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MLB Skinny: Christmas in July

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: As noted in last week's Skinny, the demise of Burgos transpired this week as MacDougal was officially activated from the DL on Wednesday. Manager Buddy Bell wasted no time in working him back into the closer role, noting, "I've talked to him, and he said he's ready to go. So we'll make Burgos our main setup guy and adjust everyone else from there." Earning a three-out save against Detroit on Sunday, MacDougal will remain the primary option over the rest of the year. Expect 8-12 saves and adequate strikeout totals, making him a trustworthy No. 3 reliever.
ATLANTA BRAVES HOT
1st Chair: Ken Ray
2nd Chair: Jorge Sosa
Skinny: Just when you thought Bobby Cox's blood pressure couldn't get any higher, Sosa blew his third save in his past five chances allowing three earned and three walks in a wild 11-inning clash with the Padres on Friday. Consider his recent debacle the final nail in the coffin for the beleaguered former starter. The antithesis of Sosa, Ray has not allowed an earned run since June 28th and should soon be well entrenched in the closer's role. Still available in 80 percent of Yahoo! leagues, pick him up as a No. 3 stopper.
MILWAUKEE BREWERS WARM
1st Chair: Derrick Turnbow
2nd Chair: Brian Shouse
Skinny: Turnbow is a mangy, filthy Old English sheepdog in need of a Queer Eye makeover and improved arm mechanics. Blowing his seventh save of the season on July 14th, the All-Star reliever has fallen on hard times going 0-for-3 in save opportunities this month. Allowing a disgraceful nine earned runs in his past two innings, his once fortified role is turning ominous. If walks continue to linger – he has seven free passes in his past 4.2 IP – Brian Shouse could steal away a handful of chances. Luckily for Turnbow, the Brewers have no other true closer types in their bullpen and would have to turn to the trade market for help. For now, consider his job safe, but you might want to explore back-up options just in case.
CLEVELAND INDIANS WARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Fausto Carmona
Skinny: Along with Sidney Ponson and Bartolo Colon, Wickman is destined to do Lipitor commercials after baseball. With the Indians fading, Wickman's name has been whispered by general managers as a potential trade acquisition. If a deal is penned, local reports out of Cleveland have Fausto Carmona as the replacement frontrunner. Recently, manager Eric Wedge had glowing comments about Carmona's development, stating, "You look at his intensity and focus. You can see it on the mound or in the dugout. You combine that with his stuff, and he has the toughness to go with that." Converting on 11 of 14 save chances this season, Wickman will continue to close if he remains in the Rock N' Roll City. For now, keep Carmona in your back pocket.
HOUSTON ASTROS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Brad Lidge
2nd Chair: Dan Wheeler
Skinny: One of the elite stoppers on many draft day cheat sheets, Lidge has been a bullpen Darth Vader. In five July appearances, he has a depressing 8.65 ERA, a blown save and a loss. Do you think he still has nightmares about Albert Pujols? Phil Garner has expressed his frustrations with the bullpen, saying, "I'm disappointed at times in our intensity level and our ability to close things out." Given a temporary break earlier this season to work out some kinks, Lidge will remain the go-to option in the ninth despite allowing 23 walks in 43 innings. If his play continues to sour, the Astros could explore options for additional bullpen help via the trade market. Due to his recent plunge, consider buying low in deeper leagues if you're barely keeping your head above water in saves.
This time each year fantasy players across the country don a red fur suit, shake their beer-filled bowls of jelly and prance insanely around neighborhoods in 95 degree heat in search of toy-making elves. Why the loony behavior? It's Christmas in July.

This is the month when fantasy baseball "only" addicts hope to fill their stockings with a bulldog closer capable of double-digit saves and a power-hitting corner-infielder with a .300 average. Fast and furious trade rumors about Dontrelle Willis, Alfonso Soriano, Javier Vazquez, Greg Maddux, and Jason Schmidt have filled the dreams of many in fantasyland hoping to outspend their opponents for the missing piece to the championship puzzle. With Eddie Guardado, Jeff Weaver and Aubrey Huff switching leagues, many NL-only leaguers have maxed out their FAAB credit cards on the one guy they believe can pull them out of categorical debt. Relatively uneventful over the past couple of seasons, the trade deadline should boom this year with five major deals already in the books. Expect many presents to find a place under your league's free agent tree. Happy shopping! Here are the news and notes that hit a granny over the weekend:

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

  • After two major trades spruced up a usually cricket-quiet week in baseball, you have to wonder, who's next? According to Phillies' general manager Pat Gillick, the City of Brotherly Love has their arms wide-open for potential suitors. Outfielders Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell are likely to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by the end of July. Published reports have said the Mets and, surprise, Yankees have both expressed heavy interest in acquiring Abreu. Gillick is giving his club two weeks to turn things around before the axe gets dropped. Currently 12 games behind the Mets in the NL East and 5.5 out in the wild card race, the blade is grinding against the sharpening stone.

