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MLB Skinny: Deadline Nears

CLOSER HOT SEAT
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES RED HOT
1st Chair: Antonio Alfonseca
2nd Chair: Tom Gordon
Injured: Brett Myers
Skinny: Gordon (rotator cuff) was activated from the DL on Monday. He last worked in a Major League game back on May 1. Manager Charlie Manuel said that Gordon will be eased back into the mix in middle relief before he gets a shot at returning to end-game duty. Alfonseca blew two saves coming into the All-Star break and is not-for-long in the closer's role (maybe a week) – I actually cut him loose over the break. Myers' return from a shoulder injury is still looking like the end of July.
COLORADO ROCKIES RED HOT
1st Chair: Manny Corpas
2nd Chair: Jorge Julio, Jeremy Affeldt
Injured: Brian Fuentes
Skinny: As many correctly guessed, Corpas has emerged as manager Clint Hurdle's top replacement option for the struggling (and now injured) Fuentes. In his past 24.2 IP (24 appearances), Corpas is 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 20 K. He also handled both his save chances in that span, striking out the side in the ninth against the Phillies on the Saturday before the All-Star break and closing out the Pirates with ease on Monday. The odds still favor Fuentes reclaiming his post, but he's dealing with a strained muscle in his side and, if rehab continues to go well, he could return from the DL later this week.
HOUSTON ASTROS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: Lidge is back from the DL and very close to taking over closer duties again. He returned from his oblique injury on Friday, striking out two Cubs in a perfect seventh inning of a 6-0 loss. He followed that up with a perfect eighth inning on Monday in a 4-3 loss to Washington. There's talk that Lidge is coveted by several AL teams in trade talks but, if the Astros hang onto him, he'll likely soon replace Wheeler and his 5.56 ERA as the stopper. To his credit, Wheeler has been perfect over his past four outings, not allowing a walk or a run in a combined 5 IP.
OAKLAND A'S WARM
1st Chair: Alan Embree
Injured: Huston Street
Skinny: Street is about a week away from returning from the DL (ulnar nerve). He'll be working in the minors this week and should rejoin the A's sometime shortly after the weekend. Embree has been a solid replacement, saving 9-of-11 games in Street's absence, but he's headed back to a set-up role soon.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Brad Hennessey
2nd Chair: Vinnie Chulk? Kevin Correia? Randy Messenger?
Skinny: Only Minnesota and St. Louis have had fewer save opportunities than San Francisco. In fact, in June and July combined, the Giants have had just eight chances to save a game, lowest in the league for that span. So, while Hennessey's grip on the closer role remains tenuous, there is little of substance behind him in the bullpen and very little opportunities for those also-rans to strut their ninth inning stuff. On Saturday, Hennessey entered in the ninth inning of a tie game against the Dodgers and pitched two scoreless innings before reliever Patrick Misch gave up the game-winning run a couple innings later.
CHICAGO CUBS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Bobby Howry
2nd Chair: Carlos Marmol
Injured: Ryan Dempster
Skinny: Filling in for the injured Dempster, Howry is 2-0 with six saves in seven chances over his past 11 outings. We all still love Marmol and his electric stuff, but when it comes to making a bullpen call in the ninth inning, manager Lou Piniella has been clear as to who he prefers – despite an 0.88 ERA, Marmol has received just one save opportunity the entire year. Marmol has established himself as the closer of the future, but the temporary closer until Dempster returns from an oblique injury (expected this weekend) is obviously Howry.
I started the MLB Skinny season off by talking about how I would be on the hook for Nick Markakis, Mark Teahen and Howie Kendrick since I had hyped them incessantly during the preseason as "must-get" sleepers. Since we're just a little past the mid-point of the season, it's not a bad time to report on how my prognostics reputation is sitting. Markakis is sitting on a .288, 10 HR, 56 RBI, 50 R, 10 SB line. It's a little lighter in the power department than I hoped, but he currently sports a July OPS of 1.017. I'm convinced his best is yet to come – remember he hit .403 in July and 10 HR in August of '06. Teahen has been Markakis-lite to this point (.285, 10, 43, 47, 8). The lack of power is the biggest concern. Again, though, July and August were watershed months for Teahen in '06 (12 HR combined), so I'm not ready to concede a misfire here just yet. Finally, I have to take an incomplete for Kendrick. He's now on the DL for the second time because of a finger injury. He's played in just 51 of the team's 91 games because of the injury. He's a future star assuming these injury troubles don't stick.

The conclusion here is that to varying degrees these guys have been alright, but they're not carrying any fantasy owners right now – my place in the standings can attest to that. I have a feeling this is going to be a good month for Markakis and Teahen, though, so we'll check back in then. For now, let's take a look at what else is going on around the league.

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

Texas slugger Mark Teixeira returned from injury on Friday. He had been out for more than a month nursing his quad back to health. He brought his power bat with him in his return this weekend, going 4-for-12 against the Los Angeles Angels – all four hits went for extra bases (3 doubles, 1 HR). His active presence in the Rangers lineup is welcome relief for his fantasy owners. Teixeira is a .290 career hitter in the second half, with an accompanying .935 OPS. Last season he hit a combined 18 HR in August and September. His ability to make a dramatic offensive impact down the stretch will not be lost on potential suitors vying for his services before the July 31 trade deadline. Atlanta, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers are just some of the teams rumored to be interested in exploring a deal before the end of the month. With the deadline closing in, be sure to follow all the buzz on the Yahoo! MLB Rumors page.

