Monday, July 28, 2008

Save situations, July 28: Tigers, Pirates, Cardinals

Looks like Todd Jones' time is up as the Tigers' closer, at least for the time being. Fernando Rodney has supplanted him after Jim Leyland had seen enough of Jones' awfulness this year. Fantasy owners might have been willing to put up with the 4.99 ERA and 1.59 WHIP if there was at least a promise of coming close to 40 saves like the past three seasons, but now it's safe to put Jones on your bench or even cut him. His 18 saves and measley 13 strikeouts were barely worth the trouble.

Rodney certainly has the stuff to succeed in this role, but injuries have been a problem, so his grip on the job will be tenuous at best. Still, he's got to be picked up immediately, with Joel Zumaya's value also rising if Rodney should falter or get hurt again.

g The Pirates' trade of Damaso Marte means his fantasy value in most leagues is shot. Marte (right), who had taken over for the injured Matt Capps in Pittsburgh, will strictly be a left-handed specialist now that he's with the Yankees. That leaves another void in the Pirates' bullpen, and it's unclear where they might turn next. John Grabow didn't exactly inspire much confidence Sunday by allowing two home runs, Tyler Yates has been shaky for the past few weeks (seven earned runs in his past 10 2/3 innings), and Denny Bautista is pretty much the epitome of an average middle reliever. In other words, stay away from Pirates relievers unless you're absolutely desperate for saves.

g In St. Louis, the news isn't quite as bad, but it's still a mess. Closer Ryan Franklin has been bad his past three times out (two blown saves and two losses), but luckily for him, Jason Isringhausen hasn't exactly made a case for taking back his old job, either. It looks like the Cards will ride it out with Franklin for the time being, which means he still has value, although I'd probably relegate him to my bench until he snaps out of his funk. Bradenton's Chris Perez showed lots of promise in his brief call-up, but after the league adjusted to the rookie he was sent back down to the minors for some more seasoning. He's the guy to really keep an eye on, although he probably won't be making much more of a fantasy contribution until 2009.

Photos by The Associated Press

This week's column: Baseball bargains

Never heard of Chris Volstad or Mike Aviles? Don't sweat it ... check out this week's column and discover some little-known gems you might be able to find on your waiver wire.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Not a very Shocking trade

Can't say we were surprised by this one ... Disgruntled Giants tight end
Jeremy Shockey was traded to the Saints for two 2009 draft picks, a deal that's been rumored since the NFL Draft in April.

Shockey, last seen roaming the sidelines on crutches and then forced to sit in a luxury box and get toasted while his team shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, had worn out his welcome in New York, butting heads with the media, coaches, teammates and management alike. He also spent a good amount of time on the trainer's table, including a broken leg that relegated him to being just a spectator during the Giants' remarkable playoff run. That led many to suggest the team, and particularly developing QB and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, are better off without Shockey's antics. But make no mistake - when healthy, the Shockster has been as productive as any QB in the league not named Antonio Gates, averaging 62 catches and six TDs over the past four seasons.

Shockey should have no problem fitting in with the Saints and head coach Sean Payton, his offensive coordinator during his rookie year with the G-Men. He gives them the kind of receiving threat Eric Johnson and Billy Miller have been unable to provide, and the Saints should be able to create some nice mismatches lining up unique offensive players like Shockey, Marques Colston and Reggie Bush as targets for Drew Brees. If he proves himself to be fully recovered from that broken leg, consider Shockey a definite No. 1 fantasy TE, among the second tier of talent just below Gates and maybe Jason Witten.

And as for the Giants, Kevin Boss is a nice player but he's no Shockey. His real-life potential is probably greater than his fantasy prospects at this point. Count him as a backup.

Photo by The Associated Press

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Liriano's time will come

Former Twins phenom Francisco Liriano is tearing it up in Triple-A right now, leaving his agent to wonder: what does his client have to do to get a call-up?

Lirinao, who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery, had a very rocky start to this year at the major league level (0-3, 11.32 ERA) but has been excellent at Triple-A Rochester, particularly in his past four starts (4-0. 0.32). The problem is the Twins haven't had a spot for him in their rotation, as youngsters Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Nick Blackburn and Glen Perkins have all pitched surprisingly well, and veteran Livan Hernandez has, um, eaten innings.

