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Bringin’ the Noise: Cuban comeback

South Side graybeard Jose Contreras(notes) may have welcomed Christopher Columbus during his 15th century expedition through the Greater Antilles, witnessed the claimed self-destruction of the USS Maine and stood bed side during Fidel Castro's birth. But miraculously the presumed 37-year-old has overcome the abrading ways of Father Time.

Just call him the Cuban Benjamin Button.

Only one short month ago, a fork was firmly planted in the back of the former playoff hero. With an ERA north of eight and a WHIP bigger than Ozzie Guillen's mouth, the righty appeared to be so done smells of sour cream and chives emanated from his pores. Largely due to his abominable command, all effectiveness seemed forever lost.

Swallowing his pride, the humbled hurler complied with a front office request to accept a temporary minor league leave of absence in an attempt to resurrect his career. Shipped to Triple-A on May 11, Contreras, the consummate teammate, took everything in stride. From MLB.com:

"I said, 'How am I going to help the team in the bullpen? I need to work on my pitches and my location. The only place I can do it is Triple-A.' So I decided to go down there and work on my stuff. It paid off."

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After Contreras hurled back-to-back gems, owners who tossed the veteran into the trash receptacle several weeks ago are now kissing the old-timer's wrinkly…
(AP)
Instead of suffocating under the weight of his failures, he remained optimistic during his time in Charlotte, determined to recapture the stuff that once led him to a team-record 17 consecutive wins four seasons ago. Based on his courageous escape from Castro's oppressive regime and prior accomplishments on the diamond, no one in the organization questioned the veteran's resiliency. Plainly, he's a survivor.

Amazingly, during his farm hiatus a switch flipped. In five brilliant starts (2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), he reconstructed his confidence, rebuilt his stamina and, most importantly, recaptured command over his filthy splitter. Recalled June 8th, Contreras began his renaissance instantaneously. His splits tell the story:

Pre-Charlotte: 27.2 IP, 8.93 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 5.63 K/9, 5.29 BB/9, 35.1 FB%, 50.4 GB%, 14.4 LD%
Post-Charlotte: 16.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, 6.19 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 50.0 FB%, 47.5 GB%, 2.5 LD%

Resolute doubters will remark two games, regardless how spectacular the results, isn't a large enough sample to faithfully reinvest a roster spot in a geriatric pitcher. Their claims, albeit somewhat obtuse, aren't completely outlandish. Still, it's important to understand Contreras returned nearly four months ahead of schedule after rupturing his Achilles last August. Undoubtedly, his premature activation was the primary factor for his early season demise. Guillen, the definitive straight-shooter, concurs. Per the Chicago Tribune:

"I know what Jose went through the last eight months. It was a great thought by him to go to the minors to pitch and get stronger and get ready to come back. … It feels like he's the guy we've been missing. He makes you forget about how bad he was in the beginning."

Boasting he's "the strongest [he's] felt since 2005-2006," the reigning AL Player of the Week is again a viable option in 14-team and deeper mixed leagues. With his splitter clicking and his fastball once again registering between 90-93 mph on the gun, he has issued rare free passes and drawn ample weak contact. His incredibly low 11.3 line-drive rate is likely unsustainable, but his 4.31 FIP implies further ERA shaving is on the docket. Over the remainder of the season, he should be at least a serviceable rotation caboose. Keep in mind the Sox's stellar bullpen and respectable offense should net Contreras plentiful wins.

Though he could be Alexei Ramirez's(notes) great-great-grandfather, the 29-percent owned Contreras is one old-codger who won't be eating strained peas through a straw anytime soon.

Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 91 IP, 7 W, 4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 64 K

Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:

