It's finally here! I'm thinking about the induction ceremonies at Cooperstown this weekend, getting a chance to meet some of the game's legends and revel in its history. But, while I wander the streets of this town, I'm sure I'll dart in the local watering holes and continually check my mobile phone for the latest news about the trade deadline.
So far, the rumor mill has been entertaining, filled with big names and big ideas for the stretch run. Whether any of these proposals will result in a move to bring glory to your home team remains to be seen. But, those fantasy owners participating in AL or NL-only leagues need to be especially vigilant, as inter-league deals may bring relief to those saddled with inferior options to fill those extra roster spots.
There are plenty of stories on the radar besides the pending deadline. Let's get inside Fantasy Baseball This Week.
- I'm happy to see that Red Sox hurler Matt Clement was released from the hospital less than 24 hours after being struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of Carl Crawford. He was back at the ballpark by the end of Wednesday's game and was able to joke about the incident with reporters. No timetable has been set for his return to the rotation, but he figures to miss only 1-2 starts.
- Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra knocked in two runs and went 1-for-4 in his first rehab start for the Class-A Peoria Chiefs. Garciaparra is recovering from the ruptured tendon in his left groin sustained in April. He figures to make one or two more starts for the Chiefs and then re-evaluate his status. Garciaparra could be back with the big club for the finale of their series against the Diamondbacks.
- Ivan Rodriguez continues to battle through injuries to his hands. He still feels the effects of the fracture in his right hand sustained two months ago and his left pinky finger jammed on a slide weeks ago. The condition isn't getting any worse, but it is possible that he sees additional days off over the final months of the season.
- As expected, Ramon Hernandez scheduled surgery for his injured left wrist on Friday. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks of action. That means that Robert Fick and Phil Nevin (that's right, he's back behind the dish) will split catching duties in his absence. For Nevin, the shift back behind the plate fills an obvious need with the loss of Hernandez, but the timing is ironic, given his rejection of a deal to the Orioles. Either way, the addition of catcher eligibility in the next 1-2 weeks will give him significantly more fantasy value.
- Placido Polanco was activated from the DL by the Tigers on Wednesday after missing time due to a strained left hamstring tendon. The Tigers optioned outfielder Curtis Granderson (.318 with two HR and four RBIs in six games) to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Polanco.
- The Astros put starter Brandon Backe on the DL with a strained muscle near his rib cage. He's expected to miss 2-4 weeks. This puts the Astros in the market for pitching help as the deadline nears.
- Kerry Wood is scheduled to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder to clean up rotator cuff fraying. There's no timetable on his return, but the latest injury has renewed speculation that Wood will be looking at a bullpen stay once he does.
- Ted Lilly, a winner of five of his past seven decisions, will likely be placed on the DL with biceps tendonitis. He left Sunday's start with discomfort after four innings.
- Trot Nixon went on the 15-day DL with a strained muscle in his side incurred while swinging at a pitch on Tuesday. That opens the door to Kevin Millar for more playing time in the outfield.
- Troy Glaus returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing two games with back spasms. He went 0-for-3 and scored a run in Wednesday's victory. Always keep a close eye on Glaus when news about his back hits the wires.
- Roy Halladay threw Tuesday for the first time since sustaining a broken tibia off a line drive July 8th. He's eyeing next weekend's series against the Yankees for his return.
- The Yankees continue to struggle with health concerns in the starting rotation. Kevin Brown was scratched from his scheduled start on Thursday due to back problems. Aaron Small took his turn in the rotation.
- Travis Hafner, unable to shake the dizziness from the concussion sustained July 16th against Chicago, went on the DL Tuesday after missing nine games. The retroactive move means he'll be eligible to return for a three-game series against the Yankees next Tuesday.
- The Braves were excited to have Mike Hampton come off of the DL, but he was shelved after just one start. He suffered a strained lower back and will miss the next 2-3 weeks.
- Larry Walker hit the DL with a recurring neck injury, diagnosed as a herniated disc. Once his ankle issues clear, rookie John Rodriguez (.364 with two HR, three RBIs since being recalled from the minors) is expected to fill in for Walker in the outfield.
