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MLB Skinny: Time is of the essence

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

When a baseball season begins, there are a lot of fantasy owners seeking advice as to whether they should cut bait on one of their struggling players or if they should buy into an unlikely hot start. You'll often hear those in the position of dispensing such advice tell those owners that waiting until roughly two months of the season have played out before making those decisions is a prudent course of action. In other words, let the sample size get beyond the anomaly stage.

This week's MLB trade deadline has me thinking about the two-month window once again. In my Yahoo! Friends and Family League, the trade deadline is August 23rd. But if I wait until then to make a crucial deal to help me out in the standings, I can't really expect the acquired player(s) to move the standings needle with 80 percent of the season already played out. In other words, while the MLB teams work furiously up to the end-of-the-month deadline to make a move in hopes of getting them into the postseason, fantasy owners should also get off their hands and look to swing that big deal now. Give yourself a fighting chance.

Alright, moving on to the latest market movers …

CORNER INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Ryan Garko(notes), SF, 1/O – Past 23: 29-for-83 (.349), 5 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R
Billy Butler(notes), KC, 1B – Sweet 16: 22-for-64 (.344), 3 HR, 11 RBI, 8 R in past 16
Pedro Feliz(notes), Phi, 3B – Dandy dozen: 17-for-50 (.340), 1 HR, 11 RBI, 8 R

Casey Blake(notes), LAD, 1/3 – Post-break: 7-for-37 (.189), 0 HR, 3 RBI, 5 R, 13 K, 11 games
Carlos Pena(notes), TB, 1B – Past 23: 11-for-82 (.134), 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 R, SB, 31 K
Aubrey Huff(notes), Bal, 1/3 – Sour 16: 10-for-66 (.152), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 6 R, 15 K

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Adrian Beltre(notes), Sea, 3B (33%) – It sounds like Beltre is going to return early from surgery to remove bone spurs from his shoulder. The most recent timetable suggests that he could be back in uniform in the first week of August. Regarding Beltre's health, manager Don Wakamatsu said recently, "It's as good as I've seen him in a long time. He says he feels great. Our concern is not to rush it too much and him get activated and have to go right back on [the disabled list]. That's out biggest fear, so I think we [are] going to do this for a couple days, and we'll see down in Texas. We talked about possibly activating him in Kansas City. If everything goes well, we'll look at that." That Kansas City series Wakamatsu refers to starts August 4th. Playing through pain up until his surgery in late June, Beltre was really only making a fantasy impact on the base paths, where he tallied nine stolen bases in 73 games. But with his shoulder feeling much better now, a spot in the middle of the M's lineup waiting for him and a history of increased power in the second-half of the season, Beltre is a player of interest for those looking for some hot corner help.

Prospecting
Chris Davis(notes), Tex, 1/3 – Davis is gone from Texas, but he should not be forgotten. After all, this is a guy who hit .285 with 17 home runs in 80 games as a rookie last season. True, his follow-up campaign was abysmal up to the point that the Rangers sent him down in late June – he was on his way to shattering the MLB K record. But since his demotion, Davis looks like he's regaining a bit of his '08 mojo. In 18 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, he's hitting .400 with four home runs, 20 RBI and a 1.027 OPS. And he's struck out a palatable 14 times. With 32 home runs in 157 games at the big league level, it would behoove power-starved owners to keep Davis on their radar. As we've seen before, he's the kind of player capable of making a sizeable short-term impact.

MIDDLE INFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Craig Counsell(notes), Mil, 2/3/S – Post-break: 17-for-46 (.370), 1 HR, 5 RBI, 8 R, 11 games
Luis Castillo(notes), NYM, 2B – Sky-high July: 27-for-67 (.403), 0 HR, 8 RBI, 16 R, 3 SB, 20 games
Howie Kendrick(notes), LAA, 2B – Post-break: 13-for-31 (.419), 1 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R, 9 games

Freddy Sanchez(notes), Pit, 2B – Eight to hate: 3-for-34 (.088), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 3 R, 12 K past 8 games
Alexei Ramirez(notes), CHW, 2/S/O – Post-break: 9-for-44 (.205), 0 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB, 12 games
Jason Bartlett(notes), TB, SS – July slide: 15-for-66 (.227), 1 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 3 SB, 21 games

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Orlando Cabrera(notes), Oak, SS (40%) – According to rumors, Cabrera is on Minnesota's wish list as the trading deadline approaches. Considering he recently went 6-for-13 against the Twins in a three-game set last week, it's not surprising there's some interest on their part. In fact, Cabrera has been rolling for quite a long time and his mere 40 percent ownership in Yahoo! Plus leagues can only mean one of two things: 1) his horrendous start (he was hitting .229 in mid-June) is still masking his turnaround, or 2) apathy has set in among owners who are starting to feel like they have little chance to make a run at their league's championship. For those in the first group, here's a heads up on Cabrera. He's hit in an Ichiro(notes)-esque 32 of his past 35 games. He owns a .375 BA in the month of July, including eight stolen bases, two home runs and 16 RBI in 22 games. He's a perennial top 12 shortstop in fantasy, finishing 11th in the Y! game at the position last season and No. 6 the season before. Minnesota has scored 60 more runs than the A's this season, so a trade to the Twins (he's hit .326 in 86 career at-bats in the Metrodome) shouldn't have a negative consequence.

Prospecting
Reid Brignac(notes), TB, SS – Both Brignac and Milwaukee elite shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar(notes) have popped up prominently in trade rumors. But I'm going with Brignac here because he seems more likely to be moved than Escobar given the backlog the Rays have at shortstop with Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist(notes). The 23-year-old Brignac has flashed 20-home run upside in his five seasons in the minors, although he has just seven bombs in 296 at bats at Triple-A Durham this season – he does, however, rank sixth in the International League with 25 doubles. In his past 25 games for the Bulls, he's hitting .292 with four home runs, making himself that much more attractive for potentials suitors – as a Seattle-area resident, I know the Mariners are in the market. If he finds a major-league home in the coming weeks, he's at least an "only" league curiosity.

CATCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

Miguel Montero(notes), Ari, C – Past month: 33-for-87 (.379), 6 HR, 19 RBI, 14 R, 22 games
Kenji Johjima(notes), Sea, C – Past 10: 14-for-37 (.378), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R
Ryan Doumit(notes), Pit, C – Past 10: 12-for-38 (.316), 3 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R, SB

Brandon Inge(notes), Det, C/3/O – Post-break(down): 4-for-32 (.125), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 2 R, 12 K, 11 games
Bengie Molina(notes), SF, C – Past 6: 4-for-24 (.167), 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 R
Miguel Olivo(notes), KC, C – Past 8: 2-for-23 (.087), 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB

Prospecting
Buster Posey, SF, C – The Giants dared to promote last year's first-round draft pick from High-A San Jose to Triple-A Fresno in mid-July, so I'll dare talk about him as a potential late-season call-up in this space. Posey was expected to move quickly after he was drafted out of Florida St., so his jump to Triple-A isn't a huge surprise. If you don't recall, Posey was the guy who played all nine positions for the Seminoles in one game and entered the draft after leading NCAA Div. I in hitting, OBP, SLG%, Hits, Total Bases and RBI in '08. Posey is hitting just .231 in his first 10 games with Fresno, but he hasn't been overmatched – seven walks to six strikeouts. Baseball America compared Posey to Mauer at the plate, a gap-leaning hitting machine. The Giants will be content to sit on him while they are messing with the wild-card race, but should they suddenly fall off the pace, expect the Posey promotion talk to heat up.