Fantasy Flames
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Alberto Callaspo(notes) KC 2B, SS 202 49
Market Value: Moderate BA/R Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Very quietly, Callaspo has been a true consistency king for KC. In 49 June at-bats, he's racked a .347 BA with two homers, nine RBIs and seven runs. Per Baseball Monster, that's the ninth-best line among all middle infielders. Known for routinely applying bat on ball (90.4 CT%), the slick switch-hitter is the statistical equivalent of Freddy Sanchez(notes). In other words, he won't wow you in the power department, but his steady BA and runs production will be more than serviceable for any deep-minded owner. There are likely sexier names sipping pina coladas in shallow league free agent pools, but Callaspo really deserves more recognition for his week-in, week-out dependability.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 235 at-bats, .302 BA, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 34 R, 2 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Jeremy Hermida(notes) FLA OF 180 41
Market Value: Strong Power Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Similar to Maxim Hot 100 chart-topper Olivia Wilde (Really?), Hermida seemingly always fails to live up to expectations. Slated to have his image cast in Diamond Kings foil years ago, the former elite prospect according to Baseball America is finally starting to tap into his massive reservoir of potential. Since June 9 he's logged five multi-hit performances, launching three homers with six RBIs and five runs. Exuding more patience, he's greatly enhanced his contact profile, a sign he's inching closer to peak maturity. More impressively, he's started to drive the ball with more authority, indicative in his shrinking GB/FB rate ('08: 1.27, '09: 1.03). Additional improvements are still in order and he'll never be the prolific base stealer many had projected, but the 25-year-old hook is slowly coming into his own. A noteworthy second half could be on the horizon.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 300 at-bats, .276 BA, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 44 R, 5 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Macier Izturis LAA 2B, 3B, SS 313 10
Market Value: Moderate BA/R Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Izturis may have the look of a bearded child, but his recent statistical yields have been manly. Toggling between second and short, he's notched regular playing time with Howie Kendrick(notes) shoveling manure on the farm. In his past four contests, the miniature infielder has slapped seven hits, five for extra-bases, in 14 at-bats. He's also driven in five runs and crossed home six times. Because of his incredible 90.4 contact rate, 1.53 GB/FB, plus wheels and occasional two-hole appearances, he should produce resourceful totals in BA, runs and possibly steals in the near term. However, once Kendrick resurfaces he will likely slide back into a platoon role with Erick Aybar(notes) at short. Consider him an excellent temporary stopgap.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 220 at-bats, .289 BA, 3 HR, 29 RBI, 40 R, 8 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Casey McGehee(notes) MIL 2B, 3B 779 8
Market Value: Moderate BA/R Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: In the Land of Artery-Clogging Encased Meats, this little known infielder has wielded an elongated chorizo laced with habanera. Promoted to the two-spot with J.J. Hardy(notes) struggling, the former Cubs prospect, who apparently realizes he's a former Cubs prospect, has batted a searing .444 with a homer, eight RBIs and nine runs in 36 June at-bats. The 26-year-old is equipped with modest pop (12 HR in 497 Triple-A at-bats last year), but his sharp eye (11.9 BB%), strong contact numbers (83.2 CT%), smooth line-drive stroke (25.0 LD%) and respectable minor league track-record point to an above-average BA return. If he continues to hit, he will surely remain entrenched in the two-hole over the next several weeks. Even better for Brewers fans, he will also keep Bill Hall(notes) on the bench. Owners in search of a MI spark, especially in BA and runs, should scoop up the flexible product.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 240 at-bats, .280 BA, 5 HR, 35 RBI, 38 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Omir Santos(notes) NYM C 682 3
Market Value: Moderate Two-Catcher League Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: In the desert landscape of catchers, Santos is an oasis. Earning most of the starts behind the dish over Brian Schneider(notes), the former Yankees farmhand has been a waivers godsend in challenging two-catcher formats. He apparently has also become a favorite among elderly women. Coming off a very useful May (54 at-bats, .278 BA, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 6 R), he's clubbed a .290 BA with one homer and three RBIs in 31 at-bats this month. The backstop's 0.64 GB/FB labels him a prototype yanker, but with an admirable 83.7 contact percentage and a fair eye he should be able to maintain a competent line for deep leaguers. Consider plucking him off waivers in leagues where Gerald Laird(notes) is cherished.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 180 at-bats, .267 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Ricky Nolasco(notes) FLA SP 1275 69