I'm not sure if Minnesota is trying to delay a big-time paycheck for Liriano as his agent suggests. I think they're just being cautious after his serious injury, and they're also not desperate for him in the rotation right now, even given Hernandez's recent struggles. Liriano's going to pitch again this year in the big leagues, I have no doubt ... it's just a matter of when. He's got more upside than probably anybody on the Twins' roster, provided he can regain the velocity and repertoire of pitches he showed before the injury. That's why I'm keeping him on my bench and just waiting for the inevitable.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Talkin' fantasy on the radio

Ever wondered what my voice sounds like? Listen to my interview with The Point After Live on 89.1 FM from upstate New York and find out. We chatted about the first half of the season and took a look ahead to the second half.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

You can hear me on the radio Sunday

You can hear me in a live interview today on 89.1 the Point, a radio station in upstate New York. At around 7:30 p.m. Sunday I'll be chatting about the first half of the season and looking ahead to the second half on The Point After Live. Just go to their site and click on the Listen Live audio button at the top of the page.

Your first-half fantasy All-Stars

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game has an identity crisis. Is it a showcase for the fans? A reward for the league's top performers? A popularity contest? Or just a big excuse to sell advertising?

These questions drive TV talking heads and sports talk radio blowhards crazy, but you’ll find no such conflict in the world of fantasy. Ours is a world of cold, hard stats, and All-Stars are simply whoever produces the best.

Still, we should take some time out to recognize fantasy's finest. Instead of playing an actual game, I've decided to invite the honorees to Mickey Mantle's restaurant in New York, home of this year's "real" All-Star contest. There will be cocktails, a few laughs and a heartfelt appreciation for those players who keep our fantasy teams afloat. Here are this year's esteemed guests:

One of the toughest choices to make, but steady Chicago Cubs rookie Geovany Soto gets a slight edge over a ton of solid if unspectacular candidates. Pat yourself on the back if you took a chance on this first-year star.

Lance Berkman’s merely simmering now after coming to a rapid boil at the start of the year, but he’s still head and shoulders above his first-base peers in nearly every category. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but the Houston Astros slugger is even fleet of foot – his 12 steals have already surpassed a career high. That’s called icing on the cake.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley is putting up the type of numbers we’re more accustomed to seeing from a corner infielder or an outfielder. He's working toward the first 50-homer season by a second baseman, which in fantasy terms is basically a free pass to clinch your league title.
Honorable mention to the Florida Marlins' Dan Uggla, who isn’t as far behind as you would expect.

The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez would be valuable for his steals alone. His hitting skills make him priceless.

It’s a two-horse race between Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones. While several of their numbers are eerily similar, Chipper’s flirtation with .400 earns him the nod – for now. As the summer drags on, that number will come back down to earth, and A-Rod should reclaim top-dog status.

You probably had a good shot at predicting this year's OF All-Stars before the season started: Matt Holliday (big-time slugger), Grady Sizemore (multi-category stud) and Josh Hamilton (whaaaat?). OK, nobody could have foreseen Hamilton being so awesome this year. But baseball's best feel-good story has delivered.

I’m going old-school with a four-man rotation, and an eclectic mix at that. Brandon Webb is no surprise after a couple years of fantasy excellence. Tim Lincecum is a mild surprise as a second-year star. And Cliff Lee and Edinson Volquez are major surprises, considering they likely went undrafted in most leagues.

No surprises here: stalwarts Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodirguez are warming in the bullpen. Saves are king in fantasy, and these guys are a combined 86-for-92 in save opportunities this year, with miniscule ERAs to boot. Enough said.

Did you really think I could leave A-Rod off this team? He may not win Husband of the Year, but this is an honor he surely deserves.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sabathia to Brewers: Fantasy impact

The Brewers have reportedly reached a deal to aquire C.C. Sabathia from the Indians, a move that makes them a serious NL contender. It also gives Sabathia's fantasy value a nice boost.

Sabathia (6-8, 3.83 ERA) had a bit of a disappointing start to the season compared to last season's Cy Young campaign, but there's a lot to like here. He's got a 2.39 ERA in his past 12 starts, he's had horrible run support from the lackluster Cleveland offense, and his K/9 rate is actually better than last year's. Now as a Brewer, he'll have a better offense behind him and should also benefit from facing weaker NL lineups. I foresee a big second half for C.C. as the Brewers make a playoff push.

The jewel on the other side of this deal is Double-A outfielder Matt LaPorta, the seventh overall pick of last year's draft and a former Florida Gators star. LaPorta was leading the Southern League with 20 home runs and has been compared as a hitter to Lance Berkman. Intriguing. Like Berkman, LaPorta's apparently not much of a fielder and was blocked at the corner outfield spots (Ryan Braun, Corey Hart) and first base (Prince Fielder) in Milwaukee. The power-starved Indians have no such problem in their outfield, and I expect to see LaPorta in the bigs very soon.

