Hold onto your saddle. July is going to be a jean-splitting transactions bull ride.
Illuminating an otherwise black hole on the sports calendar – the day after the All-Star game – the Astros acquired versatile power-hitter Aubrey Huff from Tampa Bay for minor leaguer pitcher Mitch Talbot and infielder Ben Zobrist. Rumored to be on the trading block since the days when Oliver Perez had a career, Huff commented after the deal, "It's relieving, especially this year. I've known it's been coming pretty much. It's good to get it over with." Going 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in his Astros debut, it appears a major weight has been lifted off of Huff's shoulders. Watch out.
From a fantasy perspective, Huff's value skyrockets to the moon. One of the hottest hitters in the majors, batting a scorching .386 with six homers and 21 RBI since June 1st, he should benefit greatly in a park that has yielded the seventh-most homers this season. Averaging a stout .306 BA, 15 homers and 52 RBI after the break over the last three seasons, Huff should easily match or exceed his second half averages hitting in the fifth spot behind NL RBI leader Lance Berkman. Although just the beginning of the trading barrage, NL-only leaguers should consider blowing a significant chunk, if not all, of their remaining FAAB cash for his services.
A couple of other Astros are also greatly impacted by his acquisition. Mired in a deplorable 4-for-28 slump and hitting a pathetic .205 on the year, former top prospect Jason Lane was demoted to Triple-A Round Rock. Lane has been a terrible disappointment this season and should be thrown overboard in all mixed leagues.
Meanwhile, Morgan Ensberg could take a significant value hit once he returns from a bruised shoulder around July 25th. En fuego out of the gate, Ensberg is just 13 for his past 80 with two homers and eight RBIs. With Mike Lamb leaping fences, its likely Huff will take away a substantial amount of playing time from the downtrodden Ensberg at third. However, if the troubled corner man were to snap out of his slump, Huff would see action at the corner outfield positions and at first on a consistent basis. Shallow mixed leagues that do not have the benefit of a DL slot may want to consider pushing the eject button on Ensberg in favor of an upstart like Ryan Zimmerman.
In Tampa, future star B.J. Upton will be moved from short to third at Triple-A Durham to get familiar with the position again, perhaps trotting out everyday to the hot corner for the big league club by the end of July. D-Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said, "It's hard to place a specific timetable on Upton's call-up, It could be two weeks, could be longer, it's hard to say." Leading the International League with 37 steals and sporting a sensational 69:54 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Upton will fill a need for speed at a position thin on stolen base producers – only Chone Figgins and David Wright have more than 10 steals. Possibly the brightest infield prospect in baseball, Upton is well worth the wait. While the youngster refines his defense, Ty Wigginton will temporarily slide to third with Travis Lee netting a boost in PT at first.
The second ground-shaking trade that went down on Thursday was between the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals. The eight-player deal sent outfielder Austin Kearns, shortstop Felipe Lopez and former future closer Ryan Wagner to D.C. for relief pitchers Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, sure-handed shortstop Royce Clayton, infielder Brendan Harris and starting pitching prospect Daryl Thompson. Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky commented, "We paid a steep price. I'm sure this will be a controversial trade. I know a lot of people will be leaving nasty messages on my voicemail, and I'll have some who think it's great." No kidding. With the Reds bullpen still in dire need of arms, this was a move that exemplifies the difference between fantasy and reality.
For the Big Red Machine, this deal alleviates playing time headaches for some. Utility speed racer Ryan Freel should see an initial increase in action splitting time with recently recalled outfielder Chris Denorfia in right and at third with rookie Edwin Encarnacion. If he can log four to five starts per week, he will be a useful source of runs and stolen bases for 12-team and deeper owners. Denorfia is an exceptional prospect who was hitting .347 with four homers, 34 RBI and 14 steals in 262 at-bats at Triple-A Louisville. He is worth watching in deep leagues and someone to grab in NL-only formats as a fifth outfielder or utility player.
In the nation's capital, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez go from the Great American bandbox to the long-ball torture factory, RFK Stadium. Ranked 26th in the bigs in runs and 23rd in batting average, to say the Nationals' bats have struggled is an understatement. Although improving a miserable offense, expect Kearns and Lopez to see a major decline in homers, RBI and runs wearing the red, white and blue. Lopez might see a small spike in steals, but with only one swipe since June 23rd he will need to get more aggressive on the basepaths. Sell both players down the river to a gullible owner who believes that ballpark effects are overrated.
Ultimately, the trade paves the way for Alfonso Soriano or Jose Guillen to find a plane ticket out of D.C. by the deadline. Rumors are swirling that Soriano could be heading to either Los Angeles team or return to the axis of evil in New York. Look for a deal to get done for one of the Washington outfielders shortly.