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Dominated by the matador for much of the season, "The Bull" is once again on the attack. Since returning from his bayou demotion to Triple-A New Orleans, the righty has posted two vintage efforts, surrendering four earned in 13 innings with 15 strikeouts. After his first start back, John Baker(notes) noticed a mood change in the hurler, remarking he "looked like the confident Ricky of last year." His underlying stats should provide unfaithful backers a mental boost too. Though his BB/9 is higher compared to last year, he's still only allowed 2.70 free passes per nine and has sustained a nearly identical strikeout rate ('08 K/9: 7.88, '09: 7.94). Lady Luck has eluded him the entire season (.399 BABIP), which suggests, assuming he experiences a reversal of fortune, a dramatic ERA downturn is upcoming. Attracting marginal names in one-for-one Plus league deals this week – Jose Valverde(notes), Gary Sheffield(notes) and Garrett Atkins(notes) – Nolasco is someone to immediately acquire before the clearance sale ends.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 110 IP, 8 W, 3.87 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 89 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Joe Blanton(notes) PHI SP 976 28
Market Value: Strong Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Blanton, who may have been a "Roadhouse" bouncer in a former life, has transformed from volatile ERA destroyer to trustworthy quality start machine almost overnight. Since reconfiguring his "sloppy" mechanics in late May, the hefty righty has reeled off four consecutive gems, totaling two wins and a 1.99 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 27 innings. More remarkably, he posted a 9.33 K/9 during that stretch, up from 7.55 prior to the delivery tweak. Toss in an unlucky .320 BABIP, tremendous offensive support and an adequate 1.07 GB/FB, and this Joe certainly doesn't blow. He needs to limit the long-balls (1.77 HR/9), especially playing half his games in the Citizen's Bank Bandbox, but his excellent peripherals profile arrows to continued success.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 110 IP, 8 W, 4.19 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 84 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Luke Hochevar(notes) KC SP, RP 684 10
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: The former No. 1 overall pick is finally starting to deliver on his enormous promise. A groundball wizard in his last outing, the long, lanky righty needed just 80 pitches to polish off the Reds for his first career complete game (1 ER, 3 HA, 3:1 K:BB), the most efficient effort by a Royals hurler in 21 years. With two wins and back-to-back quality starts since June 6, the youngster is someone to consider in deeper formats. Mixing pitches effectively, he has successfully coaxed ample weak contact (1.96 GB/FB) and, most importantly, trimmed down the free passes. Although he's not a strikeout pitcher and has battled gopheritis throughout his career, he's a practical back-of-the-rotation option who's worth a trial run.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 95 IP, 6 W, 4.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 44 K
Fantasy Lames
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Dustin Pedroia(notes) BOS 2B 78 98
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Evidently, the high-inside fastball isn't the reigning MVP's only weakness. Mired in a 6-for-43 swoon, the popular early round pick has sliced nearly 30 points off his BA. Rested last Sunday, Pedroia blames his lack of consistency on being physically "beat up." For those who invested sizable coin in the Sox two-bagger, his returns have been disappointingly mediocre. On pace for a 5-64-123-25 campaign, Pedroia has been no better than waivers steal Asdrubal Cabrera(notes). Still, his peripherals profile is nearly identical to last year, which suggests a BA surge will soon occur. But, based on his trade value, he's frankly a bit overrated. Owners with dependable secondary options may want to shop him around. This week he netted Alfonso Soriano(notes), Matt Kemp(notes) and CC Sabathia(notes) in one-for-one Plus league moves.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 360 at-bats, .309 BA, 6 HR, 52 RBI, 66 R, 12 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Vernon Wells(notes) TOR OF 146 92
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: According to Toronto hitting coach Gene Tenace, Wells is in need of an exorcism. Plagued by "mental demons," the confounded outfielder has logged a hit just six times in his past 48 at-bats. With only five homers on the season, the former 30-plus long-ball tyrant of yesteryear appears to have mellowed. Honestly, if it wasn't for his double-digit steals and bountiful runs he would be equal in value to Kosuke Fukudome(notes). Unfortunately, his discouraging 1.13 GB/FB and 5.3 HR/FB percentage don't inspire hope for a power turnaround. Because he rarely whiffs, draws a reasonable amount of walks, makes consistent contact and is actually healthy, his BA should finish well north of .270. Still his mild pop pace (12 HR, 68 RBI) is very disappointing.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 330 at-bats, .282 BA, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 44 R, 7 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Matt Wieters(notes) BAL C 1085 92
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Understandably, Wieters owners are growing impatient. This is the rookie who was supposed to be fantasy owners' ticket to salvation. When the North Koreans have conducted more successful missile launches than your supposed power-hitting prodigy, that's not a positive sign. The switch-hitting wunderkind claims he's "starting to feel really good at the plate," but with one homer and two RBIs in 50 at-bats, primarily out of the somewhat unfriendly 7-8 spots, he's causing suspicion among his once unwavering band of supporters. Obviously his numbers will improve but the playful hyperbole spewed by the Y! fantasy brass has grossly overvalued him. Until he exudes more dish diligence (25.5 K%, 4.3 BB%) and limits the lazy pop-ups (23.3 IFFB%), he will be an overvalued product of the hype machine. The 23-year-old, who was swapped this week for Tommy Hanson(notes), Kevin Slowey(notes) and Pablo Sandoval(notes) in one-for-one Y! plus league deals, is someone yearly leaguers should cash in before the masses conclude he's really a year or two away.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 250 at-bats, .274 BA, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 29 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Rafael Furcal(notes) LAD SS 606 83