Photo by The Associated Press

Saturday, July 5, 2008

It's so hard to say goodbye

I'm dedicating this song to a few fantasy mainstays we've been forced to part with in the past couple days:

Jeff Francoeur has a bit of a reputation as a free swinger. The story's no different this year: 20 walks to 62 strikeouts, which puts him just about on pace for last year's K/BB rate (42/129). No surprise there. Problem is, Francoeur's hitting just .234, whereas last year he finished at .293. That dip caused the Braves to demote him to Double-A to work on his swing for a couple weeks, a pretty embarrassing move for a guy in his third season who's coming off two 100-RBI seasons. If you're in a shallow league you may consider dumping Francouer, as you can probably find another OF who can do what he does in the free-agent pool. But those in deeper leagues or NL-only formats have to hold onto Frenchy, who could give you 50 or so RBIs in the second half.

Looks like it could be a lost season for Rafael Furcal. The Dodgers SS was batting a robust .366 with five homers and eight steals in his first 32 games before some back problems flared up. He's been on the 15-day DL since early may, and on Friday, L.A. moved him to the 60-day DL, meaning he'll be out at least another eight weeks. Bummer.

Matt Capps will be gone for at least eight weeks, too, thanks to a shoulder injury. The Pirates closer got off to a great start (15-for-15 in save opportunities) but had blown five of his last seven chances before the injury flared up. Romulo Sanchez got first crack at the team's next save opportunity, but veteran Damaso Marte is probably the better choice if you're speculating for saves. Then again, how many chances do you really expect Pittsburgh to offer him?

Joe Borowski, what happened to you? Fourty-five saves for the guy last year ... six this year, with four blown saves, a 7.56 ERA, one strained right quadriceps and now a designation for assignment. That means the Indians will go to a closer-by-committee situation (again). We've already seen Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi fail in ninth-inning duties this year, so I'm not sure if I really want to try either of them again unless I'm desperate.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Josh Hamilton and other pleasant surprises

CWhat's the secret to fantasy success? It's not drafting the big-name, big-money superstars. Anybody with half a brain and a cable modem can do that. It's collecting those unknown and unwanted diamonds in the rough, giving them a chance and watching them evolve into All-Stars. Mix in enough of them along with all the familiar names, toss in a little luck, and you've got yourself a championship.

Here area few of the pleasant surprises we've enjoyed so far this season:

Josh Hamilton's the feel-good story of the year, in fantasy and real life. He was on his way to a good year last year as a rookie with the Reds before injuries wiped him out after 90 games. He's on his way to Triple Crown contention (.312/19/80) this year with the Rangers.

Edinson Volquez, swapped from Texas to Cincinnati for Hamilton, has worked out just as well and might win the pitching version of the Triple Crown (10 wins, 2.08 ERA, 100 strikeouts). Wouldn't that be something?

Mike Mussina was supposed to ride off into the sunset, or maybe to the bullpen, for the Yankees this year. Instead, the 39-year-old with the 5.15 ERA last year is 10-6 with a 3.87 ERA, plus 58 strikeouts to just 15 walks.

Jason Giambi was supposed to be another Yankee playing out his monster contract. Maybe it's the magical mustache, but his 17 homers, third-best in the AL, say he's got some life left in his bat.

You may have gambled on George Sherrill for some saves. Hey, the O's closer's gig was his to lose, right? You probably weren't expecting 26 saves, second-most in MLB.

You draft Chipper Jones, you expect a high average. But .394? I think not. It won't last - he's got a .404 batting average on balls in play, which is ridiculously lucky - but it's been a big help for his owners so far.

Cliff Lee (11-1, 2.34, 90 Ks) is having the Cy Young-caliber year CC Sabathia was supposed to. And nobody drafted him. I'm still waiting for him to come down to Earth ...

Carlos Quentin hit five home runs in 81 games last year. He's got 19 this year through 79 games.

Justin Duchscherer leads the majors with a 1.91 ERA. Wasn't this dude a middle reliever? Yes, but the wise Billy Beane thought otherwise.

Milton Bradley is on pace for a career year - three more homers and 18 RBIs, he'll top his single-season highs from 2004. Perhaps he's finally found a home ... seven franchises later. I'm not betting on it though.