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The Skinny: Debuts over deals

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
DETROIT TIGERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Franklyn German
Skinny: An arm injury cost Rodney a shot at closing back in 2004. On Friday, another serious injury may have opened an opportunity for the 28-year-old righty. Rodney saved 23 games for Triple-A Toledo in 2003, posting an ERA of 1.33 with 58 strikeouts in 40.2 innings. He was the favorite to close for Detroit in 2004 before an elbow injury and subsequent Tommy John surgery sidelined him for the entire season. Back, healthy and effective, he should take over now that Kyle Farnsworth has been dealt. Oddly enough, it was the serious elbow injury suffered by Atlanta reliever Jay Powell that served as catalyst for the Farnsworth deal.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
Skinny: It's the great fantasy debate of the weekend: Was Farnsworth brought south to support Reitsma or supplant him? According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, manager Bobby Cox says Farnsworth will be used as a "late guy." Bobby, much thanks for putting an end to the speculation. The consensus is that Reitsma will keep his job. Since taking over for Danny Kolb, he has converted 14 of 16 save chances with an ERA of right around 2.00. Farnsworth looks, throws and body-slams unsuspecting opponents like a closer, but will more likely than not serve as a set-up guy in Atlanta. One reason for the move: Reitsma had a 7.71 ERA in his past 15 appearances in 2004.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Greg Aquino, Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Aquino recorded the final six outs Saturday to shut the door on Chicago for his first save of the season. He saved 16 in 2004. After the game, manager Bob Melvin told the Arizona Republic that he needed to "digest this and see where we're at" before making any short-term adjustments to bullpen assignments. What is clear is that Bruney's job is in serious jeopardy. He blew a save Friday and has a 9.22 ERA since June 1. Mysteriously, the odd-man out in this situation is Valverde, who has 31 strikeouts and a 0.78 ERA in his past 23 innings. Continuing his rehab assignment at Triple-A Tucson, Lyon allowed two runs on three hits in one inning Sunday.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Matt Belisle, Kent Mercker
Skinny: No deal means no dice for the naming of an official closer in Cincinnati. Manager Jerry Narron has been hesitant to designate anyone as the anchor of his bullpen, but there was hope that either Weathers or Mercker (or both) would get dealt – moves that might have forced the Reds to commit to one guy. With three saves and a win since June 15, Weathers remains the guy to own. Mercker will get his shots against lefties and Narron remains confident in Belisle despite two rough outings last week – but neither has value outside the deepest of leagues.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Eyre
Skinny: Statistically, Walker had his best month of the season in July. Improved control resulted in a season-low 1.33 WHIP, his opponent's batting averaged tied a season-best at .244 and he recorded seven saves. His job security? That's a different story. Three blown saves in a 10-day period have him firmly planted on the Hot Seat. Hawkins had a 0.96 July ERA in games not played at Wrigley Field and remains an option despite his earlier struggles. Eyre's name doesn't come up much, but with a .196 opponent's average and a 0.77 WHIP in July, he could sneak in a save or two when a lefty is needed.
BOSTON RED SOX HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: Schilling pitched a scoreless ninth Sunday to earn his fifth save in six chances as Boston's closer. The team was expected to re-evaluate the bullpen situation and Schilling's request to return to the rotation after the trade deadline. Now that the date has come and gone without the arrival of a new arm, manager Terry Francona and the Red Sox have a decision to make. Injured closer Keith Foulke is reportedly on schedule in his return from knee surgery. Expect the Red Sox to stick with Schilling and his less-than-explosive stuff until they see just how effective Foulke can be. Timlin earned the win Sunday and has allowed an earned run in just two of his past 25 appearances.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara
Skinny: By pitching two scoreless innings Sunday, Brazoban managed to lower his July ERA under the 9.00 mark. It wasn't easy. He loaded the bases with a double and two walks in the 10th before serving up a double-play grounder. Keep an eye on rookie Jonathan Broxton. He has a fastball that tops out around 100 mph and explosive stuff that even the great Albert Pujols respects. The two faced each other in each of Broxton's first two major league appearances, and both times the slugger struck out.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: Try striking a deal with the most difficult fantasy owner in your league and you'll get a taste of what MLB general managers go through when negotiating with Tampa GM Chuck LaMar. Baez was all but gone three weeks ago, but the notoriously stingy LaMar wasn't impressed with any of the offers that came across, so the team's closer stays. Baez finished July with seven saves in eight chances. So much for Borowski getting another shot. He hasn't been scored upon in 8.1 innings as a member of the Devil Rays, but he'll continue to play second fiddle for the remainder of the season.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, Rick White
Skinny: Injured reliever Mike Gonzalez is expected to begin a Triple-A rehab assignment early this week. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the lefty will spend 7-10 days with Indianapolis before re-joining the big club. Earlier this season, manager Lloyd McClendon indicated that he wanted Gonzalez to get a taste of closing this season. That seemed to change after the injury, and the Bucs now just want to see him approach his dominating form of 2004. Mesa was a perfect 6-for-6 converting saves in July.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: No shortage of trade talk here, but again, no deal. MacDougal stays in Kansas City and gets a chance to continue his career revival in the closer's chair. He was 6-for-6 converting saves in July and his ERA and WHIP for the month were both season lows. Just as effective was Burgos, who struck out 12 and allowed only four hits in 7.1 July innings.
What a bust. If I wanted hours and hours of debate and negotiations without seeing any deals consummated, I would have spent the weekend trying to swing a trade in my keeper league. Efforts would have been similarly futile, but at least I would have come away with an entertaining e-mail or two. Some big names were tossed around all weekend, but in the end the trade deadline came and went with a whimper. Without any impact trades to analyze, we'll start the week by updating some other big stories in fantasy baseball:

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

  • Prospect watchers are already very familiar with the name Felix Hernandez. For the uninitiated, just think about how crazy the hype surrounding Dwight Gooden would have been had the internet existed when he debuted in 1984. That's what you have with Hernandez. The kid is only 19 and has made just 14 starts above the Double-A level, but already he is being compared with some all-time greats. Can he deliver? We may find out sooner than later. Among the many rumors flying around Sunday was one that speculated Seattle would call up the hard-throwing righty as early as this week.

He pitched four innings of no-hit ball Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma, striking out seven and walking two in what could be his last minor league start. No official announcement had been made as of Monday morning, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer speculated that a promotion was eminent. According to the report, he would debut out of the bullpen. For fantasy owners, it will be hard not to claim Hernandez when he hits the waiver wire. Scouts say he has three big-league ready pitches and a fastball that reaches 96-97 mph. At Tacoma, he was 7-3 with a 2.25 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 88 innings – numbers accumulated in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

  • The injury suffered by Torii Hunter Friday left a hole in the Minnesota lineup and sent more than a few rotisserie owners scrambling for help. Though he's rarely mentioned among elite fantasy outfielders, Hunter has been a reliable 20/20 threat for several years. The run production had slowed a bit in July, but he was still on his way to a 90-run, 90-RBI, 30-steal season before his left foot met the outfield wall at Fenway Park. According to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, team doctors fear that Hunter has a torn tendon in his left ankle. If Monday's MRI backs up that diagnosis, season-ending surgery is a very real possibility.

Curiously, Minnesota didn't address the void at the trade deadline. That means the club is prepared to play out the season with Lew Ford as their regular center fielder. A year ago, Ford scored 89 runs and stole 20 bases, though he spent most of the year batting in the top third of the Twins lineup. He batted seventh Sunday after hitting in the third position Saturday. Ford is watch-worthy, but widely available outfielders who can make a more dramatic impact are: Matt Holliday, David DeJesus, Luis Matos and possibly even Gary Matthews Jr., if he can keep up his recent tear.

  • Dustin McGowan hasn't won a professional decision since very early in the 2004 season. How, then, does he find his way into The Skinny? Simple – he struck out six in his major league debut, the most ever by a Toronto pitcher making his first start. McGowan was starting in place of the injured Ted Lilly. So how did he get here despite his year-long win drought? First off, 2004 wasn't his fault. He started 2-0 at Double-A New Hampshire, but his season was cut short by Tommy John surgery. He had been effective in 11 minor league starts this season, but had only a 0-3 record to show for it.

The hard luck, sadly, may have followed him to Toronto. He was borderline brilliant at times against the Rangers – reaching the mid-90s consistently while holding Texas to two hits and a single earned run over five innings. The result: another no decision. According to the Toronto Sun, manager John Gibbons would like to see McGowan get at least one more start before returning him to the minors. Fantasy owners should use that start to scout this youngster for a potential September call-up. That is, of course, assuming he doesn't pitch his way into the rotation right now.

