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MLB Skinny: Packing it in

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

I'm playing in just three leagues this season, and in two of them – the Yahoo! Friends and Family League and the LABR NL League – I'm solidly in the third-place mix. Of course, it'd be nice to win those leagues, but the current leaders in both leagues have had great seasons and now hold, barring total collapse, insurmountable leads. Still, at least being a part of the upper tier of the standings is enough to keep me battling for silver or bronze respectability.

My third league, however, is a different story entirely. In the Funston Blog League, I'm dead last. And I've been in that spot for a mighty long time. It's an AL-only league, and five of my top eight picks were Carlos Quentin(notes), Alex Rodriguez(notes), Matt Wieters(notes), Howie Kendrick(notes) and Brandon Morrow(notes), all of whom have been disappointments for varying reasons. There's been other foils on my roster, including John Smoltz(notes) and … well, I guess the man in the mirror deserves his share of the blame as well. But it all boils down to the fact that this is one epically miserable squad.

So, my question is this: At what point do you shut it down for the sake of the league's contenders? I've always been an advocate for playing to win to the bitter end. But I haven't often been in a position where all hope (and pride) was lost well before the finish line was in sight.

I recently decided against using the top waiver claim in this league on Jake Peavy(notes), opting to let him go to a team not out of the mix at sixth in the standings. But I did go grab Travis Snider(notes) (see below) once Alex Rios(notes) officially became property of the Chicago White Sox. I'm still going through the motions, you could say, but I kind of feel like a basement dweller ought not to rock the standings boat if they can help it. I review a lot of trades this time of year between bottom feeders and contending teams. And if I don't clearly see that the bottom feeder is trying to make a face-saving move in the standings, I'm inclined to veto the deal. It's certainly not OK to waive the white flag and then start accepting any offer a contending team makes with indifference to how it impacts your team. Again, I don't think it's the place of teams in such position to play a role in how the league's end game plays out. If anything, the motivation should be to influence the league's outcome through the spoiler role, beating contending teams on the field of play.

That's all I'll say on the subject for now. I'm curious to hear your comments. But, before we get to that, let's move on to the latest market movers …

CORNER INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Lyle Overbay(notes), Tor, 1B – Past 10: .357, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 10 R past
Casey Blake(notes), LAD, 1/3 – Past 11: .432, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 9 R, 1 SB
Todd Helton(notes), Col, 1B – Past 17: .368, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 12 R

Jorge Cantu(notes), Fla, 1/3 – August: .162, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 9 games
Joey Votto(notes), Cin, 1B – Past 14: .143, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 5 R, 16 K
Chone Figgins(notes), LAA, 3/2 – Past 6: .050, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Billy Butler(notes), KC, 1B (55%) – Slight breach of the 50 percent rule here, but I only cross the line when I feel it's really necessary. In this case, I'm talking about the No. 5 most valuable player in fantasy for the past week. In the past six games, Butler is hitting .609 with a couple home runs, nine runs driven in and six runs scored. But Butler has been much more than a one-week wonder. In 91 games from April 29 to present, he's hitting .320 with 13 home runs, 54 RBI and 45 runs. And the Royals' No. 3 hitter has a track record that says he can keep the beat going – he's hit 33 points higher in the second half for his career. Just 23 years old, Butler came into the league with a pedigree that suggested the potential for major league stardom. Let the past week serve as a reminder of that. And go check to see if he's available in your league.

Prospecting
Chris Carter(notes), Oak, 1B – Since his selection by Chicago in the '05 draft, Carter has been used as a trade pawn by the White Sox for acquiring Carlos Quentin and by the Arizona Diamondbacks in acquiring Dan Haren(notes). Carter's allure is his prodigious power. After hitting 39 home runs in 137 games for High-A Stockton last season, Carter has followed with 21 bombs in 112 games at Double-A Midland this season. He's also hitting .336 for the Rockhounds. The 22-year-old is riding a 25-game hitting streak in which he's collected 20 extra-base hits. He's also fanned just five times in his past 14 games, which is an accomplishment for a player that has shown the propensity in the past for piling up lofty K totals. The odds might be against Carter seeing a September call-up, but you never know. And we're talking Ryan Howard(notes)-type muscle here, so if/when he does find his way to Oakland, those in need of a power push will want to monitor the situation very closely.

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Chris Coghlan(notes), Fla, 2/O – 21 run: .384, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 16 R, SB in past 21 games
Placido Polanco, Det, 2B – Post break: .354, HR, 13 RBI, 15 R, SB, 23 G
Asdrubal Cabrera(notes), Cle, 2/S – Past 14: .375, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 12 R, 5 SB

Kazuo Matsui(notes), Hou, 2B – August: .162, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB, 9 G
Rafael Furcal(notes), LAD, SS – Past 10: .227, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB
Ben Zobrist(notes), TB, 2/S/O – Past 11: .189, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Eugenio Velez(notes), SF, 2/O (21%) – You have to go back to May 17th to find the last time Velez has gone hitless in a game. Of course, Velez has only played in 16 games since then, but the near entirety of those games have come in the past two weeks as he's been an everyday sparkplug at the top of the order for the Giants since the last week of July. Velez's 16-game hitting streak has produced a .420 BA, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 14 R and 2 SB. Looking at that production, the biggest surprise is the mere two stolen bases from a player that has logged two seasons in the minors in which he topped the 50-steal plateau. He possesses the type of speed that can deliver stolen bases in a hurry when things are clicking on the base paths. He only has two stolen bases in 37 games this season, but it's not far-fetched to think he could steal 10-plus in the team's final 40 games. As long as he continues to occupy a spot at the top of the Giants lineup, he should be a solid add for those with a need for speed (SB, R) down the stretch.