- Scott Kazmir, SP, TB: Kazmir and the Devil Rays head to Kansas City for a weekend series. He'll take the mound on Thursday night with a two-game winning streak. Amazingly, he's surrendered more walks than hits in those two starts (9-7). Kazmir also struck out 14 and allowed just one earned run in 13 innings of work. Owners are picking him up for this start in anticipation of a big outing against a Royals team that ranks second to last in runs scored in the American League. Royals hitters also average a shade more than six strikeouts per game.
- Lyle Overbay, 1B, Mil: Overbay has hit safely in 22 of his past 24 games, raising his average 35 points during that stretch. He's hitting a ridiculous .390 during the month of July with five homers and 19 RBIs, yet somehow remains available for acquisition in a number of leagues. Check your waiver wire.
- Jhonny Peralta, SS, Cle: The Indians' willingness to part ways with long-time slick fielding SS Omar Vizquel becomes clearer by the day. Peralta, the International League MVP in 2004, continues to crush the ball in July. He's hitting .321 for the month after an 0-for-5 performance on Wednesday, but his 14 homers on the season rank fourth among shortstops behind only Miguel Tejada, Felipe Lopez and Michael Young. Believe it or not, this guy is still lurking on the waiver wire in a good number of leagues.
- Gustavo Chacin, SP, Tor: With a huge effort against the Angels on Wednesday, Chacin reached double-digit victories. He pitched eight innings of shutout ball, allowing six hits and lowered his ERA to a solid 3.45.
- Mike Sweeney, 1B, Kan: Sweeney's two-homer, five-RBI performance caught the eyes of fantasy owners needing some pop in the lineup. Naturally, Sweeney is always the subject of trade debate as the deadline approaches, and he certainly showed his wares on Wednesday. Sweeney has been locked in during July, hitting .358 with four homers and 13 RBIs.
- Bill Hall, 2B/SS/3B, Mil: After two strong months in May and June, the wheels have come off for Hall in July. Though he's been a fair contributor to the RBI (10) and stolen base (3) columns, he's hitting a weak .194 this month with one home run. His slugging percentage sits at a poor .299 mark for the month.
- Dan Haren, SP, Oak: Despite a streak of 11 games without a loss (seven wins in that time), Haren is being jettisoned to the waiver wire by anxious fantasy owners. After reducing his ERA to 3.85 with his June 30th win over Seattle, Haren has seen his ERA rise to 4.26 with three no-decisions in his past four starts.
- Bret Boone, 2B, Min: Fantasy owners were fired up when Boone changed venues and joined the Twins. He's been a major disappointment, hitting just .170 with three RBIs since his arrival.
- Chris Young, SP, Tex: Young was outstanding through the end of June, giving the Rangers a solid second option in the rotation alongside Kenny Rogers. He's fallen on hard times in July, registering a record of 0-2 and horrific ERA (10.18) and WHIP (1.87) totals.
- Frank Thomas, DH, CWS: Thomas was returned to the DL with inflammation in his surgically repaired left ankle. He'll undergo a series of tests including a bone scan and will be re-evaluated in 2-3 weeks. Owners were looking for a continuation of the power surge experienced since his return, with 12 homers in 34 games. The possibility that Thomas may be forced to miss the remainder of the season has fueled speculation that Aubrey Huff will join the Sox in exchange for Damaso Marte and Brandon McCarthy.
PICKUP OF THE WEEK
Conor Jackson, Ari, 1B/OF
Missed out on Jeff Francoeur? Here's the next in the line of callups expected to make an immediate impact. Jackson was hitting .354 at Triple-A Tucson with 38 doubles, eight homers and 73 RBIs in 93 games. Jackson joined the team in Chicago on Thursday.
DROP OF THE WEEK
Bruce Chen, Bal, SP/RP
Chen has been roughed up in his past two outings, having allowed 11 earned runs and 17 hits in his 8.1 innings of work. He ERA rose by over half a run in those two starts.
HOT AND COLD
Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Tex: Matthews has been on fire over the past seven day. "Son of Sarge" hit .370 with three home runs and nine RBIs, and has hit safely in seven of his last eight games. With Laynce Nix on the shelf for the rest of the season following shoulder surgery, Matthews will get at-bats for the remainder of the season.
