NBA free-agency tracker:

The Skinny: Fantasy meets reality

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
FLORIDA MARLINS RED HOT
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Guillermo Mota, Danny Graves?
Skinny: Watching Jack McKeon lose his cool on Saturday – his head bobbing back and forth as he unleashed his tirade – you would have thought an umpire was on the receiving end after a game-changing blown call. Not the case. The tongue lashing was directed at Marlins reliever Guillermo Mota, and it took place on the mound of all places. As ugly as the exchange was, Mota's numbers of late have been uglier. Florida's former closer has allowed eight runs on nine hits in 4.2 innings since returning from the DL. Neither would comment after a closed-door team meeting, but the dust-up only solidifies Jones' hold on the closer job. The veteran has converted nine straight save chances, allowing only one run in the process. Florida is expected to add bullpen depth by signing Graves.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Wagner
2nd Chair: David Weathers, Kent Mercker
Skinny: Speaking of fighting emotions and losing, Wagner had his own setback on Friday. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, team officials were upset that Wagner twice gestured to catcher Jason LaRue in a "what were you thinking?" manner after his battery-mate failed to complete a double-play during a six-run inning for Colorado. Not the kind of composure you're looking for in a closer. There's also this: If Wagner is the front-runner to win this job, why is manager Dave Miley inserting him in the sixth inning with his team trailing 4-2? Obviously, this is still a committee – Wagner is still the favorite as he entered the season with the "closer of the future" tag.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: Not a fan of bullpen committees, new Royals manager Buddy Bell went ahead and named MacDougal his closer last week. Up to the task, the former All-Star responded with three saves in as many chances, two at the expense of the Yankees. Not a bad turnaround for a guy who was demoted twice last season. MacDougal walked 25 batters in 32 minor league innings in 2004. Affeldt returned to action on Saturday and is saying all the right things. He wants his old job back, but understands that MacDougal has the hot hand right now. GM Allard Baird told MLB.com that Affeldt will "get an opportunity to close out again." Clearly, Baird realizes what fantasy owners have come to learn over the past two years – MacDougal can't be trusted over the long-haul.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Dan Kolb, Adam Bernero
Skinny: If you're an Atlanta starter, you'd probably rather go the Livan Hernandez route and throw 170 pitches than watch manager Bobby Cox hand the ball to a reliever. The bullpen suffered another implosion on Thursday and the villain, Dan Kolb, was a familiar one. Trying to protect a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning, Kolb allowed four earned runs while retiring only one batter. He's been back from the dead once, but it would take a comeback of Jim Braddock-like proportions for Kolb to factor into clutch situations again. Reitsma, meanwhile, has been a bright spot. He is 3-for-3 converting saves since May 25, but don't be surprised if the Braves make a deal for an experienced closer.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Jason Christiansen, LaTroy Hawkins
Skinny: Walker was feeling some heat after suffering a loss on May 29. Hawkins pitched a flawless eighth in his Giants debut to keep the game tied, but Walker allowed three earned runs in the ninth and was lifted after recording only one out. Manager Felipe Alou, however, prefers to focus on Walker's record in save situations. In those games, his closer's numbers look like this: 8-for-9 in saves chances, 9.2 innings, four hits, one earned run. Hawkins, by the way, has been simply miserable in two appearances since his debut.
COLORADO ROCKIES WARM
1st Chair: Brian Fuentes
2nd Chair: Jay Witasick
Skinny: Fuentes struck out Ken Griffey Jr. twice over the weekend – punching out five batters total while recording two saves at the expense of the struggling Reds. Since May 1, Fuentes has allowed only three earned runs on 10 hits in 17.2 innings. Through Sunday, he has a 1.96 ERA in 19 appearances at Coors Field. Last year's Colorado closer (Shawn Chacon) posted an 8.04 ERA at home. Matt Anderson, recently recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs, would like to pitch himself into the closer mix.
CHICAGO CUBS WARM
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Danny Graves?
Skinny: Michael Wuertz and Todd Wellemeyer have excelled in their set-up roles of late, so the Cubs are unlikely to make a serious run at Danny Graves, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on hursday. There's also Dempster, who after blowing his first save chance has rattled off six straight successful conversions, allowing only one run on two hits in the process. For a change, the eighth and ninth innings are the least of Chicago's concerns. Borowski has allowed two solo homers since returning to action but has been otherwise reliable in his five appearances.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Ugueth Urbina
2nd Chair: Troy Percival
Skinny: Percival pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Sunday in his first game back from arm trouble. Since he declined a minor league rehab assignment, manager Alan Trammell will use him in set-up or mop-up situations until he's deemed ready to resume closing. Until then, Urbina will continue to get the call. He is 8-for-8 since Percival was sidelined.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS WARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: For insurance purposes, does this go down as elective surgery? Despite multiple recommendations that he rehab his elbow, A's closer Octavio Dotel opted for an operation that will knock him off the fantasy radar for as much as two seasons. The decision accelerates the development of Street. Now the A's full-time closer, the rookie has two saves and a win in his past three appearances. Duchscherer pitched the seventh and eighth to deliver the game to Street on Thursday and is the most likely candidate to step in when the rook needs a breather. GM Billy Beane told the Contra Costa Times he has no intention of acquiring a closer via trade.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde, Matt Herges
Skinny: Closer Brandon Lyon (elbow) still hasn't resumed throwing, meaning the 3-4 week timetable for his return is rather optimistic. Holding down the fort until then is a committee that includes Bruney and Valverde. Both relievers have allowed six runs in their past five trips to the mound. Newly acquired set-up guy Matt Herges pitched two shutout innings on Saturday in his Arizona debut. He could factor into the late-inning mix if manager Bob Melvin's other options continue to falter. Greg Aquino, who saved 16 games for the D'Backs in 2004, could re-join the team within the week.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: Pitching himself into hot water, Baez has blown half of his past eight save chances. On Saturday, he allowed a single to Seattle's Dave Hansen that allowed the tying and winning runs to score. Orvella, recently recalled from Double-A, escaped unscathed in his first two big league outings before allowing a run in the ninth inning on Sunday to suffer his first Major League loss. Manager Lou Piniella insists he's not looking for a new closer, but team officials have not denied reports that they would trade Baez if the offer was right.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Manager Lloyd McClendon has said he plans to give Gonzalez a taste of ninth-inning pressure situations as the season progresses. Just how many ninth-inning leads he'll inherit depends on whether Mesa can regain his command after recent struggles. Mesa has allowed at least one earned run in five of his past nine save appearances and he allowed two runners to reach base before closing the door on Atlanta on Sunday. Lefties are batting just .125 off Gonzalez, a southpaw.
One of the great things about managing a rotisserie baseball team is the chance it gives you to blur the line between fantasy and reality. It's why The Skinny will often reject trade offers with comments about team chemistry, locker-room makeup, no-trade causes and the like. It's also why I'm accepting credit for getting two slumping stars to wake up. Since signing Johnny Estrada (since released) and Dallas McPherson (retained) to, in effect, send a message, Victor Martinez has four homers in 10 games and Eric Chavez is piling up homers and RBIs at an Eric Chavez-like pace. Next up: lighting a fire under Travis Hafner. Now, on to the weekend action I'm not taking credit for:

