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MLB Skinny: Feeling Minnesota

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
CLEVELAND INDIANS RED HOT
1st Chair: Undefined
2nd Chair: Jason Davis, Rafael Betancourt, Fernando Cabrera, Fausto Carmona
Skinny: The Tribe bullpen is full of several Indians that couldn't stop a stampeding herd of gerbils. Early last week, Carmona was officially removed from the closer's job and replaced by the fantasy equivalent of fire torture, the dreaded bullpen-by-committee. Indians manager Eric Wedge said, "We'll use a day-to-day approach and see how it goes." Davis and Betancourt appear to be the best candidates to log saves, but both looked very shaky in end-game situations last week. "Crash" Davis allowed three hits and an earned run in a third of an inning against the red hot Royals on August 12. Meanwhile, Betancourt suffered a loss and blown save in two consecutive outings. Cabrera – once pegged to be the future stopper in Cleveland – has the best stuff of anyone in the Indians bullpen and is someone to take a chance on in AL-only leagues. His mid-90s fastball and splitter can be devastating at times, but his eight homers in 39.1 innings suggest he needs to keep the ball down. Owners in shallow leagues should avoid the situation altogether until someone rises to the occasion. Right now, my money is on Cabrera.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Brian Meadows
2nd Chair: Seth McClung
Skinny: The Tampa bullpen situation is more unsightly than a Mel Gibson drunken rampage. According to Joe Maddon, McClung is being groomed to close, but in five August relief appearances he has allowed two walk-off homers, one to David Ortiz on August 4 and the other a grand salami to Richie Sexson on August 8. His July 26:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 16.1 innings at Triple-A Durham points to a bright future, but he's still at least a couple of weeks away from taking over the job from Brian Meadows. Don't feed him to the waiver wire sharks just yet, but he needs to exude some consistency before he can be trusted.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Takashi Saito
2nd Chair: Jonathan Broxton
Skinny: My strong support of Saito in last week's Skinny jinxed him. The Dodgers stopper blew his first save of the season versus Colorado on August 10, allowing a game-tying triple to Todd Helton. Despite the hiccup, his extraordinary 77:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio has made Saito an unsung hero for many owners and will likely keep him in the end-game role. However, dynamo rookie Broxton is beginning to gain some momentum. With the "Kamikaze" unavailable on August 11, Broxton shut the door on San Francisco for his second save of the year. The youngster has a filthy arsenal led by an off-the-table slider and a blazing fastball that can touch 98 MPH. Only 22, he has a great shot at entering 2007 with the closer job and is a must add in keeper leagues. Available in 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Broxton will be a superb source of ERA, strikeouts and WHIP as a premiere setup man. For now, expect Saito to continue to finish with Broxton occasionally vulturing a save or two.
BOSTON RED SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jonathan Papelbon
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen
Skinny: The end-game Pope drank a bad batch of sacramental wine last week. Since August 6, the Red Sox rookie sensation has blown two saves, allowing five hits and three earned runs in his past 2.2 innings. Many argue that the dog days of August always mark a performance maximum for many young pitchers, as innings can accumulate to uncomfortable levels. However, Papelbon, a converted starter, has only thrown 57.1 innings this season, almost half of what he threw in all of 2005. So what's the deal? It appears the youngster has merely been bitten by a short-term bug. With a fabulous 59:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, look for him to lick his wounds and finish strong down the stretch.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
2nd Chair: Joe Nelson, Todd Wellemeyer
Skinny: Burgos is the king of bullpen pain. After looking like an untouchable monster at times against the Red Sox tallying two saves last week, Burgos reared his ugly head in his next outing, blowing his eleventh save of the season in Cleveland. Poor command continues to plague Burgos as he has dished out five walks in his past seven outings, but with little to no competition, Buddy Bell will continue to look his way in the ninth. If your stomach is steel-lined and you're in dire straits for saves, keep the ERA and WHIP killer active.
For the love of Ted Williams' cryogenetically frozen head … Last Tuesday, "Bay State" Governor Mitt Romney signed a bill into law making basketball the official state sport of Massachusetts.

Evidently, he never saw Fever Pitch.

Sure the Boston Celtics have won 16 world championships and basketball was invented by James Naismith in Springfield, but come on, residents from Pittsfield to Cape Cod have worshiped the Red Sox more than any other team for decades. And why wouldn't they? Some of the most memorable and forgettable moments in baseball history have revolved around Beantown. From Carlton Fisk's historic home run in '75 to Bill Buckner's painful '86 Game 6 to a group of World Champion "Idiots" in 2004, the ravenous, fun-loving "Chowdaheads" of the Red Sox Nation have enjoyed the rollercoaster ride with an unmatched fervor. Sorry Yankees fan. They have Jimmy Fallon and Ben Affleck and you have, well, George Costanza.

