By Brandon Funston
June 4, 2007
There's no hiding from my troubles in fantasy baseball this year – after all, links to two of my leagues are posted at the bottom of this page for the world to see. And I've had no shortage of feedback on this topic, from well-intended advice, to good-natured ribbing, to all-out demands for a disacredidation of my fantasy expert license. But help is on the way for me, and others who are trying desperately to rise from the depths of despair, in the form of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football '07. That's right, fantasy football launches this week. Back for further consumption is fantasy's equivalent of crack cocaine. It's funny how enraptured folks can get just contemplating their cheat sheets, sleepers, busts, etc. – even with regular season games more than three months away. If you're in the back of the pack in your baseball league, stay the course, keep diligently managing your roster and your effort should be rewarded in the standings. It'll take more than the distraction of fantasy football to take you to the top of your league, but you'll at least be able to leap those lacking the intestinal fortitude that it takes to finish a fantasy baseball marathon with max effort. Now, let's take a look at what went down on the diamond this past weekend:
|CLOSER HOT SEAT
|PITTSBURH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Matt Capps
2nd Chair: Salomon Torres
Skinny: Torres' fourth blown save came Thursday against San Diego, prompting manager Jim Tracy to relieve him of his closing duties. Capps took his place as the team's end-game option and closed the door on the Dodgers on Friday night with a perfect ninth inning to preserve a 3-1 lead. Capps has been controlled and effective all season as the set-up man and should settle in as a long-term solution. No need for Torres owners to linger over his corpse – cut him loose.
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brad Hennessey
2nd Chair: Tim Lincecum? Brian Wilson?
Skinny: With Armando Benitez now donning a Florida Marlins uniform, Hennessey is the expected heir to the closer throne in San Francisco. The Giants haven't had a save opportunity present itself since Benitez was dealt on Thursday, but Hennessey did pick up a save on Thursday night after Benitez blew a save chance and picked up a loss to the Mets on Wednesday. Hennessey has been effective this season (2.82 ERA), but he's not as much a sure thing as Capps (above). If he struggles in the role, there isn't a clearly defined next-in-line candidate. Brian Wilson, considered a possible closer-of-the-future candidate, holds a 2.92 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three saves in 12.1 IP at Triple-A Fresno – although his 11 walks is a major issue. And while manager Bruce Bochy vehemently denies the notion, I still say rookie phenom Lincecum would be a dynamic closer, so long as he's not facing the Phillies. Go with Hennessey for now, but don't get comfortable until he's held court for a couple weeks.
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS HOT
1st Chair: Takashi Saito
2nd Chair: Jonathan Broxton
Skinny: Saito, who has been one of the game's top closers since his arrival in Los Angeles, aggravated his hamstring on Sunday. Luckily, the hammy is not torn, but Saito will probably take a few days off, at the least. Manager Grady Little has already said that Broxton will handle any save opportunities in the event that Saito is unavailable. If Broxton isn't already snatched up in your league, he's worth a speculative add. After all, Saito is 37 years old and you just don't know if this issue will linger or not.
|FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Kevin Gregg
2nd Chair: Armando Benitez, Henry Owens
Skinny: Gregg, who has allowed just one run in his past 18.2 IP and is six-for-six in save opportunities in that span, has been assured the closer job remains his despite the fact that the team has traded for Benitez. But, reading between the lines, the presence of Benitez along with the return from the DL of early-season closer Owens, means that Gregg's leash just got a whole lot shorter. The career middle reliever Gregg probably can't afford more than an occasional blown opportunity if he wants to keep the carousel idle.
|HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: Wheeler's ERA has ballooned by nearly two runs after allowing six earned runs in his past 2.1 IP, including three earned runs allowed in 1.2 IP in picking up a loss to St. Louis on Sunday. If Wheeler's struggles continue, one has to wonder if Lidge will get a chance to reclaim the closer role. He's been sensational over the span of his past 20 outings – 21.1 IP, 0.84 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 32 K, 4 BB. Lidge is pitching well enough to be owned right now in deeper mixed leagues simply for his middle relief numbers, but Wheeler's recent shakiness makes him an excellent gamble for those scavenging for saves.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES WARM
1st Chair: Chris Ray
2nd Chair: Scott Williamson, Danys Baez
Skinny: Ray blew his fourth save on Sunday, allowing a game-winning home run to Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero. It was the third game-winning long ball that he has allowed this year. The Orioles have said that Ray is still safe as the team's closer, but that sentiment could change quickly if he struggles again in his next couple outings. Former closer Williamson has the team's best ERA (1.80) and would be a sleeper candidate among the list of replacement candidates, especially considering Baez's recent struggles on the hill.
|DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney
Skinny: Jones has blown his past two save opportunities and has allowed 10 earned runs in his past 3.1 IP. Like Ray (above), Jones has been given a vote of confidence by his manager. Jim Leyland said, "Todd Jones is my closer. Period." Rodney, coming off the disabled list this week, is the speculative play just in case Jones' stock continues to take a beating.
|CLEVELAND INDIANS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Joe Borowski
2nd Chair: Troy Percival?
Skinny: With Borowski's ERA now sitting at 7.29, it's no surprise that Cleveland was one of the teams that scouted a recent Percival workout – the former closer is attempting a comeback. However, Borowski has blown just two of 17 save chances and his ERA is inflated by just a couple bad outings. His job is safe for now, but the situation begs watching …
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days After suffering through a mid-May slump and subsequent bout with gastroenteritis that landed him on the DL on May 19, it's bombs away again for Josh Hamilton. After slugging four home runs in a five-game rehab stint for Triple-A Louisville, Hamilton joined the Reds on Monday and will be activated for Tuesday's series against St. Louis. With his problems this past month, Hamilton's ownership in Yahoo! leagues has fallen to just 45 percent. Power-hungry owners – and that includes the man in my mirror – should check on Hamilton's availability (no luck for me, unfortunately). As he showed during a 73 at bat stretch from April 10th through May 6, when he reeled off eight home runs, this feel-good story can put up numbers in a hurry.
Speaking of putting numbers up in a hurry, Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena hit his 11th home run of the season on Sunday. He's averaged a home run every 11.6 at bats this season and hasn't gone more than six games without clearing the fence. He's seeing limited at bats versus lefties – and that's a good thing given his .143 batting average against southpaws – but he's crushed righties to the tune of .327, 10 home runs and 25 RBI. He's now hit 25 home runs in his past 129 games against right-handed pitchers, and if you can afford him a bench spot (he's still available in 51 percent of Yahoo! leagues), he should continue to deliver reasonable power returns – just be sure to sit him when a lefty is on the docket.
Notable Notes: Fatigued groin is what Roger Clemens says he's dealing with. The Yankees want to get a second opinion, and one from a medical professional. Clemens will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his groin issue before the Yankees let him make his '07 Yankees debut against Pittsburgh this coming weekend … The Yankees can only hope Clemens checks out because another source of expected rotation relief, rookie Phil Hughes, is now expected to be out until at least August with leg ailments (hamstring/ankle). There is reason to believe he may not return at all this season, but August is the more likely scenario for return … Toronto's Lyle Overbay is the latest Blue Jay to get hit with the injury bug. Overbay is out at least a month after breaking a bone in his right hand on Sunday when he was beaned by a John Danks pitch. Matt Stairs, who hit .302 in May with seven home runs and 17 RBI figures to get the majority of playing time at first base in Overbay's absence and, the way he's going, he actually might be more than just an AL-only add. Power-hungry owners in mixed leagues should keep a close eye on him … Fresh off the DL for an oblique injury, Tampa Bay's