Olmedo Saenz, 1B/3B, LAD: The veteran Saenz is riding a hot streak at a time when Jim Tracy and company need it most. Saenz has hit three home runs and knocked in seven runs over the past four days. His .299 batting average, 10 homers and 40 RBIs rank alongside many everyday 3B, including Joe Crede, Mike Lowell, Aaron Boone, David Bell and Vinny Castilla.
Kyle Farnsworth, RP, Det: Farnsworth's got a pending suspension hanging over his head, but no matter, because Farnsworth has been outstanding since taking over for the injured Troy Percival. He's saved five games in his past six outings and has allowed zero earned runs in those situations.
Jake Westbrook, SP, Cle: Westbrook is back in the good graces of fantasy owners with two straight brilliant outings. In his past two starts, he's pitched 14 shutout innings and picked up two wins. With Seattle on tap for the weekend, Westbrook stands a good chance to make it three in a row.
Juan Encarnacion, OF, Fla: Encarnacion continues to scald the ball for the Marlins. He's hit four homers and knocked in 13 runs over his past 10 games. During that stretch, he's raised his batting average 10 points and hit safely in eight of 10 contests.
Eric Byrnes, OF, Col: Easy come, easy go. Last week, owners were hot on his trail after the deal that sent him to Colorado. This past week, he's hit .095 (2-for-21) with just one RBI and a single steal. Perhaps this weekend's four-game set against Philadelphia at home is just what he needs.
Pat Burrell, OF, Phi: Burrell is mired in a 4-for-24 funk and has driven in just one run in his past 10 games.
Khalil Greene, SS, SD: The Padres have hit the skids and their much-heralded young shortstop has been in a funk over the past week. He's got one hit in his past 19 at-bats and left 13 runners on-base in those six games.
Jeff Weaver, SP, LAD: Weaver was battered about in his past two starts against Cincinnati and New York. He allowed 17 hits and 11 earned runs over 12.2 innings of work. Weaver had seemingly put it together with a nice set of starts in June, where he owned an ERA of 2.61. The ERA and WHIP totals have gone the other way in the past couple outings.
Aaron Hill, 3B, Tor: It's been a rough stretch for the young Blue Jays 3B. Hill has recorded just two hits in his past 27 at-bats and will likely lose some at-bats to Corey Koskie, who was activated from the DL on Tuesday.
Kris Benson, NYM, SP
Why he's being dealt: Benson has been lights out in July, recording a miniscule 2.06 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. But, he's only got a record of 1-1 to show for it. Owners are selling on the assumption that he'll slip a bit and will continue to see little run support. Buyers are banking that the bats will match the arm down the stretch.
What you're getting: Many of the trades involving Benson this past week have been straight up deals. He's been shipped for Jim Edmonds, Chad Tracy, Luis Castillo and Shea Hillenbrand, among others. The market is all over the place, so aim high.
Aubrey Huff, TB, 1B/3B/OF
Why he's being dealt: Huff is rumored to be on the move, perhaps to the White Sox with the recent injury to Frank Thomas. Buyers are hoping that a shift to a contender will help prompt his usual second-half surge.
What you're getting: Recent straight up deals for Huff have returned breakout star Brian Roberts, closer Todd Jones and Nationals outfielder Preston Wilson. In package deals, Huff is usually paired with a closer (Dustin Hermanson, Bob Wickman, Mike MacDougal) in exchange for a power producer such as Vladimir Guerrero or Lance Berkman.
Zach Duke, Pit, SP
Why he's being dealt: Owners who scooped him up on the waiver wire aren't deluding themselves that the scoreless streak will last forever. And given the Pittsburgh offense, he'll need to be near-perfect to haul in Wins. Current buyers will take the dominance in the other three categories, even if the wins don't follow.
What you're getting: Duke has been dealt straight up for fellow starters Erik Bedard, Dontrelle Willis and the pre-injury Kerry Wood. In package deals, he's being paired with hitters such as Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Beltran to return closers in the vein of Chad Cordero or Billy Wagner and starters such as Roger Clemens and current Red Sox closer Curt Schilling.