Even though the governor's intentions were good, it's ironic that a politician named Mitt would not give the esteemed honor to a game that is the lifeblood of its residents. Up for re-election in 2007, let's hope Romney doesn't use "Sweet Caroline" as his campaign anthem. Here are the news and notes that sailed over the Green Monster this weekend:

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

  • All ten-thousand lakes of Minnesota are filled with fantasy owners' tears. Twins golden boy Francisco Liriano is sidelined indefinitely with elbow inflammation. MRI results released on Friday said that Liriano is suffering from a mild strain of the ulnar collateral ligament and has lost shoulder strength and flexibility. Team doctors said they were "very optimistic" the prized lefty could return to the mound this season after a rigorous, but lengthy, rehabilitation program. Dr. John Steubs noted, "We're confident that if he does his work, he will pitch again this season. It's going to take some time." Dr. Dan Buss added, "There is no typical recovery period; that's why we're being very non-specific. This is a very common problem in high-level throwers." Fortunately, both doctors agreed that Tommy John surgery was not a possibility. There is no timetable for the 22-year-old's return.

Step away from the ledge. Although Liriano may not return until at least mid-September, if at all, there is a silver lining in all of this. For those owners that play in keeper leagues, this is the perfect opportunity to use depression, fear and fright to your advantage. How? Play a mind game with your opponent. Talk up the injury, but remain apprehensive. Act as though you're buying a Rolls Royce with a recent string of engine problems on a budget fit for a Hyundai. It's very likely an uneducated Liriano owner will assume that his constant arm troubles could lead to an inevitable long-recovery surgery. If that is the case, they will listen to a deal, especially if they are in contention for a title. By using a passive aggressive approach, your chances of scoring on a ridiculous low-ball offer are enhanced. Patience will need to be a virtue, but the future has roads paved with gold with Liriano in hand. Make an offer.

Unfortunately, the story is much darker for yearly leaguers. Even if Liriano were to return to action in a month, he might as well don a bonnet and a rattle as Ron Gardenhire would likely limit his phenom to 80 pitches per game. Obviously, this would reduce his overall strikeout totals. For now, utilize your league's DL slot and see what definitive news about a possible return hits the newsstands before making any rash moves. My best guess is September 15. And, to use the docs' words, that is "very optimistic."

  • On August 7, burrito punisher Livan Hernandez was traded from Washington to Arizona for pitching prospects Matt Chico and Garrett Mock. Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin has lofty expectations for the ten-year vet, noting, "No. 1, he's been on the big stage before and pitched well in big games. No. 2, he's an innings eater and that's something we really needed. I don't see how we could have found a better fit for what we needed. He's a perfect fit." In his Arizona debut on August 11, Hernandez went eight strong innings, allowing four earned on 10 hits and one walk with four strikeouts.

The move to a more conducive hitter's park and his frightening 5.33 ERA and 1.55 WHIP would convince most owners that Hernandez is nothing more than an overweight pitcher in need of Jenny Craig. But don't be so thickheaded. Since the break, the beefy hurler has compiled fantastic numbers, sporting a 3.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 27:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and three wins in 41 innings. The Diamondbacks rank 13th in the Majors in runs, which should greatly aid Hernandez's 56th best 5.12 run support numbers. Owned in just 67 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Livan should be a solid No. 4 in 12-team and deeper formats over the remainder of the season.

  • Injury News and Updates: Someone please put Mark Prior out of his misery. The fragile Cubs starter was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder tendonitis on Saturday and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal commented, "Everybody can do the math as to what that does for the rest of the season. At the end of the three weeks, hopefully we're going to (start) throwing and we'll go from there – I haven't really looked at the calendar. Then it would take 10 days of bullpen to get going again. The likelihood of him returning this year is questionable." Erase the cursed hurler out of your memory immediately. Rookie Angel Guzman received his third call up for the season and will fill Prior's spot in the rotation … Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Rickie Weeks will miss the rest of the season after deciding to have surgery to repair a troublesome tendon in his right wrist. Weeks added, "You want to come back strong next season, and have the whole offseason to get stronger. It is kind of hard coming out here and you can't go out and help the team play, but you've got to keep your head up." The high-upside youngster anticipates a full recovery in time for spring training. Considering the lack of depth at second base, Weeks is an ideal buy low candidate in keeper leagues … New York Yankee Godzilla Hideki Matsui has not been cleared to take batting practice yet, pushing his rehabilitation back another week. Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "There's nothing more that's gone wrong, it's just getting the tenderness out. If it's next year, it's next year." Prospects of Matsui's return to the lineup this season continue to dwindle. Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams will continue to see additional at-bats in his absence … St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder will need at least one more rehab start before returning to the rotation. Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa noted, "He's not in condition to pitch. He's still conditioning. Bringing him to the big leagues in the middle of a pennant race, it's not a fair challenge." Mulder has been out of the lineup since June 22 with a shoulder impingement. Look for Mulder and his 6.09 ERA to return to the mound the last week of August … The Kerry Wood of the American League, Oakland starter Rich Harden took his first steps toward returning from an elbow injury, playing light catch on Saturday. A's trainer Larry Davis said, "It'll be an every-other-day thing for a while. This is a long road, so we have to really take our time." Ken Macha continues to hint that Harden will likely return as a bullpen fixture and not as a starter, possibly in mid-September. At this point, Jose Canseco has more value as a starter in yearly leagues. Cut ties with Harden.

