry, that's just too easy to pounce on; I'm going to let that slide without a joke.) The good news is that he's working out now and was able to hit in the indoor cages. He's still having headaches, so Nady's return remains up in the air. Let's hope he can get back out there; Nady was enjoying his finest season, entrenching himself as one of the more productive bats in the Pirates' lineup?The Dodgers' $8 million gamble in claiming Esteban Loaiza worked out with his quality start last week. Let's see what he does tonight against the Padres and Jake Peavy, with the Dodgers' season hanging in the balance.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Prospects: NL Hitters for 2008
With the minor league regular season now completed, I'll be shifting gears for the last few weeks before we hit October. I'll be posting three more series before October arrives, starting with a look at some National League hitters that could help in 2008. Most of these prospects are big names that many of you already know, but it's never too early to start thinking about how exactly to value these players for next season. The below list isn't intended to be exhaustive, but in conjunction with the American League and National League callup columns from last week it should provide a good base for identifying and evaluating the upper tier talents.

I'll follow this column with a look at NL pitchers on Friday and then AL prospects for 2008 next week. During the last week of September I'll be doing a deep dive into some intriguing prospects in the low levels of the minors. Finally, in my last column I'll recap the 2007 rookie class, evaluate my Rookie of the Year predictions, and discuss what some of the rookies could do in 2008.

National League Prospects for 2008

Hitters

Jay Bruce ? OF Reds ? The winner of Baseball America's minor league player of the year award and now the game's top position prospect, it shouldn't be long until Bruce debuts in the majors. The 12th overall selection in the 2005 draft, Bruce has done nothing but hit since debuting in professional baseball. His 2007 season was absolutely fantastic across the board, starting in High-A Sarasota, stopping briefly at Double-A Chattanooga, and ending the season with Triple-A Louisville. Bruce posted an OPS higher than 900 at each level, finishing the year with a .319/.375/.587 line at the young age of 20. With a solid 6'2" frame and a quick yet powerful swing, Bruce's game should translate well to the major leagues.

The lone negative in Bruce's profile is that he struck out 135 times in 133 games last season. He still has some work to do at the plate as a result, but his pitch recognition skills are already developed and it shouldn't be difficult for him to refine his approach. A slow start in the majors is still possible, but he's such a talented player that an immediate and significant impact can't be ruled out. Given a full season of playing time, I wouldn't rule out 25+ homers as a rookie.

The Reds' outfield is currently well stocked, but a trade of Adam Dunn this winter seems likely and that could open up a spot for Bruce to earn next spring. It's more likely that they bring in a veteran to hold down the position for a few months, allowing Bruce some more time in Triple-A. If he has a clear path to a job next spring, I wouldn't hesitate to select Bruce among the third tier of outfielders. There's plenty of risk there, but Bruce is an elite talent with the upside that helps win fantasy leagues. If he doesn't win a job in spring training, he's still worth stashing away with a late-round selection.

Colby Rasmus ? OF Cardinals ? The likely replacement for Jim Edmonds in the not-so-distant future, Rasmus has a similar set of skills to the former All-Star. A left-handed center fielder who profiles as a plus defender, Rasmus hit .275/.381/.551 in 128 games at Double-A Springfield this season. Included in that line is 37 doubles and 29 homers as a 20-year-old, so Rasmus has the potential to hit for as much power as his predecessor. Also like Edmonds, Rasmus waits for his pitch and then swings hard, resulting in plenty of walks (70) and strikeouts (108). Unlike Edmonds, Rasmus is adept at running the bases, as his 18 steals in 21 attempts this season illustrates.

Rasmus' combination of power, patience, and defense make him one of the game's best prospects. Cutting down on his strikeouts and keeping his average up will be important as he moves up the ladder, but Rasmus has both youth and talent on his side. He'll likely open next season at Triple-A Memphis, though his talents will be hard to keep there for long.

Edmonds isn't exactly a stranger to the disabled list and Rick Ankiel is going to have to prove his August breakout wasn't a fluke, so there are a few plausible scenarios in which Rasmus reaches the majors early next season. He'll be the club's first option to fill any outfield opening, and the Cardinals will want to get him playing time as he prepares to replace Edmonds in 2009. He's likely to spend more time in the minors than Bruce next season and his high strikeout totals might mean he struggles adjusting initially, so he's more of a late-round option to stick on your bench. Still, his power-speed combination makes him very intriguing, and a 20-20 season given a full-time job isn't out of reach.

Matt Antonelli ? 2B Padres ? A Wake Forrest product who was selected 16th overall in the 2006 draft, Antonelli has quickly risen to the ranks of the best second base prospects in baseball. Antonelli's future position was in doubt when he was drafted, as he was considered a third basemen by many but also capable of playing second base, center field, or a corner outfield spot. However, Antonelli was moved to second base full-time, and he's done a fine job defensively since the move. While he didn't show much power after debuting in 2006, Antonelli posted a more well-rounded performance in 2007 with a .307/.404/.491 line which included a 94/83 K/BB ratio and 28 steals split between High-A and Double-A.

The Padres are going to want to get Antonelli some additional time in the minors, but the lack of depth at second base within the organization means he could be up early in 2008. Marcus Giles is a free agent this winter, and the club has no other long-term options at the position. Antonelli's advanced approach at the plate means he could be ready for the majors fairly quickly despite a lack of experience, so the Padres could consider a stopgap second basemen this off-season. If that's the case it's not hard to envision Antonelli grabbing a job during the middle of next season. He's not going to be a big producer in any one category, but Antonelli is a top fantasy prospect because he should provide average production across the board from a weak position. Since he figures to adjust quickly, he's worth a late-round flier.

