NBA free-agency tracker:

Done deals

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Two trades occurred this week to signal the opening of the market. Over the next couple weeks, it's expected that a number of big names will be changing addresses, led by Kansas City's Carlos Beltran. I'll be keeping tabs on the activity and alerting you to the fantasy implications.

We'll start by taking a look at the two deals that went down on Thursday. Then I'll answer some mail from the past week.

Richard Hidalgo, a popular subject in my mail this week, moves to the New York Mets and attempts to rediscover his stroke. Fantasy owners were fired up with his torrid start to the season (4 HR and 22 RBIs in April), only to watch him drive in eight runs over the next 117 at bats. His move to the Mets ends the nice run that Karim Garcia has had over the past week, relegating him to the bench. Perhaps Hidalgo simply needed a change of scenery, but it's hard to imagine him getting the power stroke back in a much bigger ballpark. He's worthy of hanging on to short-term to see how he responds to the new surroundings, but comparable outfielders lurk on the waiver wire.

His departure finally gives Jason Lane a chance to be an everyday outfielder in Houston. In part-time duty this season, Lane has uncharacteristically struck out every fourth at bat. In his defense, Lane's minor league stats suggest that he'll get past that learning curve in short order. He's got pop, yielding one home run for every 16 MLB at bats and he's poised to ride the next surge of offense from Lance Berkman, Jeff Bagwell and company. Owners looking for a boost from the waiver wire need look no further than Lane in the short porch of Houston.

The White Sox officially ended the Billy Koch era by dealing him to Florida for a minor leaguer, a feeble end to his closing career for the time being. The dominance of Armando Benitez will keep Koch in a middle relief role, thus ending any fantasy value he'd had. He's only useful to you if you're in a league with tremendously deep rosters.

Koch's departure signals a great opportunity for Shingo Takatsu. The Japanese import has lived up to his nickname of Mr. Zero, being virtually unhittable. With an assortment of pitches and a quirky delivery, big league hitters have not yet caught on to him. The potent White Sox lineup will yield a plethora of opportunities for Takatsu.

There were many questions this week about the Cubs, Troy Percival and the aforementioned Hidalgo. Let's take a look into the mailbag ...


With Troy Percival's recent injury, do you think Francisco Rodriguez will get many save chances this year, and do you think I should try to trade for him by giving up someone like a Jorge Julio?

Sherif Farrag

Sherif,

Prior to hitting the DL, Percival had shown some cracks in the armor and wasn't nearly as effective as in years past. His struggles on the hill yielded a 5.09 ERA and opened the door for Rodriguez to claim several save opportunities BEFORE the injury. In his stint as the full-time closer, Rodriguez has been lights out and will force a tough decision by Mike Scioscia upon Percival's return. Though it is Percival's job, the plethora of save chances in Anaheim and the worries of Percival's health will continue to provide Rodriguez with closing opportunities.

With that said, I'd try to pull the trigger on a trade by offering Jorge Julio. You take a bit of a chance on Percival's return, but Julio's anything but automatic. Through the first two and a half months of the seasons, he's amassed only nine saves (Rodriguez is already at five) and carries a 4.13 ERA and 1.52 WHIP that are positively dwarfed by Rodriguez's totals (1.22 ERA and .97 WHIP). Additionally, K-Rod will strike out more hitters than Julio.


Do you think Derrek Lee will step it up more as the weather gets warm? I picked him in a number of leagues figuring his power numbers would improve in Wrigley compared to Pro Player, but only 5 HR and a .255 BA leave me feeling like I showed up to a blind date only to find my cousin sitting across from me. What gives?

Thanks,

Rob
London, ON

Rob,

Related to the blind date comment, for once in my life, I am speechless. (Let's allow a moment so that my family and friends can applaud your effort.)

As for the fantasy part of that question, Lee's performance through the early portion of the season has been the subject of a number of letters this week. I can offer some quick comfort with the simple fact that his career batting average is over 30 points higher after the All-Star break.

Two other factors come into play here. One, the Cubs have not fielded their projected starting lineup for quite some time. Sammy Sosa is back from a rehab stint for the freakish back injury suffered last month and the Cubs lineup, led by Sosa and Moises Alou, is particularly strong in the second half. Second, the weather in Chicago will be more advantageous in the second half. The wind typically starts blowing out more regularly toward the latter part of June. Don't panic. His bat is already starting to wake up.


I just picked up Vinnie Chulk from waivers on my fantasy team before the rest of my league could jump on him, and tonight in his first game in my lineup he goes two solid innings and picks up a save. Is Chulk this season's diamond-in-the-rough, or is it too soon to tell? Is he a strong enough pitcher to stick in the league?

Justin Robar

Justin,

Carlos Tosca is at the point of rolling the dice with virtually anybody who can throw for the Blue Jays in the closer role. They're said to be considering the return of Tom Henke. In all seriousness, the quintet of Aquilino Lopez, Justin Speier, Jason Frasor, Kerry Ligtenberg and Terry Adams have all had their moment to claim the role. All, for the most part, have been less than satisfactory. As such, Tosca turned to the young Chulk for his shot.