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

  • Emil Brown, OF, KC
    In an unprecedented move, a Kansas City Royal is being recommended in consecutive weeks. Yes, I have completely lost my mind. One of the forgotten 80-plus RBI surprises of last year, Brown has been the trump card in AL-only and deep mixed leagues of late. So far in August, the veteran outfielder is 11-for-34 with three homers and nine RBI. He has driven in at least one run in six of his past nine games and has six multi-hit games during that span. An unsung consistency king for head-to-head owners, the KC cleanup hitter is a nice pick-up for those in need of a dependable fifth outfielder with batting average, homer and RBI upside. Available in a whopping 97 percent of Yahoo! leagues he is an undervalued jewel that should continue to sparkle in 12-team and deeper leagues down the stretch.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Matt Garza, SP, Min (ETA: Now)
    Is it just me, or does Minnesota own more young flamethrowers than Minneapolis native Prince high-heeled boots? Overly amped in his debut, the former first rounder was torched by the Blue Jays for seven earned in 2.2 innings, including a homer to the power challenged John McDonald. Chock it up to first game jitters. The 22-year-old flamethrower has the stuff to be a fantasy marvel. Equipped with a mid-90s fastball, off-the-table mid-80s slider and a plus curve, Garza has a vast array of strikeout weapons. In Double and Triple-A this season, the rookie compiled salivating numbers – 91.1 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a 101:21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For now, the Garza forecast calls for occasional flashes of brilliance with a smattering of speed bumps. In other words, he's the AL-version of Matt Cain. With the Twins surging, Garza will be a nice spot-start in shallower leagues when the matchup warrants. Despite the brutal start, AL-only and deep keeper leagues should click the "add" button with confidence.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Mark DeRosa, 2B/SS/3B/OF, Tex – Hopefully you listened to my DeRosa for president spiel back on June 12 in the "Skinny." The fantasy Swiss army knife had two six-RBI games last week and has driven in 25 total runs over the past 14 days, the most of any Major Leaguer. It won't last. Maximize a profit and sell high.

Garret Anderson, OF, LAA – Close to full strength after a string of hamstring and back troubles, Anderson has been heavenly of late with four homers, 10 RBI and a .310 batting average in August. Occasional back spasms will hamper him from time-to-time, but he will be a serviceable source of batting average and RBIs hitting behind Vladimir Guerrero.

Felix Hernandez, SP, Sea – King Felix appeared to have turned a corner before he was stung or six runs on Sunday. His crown is decorated with cubic zirconium jewels. With a marginal 22:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio since July 28, his high number of walks will catch up to him. Sell high.

Joe Saunders, SP, LAA – Since being recalled from Triple-A to fill the void left by Bartolo Colon on August 1, the Angels rookie sensation has allowed just two runs in his past 13 innings with 10 strikeouts. The Angels passed on Scott Kazmir to draft him in 2002 and the suspect move is finally paying off. He is a must grab in all 12-team leagues.

Luke Scott, OF, Hou – Great Scott! The power-hitting diaper dandy has landed an everyday gig in left field after Preston Wilson was shockingly designated for assignment on Saturday. Since August 5, Scott is 15-for-25 with two homers and five RBI. Notoriously streaky, his stock will never be this high again. NL-only leaguers need to put him on the trade block.

Ryan Spilborghs, OF, Col – Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said that sparkplug Spilborghs will see "plenty of time" in center over the remainder of the season. Prior to being recalled on August 11 he was hitting .335 at Triple-A Colorado Springs with five homers, 34 RBI and eight steals in 269 at-bats. Going 6-for-11 with five RBI against the Cubs over the weekend, he is a nice fifth outfielder for NL-only owners looking for batting average and cheap steals.

Nick Markakis, OF, Bal – The top prospect in the Orioles organization, Markakis has quietly put together an impressive month and a half. As the everyday right fielder, he has hit a scorching 43-for-113 (.380 BA) since July 1. If you're in need of batting average, whistle for this Oriole.

Aaron Rowand, OF, Phi – Like the blood-splattering face burger he endured earlier this season, Rowand's batting average has been painful to look at over the past couple of months. Since June 1, the Philly center fielder has hit a paltry .232. Like Mike Cameron, he is quickly becoming an all-around contributor that will kill your team batting average. Currently riding a six game-hit streak, there are signs of a turnaround, but be extra cautions. He hit just .240 in August and September last year.

Jon Lester, SP, Bos – If walks could kill, Lester would have been dead several starts ago. His poor 51:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 72.2 innings is far from desirable. Lester has logged 118.2 innings on the year between Pawtucket and Boston and looks to be hitting a wall. Shallow non-keeper leagues should bail.

Andy Marte, 3B, Cle – Indians fans who clamored for Aaron Boone's head are gnawing on crow as the hyped Marte is just 4-for-36 since joining the big show on July 28. AL-only owners building for the future should purchase his services at a bargain basement price.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
There is some contention for the top spot, as Y!-Romig remains nine spots back of long-time leader RotoWire_Liss. KFFL-Wasserzieher is 11 points back in third place, while the rest of the league plays for pride. The latest league player pickups include Esteban Loaiza, Emil Brown, Robinson Cano and Yorvit Torrealba.