MLB Skinny: Free Willy

Brad Evans
Yahoo! Sports
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: The high number of walks and late-game wildness finally sealed Lidge's fate. Despite just six saves in 183 career games, Dan Wheeler goes from dominant setup man to stopper for the rest of the season. Once again proving why you should never, ever pay for saves in March, Wheeler should be snatched in all leagues 10-teams and larger.
1st Chair: Joe Nelson
2nd Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: Buddy Bell's heart just couldn't take Burgos anymore. Can you blame him? Leading the bigs in blown saves with 11, Burgos' Burger King paper crown finally ripped as Joe Nelson was named the new closer on August 15. Pitching at Triple-A Omaha a little over a month ago, Nelson has thrived in his new role logging two saves, three strikeouts and zero walks in his first two chances. While at Triple-A, the 31-year-old journeyman posted a solid line that indicates continued success as an end-game finisher – 32 IP, seven saves, and a 39:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that Joe Nelson would warrant a recommendation, but he gets my stamp of approval for those panicking over saves in 12-team and deeper leagues. Expect him to remain in the role for the rest of the season, totaling roughly five-to-seven saves and excellent strikeout totals.
1st Chair: Undefined
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero, Chad Gaudin
Injured: Huston Street
Skinny: Street was placed on the 15-day DL with an injury that would make an adult film star cringe, a strained groin. When asked who would take over as closer in Street's absence, Oakland manager Ken Macha replied, "Flip a coin." When Street missed twelve games back in April, Macha installed a bullpen-by-committee and based on his comments it appears this situational approach will again be used. So, who do you pick up? Aim for Justin Duchscherer. The reliever registered two saves back in April and has the most upside as a short-term closer. When Street was unavailable on August 14, Duchy was the first out of the pen, picking up a one-hit save. His awe-inspiring 33:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings means he possesses the pin-point control to be an effective stopper. Pick him up in AL-only and deep mixed leagues if you're looking for a two-week relief pitcher play.
1st Chair: Bill Bray
2nd Chair: Todd Coffey, David Weathers
Injured: Eddie Guardado
Skinny: Just call Guardado, "In a few days" Eddie. Battling muscle pain in his forearm over the past couple of weeks, Guardado meandered his way to the 15-day DL with elbow tendonitis. Reds manager Jerry Narron is expected to employ a bullpen-by-committee headed by Bill Bray. Coming over from the Nationals in the Austin Kearns deal, Bray is two-for-three in save opportunities for the Reds. With a fastball that can touch 94 MPH and a tight low-80s slider, he could tally two-to-four saves with Guardado on the shelf. Todd Coffey and David Weathers could also see end-game chances when the matchup warrants. NL-only owners looking for a saves vulture should take a chance on Bray.
1st Chair: Undefined
2nd Chair: Tom Mastny, Jason Davis, Fernando Cabrera, Rafael Betancourt
Skinny: The Indians bullpen should be nicknamed the "Cleveland quagmire." Betancourt and Davis have allowed a horrific eight runs and combined two blown saves since August 1. Their troubles paved the way for 26-year-old rookie Tom Mastny who, to everyone's amazement, converted on his first chance on Saturday, logging a three-strikeout save at Tampa Bay. Prior to being recalled on July 26, Mastny had a solid 2.61 ERA and terrific 46:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings at Triple-A Buffalo. Since no one else has stepped up to seize the closer's job, don't be shocked if Wedge continues to turn the rookie's way. Those AL-only and mixed leaguers concerned about Huston Street may want to stab in the dark for Mastny. A couple of more strong outings and the gig will likely be his.

There is nothing better than a good ole' baseball bloodletting. Unlike ridiculous football skirmishes where hands are injured more than heads or comical Ken doll shoving matches between racecar drivers, the vengeful plunk-me-and-I'll-plunk-you-back diamond game is predictable, vindictive and one of the most entertaining events in sport. It's absolutely hilarious to watch overweight "professional athletes" gasp for breath after long sprints from the bullpen, or in Bartolo Colon's case, the dugout.

On August 16, tensions between the Angels and Rangers boiled over into a chaotic WWF-styled Royal Rumble. Well, at least that's what we hoped for. After Angels reliever Kevin Gregg nailed star shortstop Michael Young in the bottom of the eighth, Texas reliever Scott Feldman retaliated in the following frame, plunking Los Angeles second basemen Adam Kennedy. Ripe with rage, the scrawny Kennedy charged the mound and clashed with Feldman. In what should have been a free-for-all for the ages, the adversaries flailed their arms like two cats drowning in a swimming pool. And it totally sucked.