Chase Headley ? 3B Padres ? The Padres' second round pick in 2005, Headley made big strides in his second full season in the minors. The 23-year-old switch-hitter posted one of the most impressive performances in the minors this season with a .330/.437/.580 line at Double-A San Antonio. A mid-season promotion to the majors didn't go so well, but Headley continued hitting upon returning to the minors. Headley has above average power and good control of the strike zone, though that he struck out 114 times in 121 games was mildly surprising. It's something he shouldn't have a problem correcting going forward.

Headley projects as a high average hitter who draws plenty of walks and hits his share of home runs. I don't believe he'll be a true 30-homer hitter in his prime, especially with Petco Park working against him, but he could reach the twenties annually. Kevin Kouzmanoff's overall numbers have been poor this season, but he has an OPS over 800 after an awful April. Though Headley is the better defender of the two, Kouzmanoff could end up blocking Headley if the latter gets off to a fast start. However, there's a good chance that Kouzmanoff will either get benched, traded, or shifted to left field by the time Headley is ready, which should be after he gets exposed to Triple-A pitching. The lack of a clear path to a starting gig hurts Headley's value, but he'll be worth stashing away.

Carlos Gonzalez ? OF Diamondbacks ? Gonzalez was already considered a top prospect entering the season after slugging his way through the California League in 2006. However, he still needed to improve his plate discipline and he struggled some after reaching Double-A late that year, so when Gonzalez got off to a slow start in April and May his stock dropped some.

The 6'1" left-hander got back on track in June and then went on a tear over the final eight weeks, hitting .341 with a .561 slugging percentage during that span. Most of Gonzalez's season was spent at Double-A Mobile, but he played his last 10 games at Triple-A Tucson and did well during that trial. Gonzalez still needs to work on selecting which pitches to try and drive, but he won't turn 22 until this off-season and his power potential is exceptional. The outfielder has hit 40 homers and 79 doubles in 252 games over the last two seasons, and he should start to push more of those doubles over the outfield wall as he matures.

Gonzalez's problem, however, is that the Diamondbacks have a crowded outfield. Chris Young, Eric Byrnes, and Justin Upton are all locked in as regulars, and Gonzalez's defense would be a waste at first base. Even if the club does make that change, they also have Connor Jackson and Carlos Quentin to deal with. That means Gonzalez will need plenty of good fortune to find playing time in 2008. Fantasy value is 2009 is thus more likely as the club shakes things out. However, it wouldn't be surprising if the Diamodbacks dealt Jackson or Quentin this winter, allowing Gonzalez to be one injury away from a starting gig. Since he'll be waiting in Triple-A and has immense potential, Gonzalez will need to watched closely.

Brandon Jones ? OF Braves ? Another example of the Braves' ability to develop big league regulars, Jones cemented his stock as a quality prospect with improved performance across the board in 2007. The left-handed hitting 23-year-old batted .295 with 33 doubles, seven triples, and 19 homers between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Richmond this season. He also stole 17 bases in 24 attempts and drew 61 walks, highlighting the diverse set of skills Jones possesses. The 6'2" Jones is also a solid defender and has a swing that should continue to generate adequate power at the big league level, so he's a prospect Braves fans can get excited about.

Jones will likely start the season back at Richmond, but it's not difficult to envision him getting a shot early in 2008. Andrew Jones is a free agent and could be leaving for greener pastures, which would put the whole outfield in a sate of flux. The club could move Jeff Francoeur to center, or sign one of the many quality free agent center fielders this winter. If Francoeur is moved, the Braves could go with Matt Diaz in left and sign either a stopgap or long-term right fielder. Jones would certainly be a candidate to overtake any run-of-the-mill veteran by mid-season, and he could also form the left-handed side of a platoon with Diaz. Either way, expect Jones to make his way into the Braves' lineup by the middle of 2008. He's capable of performing like an average regular in short order, so fantasy leaguers should watch him closely.

Chad Huffman ? OF Padres ? It seems like a stretch to list three Padres here given the team is a contender this season, but it's not very difficult to see at least two of the three coming to pass. Huffman was once a second basemen, but his defense profiled best at a different position and the emergence of Matt Antonelli made it an easy decision to shift Huffman. Now a left fielder, Huffman's bat continues to shine. The 2006 second rounder hit an impressive .307 with 15 homers and a 56/42 K/BB ratio in 84 games for High-A Lake Elsinore to begin the season. A promotion to Double-A San Antonio didn't go quite as well, but Huffman was far from an embarrassment with an OPS just south of 800.

With Milton Bradley and Mike Cameron free agents this winter, the Padres are going to have some work to do. I expect they'll sign a long-term option for center field, then use either an inexpensive veteran or a combination of Scott Hairston and Terrmel Sledge in left field. Then, that option can be pushed aside once one of the Padres' top prospects is ready. That could come in the form of Kevin Kouzmanoff being pushed to left field to make room for Headley, or it could be Huffman taking over for a struggling or injured veteran. While Headley remains the more likely player to get playing time and the better prospect, Huffman has a 20-homer bat that should be monitored.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Pettitte to Pack it in?

Is it just me, or is Andy Pettitte becoming more and more like his good buddy Roger Clemens every year?

No, I don't mean that he's morphing into a fireballing dominant pitcher like the Rocket. But his penchant for waiting to decide on an annual basis whether he'll continue his career is growing to near-Rocket-like status.

The New York Daily News reports that Pettitte is again considering packing it in.

"I'm not real sure what I'm going to do," said the veteran lefty.

"It's kind of strange, because for sure I didn't expect my arm to respond the way it has this year. That's the whole reason I wanted the option, so I didn't feel obligated if I was hurting this year to come back."