Prospecting
Eric Young Jr., Col, 2B – As the current leader in the NL wild card chase, the Rockies may not be inclined to make the move to a rookie at the expense of a regular veteran. But, considering how second baseman Clint Barmes(notes) has played of late (.122 post break), they certainly have to be giving Young some serious consideration. From Low-A Asheville in '06, Young has advanced one level in each subsequent season, resulting in his promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs this season. In each of the past four seasons, he's delivered a batting average above .290 and 46-plus stolen bases. He's currently hitting .303 for the Sky Sox to go with 54 SB and a healthy .391 OBP. If the Rockies do decide to promote Young this season, his speed and locale will make him a very attractive fantasy commodity.

CATCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Bengie Molina(notes), SF, C – Six-packed: .385, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 4 R in past 6 games
A.J. Pierzynski(notes), ChW, C – Past 18: .400, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 10 R
John Baker(notes), Fla, C – Past 23: .359, 2 HR, 14 RBI, 13 R

Matt Wieters, Bal, C – Past 8: .172, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R
Ryan Doumit(notes), Pit, C – Past 8: .171, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R
Brian McCann(notes), Atl, C – Past 9: .133, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R

OUTFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Gerardo Parra(notes), Ari, OF – Past 18: .366, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 12 R, 3 SB
Marlon Byrd(notes), Tex, OF – Past 11: .357, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 4 R, SB
Cody Ross(notes), Fla, OF – Past 8: .313, 5 HR, 8 RBI, 8 R, SB

B.J. Upton(notes), TB, OF – Past 11: .146, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 3 SB
Alfonso Soriano(notes), ChC, OF – August: .194, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 0 SB, 9 G
Jermaine Dye(notes), ChW, OF – Past 10: .122, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Milton Bradley(notes), ChC, OF (36%) – It's fair to take shots at Bradley's impact on a clubhouse or his habitually tenuous health, but his bat, save an off month here and there (for example, see April '09), has been fairly bulletproof for the past six years. In fact, he entered the season with a .319 BA, 33 home runs, 107 RBI and 109 R in his previous 168 games. Point is, Bradley has a track record at the plate that you can believe in. Which makes his recent run of health and offensive success (past 17 games: .385, 2 HR, 13 R) all the more enticing. Of late, Bradley has been hitting out of the No. 2 spot in the order, where he should be a steady batting average and runs contributor the rest of way, health permitting.

Prospecting
Travis Snider, Tor, OF – Colleague Andy Behrens beat me to the punch on Snider, so I'll just give a Cliff Notes version here. Snider entered the season ranked as the Blue Jays' top prospect, according to Baseball America. At the plate, his quick bat allows him to drive balls to all parts of the park, and his impressive power has led to 37 home runs in his past 215 professional games. The 21-year-old is hitting above .400 with six home runs at Triple-A Las Vegas in August. He already has 56 games combined at the major-league level between this season and last, and it seems very likely that he'll soon add to that total now that Toronto has waived Alex Rios.

STARTING PITCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Carl Pavano(notes), Min, SP – Past 2: 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1 BB, 9 K, 15 IP
Gio Gonzalez(notes), Oak, SP – Past 4: 3-0, 1.46 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 26 K, 24.2 IP
Bud Norris(notes), Hou, SP – Past 2: 2-0, 1.38 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 12 K, 13 IP

Mark Buehrle(notes), ChW, SP – Past 3: 0-3, 8.35 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 5 K, 18.1 IP
Jarrod Washburn(notes), Det, SP – As a Tiger: 0-1, 8.74 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 4 HR, 5 K, 11.1 IP
Dan Haren, Ari, SP – Past 4: 1-2, 6.26 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 16 K, 23 IP

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Barry Zito(notes), SF, SP (39%) – Dare I suggest that Zito might be the man for you? Well, here are some things to consider. His K/9 rate (6.9) is the highest it's been since he won 23 games in '02. His BB/9 (3.48) is the lowest it's been since '04. His pitch velocity is at levels not seen since he resided on the east side of the Bay Area. In addition, he's 3-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his past five starts. And then there's his current Yahoo! player note to consider: "His winning percentage after the All-Star break is .663 and just .468 before the break, and the Elias Sports Bureau said no pitcher since the beginning of the All-Star Game in 1933 has had such lopsided numbers (minimum 100 decisions in each category)." If you are chasing wins and strikeouts and can afford to take a bit of a WHIP hit, you might want to consider a gamble on Zito.

Prospecting
Michael Bowden(notes), Bos, SP – First rights to John Smoltz's vacated rotation spot goes to Junichi Tazawa(notes), but Bowden is surely next in line when the next opportunity presents itself. In fact, before the Tazawa appointment, Bowden was considered the odds on favorite to take Smoltz's spot. Why Tazawa got the nod is not readily apparent, although Boston's manager, in talking about Tazawa, had this to say, "We're excited to watch him pitch. One thing he should do, he should throw strikes … And his stuff is good enough where if he throws strikes, he should be fine." Command hasn't really been a problem for Bowden, in general, but he has been a little off the mark of late, allowing three or more walks in five innings or less in three of his past five outings. When he's on, though, Bowden delivers three quality pitches (heavy low-90s fastball, curve and changeup). While his numbers suggest he won't be a big strikeout pitcher when he settles in for Boston, he's got the goods to keep the ratios in check. There's a good chance we'll be seeing him back in Beantown before September.

RELIEF PITCHERS

As in the past, I defer to my colleague, Andy Behrens, on this one. He puts out an excellent bullpen roundup – "Closing Thoughts" – each Monday in the Roto Arcade blog. And, of course, all bullpen tremors are recorded in our nightly Closing Time piece.

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