Although a major letdown, the scuffle between the two AL West foes reminded me of the most memorable base-brawls in recent big league history. What are they? Here is my top-five:

1. 1993: The Ryan Express derails Robin Ventura
Nearly double Ventura's age, the crafty Ryan corralled Ventura into a headlock and showed him why you never fight with a cowboy no matter the age difference. Outside of the seven no-hitters, 5,714 strikeouts and 324 career wins, this was the crowning achievement of the Texas gunslinger's career.

2. June 19, 2003: The Kyle Farnsworth Cincinnati Spear
Bears scouts drooled when the Farns de-cleated a hefty Paul Wilson with a textbook form tackle after the Cincy starter charged the mound when a high inside fastball nearly beheaded him on a bunt attempt. The series of Farnsworth right hooks that followed left Wilson a blood-filled mess. Michael Barrett should have taken notes.

3. May 19, 1998: Armando Benitez versus the New York Yankees
After giving up what turned out to be a game-winning three-run shot to Bernie Williams, Benitez ignited an I-95 riot by blatantly blasting Tino Martinez right on the numbers. The Darryl Strawberry "sucker punch" followed by Alan Mills' retaliation is still one of my favorite base-brawl moments of all-time.

4. April 22, 2000: Fisticuffs at Comiskey
Known as the "great mass suspension event," 16 players, coaches and managers took mini-vacations when two brawls broke out in the same game. For White Sox starter Jim Parque and his career 5.42 ERA, it's the only thing Chicagoans remember him for.

5. May 22, 1995: Minor League Melee
On "Strikeout Domestic Violence" night between the Triple-A Durham Bulls and Winston-Salem Warthogs a nasty confrontation erupted in front of the Good Samaritan North Carolina faithful. In total, ten players were ejected, 127 suspension days were handed down and Warthog pitcher Glen Cullop was hospitalized with a broken jaw. Talk about a Nuke LaLoosh moment.

Here are the news and notes that tussled over the weekend:

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

  • Houston, Brad Lidge has a problem. After blowing his fifth save against the woeful Chicago Cubs on August 15, fed up Astros manager Phil Garner had seen enough and installed a committee approach led by veteran setup man Dan Wheeler. Garner commented on Lidge's struggles, "When I took him out of the role a little bit [earlier in the year] and told him I may come and get him in the ninth inning, I didn't think he was throwing the ball really well. I think recently, he's been throwing the ball pretty good. He's worked on his mechanics, he seems to have a finish to the plate, his slider's had some good bite. So it is a mystery." Alongside Wheeler, Chad Qualls, Trevor Miller and, on occasion, Lidge, could see opportunities in the ninth.

With thoughts of Albert Pujols permanently stored in his mental unconscious, Lidge blew one O-Ring too many this season. Now an expensive piece of space junk, the ultimate question is: What does the future hold? After the 'Stros dangled his name in trade talks a month ago, it wouldn't be a surprise if they let the soon-to-be free agent walk after his tumultuous year. Despite five blown saves, a 5.56 ERA and 29 walks in 55 innings, believe it or not, I'm still buying. With his 100 MPH gas, he still has the stuff to be a dominate No. 1 fantasy closer with a change of scenery. Those in keeper leagues should consider purchasing him at a clearance rate. As for the remainder of '06, cut him loose if you're in a non-keeper, 12-team and shallower format.

As for Lidge's primary replacement Dan Wheeler, he is one of the hottest commodities in fantasy with over nine-thousand adds in Yahoo! leagues last week. The six-year vet has been one of the premiere setup men in the league since joining Houston in 2004 and should adjust nicely to his new fantasy-friendly role. Untouchable in his past 16 appearances, Wheeler has an stellar 14:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his past 12.2 innings and has not allowed a run since July 9. Equipped with a low-90s fastball and a deceptive, late-action splitter, Wheeler has the weapons and aggressive demeanor to be a strong No. 3 closer in 12-team leagues over the remainder of the year. Owned in a microscopic eight percent of Yahoo! leagues, get him before his value soars.