In this week's edition of "As the Fantasy World Turns," the once prodigious Abreu could make his NL-only supporters feel like scorned lovers. Yankees' Daddy Warbucks George Steinbrenner has openly commented that he "likes Bobby Abreu" and is antsy to make a move, stating, "We'll see what we get." A staple first rounder in many fantasy drafts over the past three seasons, the Philadelphia right-fielder has lost a great deal of power, hitting a mere 14 homers since last season's home run derby explosion. Despite the downturn, he is still on pace to eclipse 30 steals for the fifth time in his past six seasons and is hitting a beefy .303 since June 1st. Presumably, if Abreu found a way into either New York dugout, expect his RBI totals to rise in a lineup full of table-setters. NL-only owners might want to take a chance and purchase Abreu at a clearance rate from an opponent scared about his potential departure to the AL. Stay tuned.

  • Call it luck or fate, Arizona super power-hitting prospect Stephen Drew will showcase his wares as the everyday shortstop for at least the next three-to-six weeks. On Friday, Craig Counsell fractured a rib, opening the door for the 15th overall pick from the 2004 draft. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin commented, "He's going to play. We wouldn't have him here if he wasn't going to be an everyday player. He'll get certain days off, but he's the shortstop right now." Drew went 0-for-3 with a walk hitting in the eighth spot in his debut against Milwaukee on Saturday.

Every time I hear Stephen Drew's name, an awestruck gaze overtakes my face as Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" plays in the background. With a nearly flawless swing, he is a future middle-of-the order producer who can hit for average and rack 20-25 homers with his all-fields power. Prior to his promotion, he posted Triple-A All-Star worthy numbers batting .284 with 13 homers, 51 RBIs and a splendid 50:33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 342 at-bats. For those Felipe Lopez owners concerned about the move to RFK, pluck Drew off the wire as insurance. If he plays well, Counsell will be a Wally Pipp. Available in a mind-blowing 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues, find a roster spot promptly in 12-team and deeper leagues.

  • Update on injury news and notes: Tough luck Twins center fielder Torii Hunter was placed on the 15-day DL on Sunday with a stress fracture in his right foot. He broke his ankle on the same foot last season. Normally this type of injury takes 6-8 weeks for a full recovery, but Twins physician John Steubs said "has already showed signs of healing." Scrappy vet Jason Tyner and Nick Punto will see additional at-bats in his absence over the next two-to-three weeks … Milwaukee No. 1 starter Ben Sheets is inching his way back to the bigs after an 87-pitch rehab start in the Arizona rookie league. Sheets added, "The curveball was really good. Everything was good. I've been feeling pretty good for a while. It's just getting the work in now." The oft-injured righty is expected to make one more rehab start on Wednesday with Triple-A Nashville before returning to the Brewers on July 24th … Slumping corner man Morgan Ensberg was placed on the 15-day DL on July 14th with a sore right shoulder. Astros general manager Tim Purpura stated, "It's something that hasn't healed to the point he could feel comfortable. He just hasn't made the progress we all thought he would. You've got to step back and find out what's going on." Ensberg injured the shoulder on June 9th while diving for a foul ball. Hitting .150 with only one homer since the injury, the presence of Aubrey Huff reduces his value tremendously until he can prove 100 percent … Recovering from a serious staph infection, no timetable has been set for the return of breakout Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios. "It's still really hard to say," manager John Gibbons said. "The way he looks now I'd say he's at least a week away from going out on a rehab assignment and getting into some games. We'd ease him into it and maybe have him DH for the first couple of games before putting him back in the field." Keep buying low. But be thankful if he's playing everyday by early August … Eric Chavez missed his fourth straight game on Sunday due to lingering forearm tendonitis. The A's third baseman commented, "Over the break, I felt terrible. On Sunday, it felt great. I don't know. I'm just going to do what they tell me to do, if they give me days off or if I play." A's assistant GM David Frost does not anticipate his third basemen to log DL time anytime soon. Comparable to teammate Justin Duchscherer's bout with tendonitis that sidelined him for six weeks earlier this season, its possible this could be a lingering problem for several more days. Frustrated owners need to install a backup plan … Constantly crippled Nationals starter John Patterson was placed on the 15-day DL on Friday with a right forearm strain. Washington GM Jim Bowden added a bleak prognosis stating, "We've done everything we can from a rehabilitation perspective, and now we just need to do more tests to see if possible surgery would solve it, or if there's any other thing we are not doing that we could do to get him back on track faster." It sounds more and more like Patterson is headed for the slaughterhouse. Drop him in shallow leagues.