OUTFIELDERS

Three Up/Three Down

Nyjer Morgan(notes), Was, OF – Capitol gains: 33-for-85 (.388), 0 HR, 4 RBI, 16 R, 12 SB, 22 games w/ WAS
Garrett Jones(notes), Pit, OF – Month for the ages: 29-for-88 (.330), 10 HR, 16 RBI, 16 R, 4 SB, 22 July games
Franklin Gutierrez(notes), Sea, OF – Past 34: 48-for-130 (.369), 9 HR, 26 RBI, 22 R, 4 SB

Mike Cameron(notes), Mil, OF – Cloudy 9: 6-for-33 (.182), 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 R, 0 SB, past 9 games
Josh Hamilton(notes), Tex, OF – Past 14: 7-for-55 (.127), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, SB
Jermaine Dye(notes), CHW, OF – Past 10: 5-for-35 (.143), 1 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Josh Willingham(notes), Was, OF (53%) – After hitting two grand slams in the same game on Monday, it shouldn't come as a shock to learn that the Nats' slugger is currently the most added player in the Y! game since then. The thing about Willingham, though, is that he was rockin' and rollin' well before Monday's outburst – in the past two months, he's raised his average from .221 to .298 and has 10 home runs. In his past 162 games for the Nationals, he's hit 28 home runs with 83 runs batted in and 88 runs scored. Willingham's the play for those in need of outfield power, but keep in mind that he's a hot name in trade rumors and there's a possibility that he could land a minimized role with a contender looking for bench insurance.

Prospecting
Matt LaPorta(notes), Cle, OF – As my colleague Scott Pianowski pointed out in Monday Closing Time, Andy Marte(notes) was the farm hand who benefitted from the trade that sent Ryan Garko to San Francisco, not LaPorta. But, with the Tribe thought to be dangling Victor Martinez(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes), as well, it's fairly evident the team is in rebuilding mode. And LaPorta is a key part of that, so it stands to reason it won't be long before the young powerhouse gets a shot at some more major-league seasoning. For Triple-A Columbus, LaPorta is hitting .305 with 13 home runs in 75 games. In his past six games, he's hit .333 with two home runs and six runs driven in. He's also done a good job of keeping the whiffs to a minimum (46 total, four in his past 10 games). His cup of coffee in Cleveland lasted just 13 games earlier this season. It's getting close to the point where he should be afforded a whole Thermos.

STARTING PITCHERS

Three Up/Three Down

John Lannan(notes), Was, SP – Summer sensation: 5-2, 2.44 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 73.2 IP past 10 starts
Brett Cecil(notes), Tor, SP – Past 3: 2-0, 0.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 21 K, 20 IP
David Hernandez(notes), Bal, SP – July: 2-0, 2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .200 BAA, 25.2 IP

Joe Saunders(notes), LAA, SP – Past 6: 0-2, 9.38 ERA, 2.18 WHIP, 8 HR, 13 K, 30.2 IP
Ervin Santana(notes), LAA, SP – July: 2-3, 7.09 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 7 HR, 24 K, 26.2 IP
James Shields(notes), TB, SP – July: 0-2, 5.21 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7 HR, 23 K, 38 IP

Wire flier (best pickup among players owned in less than 50 percent of Y! Plus leagues)
Luke Hochevar(notes), KC, SP (38%) – The 2006 No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft is 6-1 since June 6th. His past two outings have been particularly impressive, as he's sported a combined 24:0 K-to-BB ratio in a victory against Texas and a no-decision against Tampa Bay. A ground-ball pitcher, Hochevar has been unlucky with long ball this season, as his HR/FB rate is 13.2 percent. Considering the jump in strikeouts, the drop in walks and the expectation that the rate of home runs allowed will regress, there's plenty of reason to believe that Hochevar can continue to be more than just spot-start fodder in 12-team mixed leagues moving forward.

Prospecting
Chris Tillman(notes), Bal, SP – Tillman returns to this piece of real estate as it was announced that he'd make his major-league debut on Wednesday against Kansas City, about as soft a landing as a phenom pitcher could hope for. As I said, I've talked about Tillman before. But, to summarize, when it comes to the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game, you can't have that argument without having Tillman in the conversation. He leaves Triple-A Norfolk with a 2.70 ERA and a 99:26 K-to-BB ratio in 96.2 IP. For fantasy purposes, treat him like Atlanta's Tommy Hanson(notes). He's on that level.

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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