  • On August 12, struggling outfielder Preston Wilson was designated for assignment by the Houston Astros. Six days later, he packed his bags for the Lou. With injuries and poor production plaguing the St. Louis outfield, Cardinals general manager Walt Jockety purchased the rights to Wilson on August 18. The nine-year vet was thrilled with the opportunity to have a role with a team in the midst of a playoff run noting, "My last two or three weeks in Houston I wasn't playing at all. So if I'm playing at all here, I'm playing more than they were letting me play there. My job here is to do whatever they ask me to do. I didn't really come here with any preconceived idea of how much I'm going to play." Going 2-for-5 with a solo homer and a stolen base in his debut against hated St. Louis rival the Chicago Cubs on Friday, the 32-year-old could find his way into LaRussa's lineup more often than he thinks.

How does St. Louis continuously get production out of players most teams consider washed up? It has to be the Budweiser. In a baseball-first town that has a history of resurrecting careers in a downward spiral – Remember, Will Clark in 2000? – Wilson could be a fantasy force in limited doses over the remainder of the season. Expected to platoon with scorching lefty Chris Duncan and Juan Encarnacion in right field, Wilson could see more playing time than originally expected if Jim Edmonds continues to nurse a variety of lingering injuries. One thing is for certain, matchup-heavy manager Tony LaRussa will start Wilson against lefties. This season P-Dubs is hitting .309 against lefties, while Edmonds and Duncan have struggled against southpaws batting a combined .175. NL-only owners and deep mixed leaguers in search of a bench player for a championship run should rent Wilson as a sixth outfielder. Even with three-to-four starts per week, he could pack quite a punch.

  • Injury News and Notes: Don Zimmer's best friend Pedro Martinez was placed on the 15-day DL on August 16 with a strained right calf. Wearing a protective boot, Pedro commented, "I've done a little throwing. With this boot on, there's only so much you can do." There is no timetable set for his return, but more information should be released on Monday after he is re-evaluated by team doctors … Houston ace Roy Oswalt missed his scheduled start on Saturday because of a bruised right wrist. After a short side session on Friday, the flamethrower said, "I threw everything. It's getting better. My biggest concern is if I throw some pitches and get up around 50, 60 pitches and it starts to build up fluid again." Manager Phil Garner will push rookie Jason Hirsh's start back to Thursday, allowing Oswalt to take the mound in Cincinnati on Tuesday. Likely to get two-starts this week, keep him active … Brittle Brave Marcus Giles could be out until mid-week due to painful swelling in his left hand. The oft-injured second baseman said, "The swelling has gone down from yesterday (Friday). But with a medium to hard throw, it's going to go right back up." Utility infielder Pete Orr will fill-in until Giles gets back to 100 percent. Keep the two-bagger on the pine this week … Fragile Oakland starter Rich Harden, who has been sidelined since June 5 with a sprained ligament in his right elbow, had an optimistic throwing session on flat ground on Saturday. A's manager Ken Macha noted, "He was pretty positive about how he felt. He's got a long ways to go yet. I just wanted to see where he was and how he is feeling about himself, make sure we've got good focus on what we're doing and a plan. He had a little smile on his face and said he'd pitch before the year is over. If Harden does return in September, Macha said, "He would go to the 'pen', possibly right into closing games for us." With Huston Street on the DL, Harden could be reborn as a closer over the last couple weeks of the season. Stay tuned … Scrappy St. Louis shortstop David Eckstein will be out for the next few days and could be headed to the DL with a strained left oblique. Eckstein commented, "It's too early to speculate right now. I've never had this. We're just going to take it day by day." Aaron Miles will continue to see action at short with Eckstein on the pine … Ancient Mets starter Tom Glavine had a scary moment over the weekend, saying he felt coldness in his left ring finger, a possible sign of a blood clot. The 40-year-old starter noted, "It's a strange feeling. It doesn't hurt or anything. It's strange, too, because I sit here and I feel fine. Everything feels great. I don't have any pain anywhere or anything like that. It's just I have this something going on inside my shoulder that needs to be looked at." Tests on Glavine will be conducted on Monday with results expected to be released mid-week. Season-ending surgery is a possibility. Anticipate rookie Brian Bannister to be recalled if the 20-year vet is forced to the DL.