But the fact is, Pettitte has been healthy in 2007, and he's certainly pitched well enough to prove he could remain a competitive starter in 2008, should he opt to play on.

While Pettitte's command continues to slip (2.15 K/BB ratio, down from a career-best 4.17 two years ago), he's done a great job of keeping the ball in the park and that's helped him compile a strong 13-8 mark with a solid 3.78 ERA.

So, the question is, will Pettitte leave his $16 million player option for 2008 sitting on the table?

"I want to sit down with my family, my wife and my oldest boy and see what they think. I'm really not even thinking about it now," he said.

Pettitte stressed that the reason he returned to the Yankees was to help them win another World Series, so if the Pinstripers can prevail this October, you'd have to think that will increase the likelihood that this is Pettitte's final season.

So with visions of the game without Dandy Andy spinning in our heads, let's review the rest of Tuesday's diamond developments?

  • Speaking of Roger Clemens, his MRI results are in and they revealed that the muscle in his right forearm is "pretty nasty." Clemens also said that the test showed that something had been done to a ligament in his pitching elbow, and that's what caused his forearm to lock up in his last start. Regardless of this potentially gloomy outlook, Clemens tossed a bullpen session at about 80 percent effort and declared himself on track to start Sunday's finale of the big series this weekend against Boston. There's apparently nothing wrong with the bone structure in the elbow, so now it's about how much pain Clemens is willing to endure down the stretch. Of course, come next spring, how the 45-year-old fares from here on out will likely be a big factor in his annual decision of whether to pitch again.
  • Gary Matthews Jr. suffered a sprained ankle Tuesday that will keep him out of the Angels' lineup for at least a week. X-rays were negative, but with a second degree sprain, there's no guarantee that Matthews will be able to return this season. In fact, his post-season status has to be considered up in the air. Not surprisingly, Matthews has come nowhere near duplicating his breakout 2006 season from an offensive perspective. He's been particularly bad since the break (.224) and has scuffled to a .167 mark so far in September. But the Halos ? particularly their pitching staff ? will definitely miss Matthews' Gold Glove-caliber contributions in center field. In his absence, Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales will each see a major boost in their playing time.

AL Quick Hits: After a week or so of rumors that Ozzie Guillen was about to have his contract extension, it finally happened yesterday. But five years? No one saw that coming. Wow. Remind me to be more cantankerous at work. Apparently, that behavior is well rewarded?Scott Baker needs to find a way to start against the Royals more often. After beating KC again Tuesday, he's now 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in three starts against the Royals, with 20 strikeouts and just two walks in 22 2/3 innings. Baker, 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA overall, has shown nice improvement this season, but his K rate has slipped. On the plus side, he seems to be coming around in that department, with 19 strikeouts in his last 19 2/3 innings pitched?Jason Giambi snapped a 2-for-27 skid with a grand slam ? the 12th of his career ? to lead the Yanks to a sixth straight win. It was Giambi's first homer since August 26, and just his 13th for the season. Even his legendary walk rates have fallen off the table in what is a real lost year for the former MVP?Mark Ellis has stayed healthy this season, and it's paid off. He tied his career high with four hits Tuesday, giving him 10 over the last three games. Ellis is the first Oakland hitter to accomplish that since Carney Lansford in 1988.

NL Quick Hits: Two more homers Tuesday boosted the Brewers' MLB-leading total to 203 and helped them remain atop the NL Central by beating the Pirates. Of course, Prince Fielder has played a wee part in this power barrage. His NL-leading 44th dinger yesterday pulls him within two of the club record and has him on pace for 50 for the season?Scott Rolen had his season-ending left shoulder surgery yesterday, a procedure which involved the removal of scar tissue and the manipulation of the shoulder to help restore full range of motion. Rolen is expected to be healthy for spring training, and let us hope that this is the end of his ongoing shoulder problems?Milton Bradley (sore oblique) will be out of action for another three or four days, providing an opportunity for Brady Clark, Terrmel Sledge and Rob Mackowiak to pick up the pace for the Padres?Jose Reyes' career-high and Met franchise record-tying three doubles wasn't enough to keep New York's four-game winning streak alive. Reyes is up to 54 extra-base hits, but it would take a miracle for him to match last season's mark of 66 XBHs?Anthony Reyes will get another chance to start for the Cardinals tonight; don't expect much, and you won't be disappointed.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Regrets