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

  • Are these the same Oakland Athletics who scored three or fewer runs 12 times in May and limped into June with a team batting average sputtering near .240? The question – asked after the A's reached the 10-run mark for the third time in a week on Sunday – is a legitimate one. The answer, of course, is no. Oakland plated 12 runs on Sunday. Five of them were driven home by players who weren't regulars in the lineup two weeks ago. To be realistic, the get-well week kicked off with a sweep of Tampa Bay, a team ranked only ahead of Colorado in team ERA. Still, there are plenty of developments in Oakland for fantasy owners to keep an eye on.

Shortstop Bobby Crosby scored three times on Sunday and has three multi-hit games in June. He batted second on Sunday, a position that could prove lucrative if Eric Chavez continues to swing a hot bat. Also red-hot is outfielder Nick Swisher. Labeled an ineffective fantasy option in this column last week, the switch-hitter went 10-for-26 with nine RBIs on the week. Finally on the offensive end, rookie Dan Johnson is eight for his past 20 with five runs scored and three RBIs. Erubiel Durazo is at least a week away from returning from the DL and if this upswing in run production continues, he could find himself in a reserve role. Sunday's winner, Dan Haren, hasn't issued a walk in three starts. He is 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA in that span. Among these breakout performers, only Crosby is widely owned. That could change if Oakland's road trip through Washington and Atlanta is a successful one.

  • As if a 1-for-27 slump wasn't enough to deal with, Chipper Jones owners may soon have to adjust to life without their starting third baseman for an extended period. Jones aggravated a foot injury leaving the batter's box in the eighth inning of Sunday's loss to Pittsburgh. After the game, he would tell reporters that it felt like "somebody shot me in the foot." Since originally hurting his foot on April 24, Jones has seen his average plummet by nearly 100 points. The original diagnosis was a bruise, but Chipper has suspected worse. Sunday's injury validated his concerns. Just how long he'll be out isn't yet know, but club officials are bracing for a trip to the DL.

Where do Jones owners go from here? There is depth to be found at third base. Rob Mackowiak (3 HRs/past 9 games), Dallas McPherson (4 HRs/past 10), Geoff Blum (see below) and Garrett Atkins (.380 home average) are all serviceable options if Jones is forced to the disabled list. In Atlanta, Jones' injury may give the Braves a good excuse to find more at bats for Wilson Betemit. Named the top prospect in the Atlanta organization by Baseball America in 2000 and 2001, Betemit is 7-for-14 in June with a triple and a homer. There's also an outside chance that Atlanta could accelerate the promotion of Andy Marte. The Braves' top prospect is batting .277 with nine homers and 34 RBIs at Triple-A Richmond.

  • Leftovers: Chris Shelton has impressed coaches and veteran hitters alike with his plate presence since joining the Tigers on May 31. He hit .313 in his first five games of 2005 after tearing up the International League with a .331 average and eight homers in 49 games … Speedster Willy Taveras is enjoying a productive stretch at the plate with 12 hits, all singles, in his past 24 at bats. After going 10-for-12 on stolen base attempts in May, he hasn't attempted a theft in June … Anaheim's Adam Kennedy has four straight multi-hit games, scoring six runs in the process.

Finally, it's not often that you can find a starting pitcher who has won 47 of his past 72 decisions sitting idly on the free agent list, but that's exactly where you're likely to locate Woody Williams if you search for him in your league. The veteran righty made his first start since early May on Sunday, allowing only one run on four hits in five innings in a loss to the Cubs. Williams owns a 2.66 ERA at Petco Park this season and is a valuable spot starter for home tilts, at the very least.

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

  • Matt Holliday, OF, Col
    Believe it or not, Clint Barmes now has competition in the race to lead Colorado in home batting average. After a sluggish start to the season, Holliday has caught fire. He started June on an 8-for-15 tear to raise his Coors Field average to .388 – just .010 points behind Barmes. Lately, he's been doing a little bit of everything. In Colorado's past 10 games, the former high school quarterback standout has two homers, three steals and eight runs scored. The Rockies, for the record, play their next six games at home.
  • John Patterson, SP, Was
    Almost universally owned after a 2-1 April that saw him post an ERA of 0.98, Patterson was cut loose in more leagues than not after back spasms forced him to the DL following a series of shaky starts. Many fantasy owners may wish they were more patient. In his first game back, Patterson retired 13 straight Braves hitters in five strong innings. On Sunday, he lasted six innings, allowing only one earned run while striking out seven against Florida. In each outing, he got a hard-luck no decision, but you have to figure the division-leading Nationals (you read that right) will start rewarding him with some Wins.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Ryan Doumit, C/OF, Pit (ETA – Recalled June 4)
    Manager Lloyd McClendon insists this isn't a sight-seeing trip for Doumit. Recalled on Saturday from Triple-A Indianapolis – where he hit .344 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in 46 games – Doumit is expected to see action at catcher, outfield and designated hitter during the team's upcoming road trip to Boston and New York. This switch-hitter has tremendous offensive upside for a catcher. He's probably too green to handle a pitching staff full-time at age 24, but these next few weeks can give fantasy owners a preview of what's to come in the future.
  • Sean Henn, SP, NYY (ETA – When the Boss calls)
    Though he allowed six runs in five innings on Sunday, Henn picked up a win to improve to 4-1 for Triple-A Columbus. The towering lefty was simply dominant in his previous three starts, pitching 22 innings of 10-hit ball without allowing an earned run. Henn has steadily worked his way up the Yankees org chart since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2001, reaching the big leagues earlier this year for a forgettable debut against Tampa Bay. He remains a candidate to be recalled again any time injury or performance woes open a spot in the rotation.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Tony Clark, 1B, Ari – Clark's bat is the hottest thing this side of Paris Hilton's Carl's Jr. spot. Since going hitless on May 22, Clark is 16-for-26 with four homers and 10 RBIs. Regular starter Chad Tracy will have to cool his heels until this hot streak subsides.