Akinori Iwamura is now expected to be out until next weekend because of a bruised eye suffered when a foul ball hit him in the eye socket on Saturday. Ty Wigginton will handle hot corner duties while Iwamura is down with Jorge Cantu getting some extra work this week because of the injury … Cleveland's Travis Hafner started at first base on Sunday, leaving him one start away from shedding his Utility-only position tag. In leagues that don't use Utility-only players, Hafner will be added to waivers once he gains 1B eligibility … Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton started in centerfield for the D-Rays on Saturday, leaving him one start shy of OF eligibility. With 2B/3B eligibility already in his bag, he's about to become one of fantasy's premier utility knives.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues Jose Guillen, Sea, OF
I espoused his virtues on SportStream last week, but Jose Guillen's ownership has risen just 10 percent from then to now – he's still available in 87 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Settling in as the No. 3 hitter in a surprisingly effective Mariners offense, Guillen has hit .307 with five home runs and 31 RBI in his past 30 games. Coming off elbow surgery, Guillen looks completely healthy again. From '03-'05, Guillen averaged roughly .295, 27 HRs and 89 RBI. Playing in a tough park for right-handed power, his upside in home runs is probably only in the low 20s this season, but he should be able to push the century mark in RBI if he stays healthy.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm Homer Bailey, SP (ETA – June 9)
By now you should know Bailey. The fireballer was a consensus top 10 prospect according to Baseball America heading into the '07 season, and fantasy experts tend to wax on and on about guys like that – Yahoo! fantasy experts are as culpable as anyone. Despite the rampant Bailey buzz of late, he's still available in 96 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Currently 6-1 with a 2.31 ERA and 51 Ks in 58.1 IP at Triple-A Louisville, he's expected to make his Major League debut this coming weekend against Cleveland, possibly Saturday. The timing of the call-up is a bit odd considering he'll arrive for the first of five straight series against AL teams, with three of those teams (Seattle, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Angels) ranked among the top six in the AL in batting average. NL-only owners won't have the luxury of taking a wait-and-see approach, they'll need to add him now. But mixed leaguers will be best served to play spectator to his talents for a turn or two. He's likely to be a bit of a rollercoaster early on, but could ultimately settle in as a viable option in shallower leagues.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Dustin Pedroia, Bos, 2B/SS – Pedroia paced the majors in hits this past week (14) helping push his season batting average to .336. Hitting at the top of a potent Boston lineup, he should be a solid source of Runs.
Jose Lopez, Sea, 2B – The '06 All-Star has 20 RBI in his past 29 games and finished the past week with a .458 batting average.
Bobby Abreu, NYY, OF – Although Tony Abreu has been the better Abreu of late, it is heartening for Bobby Abreu owners to see that their slumping star went 6-for-12 over the past weekend, raising his batting average 16 points to .244.
Jim Edmonds, StL, OF – Remember him? The 36-year-old veteran has five home runs in his past 10 games. Not a bad speculative pick-up (60 percent available) on the hopes he can re-capture some of his former plate glory.
Dustin McGowan, Tor, SP – Armed with ace stuff, McGowan has put together three straight quality starts. This past week, he picked up two victories, striking out 12 in 14.2 IP while producing a 3.07 ERA.
Derek Jeter, NYY, SS – Jeter has hit just .171 in his past eight games, dropping his average over 30 points in the process. He also has just one stolen base in his past 14 games.
Jimmy Rollins, Phi, SS – After knocking nine home runs in his first 22 games, Rollins has rolled off 33 straight games without a long ball. He also has just one SB in his past 17 games.
Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
My hectic business schedule has produced some shoddy management of late in the Blog league, so it's no surprise that I remain at 10th in the standings. Positioning is still very tight above me, so a hot spell would do wonders. The latest additions to the league included touted minor league arms Kevin Slowey and Homer Bailey, as well as veterans Matt Morris and Adam LaRoche. On the trade front, Brad Penny fetched a price of Dan Uggla and Dave Bush.
You can follow along with my Yahoo! Friends and Family experts league team here.
Brandon Funston is a Yahoo! Sports fantasy expert. Follow him on Twitter. Send Brandon a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Monday, Jun 4, 2007 3:00 pm, EDT
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