This week, I'll come clean with my biggest regrets of the year. Then I'll discuss hot bats like Jayson Werth, Mike Jacobs, Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista, and Jack Wilson. Finally, I'll unleash a tongue lashing upon a Will-Ferrell hater.
[SIZE=+1]Topic of the Week: Regrets[/SIZE]
I admit it: I'm a sore loser. Just like the ones I ripped on a few weeks back. This has been the worst year of my fantasy baseball career, and I've got more excuses than Floyd Landis: injuries (Utley, Teixeira, Mauer, Hamels, Figgins, and Harden to name a few), crazy league settings (who counts shutouts theses days???), wussy leaguemates who won't trade, etc.
However, when I take an honest look back, I can pretty easily see where I went wrong. And even though I made some nice moves (like picking up Chone Figgins when he was hitting .104 and snagging Pat Burrell for the last couple of months), they weren't enough to overcome my miscues. Oh well, if nothing else, maybe we can all learn from my mistakes. So with that in mind, here are the top three:
Drafting too much pitching too early
This is a trap I seem to fall into way too often. They say don't draft pitching early, but I always look at the dramatic gap between the elite starters and everyone else and figure I'll gain a huge advantage if I stockpile top arms. Somehow, though, it never works out. Guys like Roy Halladay and Scott Kazmir end up ranked lower than Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Bannister. Then my hitting suffers because I missed out on top bats. Lesson: No seriously, stock up on hitting early and wait on pitching. You can always get good pitchers off the wire, but it's rare to find a 30-HR, 100-RBI bomber there.
Wasting five hours of my life watching John from Cincinnati
Those are five hours I could have spent on fantasy research. I think I was so desperate for something to replace The Sopranos that I put up with all of the trying-to-be-modern-Shakespeare dialogue, over-the-top DeMornay rage, and painfully stagnant plot far too long. Lesson: Never, ever trust a show that involves David Milch but not Steven Bochco.
Wasting an 11th-round pick on Rich Harden
Oh, the hope is ever present with Harden?the fantasy that he'll one day provide a full season of sub-3.00 ERA and a strikeout per inning. But I might as well be waiting on Pavarotti to return to the DCU Center in Worcester. Sure, an 11th-round pick doesn't seem like much, but here are some guys I could have taken instead: Dan Haren, Erik Bedard, Chris Young, Magglio Ordonez, Eric Byrnes, Nick Markakis?okay, I better stop before I chunder. Lesson: Never allow yourself to be seduced by the promises of Harden, Mark Prior, or Kerry Wood.
[SIZE=+1]Players of Note[/SIZE]
Jayson Werth ? Though Werth has been very good over the last month, with a .495 OBP, owners need to be aware that the return of Michael Bourn means less at bats for Werth. Daily leaguers will want to keep him around for his starts against lefties, however, as he boasts a 1.000 OPS against southpaws.
Mike Jacobs ? Over the last month, Jacobs has nearly doubled his home-run total by going yard seven times. No one's confusing him with Ryan Howard, but Jacobs has flashed some power in the past?like last season when he launched 20 HR in 469 AB and in 2005 when he racked up 25 for Double-A Binghampton. If you're desperate for power at corner infield, give him some consideration.
Matt Kemp ? Shallow leaguers should check the wire for Kemp, who's hit well all year (as evidenced by his .338 AVG) and seen an uptick in power and speed recently. Over the last month, he's accrued four HR and five SB.
Jose Bautista ? Bautista has exploded for seven HR over the last month. Based on his history, you can expect him to ultimately average a homer per every 30 AB or so.
Jack Wilson ? Over the past week, Wilson has gone 13 for 24 with nine RBI, a homer, and a steal. I wouldn't expect much from him going forward, however. He offers hardly anything in the way of speed or power. In fact, in his six-year MLB career, he's never managed double digit steals, and he's only managed double-digit homers once (in 2004 when he hit 11).
Ronny Paulino ? After hitting .310 last year in his rookie season, Paulino has disappointed this time around with his .261 AVG. However, he's picked it up in September, batting .467. If you've been playing musical catchers all season, Paulino could be an option.
Brandon Inge ? Never one to hit for average, Inge has been uncharacteristically hot over the last week with a .480 OBP and two long balls. Though he had enough pop to jack 27 round trippers in 2006, I wouldn't bank on a power surge. He's coming off an August in which he hit .193 with no homers. And those 27 were 11 more than he hit in any other season.
[SIZE=+1]The Trash Dump[/SIZE]
To submit a question or comment to the Trash Dump, email [email protected].
Jonathan, I'm new your site and I'm kind of pleased w/ the comprehensive nature of the service. However, we're off on the wrong foot; Will Ferrell is a talentless pile of pig crap -- obvious, banal, fat, ugly and his mom dresses him funny! Ron Burgundy, what? That's a satire, a farce? No, it's a steaming pile of feces! I suppose you think Justa Timberlady is misunderstood, too?I'll read this column but you better snap out of it, boy!
- Anonymous
What's with the anger? Did the Spartan Cheerleader sketch hit a personal nerve somehow? Admittedly, comedy is subjective, but I have to point out the irrefutable flaws in your unsolicited, rambling, irrational tirade. First of all, with regard to Ferrell being "obvious," when was he ever going for subtle? When he streaked to the quad as Frank the Tank? When he danced to My Sharona as Janet Reno? When he and Chris Kattan played pelvic ping pong with chicks at the Roxbury? Secondly, since when does being "fat," "ugly," and poorly dressed preclude someone from being funny? Should Chris Farley, John Belushi, and John Candy have found other careers? Perhaps you prefer your comedians to look like Ralph Fiennes? And lastly, you outdid your illogical self with your Ferrell/Timberlake comparison. That's like saying, "If you like baked potato pizza, you'll love patent leather loafers!"
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

The Magic is Back

Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona couldn't have summed it up better Wednesday night.

"It's that time of year," he said. As in, it's Big Papi time.

David Ortiz's two home runs ? including a walkoff blast in the ninth ? led Boston to a 5-4 come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay Wednesday, helping the Sox maintain their five-game lead over the surging Yankees.

Shockingly, this was Papi's first walkoff home run this season. In fact, it's the first by any Red Sox player since Carlos Pena hit one September 4 of last season.

It couldn't have come at a better time. With the Yankees playing their best ball of the season and heading into Boston for a pivotal three-game set starting Friday, losing another game in the standings would have really ratcheted up the pressure.

But when Ortiz's two-run homer scraped over the wall into the first row past the short right field wall in Fenway, it gave the Sox some much-needed breathing room and momentum to carry into the weekend.

Ortiz now has 16 walkoff hits ? including 10 home runs ? with Boston (including the postseason), and Red Sox Nation can't be faulted for thinking about 2004 right now, given that for two nights in a row, Boston's comeback magic has returned with a vengeance. Tuesday, the Sox came back from 4-0 and 8-1 deficits to beat the Rays 16-10. Last night, they spotted Tampa Bay a 4-0 lead in the first before roaring back.