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: For owners who've endured the burdensome Furcal this season, a vicious bite from one of Kyle Farnsworth's(notes) American bulldogs would probably be less painful. On the surface the beleaguered shortstop's nine-game hit streak would indicate he's in the midst of a turnaround, but with only one homer, three RBIs and one steal during that stretch, it's very misleading. Physically, Furcal believes he's finally back at full strength after being sidelined four-plus months with back setbacks. Hitting the ball harder, he also believes his swing is on the verge of making a strong comeback. Slotted again into the two-spot by Joe Torre, he's in a prime rebound position, especially with Manny Ramirez's(notes) return just around the corner. If he can trim down the strikeouts (17.8 K%) and consistently reach base, his dormant wheels should eventually emerge from the garage. Take a chance.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 320 at-bats, .282 BA, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 52 R, 14 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
J.J. Hardy MIL SS 598 74
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Though barely above the Mendoza Line and recently demoted to the eighth spot, J.J. Hardy is still pulling All-Star caliber tail. Obviously, his female admirers are not fantasy players. Officially hitting rock bottom this week, the downtrodden infielder has hit an atrocious .172 this month with one homer and four RBIs in 58 at-bats. Despite the putrid downswing, he's a commodity worth pursuing in deeper formats. Yes, his power numbers have dipped dramatically, but his solid walks percentage, healthy contact rate and '07 comparable GB/FB (1.13) suggest he could soon recapture some respectability. Remember, he's historically been a completely different player after the break (Pre: .249 BA, Post: .286). Buy lowest.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 325 at-bats, .275 BA, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 35 R, 2 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Johan Santana(notes) NYM SP 103 99
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: Bombed in the Bronx in his last start, conceding eight earned in three innings, Santana has his owners on high alert. Against the Yankees his fastball velocity dipped into the high 80s, roughly 3-4 ticks below normal. Over the past few days, rampant injury speculation ranging from blisters to knee and back ailments have dominated Big Apple headlines. However, Johan owners should breathe easy. On Wednesday, pitching coach Dan Warthen ironed out a mechanical flaw in the prized pitcher's delivery. Of course, the resulting modifications will have to prove in-game successful for owner confidence to be fully regained, but at least Johan doesn't appear to be physically ailed. Per FIP and BABIP forecasts (.321), his 3.29 ERA could creep into the 3.50 range, but his ridiculous 10.32 K/9 and sparkling 2.63 BB/9 are strong indications he will continue to be one of fantasy's most revered starters. Remove your finger from the panic button.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 130 IP, 10 W, 3.52 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 141 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Clayton Kershaw(notes) LAD SP 703 92
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Profiled in this section several weeks ago, Kershaw continues to be one of the most maddening pitchers to own in virtual baseball. The definitive rollercoaster, he has yet to string together three consecutive quality starts this season. Recently discussed in a terrific piece at Fangraphs, Kid K's bender, no matter how lethal, has become overly predictable absent an effective third pitch, which has stymied his ace ascension. Add that to poor command (5.43 BB/9) and a small rise in contact percentage (80.1 CT%), and Kershaw's boom and bust cycles are certain to continue. Unless you're a self-proclaimed masochist, place him on the auction block. This week he garnered Derrek Lee(notes), Mark Buehrle(notes) and Luke Scott(notes) in one-for-one Y! Plus league swaps.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 97 IP, 5 W, 4.45 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 83 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Rick Porcello(notes) DET SP, RP 261 81
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Unlike fellow twenty-something Jordan Zimmermann(notes), whose impeccable spring sparked a late-round frenzy in March drafts, Porcello has unexpectedly produced steady yields. Noticeably efficient tossing between 82-to-86 pitches in three of his past four wins, he has routinely flashed the polish of a 10-year vet. Despite emerging victorious seven times and totaling five quality starts since May 5, the AL ROY frontrunner is an ideal sell high candidate. His very fortunate .263 BABIP, 1.32 HR/9 rate and 4.85 FIP paint an ominous picture. It's also important to note he's only 20, meaning the Tigers front office could put his arm in moth balls come September. This week in Y! Plus league one-for-one transactions he enticed Mark DeRosa(notes), Shane Victorino(notes) and Rich Harden(notes).
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 78 IP, 5 W, 4.97 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 42 K

*All stats are for games played through June 16

CRUZ COUNTER
To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they'll be contributing to the Noise's import beer fund, Nelson Cruz's(notes) long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 1
Season total: 18
Moonshots to the money: 8
Pace: 44

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