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MLB Skinny: After Aaron

CLOSER HOT SEAT
BALTIMORE ORIOLES RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nt Chair: Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford
Injured: Chris Ray
Skinny: Baez has taken over closing duties in Baltimore. He struggled mightily in the first half of the season before landing on the DL for a month with a forearm injury. He's been solid since his return, though, posting a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 IP. Walker did an excellent job as the bridge between the injured Ray and the rehabilitated Baez, but the job seems to clearly belong with Baez now. He has his health back, and he has experience (112 career saves).
TEXAS RANGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: C.J. Wilson, Joaquin Benoit
Injured: Akinori Otsuka
Skinny: Wilson and Benoit are expected to share closing duties in the post-Eric Gagne trade/pre-Otsuka return from injury era. But, so far, Wilson has picked up the first two opportunities. Otsuka is probably at least two weeks from a return, so the two-headed closing contingent should be good for a handful of saves. Despite Wilson's two saves, if I had to pick up one of them, I'd go with Benoit.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Al Reyes
2nd Chair: Dan Wheeler
Skinny: Reyes remains in the closer role after not being dealt prior to the trade deadline. He could still clear waivers and move to another team. If that were to happen, Wheeler would likely inherit the ninth inning duties. However, the team has recorded just two saves since Reyes closed the door on the Dodgers back on June 23. Whatever happens here, it's not likely to make a major impact in fantasy leagues.
ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Octavio Dotel, Rafael Soriano
Skinny: Wickman, who has blown five saves, is on a short leash. The team added Dotel at the trade deadline, giving the Braves three viable closing candidates in Wickman, Dotel and Soriano. Wickman has allowed just one run in his past 9.1, so he's safe for now. But if he starts to falter again, the postseason-contending Braves won't hesitate to make a move.
OAKLAND A'S HOT
1st Chair: Alan Embree
2nd Chair: Huston Street
Skinny: I said last week that it wouldn't be surprising if Embree retained his hold on the closer role for at least another week. He's done just that. Street has yet to be used in a save situation since his return from the DL. He's put together three straight outings without allowing a run, though, and he'll probably find his way into a save situation by the upcoming weekend series, or sometime shortly thereafter.
HOUSTON ASTROS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Lidge
2nd Chair: Chad Qualls, Brian Moehler
Skinny: After closing out six straight opportunities, Lidge has a blown save and has allowed five earned runs in his past two outings (2.2 IP). Obviously, he needs to be watched carefully, but with Dan Wheeler now in Tampa Bay, Houston is obviously making a strong commitment to Lidge. His leash is as long as it has been in a while.
COLORADO ROCKIES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Manny Corpas
2nd Chair: Jorge Julio, Jeremy Affeldt
Injured: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: Corpas remains a revelation in the closer role for the injured Fuentes in Colorado. He's eight-for-eight in save chances, his ERA is below 1.00 post All-Star break and he's walked just two batters in his past 14 outings. Forget about Fuentes' chances of returning to end-game duties in '07. Corpas has taken this job and is not looking back.
Pedro Martinez and I have a few things in common, apparently. We're both in our mid-30s and we're both about to embark on a rehab assignment. Mine is self-imposed, coming off two trips to Las Vegas in the past two weeks with a wedding of one of my best friends in the world sandwiched in between. So, while my rehab stint will consist of nothing stronger than Gatorade, Martinez's rehab will feature roughly 45 full-speed pitches Wednesday for the Single-A St. Lucie Mets (they face the Brevard County Manatees, if it matters). For Martinez, it's a major step in a return from shoulder surgery last October. If all goes well, he could be pitching in New York, and in fantasy leagues, come September. Ironically, I have another trip to Las Vegas scheduled in September … Alright, let's take a look at what went down on the diamond this past weekend:

WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days

  • So Barry Bonds is about to make history with the launching of his 756th career home run, breaking the MLB mark set by Hank Aaron. Whatever. I'm not going to get into the morality behind this whole deal. Those who have major issues with Bonds breaking the record (and, frankly, that's most everyone outside the Bay area) can take solace in the fact that Alex Rodriguez should take his crown in roughly six or seven seasons from now. Records were meant to be broken, and not always by better men – by "better men," I'm only referring to the traits that make up a "decent" human being.

Personally, though, I wonder what happens in the next week after Bonds breaks the record. The Giants are 14 games out of the division race. They're done from a postseason standpoint. And they're probably done with Bonds after this season. They have young outfielders in Fred Lewis and minor leaguers Dan Ortmeier and Nate Schierholtz that should probably be given an every-day shot, at least for the remainder of an inconsequential season. Regular outfielders Randy Winn, Dave Roberts and Bonds have a combined age of 37 years old. Perhaps no member of the Lewis, Ortmeier, Schierholtz contingent will wind up being an answer for the future, but at least we already know that Winn, Roberts and Bonds are definitely not the future. So, with a big, revenue-driving record out of the way, San Francisco fans and management might start focusing on more important things, like the fact that their ridiculously old team stinks. There's a decent chance that Bonds' playing time is about to decrease even more dramatically than it already has.

Looking at the latest one-for-one deals in Yahoo! leagues, Bonds has been recently dealt straight up for the likes of Brandon Phillips, Mark Teixeira, Tim Hudson, Josh Beckett (well, Dontrelle Willis and Bonds for Beckett, but Willis is waiver-wire material). If I had the stomach to own Bonds, I'd be looking to find one of these types of deals quickly. There won't be much afterglow to bask in once the HR milestone has been achieved.