Ortiz started the rally with a three-run homer in the third inning before sealing it with his ninth-inning heroics. He's up to 31 homers and 104 RBI, milestones he's achieved in all five seasons he's been with Boston, which ties him with Jimmie Foxx for second place in club history for consecutive 30/100 seasons. The leader, Manny Ramirez, has done it six straight ? a streak that will almost assuredly end this year even though he'll likely be back in action for the Yankee series.

Papi has been dogged by knee and shoulder woes all season, but those concerns seem to have taken a back seat over the past month as he's really started to carry the club. In his last 27 games, Ortiz has mashed 12 homers and driven in 33 runs, raising his BA from .311 to .321 along the way.

As Francona said, it's that time of year.

While Red Sox Nation basks in the warm afterglow of Ortiz's walkoff magic, let's examine the rest of the events from the Wednesday that was in baseball?

  • Derek Lowe was scratched from his start Wednesday because his pitching hand is bruised. He was replaced by Chad Billingsley, who stepped up with six very strong innings to beat San Diego and improve to 11-4 on the year. Billingsley's efforts proved to be vital, as the Dodgers managed to pull within 2.5 games of the Wild Card-leading Padres. As for Lowe, he hurt himself Tuesday when he was playing catch during BP. This is some rare footage for D-Lowe; before last month, he had never missed a start in his big league career, but a hip/groin injury knocked him out for a week in August. Lowe could be ready to start on Saturday, but if not, the Dodgers may have to turn to Eric Stults.
  • Troy Glaus' miserable 2007 season is mercifully over after the announcement that he'll undergo season-ending surgery on his foot. Glaus has been dealing with plantar fasciitis all year long, a situation that's held him to 115 games, 385 at-bats and just 20 home runs. Of course, he's also made the news recently for more insidious issues. Perhaps you've heard a thing or two about that? Russ Adams is going to get a long look a third in place of Glaus, as the Jays want to assess whether Adams can be a utility man for them next season. That surprises me to no end considering how low Adams had sunk in the organization's eyes after last year. Honestly, when he was called up, I have to admit I had forgotten that he even existed. Hector Luna and Ray Olmeda should both be in line for extra PT with Glaus out, and if either of those options excite you, please invite me to play in your league.

AL Quick Hits: Asdrubal Cabrera continues to impress for the Indians, extending his hitting streak to 11 games Wednesday, the fifth-best streak for an AL rookie this season. He's just three games shy of the top 2007 AL rookie streak of 14 games, held by Dustin Pedroia. Cabrera is entrenching himself at the keystone corner in Cleveland with 21 runs and 16 RBI in 29 games. There's nothing wrong with that .361 OBP, either?Things are so dreary for the Orioles these days (losers of 18 of their past 21, a stretch in which they've been outscored by 100 runs), that we should throw them a bone. How about Brandon Tripp? Coming off a big season at Class-A in which he flashed his power potential (25 doubles, 19 homers and 79 RBI in 104 games), he's been tabbed as Baltimore's Minor League Player of the Year?The Jays are talking to Matt Stairs about returning for 2008. Think he'll want a raise on the $850,000 he made this season?

NL Quick Hits: As if the Phillies hadn't been nailed with enough injuries this season, rookie Kyle Kendrick had to be lifted early (not that he would have lasted much longer considering the beating he was taking) after getting drilled on the knee by a Garrett Atkins' line drive. X-rays were negative and Kendrick is listed as day-to-day, but he seems bullish on being able to make his next start?Matt Capps isn't getting as many save chances as his fantasy owners would like, but he's definitely proved he can close. With his 16th save in 18 chances last night ? his first save since August 28 ? Capps was dominant, firing strikes with all 12 of his pitches in the ninth. He's only been scored on twice over his last 31 appearances?So much for that eye-opening start to the season by Justin Germano. He was 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA on June 14, but after another setback Wednesday, he's lost 10 of 12 to fall to 7-10 with a 4.56 ERA.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

Bullpen Report: Week 24
With the regular season winding down and most bullpen situations clear for the remainder of the season, this will be the last team-by-team look focused on the current season. Next week I'll be recapping the year and looking forward to 2008. The primary focus is always going to be on each team's closer, but I'll also be examining who is likely to be next in line and who could ascend to more prominent roles in the latter stages of 2008. During the final week of the regular season I'll be posting an early look at relief pitcher rankings for 2008, as well as a separate list for those in keeper leagues. They should prove useful during the off-season, acting as a trade value guide to those in keeper leagues and providing owners in one-year formats with an early tool to help prepare next spring.

All closers are rated in one of the following categories: Locked In, Secure, Shaky, In Danger, Filling-In, Co-Closer or DL.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer: Jose Valverde (Locked In)

Key setup men: Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon, Doug Slaten

Valverde notched three more scoreless innings for saves this week, bringing his major league-leading total to 45. The right-hander is also just three strikeouts shy of his career-high and it's still possible he'll post the best WHIP of his career, so Valverde's performance has been at the absolute top of a reasonable range of outcomes.

Lyon continues to do solid work in a setup capacity, and barring a complete collapse will post the best ERA of his career. Pena was supposed to head back to middle relief, but he quickly turned things around and has now posted 6 2/3 straight scoreless innings. He even picked up a save this week on a day when Valverde was unavailable. That manager Bob Melvin chose to go with Pena over Lyon shows how much faith he has in the youngster, as the Diamondbacks are still competing for a playoff spot. Pena will need to continue pitching well to stay in the role, but as long as he does he's the favorite for saves should something happen to Valverde.