Eddie Guardado, Sea, RP
Why he's being dealt: Current owners are finding buyers for him now, as the trade winds whisper that he'll end up as a setup man for a contender.
What you're getting: Recent deals for Guardado returned Juan Encarnacion, Luis Gonzalez, Julio Lugo and Paul Konerko. In package deals, Guardado has been packaged with starters such as Josh Beckett or Brad Penny in exchange for speed (Scott Podsednik) or power (Ken Griffey Jr.).
Coors Field Factor:
The Phillies come to Coors for a four-game weekend set beginning Thursday night before the Rockies hit the road for a week. Twenty-two year old righty Robinson Tejeda, who pitched six scoreless innings in his last start against San Diego, will take on Byung-Hyun Kim in the series opener.
- Faced with a 10-game stretch in which he's driven in only one run, Pat Burrell will be happy to hit at Coors. He's a career .352 hitter at the ballpark, with four homers and 15 RBIs in 14 games played.
- Bobby Abreu hits well everywhere, but his .362 lifetime mark at Coors warrants mentioning. He's clubbed 15 extra-base hits in 26 games with seven home runs and 17 RBIs.
- Kenny Lofton, who has been in a funk of late, could also use the trip to revitalize the bat. Lofton holds a career .378 mark at Coors in his nine games played.
- We've seen him hit a couple monster shots playing in place of Jim Thome, now Ryan Howard gets his first crack at the Rocky Mountain air.
- Finally, though he hasn't found his power stroke, Matt Holliday is battling Garrett Atkins for the team batting average lead at Coors (Atkins leads .377 to .370). Hey, there needs to be some type of competition!
The Rangers complete a four-game trip to Baltimore on Thursday night. After that, they'll hit Toronto for three games before welcoming in Tampa Bay next week.
- There's not a ton of pop coming into Ameriquest for this series, as Jorge Cantu leads the D-Rays with just 15 homers. He's played only three games in Arlington, hitting .250 with one double and one RBI in 12 at-bats.
- Carl Crawford has struggled in this normally friendly environment, hitting just .212 with zero homers and five extra-base hits in 52 at-bats. His OBP in Arlington is just .293.
- Aubrey Huff, provided he doesn't get dealt before the journey, has a mediocre .271 average in 70 career at-bats in Arlington. He's hit four home runs and driven in eight runs.
Matchups to watch:
- One of two "sure" things in the Yankees rotation, Mike Mussina will take the hill on Friday against the Angels and Ervin Santana. Mussina has won his past two outings, allowing one earned run over 12.1 innings while striking out 11 hitters. He defeated Jarrod Washburn and the Angels in his last start. Though he wasn't spectacular (three earned runs in five innings), Santana earned a victory over the Yankees last weekend.
- Rich Harden, winner of six of his past seven starts, will face Detroit and unbeaten Sean Douglass. Douglass has allowed more than one earned run in just one of his five starts. Since coming off of the disabled list, Harden owns a record of 6-1 with an ERA of 1.77. His surging teammate, Barry Zito, will look to win his seventh straight start when he faces the Tigers on Saturday.
- Will he stay or will he go? Jason Schmidt, prominent in current trade rumors, is scheduled to start for the Giants on Saturday against Ben Sheets and the Brewers in a potential pitcher's duel. Schmidt has pitched well in his past four outings, but a lack of run support yielded a record of 1-1 and two no-decisions. Chicago White Sox scouts and GM Kenny Williams have spent ample time scouting Schmidt in his past couple outings. As for Sheets, he's also been bitten by a lack of support but has claimed three victories in his past five outings. Both hurlers have found their strikeout groove, which should make this a fun battle to watch.
- John Smoltz goes for his eighth straight win when he toes the rubber against Josh Fogg and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It will mark his first start against the Pirates this season. Smoltz has pitched at least six innings in 12 straight starts. It's not Mark Buehrle's 49 straight, but you have to start somewhere.
IT'S A FACT
Ryan Freel swiped five bases on Wednesday night to tie a club record. He now has 28 for the season, which ranks seventh in the Major Leagues. Freel has stolen three or more bases in four contests this year. Scott Podsednik of the White Sox, who leads the Majors with 51 stolen bases, has also achieved that distinction.