As this column hits the network, less than a week remains before Major League Baseball's trade deadline. If The Skinny can impart one piece of advice to fantasy owners, it's to always look beyond the headlines. Oh – and try to stay close to a computer. Blockbuster deals involve marquee players – and those players likely are owned in your league. The value is in the prospects that change hands, or the part-time players promoted to full-time duty when a star is shipped out. