MLB Skinny: Trade whispers

Brad Evans
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: A productive finisher for the Baltimore Orioles from 2002-2004, Julio is entrenched as Bob Melvin's go-to-guy. The former Met has converted his past three opportunities and has allowed only one run since May 23rd. Totaling an eye-popping eight earned runs in his past three innings, Valverde's ERA and WHIP have ballooned to 7.36 and 1.75, respectively. Equipped with a mid-90s fastball and a sick splitter, he possesses dominating stuff at times. If he can harness his control in consecutive outings – he has 14 walks in 25.2 IP – Melvin may work him back into the closer's role slowly. With Julio's grip on the job far from strangling, Valverde only has one foot in the grave.
1st Chair: Unknown
2nd Chair: Shawn Camp, Brian Meadows, Tim Corcoran, Ruddy Lugo
Injured: Tyler Walker
Skinny: Tyler Walker landed on the 15-day DL early last week with the contagious ulnar collateral sprain in his right elbow – the same injury that has plagued Rich Harden and Eric Gagne. In his absence, Joe Maddon has instituted a committee that is about as predictable as roulette. With three saves already this season, my money is on Shawn Camp to emerge as the temporary closer. Camp has a 3.86 ERA in 30.1 innings this season and some experience in the role. However, only add him if you are terribly desperate for saves – the D-Rays have only been in two save situations since May 28th.
1st Chair: Joe Borowski
2nd Chair: Taylor Tankersley, Logan Kensing
Skinny: Totaling a save and a win this week, the Tank is beginning to gain some momentum. On June 16th, Tankersley slammed the door on Toronto with Joe Borowski unavailable after pitching on three consecutive days. Borowski owners should have little to fear as he has performed admirably of late, converting on six straight chances. However, if he was traded or falters by the end of July, Tankersley is next in line.
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya
Skinny: Jones continues to age exponentially right before our eyes, imploding for four runs against Tampa Bay on June 14th. Despite tallying four losses in his past 10 appearances, Jim Leyland continues to point Jones' way, calling on him to close the door on the hapless Cubs for his 18th save on Friday. With Fernando Rodney also struggling – he has allowed eight runs since June 6th – it's only a matter of time before flame-throwing wonder boy Joel Zumaya steals the spotlight. His electric arsenal is downright frightening.
1st Chair: Ambiorix Burgos
2nd Chair: Elmer Dessens
Injured: Mike MacDougal
Skinny: Burgos is back in his second tour of duty as the primary closer in Cow Town after compiling two saves this past week. Schooled in the Todd Jones academy of ugly closeouts, he will have to cut back significantly on his walks to have any shot of maintaining his current position with Mike MacDougal expected back in 7-10 days from a rehab assignment. With the inconsistencies of Burgos and Elmer Dessens, MacDougal will have little difficulty regaining the closer's job if he suffers no setbacks. Add him if available.
1st Chair: Armando Benitez
2nd Chair: Tim Worrell
Skinny: Benitez was reassured by manager Felipe Alou last week that, "He is not only my closer, he's the organization's closer." Walking 11 in 15.1 innings this season, Benitez has blown three of seven save chances. Although no longer a tier – one stopper like he was in Florida two years ago, he will be an adequate No. 3 reliever capable of 15 – 20 saves. Secondary option Tim Worrell has been spanked since Benitez's return, tallying a pathetic 6.54 ERA. He did convert on six straight save chances back in April, but appears to be swimming in choppy waters.

Believe it or not, the Young brothers will not take home any humanitarian awards this year. Back in May, promising D-Rays phenom Delmon Young was slapped with a 50-game suspension for throwing a bat at an umpire. And now, older brother Dmitri Young has a warrant out for his arrest after failing to appear in court on charges stemming from a domestic abuse case with an ex-girlfriend on June 14th. For Dmitri's sake, he had better not have Jamal Lewis' legal team. After all, having "Meat Hook" as a nickname can't bode well for anyone in the slammer. Here is what went down on the diamond over the weekend:

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

  • For the first time on his tune-up tour, the Rocket failed to earn the crowd any take-home goodies. Cheered on by 13,000 plus at Triple-A Round Rock last Friday – including Wooderson of Dazed and Confused – the 43-year-old superstar struggled initially allowing three runs on 42 pitches in the top of the first. After a troubling start, he settled down to retire 15 of the next 17 batters faced, finishing with a reasonable line of: 5.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K. "I'm a little winded, but my body is feeling fine," Clemens said. Interestingly, Clemens backtracked a bit when probed further, "I'm not happy with where my body is now, but I think it's good enough to get going. I'm going to make it happen. I have to find a way to get it done regardless." He is expected to take the mound against the Minnesota Twins on June 22nd.

Owners should tame their expectations somewhat in his first couple of starts. Once Clemens regains full stamina, dominating 6-8 K efforts will surely follow. Look for him to come close to his second-half numbers from a year ago – 2.27 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 81 Ks, in 108 IP. However, with his advanced age, expect more six-inning efforts this time around. If your opponent is offering the farm for his services, strongly consider maximizing your profit based on the hype.

  • Earmuffs, AL-only owners: Trade rumors for crazy legs Carl Crawford are really beginning to heat up. Over the last couple of weeks the Angels, Cubs, Dodgers and Rockies have contacted the D-Rays front office inquiring about his services. One of the elite players in fantasy, Crawford said that the trade rumors were "not really serious," but he is intrigued by the possibilities of playing for a contender. According to one source, the Angels low-balled Tampa Bay, offering starter Ervin Santana straight up for Crawford. Ultimately, it will take a number of top prospects, along with a frontline starter, in order for a deal to get done considering he is one of the premiere all-around threats, and only 25 years of age.

For those of you hoarding FAAB cash in NL-only formats, start sacrificing small animals to the trade gods now. Although a deal is highly unlikely at this point, could you imagine if Crawford played everyday in Colorado? On pace for a libido driving 20 HR, 75 RBIs, 100 runs and 50 steals, his power totals would certainly edge closer to 30 bombs and 90 RBIs with a move to Coors. If you're in a competitive AL-only league, don't panic. It will take a blockbuster offer for the D-Rays to pack his bags.

  • Off-the-field influences continue to push the thermostat in Arizona to uncomfortable levels for Diamondback fans. Late last week, D-Backs executive Ken Kendrick fostered suspicions that popular outfielder Luis Gonzalez abused steroids, saying "there have certainly been whispers." In response, a vehement Gonzalez called a press conference last Thursday and stated, "I don't want to be in this situation. I don't think any of my teammates do. It's unfortunate that I almost have to sit here today to defend myself for no reason." This came only nine days after Jason Grimsley dropped an HGH bomb on the club, sending the D-Backs into a tailspin. They have lost 12 of their past 13 games.

From a fantasy perspective, this is a very interesting situation. With Gonzalez obviously angered by the implications and with his numbers lacking – he is hitting just .265 with 5 homers and 30 RBIs – there is a strong likelihood he dons different threads by the trade deadline. What does this mean? Hitting phenom Carlos Quentin could get a chance to showcase his talents by the end of July. In 233 at-bats at Triple-A Tucson, the 21-year-old has six homers, 32 RBIs and a stellar 37:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 452 Triple-A at-bats last season, Quentin hit .301 with 21 bombs and 89 RBIs. Keeper leagues and NL-only formats need to have their trigger fingers ready to pluck the talented prospect. He could be a valuable source for batting average, home runs and RBIs with regular playing time come August.

  • Injury news and updates: Albert Pujols is rapidly recuperating from an oblique strain after taking 30 cage swings on Saturday and several cuts against live pitching on Sunday. Asked about his return, Pujols commented, ""I think it's going to be soon, but I don't want to say a whole lot more. My rehab is going great. It's going real good." Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa insisted that his All-Star first basemen would "play before the All-Star break." Best-case scenario has Pujols back on the field within two weeks, but be cautiously optimistic. For those attempting to coax a trade, his sale price will expire soon … As reported last week, Oakland fireballer Rich Harden was expected to miss 2-3 months with an elbow injury. Now, the setback appears to be less severe. Team orthopedist Dr. Jerrald Goldman believes that Harden's sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament is a "mild one" and he could return just after the All-Star break – Surprising Cleveland outfielder Casey Blake was placed on the 15-day DL with a strained muscle in his left side. He was hitting .304 with 10 HRs and 36 RBIs. Rookie Franklin Gutierrez, Todd Hollandsworth and Eduardo Perez will likely platoon in right field in Blake's absence … If you had June 17th in your Cliff Floyd injury pool, congratulations. On Saturday, the oft-injured outfielder was placed on the 15-day DL retroactive to June 7th with a sprained ankle. He twisted the ankle on June 6th attempting to take third after a Jose Valentin double. The "frustrated" Floyd has logged 75 DL days since 2001. There is a slight chance he could return to action this weekend, but expect a Lastings Milledge and Endy Chavez timeshare in left until Floyd is 100 percent.