Atlanta Braves

Closer: Rafael Soriano (Secure)

Key setup men: Octavio Dotel (DL), Peter Moylan, Tyler Yates, Ron Mahay

The Braves have still generated just one save opportunity since designating former closer Bob Wickman for assignment. Soriano has done his best to help fantasy owners with 5 1/3 scoreless innings and six strikeouts since the move, but it's still been a disappointing three weeks. It's clear that manager Bobby Cox will go to Soriano in a save situation, so he needs to be left active in all formats.

Dotel had his last bullpen session pushed back, and there's still no timetable for his return. He's not going to be back in time to contribute much in fantasy leagues, and even if he does return he's no lock to pitch well. He can be dropped in one-year formats, though owners in keeper leagues should hold on to him due to the slim chance he gets a chance to close next spring.

Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Danys Baez (Shaky)

Key setup men: Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, James Hoey, Fernando Cabrera

By giving up nine runs in his last eight innings of work, Baez has reaffirmed the notion that he has absolutely no business pitching the ninth inning for a big league team any longer. The Orioles have little choice but to continue to run him out there, as saving both Walker and Bradford the ninth makes little sense and Hoey has proven he's not ready for even a setup role. For that reason Baez can be left active if you're desperate for saves, but keep in mind that he has all of three saves in over a month since taking over for Chris Ray. If you're competing in any categories besides saves you'll be better off using a setup man.

Boston Red Sox

Closer: Jonathan Papelbon (Locked In)

Key setup men: Eric Gagne, Hideki Okajima, Clay Buchholz

Papelbon worked two more scoreless innings this week, picking up a save in both outings while recording four strikeouts. He hasn't given up a run in his last 16 appearances, striking out 25 batters during that stretch. Since he's blown just one save all season and has a sterling 1.50 ERA, he's been one of the game's best closers for a second straight year. Only injuries will stop him from continuing to dominate.

Buchholz has made just one relief appearance thus far, but it was a very useful one as he worked three scoreless innings and picked up a win. The Red Sox haven't used him in the six days since as they try to keep his innings count down. Still, I think he'll pitch enough as a reliever to have value in AL-only leagues for the final two weeks.

Chicago Cubs

Closer: Ryan Dempster (Shaky)

Key setup men: Bob Howry, Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood, Angel Guzman (DL), Mike Wuertz

To say that Dempster didn't have his best week is a bit of an understatement. The right-hander started the week by giving up four runs against the Dodgers while being charged with a blown save and a loss. Later in the week Dempster was charged with a loss after giving up a run in the 11th inning against the Astros. Then in his final outing of the week Dempster gave up one run in the ninth against those same Astros, though he was able to pick up a save since he was staked to a two-run lead to begin the inning.

Manager Lou Piniella won't be shy if he thinks Dempster is off his game. Piniella has twice said he was on the verge of taking closing duties away from Dempster, only to watch the veteran quickly rebound and remain in the role both times. Perhaps the third time's a charm, and with the Cubs in a close playoff race Piniella will have less patience than ever. If he does go in a different route, Howry is the likely choice. He's worth stashing away for the final two weeks if you're in need of saves or trying to block another owner who is.

Piniella also said he'd try to get Wood more work in close games, but the right-hander rewarded his faith by allowing five runs in his last three appearances. He's clearly behind Howry and Marmol on the team's depth chart right now, and fantasy value is unlikely as a result.

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Bobby Jenks (Locked In)

Key setup men: Matt Thornton, Mike MacDougal, Boone Logan

Jenks gave up a run for the first time since July 17 when he was charged with a blown save and a loss after allowing a pair of Tigers to score on Thursday. Owners can hardly be upset as he just finished giving them seven of the best weeks a closer can provide. The rest of the team's relievers remain a plague to be avoided at all costs.

Cincinnati Reds

Closer: David Weathers (Secure)

Key setup men: Jared Burton, Bill Bray, Eddie Guardado, Mike Stanton

Weathers gave up one run in three innings of work this week, but he failed to pick up his 30th save of the season. He'll get there soon enough. Guardado continues to work about once every five days and isn't anywhere near a save opportunity. Way back in May I made a gentlemen's wager with a friend regarding Guardado this season. I took the under on a line of 1.5 saves for the left-hander this season, with my primary reasoning being that a quick recovery from Tommy John surgery was unlikely. I'll be looking forward to that dollar, Mortimer.

Cleveland Indians

Closer: Joe Borowski (Shaky)

Key setup men: Rafael Betancourt, Rafael Perez, Tom Mastny

The good news for Borowski is that he didn't blow any save opportunities this week. The bad news is that he wasn't given any save opportunities to blow. The Indians have pretty much locked up a playoff spot at this point, so it's unlikely that they'll make any changes during the final two weeks. For better or worse they're sticking with Borowski in the playoffs, a situation that should be interesting to watch.

Colorado Rockies

Closer: Manny Corpas (Secure)

Key setup men: Brian Fuentes, LaTroy Hawkins, Jeremy Affeldt, Jorge Julio, Juan Morillo

Corpas hurled 2 2/3 more scoreless innings this week. He hasn't given up an earned run in over a month and now has 14 saves on the season. Fuentes pitched on back-to-back days for the first time since returning from the disabled list this week. He's not going to retake the closer's role this season, but there remains a chance he could next spring or at some point during the 2008 season.

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Todd Jones (Secure)

Key setup men: Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Bobby Seay

Jones had one of the more memorable outings of the week when he struck out the side in a non-save situation against the Rangers. That may not seem like much, but the last time Jones struck out even two batters in an appearance was back on June 9. It was just the fourth time all season he struck out multiple batters in an outing.