It may be too soon to proclaim him the next big thing. And it's certainly too early to determine whether Tosca will spin the wheel again, but Chulk has been effective to date. Given the struggles that the aforementioned hurlers have had, Chulk will get a fair look from the Blue Jays brass. He'll also get more save opportunities once the full complement of hitters return to the Blue Jays lineup.


What is up with Reggie Sanders? He doesn't start every day, and I haven't seen anything about him being injured. I have him in my league, and it seems that recently all he has been doing is pinch hitting late in games. He is a highly ranked outfielder, so I do not want to drop him. What should I do with him? Deal with it or drop him?

Chris

Chris,

The recent tendency of Tony La Russa to use Sanders off the bench is certainly disheartening to fantasy owners. There are a couple of reasons for this situation. His average took a steep drop after a torrid start and he has scuffled as of late. Additionally, the return of John Mabry to the lineup and Marlon Anderson's positional flexibility offer La Russa more looks in the outfield for defensive purposes. Therefore, Sanders owners must wait for La Russa to come to his senses.

Sanders' 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases are too impressive to watch him be snatched up by an opposing manager. His power and speed combination are too important to St. Louis' drive to win the NL Central division to keep him on the bench for long. Hold tight for now.


I'm 8th out of 10 teams in the SB category, yet I have Carl Crawford, Edgar Renteria, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Corey Patterson on my team. How in the world can that be, and should I just be patient?

Marc Forget

Marc,

Looking at the core group of players you own, I'd love to see what these other teams have put together to best you in this category. They're likely getting by with a bunch of players that are stealing bases out of character, like the week turned in by Karim Garcia. Crawford alone normally stands to get you toward the middle of the pack in most leagues.

To quickly run through this list.

  • Crawford is on pace to defeat last year's total of 55, so no worries there.
  • Renteria hasn't really gotten started yet in either the power or speed categories. One would imagine that the hot starts of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen will cool just a bit and force Tony La Russa to manufacture more runs, leading to more opportunities to run for Renteria.
  • Alfonso Soriano has settled into the offensive style that has defined the Texas Rangers. They just don't run much, so unless a flurry of activity occurs there, owners will need to settle for 20 steals from Soriano.
  • Carlos Lee has become more of a hitter. What has defined his career is the inconsistency in the style of player he will be. Will he be a .300 hitter and steal bases, or will he hit .275-.280 and hit the long ball? His recent 28-game hitting streak implies the former, but he's only got five steals so far this season. Ozzie Guillen likes to run, so it's likely that Lee will see more signs from the dugout to take off as the season moves back into divisional play next month.
  • Corey Patterson continues to frustrate fantasy owners and Cubs fans. He'll have the big game to make you think he's turned the corner and will then proceed to go silent for weeks at a time. Like I said with Derrek Lee in my response above, the Cubs offense is just getting going. But Dusty Baker's not a huge stolen base guy. However, he likes to utilize the hit and run quite a bit, which will open the door for some steals for Patterson.

In summary, I wouldn't bank on huge totals from this group outside of Crawford but they're totals should be enough to move you up a couple spots before it's over.


Is Daryle Ward gonna stay hot all the season or should I trade him now when his value is high?

Erwin Figueroa

Edwin,

Ward looked like he was near the end of his rope when he signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates. But with 9 HRs and 28 RBIs to date, he has been one of this season's biggest surprises.

While I like the feel-good story as much as the next guy, I simply don't believe that Ward will be able to keep up this kind of pace. The Pirates have already gone into their annual death spiral and his continued success is contingent on Jack and Craig Wilson's domination of NL pitching. I don't think they'll drop off the charts, but they can't keep the pace of their tremendous production thus far.

You can upsell him in a trade based on the 20 HR, 72 RBI season he put up with Houston a few years back. In return, you might be able to acquire somebody that's a bit off their normal paces, like a Johnny Damon.


I've noticed that Adrian Beltre has been slumping the past month and I understand that he's playing with a bad ankle. Is it wise to trade him now? Or do you think I should hold on to him? Is he going to pick it up again?

John
Fort Lee, NJ

John,

Beltre is on the mend after suffering an ankle injury. Recent reports have him considering surgery, but no decision has been made on whether he'll have an immediate procedure or whether it can wait until the end of the season. He has been quoted as saying that the warm weather dulls the pain and fortunately, he'll be playing a lot of games in California during the summer. Keep an eye on Yahoo! Sports for updated stories on his condition.

As for what to do with him, unless you're sitting on another stud third baseman, it would be awful difficult to fill his production to date (16 HR, 42 RBI). Actually, only A-Rod could fit the bill. He's also rebounded to raise his average back up to .305 over the past week. I believe we're finally seeing the Adrian Beltre that we've all been waiting for since he was drafted. What you may consider short-term is to pick up Cleveland's Casey Blake to occupy a bench position in the event that Beltre's condition worsens.

That's all for now. Keep those letters coming. Between the closer exchange, interleague play and the rash of injuries, there's a lot of revolving doors to examine.

Next time, I'll take a peek back into the next iteration of inter-league matchups as rivalry week begins.