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

  • Joel Zumaya, Det, RP
    In recent appearances, Zumaya's fastball has reached speeds Esteban Loaiza wishes he could touch without the benefits of operating a Ferrari while intoxicated. Despite allowing his first run since May 23rd over the weekend – a solo shot to the red-hot Aramis Ramirez – Zumaya has dominated this season, limiting opponents to a stifling .160 BAA. His blazing 100-mph fastball, knee-buckling curve and underrated change, are a recipe for strikeout success – as his 44 strikeouts in 34.2 innings and 13 punchouts in his past eight appearances attests. For those owners banking on a marginal fifth or sixth starter, grab this hungry Tiger as a terrific source of Ks, ERA, WHIP, and, eventually, saves. Earning his first save on June 11th, Zumaya confidently predicted "there will be many more to come." With Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney's recent troubles, Zumaya may indeed be a clairvoyant. It's a crime he is available in nearly 86 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Chad Billingsley, LAD, SP, (ETA: Now)
    Guess what? Another rookie in La La Land is producing. Billingsley is a premiere high-K talent and one of the brightest pitching prospects to hit Los Angeles since Fernando Valenzuela. Impressive in his first start in San Diego, the 21-year-old power righty threw 5.1 innings, giving up two runs on six hits, three walks, while striking out three. Touching 96 MPH with his fastball in his debut, the stout power pitcher also boasts one of the best sliders in the Dodgers organization and a plus curveball. He projects as a No. 1 starter and will likely be a stud staple for years to come. As Dodgers manager Grady Little said earlier this week, "This guy is what you call the package." Go bonkers for the youngster in keeper formats, but be cautious in shallow yearly leagues. Similar to Cole Hamels, Billingsley will be erratic at times. This is Billingsley's second turn in the "Prospect Watch" section – Brandon Funston accurately predicted back on May 1st that Billingsley would reach the show sometime in June.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Enrique Gonzalez, Ari, SP – Promoted heavily in last week's Skinny, Gonzalez didn't disappoint in his return to the D-Backs rotation, shrinking the Giants and Jason Schmidt over seven innings on June 13th, allowing 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, and 4 K. Sure, the seven-run thumping at Texas on Sunday was painful, but call it a small speed bump. Quality starts will become routine for this kid.

Jason Kubel, Min, OF – Since being recalled on May 22nd, Kubel has murdered opposing AL pitchers, batting .333 with 5 HRs and 14 RBIs in June. Kubel has all the tools to be a .300-plus hitter with 20-HR power, ample RBIs and 8-10 steals over the remainder of the season.

Chris Burke, Hou, OF – For those owners looking for cheap speed, Burke is your guy. Going 10-for-20 this past week with three steals and nine runs, he is hitting very comfortably in the No. 3 spot. Purchase him if you need a speed/runs boost at middle infield.

Justin Morneau, Min, 1B – Finally not killing your team, Morneau is riding a 10-game hit streak. Since June 7th, he has raised his batting average by 34 points, crushed five longballs and totaled 15 RBIs. At this point, 35 HRs and 100 RBI are not unrealistic. But be leery – He is only a career .238 hitter after the break. Sell high if you have the opportunity.

Ricky Nolasco, Fla, SP – The ex-Cub is now 5-3 with a 1.71 ERA in June. Available in more than 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues, trust him as a strong No. 5 starter.

Joe Blanton, Oak, SP – The former Kentucky Wildcat has turned the corner, totaling four quality-starts in his past five outings. He posted a 5-1 record, 2.06 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in June last year and is heading in a similar direction this time around. Still available in nearly 35 percent of Yahoo! leagues, Blanton will be a Top-20 starter over the rest of the season.

Pablo Ozuna, ChW, 2B/3B/OF – Have you noticed what this guy's accomplished in limited time? Quietly posting a Ted Williams-esque .438 BA on the year, Ozuna has five multi-hit efforts this month. Fast-talker Ozzie Guillen continues to find creative ways to get his sizzling bat in the lineup and so should deep mixed leaguers. His position flexibility, skyward average and double-digit steals pace makes him very attractive.

Anthony Reyes, StL, SP – Reyes is back in the starting rotation after the demotion of the portly Sidney Ponson to the pen. In his brief stint with the Cardinals earlier this season, the organization's top pitching prospect totaled a 2.25 ERA and an outstanding 8:2 strikeout to walk ratio in 12.1 innings. Of all the talented rookie starters currently in the NL, Reyes is the most polished. Click the "Add" button.

Khalil Greene, SD, SS – Bring back the braids. Only 3 for his past 29, Greene has not homered since May 22nd and has failed to drive in a run in 13 straight. Historically, he swoons in June, notching a .227 average in his career. NL-only owners in search of a power upgrade at middle infield, should send a low-ball offer.

Jered Weaver, LAA, SP – Optioned to Triple-A with the return of burger connoisseur Bartolo Colon, now is the perfect time to acquire Weaver. Trade rumors are swirling about his older brother, and soon he will be back in the bigs for good. Four straight wins and a stupid 22:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio to start your MLB career is man-crush worthy.

Cole Hamels, Phi, SP – The Phillies sensation is following the mantra of rookie inconsistency. In his past two outings, Hamels has allowed 13 hits and nine runs in 8.2 innings. Despite the downturn, his strikeout potential makes him a strong No. 5 starter in mixed formats of 12 teams and up. Boom and bust cycles are still in the forecast.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
RotoWire_Liss remains bunkered in atop the league standings. He sits 14 points above KFFL-Anderson. Last week, Yahoo! held three spots in the top five, but each of those teams have slipped a bit of late, with Y!-Buser dropping out of the top five (now at seventh). Recent adds across the league include Jorge Posada, Jacque Jones, Ronnie Belliard, Trot Nixon, Orlando Hernandez and Juan Encarnacion.