Zumaya started to turn things around with 4 1/3 scoreless innings, but then he had an issue with a fingernail and struggled by giving up two runs in an outing against the Blue Jays. It shouldn't be an issue going forward, so he needs to be left active in AL-only leagues.

Florida Marlins

Closer: Kevin Gregg (Locked In)

Key setup men: Matt Lindstrom, Justin Miller, Armando Benitez, Taylor Tankersley, Lee Gardner

Gregg tossed four more scoreless innings this week while recording his 29th save of the season. Lindstrom and Miller continue to serve as solid middle relief options in NL-only leagues, with Lindstrom likely to enter 2008 as the club's top setup man.

Houston Astros

Closer: Brad Lidge (Secure)

Key setup men: Chad Qualls, David Borkowski, Mark McLemore, Trever Miller

Lidge started the week fine with a perfect inning of work in a non-save situation, but he once again flirted with danger in his second outing by yielding four baserunners in two innings of work. The Cubs ended up failing to score off of Lidge and the right-hander did earn a win, but Lidge's numerous close-calls combined with the leads he's blown make him a high-risk option.

Kansas City Royals

Closer: Joakim Soria (Locked In)

Key setup men: Joel Peralta, David Riske, Jimmy Gobble

Soria did give up a run this week, but it was in a non-save situation and he also hurled a perfect inning against the Yankees in which he struck out the side. The Royals haven't generated a true save opportunity since August 24, so Soria's value has been greatly limited of late. He needs to be kept active, even if the Royals don't seem likely to win many games during the final two weeks.

Los Angeles Angels

Closer: Francisco Rodriguez (Locked In)

Key setup men: Justin Speier, Scot Shields, Darren Oliver, Richard Thompson, Chris Bootcheck

K-Rod has struggled some in the second half, blowing four of his last 14 saves and giving up one run in three of his last four outings. Manager Mike Scioscia quickly ended any rumors that he would look elsewhere in the ninth inning, stating that Rodriguez is his closer under any circumstance. Expect K-Rod to turn things around shortly.

Shields is hoping that his 3 1/3 inning scoreless streak will help get him back into close games, but that hasn't been the case just yet. Scioscia has stated that he's not ready to use Shields in high leverage situations as of yet, but it likely won't take long for that to happen. The club certainly wants him back there by the time October rolls around.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer: Takashi Saito (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jonathan Broxton, Scott Proctor, Jonathan Meloan, Joe Beimel, Rudy Seanez

Saito has now dominated the majors for two straight seasons, but he still doesn't get all the respect that he deserves. The right-hander has a 71/10 K/BB ratio this season, and he's given up all of 31 hits in 57 innings of work. That combination has resulted in a 1.26 ERA and an amazing 0.72 WHIP. If he had a bigger reputation there'd be talk of him getting some Cy Young award votes.

Broxton has given up exactly one run in three of his last four outings, but his command has been fine and it's likely not something to worry about. Meloan has struggled with his command in the early going, walking five batters during his first two appearances. The right-hander has been tough to hit when he's in the strike zone, and he's had fine command in the minors the past few seasons. He's likely overthrowing while trying to make a good impression during his first stint in the majors, and I expect he'll adjust in relatively short order.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer: Francisco Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Scott Linebrink, Derrick Turnbow, Matt Wise, Seth McClung

Cordero notched his 41st save with another scoreless inning this week, but the most important development for the Brewers has been Linebrink's resurgence. The right-hander gave up nine runs in July and seven in August, but he's tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings so far this month. The Brewers are going to need him to continue pitching this well if they hope to win the NL Central. He can be activated in NL-only leagues again.

Minnesota Twins

Closer: Joe Nathan (Locked In)

Key setup men: Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon

Nathan began the week by blowing a one-run lead against the White Sox, but he rebounded with three saves in as many scoreless innings later in the week. Rincon had put together six straight scoreless outings before allowing a run in two of his three appearances this week. If he can post another solid two weeks it could help his trade value this winter.

New York Mets

Closer: Billy Wagner (Locked In)

Key setup men: Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, Guillermo Mota

Wagner struggled through what was called a 'dead arm' phase in late August and early September, giving up eight runs over a span of five outings. However, his arm appears to be back in fine shape after three scoreless innings and just one baserunner allowed this week. It shouldn't be a concern going forward.

New York Yankees

Closer: Mariano Rivera (Locked In)

Key setup men: Kyle Farnsworth, Joba Chamberlain, Luis Vizcaino

Vizcaino gave up five runs over two appearances to start the month of September and hasn't pitched in a game in the 10 days since. The right-hander complained of a sore shoulder after the second outing, but an MRI showed no real damage to his right arm. The Yankees are now in a position where they can rest Vizcaino some, and it's likely what he needs to get ready for the playoffs.

Thankfully for the club, Vizcaino's injury has coincided with Farnsworth turning things around. He's given up just two runs in his last 11 outings and is quickly regaining favor with manager Joe Torre. Since the Joba rules are still in effect, Farnsworth is next in line at the moment.

Oakland Athletics

Closer: Huston Street (Secure)

Key setup men: Alan Embree, Santiago Casilla, Kiko Calero

Street earned two saves with 3 1/3 scoreless innings this week. He's going to end up a disappointment in all of the counting stats this season, but he's still one of the most talented relievers in baseball. With a WHIP under 1.00 and a 58/11 K/BB ratio, Street has provided plenty of value despite missing two and a half months this season. His low save total will only serve to make him a better bargain next season.