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

  • Willy Taveras, Hou, OF
    For much of the season, many frustrated owners believed the English translation of Taveras was "toad licker." However, a few extra at-bats and a good-bye kiss from Preston Wilson, and suddenly, the fleet-footed outfielder has morphed into a fantasy prince. Known for his stolen base prowess, Taveras has been one of the hottest hitters in the game in August batting .325 with eight stolen bases. Hitting safely in 22 straight, he has the longest Astros hit-streak since Jeff Kent's 25-game franchise record in 2004. Showing more plate patience with a reasonable 13:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his past 86 at-bats, the Texas tire-peeler is a must add for those in need of stolen bases and runs. With Wilson in Cardinal red, Taveras will continue to see every day playing time batting lead-off in a lineup with a number of run producers. Available in just over half of Yahoo! leagues, blast off with this Astro if you have a need for speed.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Jason Hirsh, Hou, SP, (ETA: Now)
    Hirsh has the rocket fuel to take owners to outer edges of the fantasy universe, but not right away. A giraffe at 6-foot-8, the Astros top prospect is an intimidating foe carved out of the same mold as San Diego Padres behemoth Chris Young. An aggressive thrower who's not afraid to pound hitters inside, Hirsh possesses a scary repertoire that includes a mid-90s fastball and a sinking two-seamer that can touch 93 MPH. In 137.1 innings at Triple-A Round Rock, the mound Sasquatch tallied a line that would make fantasy owners profess their love – 13-2 record, 2.10 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 118 strikeouts. Although drenched in long-term upside, Hirsh still has issues with walks, averaging 2.2 free passes per game in the minors. In his first two starts in the show, he has posted a disgusting 9:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed four homers. NL-only and deep mixed keeper leagues should take a chance, but keep expectations reserved. Although a high-upside talent, his ceiling is as a No. 3, not a top-of-the-rotation starter.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Edwin Encarnacion, Cin, 3B – Suck down an entire bag of Red Hots and you might come close to what Encarnacion owners are feeling. Since August 9, the Cincy third basemen had led all MLB hitters with seven homers and 14 RBI. Sandwiched between Ken Griffey and Adam Dunn, he will continue to light it up.

Steve Trachsel, NYM, SP – Trachsel must be a third cousin of Jason Marquis. Although tallying a 5.08 ERA since the break, Trachsel has been a ridiculous source of wins netting a W in 10 of his past 13 starts. If you're sound in WHIP and ERA, jump on this track if you need wins.

Chris Duncan, StL, OF – The acquisition of Preston Wilson slightly lowers his value, but his .416 BA, eight homers and 12 RBIs in August will keep him in the lineup four-to-five times per week. Those in leagues of all sizes in need of an ideal batting average and power combo must chase this bird.

Eric Hinske, Bos, OF/3B/1B – Dealt to Boston from Toronto on August 17, Hinske will play roughly four starts per week splitting time between third base, first base and right field. If he continues to hit fifth behind Manny Ramirez, he will be a beneficial flex option in AL-only and deep mixed formats.

Kyle Lohse, Cin, SP – Did Lohse forget how bad he really is? In three starts in Reds threads he has a 1.98 ERA and 22:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 18.1 innings. NL-only owners need to sell high before that 7.07 Twins ERA resurfaces.

Matt Diaz, Atl, OF – Used exclusively as a specialist against lefties, Diaz's searing bat has netted him more playing time. Going 21-for-51 (.411 BA) with three homers and eight RBI in August, he will continue to see extensive action over Ryan Langerhans. Available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues, owners in need of outfield assistance should corral this Brave.

Matt Murton, ChC, OF – A Carrot Top impersonator by night, Murton has been a fantasy monster by day. Since August 9, he's 10-for-29 with two homers and seven RBI. Now hitting .296 on the season, Murton will be an efficient No. 5 outfielder in NL-only formats down the stretch.

Jamie Moyer, Phi, SP – Traded to a surging Phillies squad for Single-A pitchers Andrew Barb and Andrew Baldwin on Saturday, avoid him at all costs. His God-awful 7.15 ERA since the break and history of poor performances away from Safeco means Moyer's a low dollar bid at best for NL-only players.

Josh Beckett, Bos, SP – With more control issues than someone with a hyperactive bladder, Beckett has come uncorked with 13 walks in his past 11.2 innings. Despite the setback, he is a prime buy low candidate with a 2.19 ERA in 21 career September starts.

Mike Jacobs, Fla, 1B – Jacobs is one fish on a fast-track to the Sushi bar with just seven hits in his past 58 at-bats. Until he can cutback on his deplorable 21:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his poor play will continue. Send him to the deep fryer in 12-team mixed leagues.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
RotoWire_Liss' season-long run in pole position continues as he holds a comfortable 13 point lead over KFFL-Wasserzieher. Y!-Romig and Y!-Buser, 13.5 and 15 points back, respectively, also hold a sliver of hope of making a push for the title down the stretch. The latest free agent additions across the league include Tom Gorzelanny, David Weathers, Kiko Calero, Justin Duchscherer and Emil Brown.