  • Alfonso Soriano landed on the DL Monday with a strained right quad. He pulled up lame on Sunday when he was trying to go from first to third on a single. Said teammate Mark DeRosa, "A lot of things go through your mind when one of your best players pulls up like that. It looked like he was in agony. Obviously someone has to step up. We have to come together and pick up the slack. Hope he gets back as soon as possible. I know it's going to be a while." Unofficially, Soriano is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Eric Patterson, brother of Corey, was called up to take Soriano's place on the roster. He's a second baseman but he's been familiarized with the outfield, so it's conceivable he could play both positions. How much he plays will probably depend on how he does out of the gate but, like his brother, he's a speedster who can make an impact in fantasy on the bases. The Cubs' No. 6 prospect coming into the season according to Baseball America, Patterson has stolen 105 bases in 368 career minor league contests. He's also hit .299 for his career, and has shown 15-HR pop. For now, he should offer intrigue to NL-only and deeper (14-plus teams) mixed-league owners. If he plays his way into the regular rotation and works his way into the upper part of the lineup, he obviously becomes much more interesting.
  • Notable Notes: Curt Schilling was activated from the DL and will start at the Los Angeles Angels Monday night … Kerry Wood pitched in a Major League game for the first time in over a year on Sunday – a scoreless inning of middle relief. He'll remain a middleman for the time being, and his impact in fantasy in '07 should be negligible … Josh Willingham was sidelined Sunday by the male equivalent of giving birth – kidney stones. Somehow, he's expected to be back in action Tuesday – he's a tougher man than I was when I was dealing with it several years ago. Be sure to drink more water, Josh … Hunter Pence (wrist) started hitting off a tee on Sunday in hopes of returning to Houston before the end of the month.

BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues

  • Chris B. Young, Ari, OF
    OK, so Young has been a human air conditioner of late (13 K in past 6 games), but he's also the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in HR (7) and SB (8) for the past month. The 45-percent owned rookie is soon to join the 20/20 club (19/17), but is hitting just .240 for the season – things have improved a bit post All-Star break (.264) Manager Bob Melvin likes Young in the leadoff spot, where his BA has showed some promise (.279). "He's more aware of what the task is as a leadoff hitter," Melvin said. Realistically, though, he's likely to remain a drag in Batting Average the rest of the way. He should, however, be a solid three-category (his 18 Runs in the past month also lands among the top 30) producer the rest of the way. Managers that are locked into their standing in Batting Average shouldn't fear this Snake.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Jay Bruce, Cin, OF (ETA – 2008)
    It's been a big week for prospect call-ups, as Adam Jones, Justin Upton and Eric Patterson have landed Major League assignments. So, you ask, who's the next big ticket item awaiting a call? The answer is Bruce, a consensus top 10 prospect coming into the season, according to the experts at Baseball America. With a combined 22 HR, 8 Triples and 38 Doubles between Single-, Double- and Triple-A this season, Bruce is the minor league leader with 68 XBH in 109 games. He's also hit over .300 at each stop. The lefty possesses quick hands, excellent bat speed and a sound swing that enables him to cover the plate and take outside pitches to the opposite field. He's only 20-years old and, for that reason, he might only get a taste of Major League pitching, if that, when rosters expand in September. But he's more than capable of making the Reds roster out of spring training next season. Now is not a bad time for fantasy owners to put this guy on their radar, because he's on the fast track.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Carl Crawford, TB, OF – A .591 BA, 3 HR and 3 SB this past week helped earn Crawford co-AL Player of the Week honors. He was also the top player in the Yahoo! game for that time period.

Robinson Cano, NYY, 2B – Cano shared AL POW hardware with Crawford, hitting .478 with 3 HR, 9 RBI and 9 R over the past seven days.

Ryan Zimmerman, Was, 3B – Zimmerman led the league in hits this past week (14) and was second to Garrett Atkins in RBI (11). His efforts earned him a share of NL POW honors with Brandon Webb.

Kelly Johnson, Atl, 2/O – Johnson concluded the past week with a .522 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI and 2 SB.

Pat Burrell, Phi, OF – "The Bat" tied Vladimir Guerrero for the lead in HR this past week (4). He also hit .417.

Gary Sheffield, Det, 1/O – A bum shoulder has curbed Shef's production of late. He's hitting just .083 in his past 10 games and sat out this past weekend's series. He won't go on the DL, but will instead try medication for the numbness in his shoulder.

Curtis Granderson, Det, OF – Shef isn't the only struggling Tiger. Baby Grand hit just .227 this past week. He entered the week as the AL's leader in XBH, but he failed to add to that total.

Brandon Inge, Det, 3B – Might as well pile on Detroit. It was a rough week for Inge, too. Inge was just 2-for-21 this past week (.095) and finished tied for fourth in the league with 9 K.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
Man, I took a beating from readers for taking Michael Young and Francisco Cordero – instead of Rafael Furcal and Erik Bedard – in exchange for Jose Reyes last week. Bedard's been ridiculously good for three months, and if he continues to perform at his current level, the negative feedback will be warranted. We'll just have to let time tell on this one. But enough about my sorry team. Team cordscords countered Team Bleach168's speed acquisition of Reyes by moving MLB XBH leader Dan Uggla (can you believe that) and C.C. Sabathia for Chone Figgins. The two teams are tied for second with 85.5 points and fighting with leader Team Minnesota MagicGoats (88 points) for the league supremacy. Team cordscords was the one that offered me Bedard. He has pitching to deal and I'm glad that he was able to find a SB weapon to match Bleach168 – someone suggested I was unfairly messing with the league outcome by trading with a top team despite having no shot myself. Of course, that wasn't the case. I firmly believe in a philosophy of playing things out to the end, which includes making deals that might give you a chance to finish someplace north of 11th place. After I made my deal, Team cordscords made the necessary counter move to stay in contention. All's fair in love and war – fantasy baseball is both.

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