Todd Greene, C, Col – Greene homered and drove in three runs for Colorado on Sunday. He has three homers and five RBIs in his past five starts. Though he left Sunday's game with an injury, he should continue to see increased at bats as J.D. Closser's struggles continue.

Neifi Perez, SS, ChC – Since May 24, Perez is 25-for-56 with 11 runs scored. He has excelled since becoming part of Chicago's rotation at the top of the order.

Coco Crisp, OF, Cle – Since giving up his spot on the DL to Juan Gonzalez, Crisp has enjoyed a power surge. He has three homers in four games and they haven't been cheap. He took Mark Buehrle deep on Sunday after clearing the fence off Johan Santana on Thursday.

Jason Johnson, SP, Det – For the first time since 1988, a Detroit starter has pitched into the eighth inning in five consecutive starts. Relying more heavily on his sinker, Johnson has become the staff's workhorse. In those five starts, the righty is 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA, 24 strikeouts and a 1.00 WHIP.

Nook Logan, OF, Det – Logan stole two bases on Sunday and now has six steals in seven attempts in Detroit's past 10 games. He hit safely in eight of those games.

Geoff Blum, 3B/SS/2B, SD – A flu bug finally kept Blum off the base paths on Sunday. That's something opposing pitchers couldn't do in San Diego's past nine games, as Blum went 17-for-40 with 11 runs scored and six RBIs. Multi-position eligibility makes him an attractive pickup for owners looking for infield depth.

Ryan Church, CF, Was – Church doubled twice on Tuesday, tripled on Saturday (to go with two singles) and homered on Sunday. His three-run blast off John Riedling was his first-ever off a lefty. Church stands to inherit more at bats if Marlon Byrd is suspended for Saturday's run-in with an umpire.

Lance Niekro, 1B, SF – In 27 non-pinch hit appearances, Niekro is batting .311 with seven homers and 17 RBIs. J.T. Snow can still change a game with his glove, but the lefty is batting just .220 with five RBIs since May 1.

Glendon Rusch, SP, ChC – A winner in each of his past three starts, Rusch has allowed only two runs on 13 hits while striking out 17 in his past 24 innings. He hasn't yielded more than two earned runs in any of his six starts this season.

Juan Pierre, OF, Fla – Pierre owners don't need to be told that he's been a disappointment this season. Things have gotten so bad that Pierre was left out of the starting lineup in back-to-back games for the first time since he joined the Marlins in 2003.

Mike Lowell, 3B, Fla – Three hits on Sunday was a good sign, but Lowell is at risk of losing playing time to Damian Easley, who has five homers and eight RBIs in his past 11 starts.

Dustin Hermanson, RP, ChW – Chicago's closer admitted to being "a little worn out" after pitching in four straight games last week. His numbers suffered as a result, and a decreased workload could mean more save chances for Damaso Marte.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Min – A bone spur may keep Morneau out of the starting lineup for a few days. The lefty's value was already hurt by a .215 month that saw him hit only two homers.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.335 Delmon Young's batting average through Sunday at Double-A Montgomery. Taken No. 1 overall in 2003, Young is the younger brother of Detroit outfielder Dmitri Young, who was drafted fourth in 1991. On Tuesday, Justin Upton is expected to go first in the draft, which will make he and brother B.J. (No. 2 overall in 2001) the highest-drafted siblings of all-time.