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

  • Juan Uribe, SS, ChW
    Last year in July and August, Uribe hit .323 with 10 homers and 34 RBI in 44 games. In 2005 Yahoo! leagues, he was drafted ahead of the likes of Bobby Crosby, Pedro Feliz and Julio Lugo. Today, he's an afterthought – cast aside by all but the most patient of rotisserie owners after a prolonged slump that carried into early July. Is the worst behind him? Recent results hint at a strong recovery. Uribe collected three hits Sunday to improve his July average to .250. Not all that impressive, but he does lead all shortstop-eligible players with 18 RBIs over the past 30 days. He looks like a great buy-low candidate for the stretch run.
  • Brad Halsey, SP, Ari
    Halsey pitched six strong innings at Chicago Thursday to improve to 3-0 on the road in the month of July. He needed only 73 pitches to keep the Cubs scoreless before he was removed for a pinch-hitter. Arizona's key acquisition in the Randy Johnson trade, Halsey finished the month with an ERA of 2.20, a 1.07 WHIP and a .243 opponent's average. June was a disaster from start to finish for this kid, but if you exclude that month he's 7-3 on the season with favorable WHIP and ERA totals. He should be one of the top sleepers for the season's final two months.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Matt Diaz, OF, KC (ETA – August)
    Despite hitting .332 with 21 homers and 93 RBIs at Triple-A Durham in 2004, Diaz was let go by the Devil Rays during the offseason. The release was a courtesy more than anything. The Tampa organization was deep in outfielders and the move gave Diaz a chance to catch on elsewhere. In this case, "elsewhere" happens to be with an organization desperate for corner outfielders. Diaz was up with the Royals earlier this season, and the way he's hitting lately he'll get another shot soon. He was 5-for-5 with two homers Sunday, just a few days after going 6-for-6. Overall, he is batting .411 with 16 doubles and eight homers in 33 games for KC's top developmental affiliate.
  • Jon Papelbon, SP, Bos (ETA – debuted Sunday)
    Papelbon began his big league career Sunday by striking out the first two batters he faced. He was forced to battle here and there over the course of his five-plus innings of work, but overall the debut was a success. The hard-throwing righty struck out seven Minnesota batters before leaving in the sixth. He has pitched at three levels this season, the longest stint coming at Double-A Portland where he went 5-2 with a 2.48 ERA. According to Baseball America, he has the best fastball in the Boston system.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Jeff Francoeur, RF, Atl – If you haven't already jumped on this kid, you might be too late. The rookie is nine for his last 20 with three homers and eight RBIs.

Claudio Vargas, SP, Ari – Vargas has won four of his past five decisions and he finished July with some impressive splits: 2.01 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, .222 opponent's average.

Rich Hill SP, Chi(N) – News that Kerry Wood will join the Chicago bullpen when he returns from the DL means that Hill can, at the very least, continue to rack up some decent strikeout totals. In his past three outings, Hill has allowed only four runs while striking out a batter an inning in 15 innings of work.

Jason LaRue, C, Cin – Since mid-May, LaRue is batting .323 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in just over 40 games. He's 6-for-12 with two homers and five RBIs in his past four games.

Ryan Shealy, 1B, Col – With Todd Helton on the DL, Shealy went 6-for-12 over the weekend with three doubles and two RBIs. Teammate Matt Holliday is 15 for his last 37 with four homers and nine RBIs.

Chip Ambres, LF, KC – Though the club views him as a fourth outfielder, Ambres is performing like a guy who wants a featured role. He stole a base Tuesday and hit his first major league homer two nights later. He had 10 homers and 19 steals this season with Triple-A Pawtucket in the Boston organization.

Chris Duffy, CF, Pit – With only Jason Bay getting the job done below him in the lineup, but it should be noted that Duffy is 10 for his last 20 with four runs scored and two stolen bases. He was hitting .308 in the minors before Pittsburgh recalled him.

Conor Jackson, 1B, Ari – Jackson is expected to platoon at first base with Tony Clark for the time being. The heralded prospect hit .354 with 38 doubles and eight homers at Triple-A Tucson before getting the call.

Jeff Francis, SP, Col – Ever heard the phrase, "make sure this pitcher is in your lineup when he plays AT Coors Field?" That's exactly the case with Francis, who improved to 8-2 at home with a win Sunday.

Jay Payton, OF, Oak – Payton hasn't stopped hitting since joining the A's. His home runs Sunday gave him four for the month to go along with 13 RBIs in 15 games.

Rickie Weeks, 2B, Mil – As they say, it doesn't take long for the book to get published. Weeks is just two for his last 22 after a hot start.

B.J. Ryan, RP, Bal – His job is secure for now, but it's hard to ignore the 8.68 ERA over the past month.

Aaron Hill, 3B, Tor – Like Weeks, Hill has seen a dramatic drop-off in productivity. The rookie hit just .209 in July with one homer and seven RBIs.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
FantasyGuru will lead this league in moves if not the standings. Jeff Francoeur and Fernando Rodney are two of the latest to be brought into the fold. Dropping Matt Clement seems like a risk given his quick recovery from last week's brutal injury.