Philadelphia Phillies

Closer: Brett Myers (Secure)

Key setup men: Tom Gordon, Antonio Alfonseca, Ryan Madson (DL)

Myers tossed three scoreless innings over two appearances this week, picking up a save and a win in the process. He now has 15 saves and a 3.10 ERA as a reliever this season. Gordon didn't give up a run this week, but he's been pretty poor since returning from the disabled list and he has a 6.04 ERA on the season as a result. One can't complain too much as Gordon admitted to pitching with a partially torn labrum, but not much can be expected in the future from Flash.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer: Matt Capps (Locked In)

Key setup men: Damaso Marte, Salomon Torres, Shawn Chacon

Torres returned from the disabled list this week and promptly gave up two runs in his first appearance. He'll need to work his way back to pitching in high leverage situations, and he's not likely to provide much fantasy value down the stretch. Capps isn't in any danger of losing his job anyway, so it's a moot point as far as saves are concerned.

San Diego Padres

Closer: Trevor Hoffman (Locked In)

Key setup men: Heath Bell, Kevin Cameron, Cla Meredith

Hoffman pitched just once this week, notching his 37th save of the season with a scoreless inning of work. He's just three saves shy of a ninth, yes ninth, 40-save season. Bell struggled some in August, but he's now put together a string of nine straight scoreless innings. The right-hander always had impressive peripherals while in the Mets' organization and with Petco Park helping him during home games he should continue to produce excellent results. I'll be expecting near a full repeat in 2008.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Brian Wilson (Shaky), Brad Hennessey (Shaky)

Key setup men: , Randy Messenger (DL), Kevin Correia

Hennessey doesn't deserve to lose his job as closer after two poor outings in September, but that may be exactly what's going on in San Francisco right now. Hennessey took a loss in one outing this month after yielding a run, then was charged with a blown save and a loss by yielding three runs against the Diamondbacks this week. The right-hander gave up a total of six runs between July and August, but the Giants, nor I, believe he has closer-type stuff.

As a result the club doesn't seem comfortable going forward with him as their closer. It's not surprising that they're looking for other options, but I thought they'd wait until Hennessey had legitimate struggles instead of a pair of poor outings. However, the Giants love Wilson and badly want to him to take the role. Indeed, the young right-hander was chosen over Hennessey for a save opportunity this past week. I wouldn't be surprised if Wilson is named the closer in the very near future. I'm still worried about his command over the long-term, but immediate success can't be ruled out since he has a 1.10 ERA in 16 1/3 big league innings this season. He needs to be picked up in all leagues.

Seattle Mariners

Closer: J.J. Putz (Locked In)

Key setup men: Brandon Morrow, George Sherrill, Eric O'Flaherty

Putz recorded this third win of the season with two scoreless innings of work this week. He hasn't recorded a save in three weeks, largely due to the rest of the team struggling. He's still second in the AL in saves, but Putz was ahead of the Indians' Joe Borowski the last time he notched one of his own.

Morrow has fallen off the wagon again, surrendering eight runs while retiring just three batters over his last three appearances. He can't be used in fantasy leagues right now. Since his command rates as perhaps the worst in the majors, more time in the minors in 2008 can't be ruled out either.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer: Jason Isringhausen (Locked In)

Key setup men: Ryan Franklin, Troy Percival, Tyler Johnson, Russ Springer

Isringhausen failed to pick up a save this week, leaving him stuck at 28 saves for the past two weeks. Franklin has given up five runs in his last four outings, but his ERA is still an excellent 2.38. Rotoworld projected him to post a 4.15 ERA, and he currently resides among the biggest forecast misses of the season.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Closer: Al Reyes (Shaky)

Key setup men: Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Brian Stokes, Juan Salas

Reyes started the week just fine with two saves and a win, but he ended up blowing a save against the Red Sox after yielding a two-run homer to David Ortiz in the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday. It's unlikely that the Devil Rays will change course this late in the season, but Reyes hasn't been strong enough of late to warrant complete job security.

Texas Rangers

Closer: Joaquin Benoit (Shaky)

Key setup men: C.J. Wilson, Akinori Otsuka (DL), Frank Francisco, Wes Littleton

Wilson began to struggle in late August and early September, opening the door for Benoit to pick up three saves during that stretch. Wilson hasn't been used in a week as he's batting a tired arm, and since Benoit has been the better pitcher of late he remains the clear favorite. Wilson could get a few opportunities if he turns things around quickly, but only Benoit is worth using in mixed leagues right now.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Jeremy Accardo (Co-Closer), Casey Janssen (Co-Closer)

Key setup men: Scott Downs, Jason Frasor

Accardo has been battling a tired arm of late, so Janssen was given a save opportunity earlier in the week. Janssen blew the chance by giving up two runs and taking the loss, but at least his owners can be thankful he's next in line. The Blue Jays plan to rest Accardo down the stretch, so Janssen and Accardo could split duties. Consider Accardo the slight favorite for the remainder of the season.

Washington Nationals

Closer: Chad Cordero (Locked In)

Key setup men: Jon Rauch, Jesus Colome, Luis Ayala

Cordero pitched in two games this week, recording saves in both outings while not yielding a baserunner. Colome hasn't looked sharp while yielding six runs ? five earned ? over his last four appearances, so he can be benched in NL-only formats.
 

Hache Man

"Seven Days Without Gambling Makes One Weak"
Re: Fantasy Baseball News 2007

The future is now
September roster expansion has opened the door to more playing time for younger players ? especially on non-contenders ? and given veterans more opportunity to rest.

The big question for fantasy owners looking for that extra edge is whether the call-ups can help this season and whether they're worth a roster spot next season.

Instant gratification

The Boston Red Sox are in no hurry to rush ailing