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

  • Scott Baker, Min, SP
    Labeled as the Emeril Lagasse of AL rookie pitchers by yours truly back in April, Baker totaled an anemic 6.06 ERA and 1.51 WHIP before his demotion in late May. Recalled last Wednesday from Triple-A Rochester, Baker is getting a second chance to prove why Ron Gardenhire chose him as the fifth starter over Francisco Liriano out of spring training. The 25-year-old righty possesses an intense mound presence, a good low-90s sinker and an effective slider. With a respectable 41:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 2.92 ERA in seven minor league starts, he could turn his renewed confidence into a profit in the second half as long as he can avoid serving up tater shots – he allowed 10 homers in nine starts with the Twins. Owned in less than 3 percent of Yahoo! leagues, feast on him in AL-only leagues and keep an eye on him in mixed formats due to his long-term ERA/WHIP upside.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Adam Jones, Sea, OF (ETA: Now)
    The baseball version of Pacman, Jones is a feisty, athletic outfielder very similar to former Mariner Mike Cameron, but without the .220 batting average. Equipped with a cannon arm, fleet feet and plus power, he is a future 20/20 player. Showing much improved plate discipline, striking out just once every seven at-bats over the last month, the Mariners feel he is a better option than Willie Bloomquist in center with Jeremy Reed sidelined until at least mid-September. The top hitting prospect in the Seattle system, Jones hit .277 with 13 homers, 56 RBI and 14 steals in 332 at-bats at Triple-A Tacoma. Hitting a robust .376 since June 14th – including a Pacific Coast League-high 20 game hit-streak – Jones is a dynamite 20-year-old prospect that should be gobbled up in all AL-only, keeper and very deep mixed leagues. Unsuccessful in his first stolen base attempt on July 14th, he should be a trustworthy source of double-digit steals and 4-6 homers over the remainder of the season.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Josh Barfield, SD, 2B – Scorching in July with eight multi-hit games, Barfield has the highest BA (.428) among two-baggers over the past three weeks. On pace for 20 steals, he is a borderline top 10 second baseman. Unbelievably he is still available in 93 percent of Yahoo! leagues. What are you waiting for?

Matt Morris, SF, SF – Morris has purred since late May, notching eight quality starts in his past nine. He will quietly continue to be a dependable No. 4 starter in 12-team leagues.

Mark Teixeira, Tex, 1B – That train that just rolled by was the Big Tex discount express. After obliterating the Orioles for a three home run, seven RBI effort on July 13th, say hasta la vista at your chances of buying low. Expect second half totals around: .300 BA, 20 HR, 65 RBI.

Chris Denorfia, Cin, OF – Getting a chance to shine as a semi-permanent lead-off man and right-fielder, Denorfia is a .300 hitter with double-digit power. NL-only players in red-alert mode should trust him as a No. 5 outfielder.

Kevin Mench, Tex, OF – Unable to hit the broadside of a barn batting an awful .147 BA in July, Mench's mojo is risin' after Rangers manager Buck Showalter said he will play everyday at DH over the rest of the season. His value will never be lower. Wrap your hands around the biggest melon in baseball in 12-team and larger formats.

Howie Kendrick, 2B/3B, LAA – Played like "Howard the Duck" in a 3-for-26 tryout earlier this year, super middle-infield prospect Kendrick is back and will quack all the way to the bank over the remainder of the year. Batting a sick .366 in 290 Triple-A at-bats and going 3-for-4 with 2 RBI on Sunday, Adam Kennedy will soon be forgotten. Grab him in all leagues 12-teams and deeper as a batting average and speed buy.

Jason Tyner, OF, Min – Injuries have made the Twinkies outfield a walking infirmary, allowing Tyner to gain at-bats. Going 6-for-12 with five RBI in his first three starts, he is a great short-term batting average and speed solution in AL-only and Grand Canyon-deep mixed leagues.

Sidney Ponson, NYY, SP – If you're purposely trying to tank your lead in an AL-only league, by all means, give the beluga whale a roster spot. He has a 5.64 ERA since 2004 in the AL.

Dan Johnson, Oak, 1B – The bar was set high for DJ this year, but in a 5-for-36 slump, the A's optioned him to Triple-A on Friday hoping to see more consistency. With a 35:33 K:BB ratio, his future is still very bright. Expect him to return to the A's sometime in late August.

Mark Buehrle, ChW, SP – Battered and bruised giving up a staggering 22 earned in his past 14.1 IP, Buehrle is a great bargain buy right now. In his career, he has a respectable 3.82 ERA and 1.25 WHIP after the break. Rob the opposition blind.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
The backlog of teams fighting for position way behind RotoWire_Liss continues. Liss' lead is nearly at 30 points over currently second-place KFFL-Anderson. Added players for the past few days include, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Floyd, Stephen Drew and Casey Blake. And for the third straight week, a trade was executed, with RotoWire_liss sending Dave Roberts and Shawn Green to the consttantly tinkering FantasyGuru-Pianowski for Ryan Freel.

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