  • Speaking of deadline deals, Oakland and the Cubs got things started with a swap of Jason Kendall for Rob Bowen, the same catcher who was sent to Chicago from San Diego for Michael Barrett. It's not such an interesting move for fantasy owners from the Kendall side of the equation – Kendall is what he is at this point, and that's not much. But the deal opens up an opportunity for Kurt Suzuki to be the team's full-time catcher. Suzuki was one of the A's top prospects entering the season. And, while he's not so supremely talented that you need only call him by his first name like we do with Ichiro, (Kurt) Suzuki is a typical Oakland "Moneyball" type. In his minor league career, he was near a 1:1 K-to-BB ratio. He doesn't have much power, but he hits the ball hard to all fields with a short, compact swing. Before long, he should settle in as a .280 hitter with 10-15 HR pop. It's an upgrade over Kendall. Fantasy owners in deep enough leagues that they are forced to employ Kendall should consider making the same switch that the A's did.
  • Notable Notes: Ichiro was beaned in the leg on Sunday by a Justin Verlander fastball (his owners only wish it was Kenny Rogers instead). It was thought Ichiro might miss a couple games, but he was in the M's lineup as a DH on Monday … John Smoltz's shoulder apparently feels great and he is expected to return from the DL and start for Atlanta on Wednesday against Cincinnati. That's welcome news for, well … me in particular … Slumping hot corner Eric Chavez was scratched from Monday's game because of a sore back. Remember when this guy actually got people excited on draft day? His star has fallen a long ways … Curt Schilling (shoulder) threw 31 pitches in a simulated game on Monday. He's expected to make two rehab starts for Triple-A Pawtucket before rejoining the Red Sox … Pedro Martinez (rotator cuff) has been progressing well in rehab. He's on target to start a minor league assignment at the end of the month with a mid-August return to the Mets looking good … Back to Mark Teahen, he's just one start away from adding 1B to his 3B/OF eligibility tag

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

  • Yovani Gallardo, Mil, SP
    Gallardo became a no-brainer fantasy pickup the moment Ben Sheets landed on the DL (sprained finger) on Monday. Owned in less than 25 percent of Yahoo! leagues as of Monday morning, Gallardo will slide into the rotation spot vacated by Sheets. As you know, Gallardo was one of baseball's top arms on the farm coming into this season and he made his Brewers debut about a month ago. He started three games (2.79 ERA) before being pushed to the bullpen, where he's allowed just three runs in 9.1 IP. Gallardo has K-per-IP stuff and has walked just one batter for every three strikeouts since he was called up in June. This is probably the moment he sticks in the rotation for good, so consider this last call.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Wladimir Balentien, Sea, OF (ETA – August)
    Lost in the shadow of Adam Jones this season has been the terrific season of Jones' Triple-A Tacoma teammate Balentien. The native of Curacao has been a prolific strikeout artist during his minor league career, but he's made that trait more palatable in recent years by showing an increased ability to draw walks. After working 70 free passes last season (up from 33 the year before), Balentien has 41 walks in 89 games for Tacoma this season. He's also hitting .326 with 21 HR, 70 RBI and 14 SB. Balentien has tremendous power, good speed and one of the best arms in the PCL. Now that he's showing refinement of his skills these past couple years, don't be surprised if teams inquire about his availability as the trade deadline approaches – Could he be part of a package for Dontrelle Willis? Stay tuned …

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Dave Bush, Mil, SP – Finally, this popular sleeper pick has woke up. In his past six outings, Bush has five wins and an ERA of 2.88.

Jose Guillen, Sea, OF – Guillen leads the league in July hits (22). For the current month, he's hitting .431 with 3 HR, 12 RBI, 12 R and 2 SB.

Marcus Thames, Det, OF – Thames hit a grand slam Sunday, his fourth home run this month. He also has a .333 average and 11 RBI in July.

Corey Patterson, Bal, OF – In his past 10 games, Patterson has 3 HR, 7 R and 5 SB.

Julio Lugo, Bos, 2/3/S – Since going through an 0-for-33 slump from June 14 to July 2, Lugo has gone 14-for-37 (.378) in his past 11 games. He has 4 SB in his past eight games.

Brandon Phillips, Cin, 2B – No hitter has been better in fantasy in July than Phillips. For the month, he's first in Runs and RBI (15), second in HR (5), he's stole two bases and has hit .340.

Raul Ibanez, Sea, OF – After hitting a combined 1 HR in April and May, Ibanez is suffering another power outage in July (0 HR). He's also hitting just .208 this month.

Michael Young, Tex, SS – Young is sitting just above the Mendoza Line (.208) in July, too, with just 3 RBI, 1 R, 0 HR and 0 SB.

Dan Uggla, Fla, 2B – Uggla is hitting just .130 in July. So far, only May (.307) has produced a mark above .241 in '07.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
And now on to my least favorite part of this column … I'm currently in 11th place in the Blog League, but I have not lost hope for a respectable finish. I just got Teixeira back, Huston Street returns soon, as does Tom Gordon and, hopefully, Randy Johnson. And, I've mentally prepared myself to trade Jose Reyes to address some more glaring holes. But, yes, time is of the essence at this point … The latest adds in the league include Ryan Garko, Bronson Arroyo, Bill Hall, Ray Durham, Rickie Weeks and Fausto Carmona.

You can follow along with my Yahoo! Friends and Family experts league team here.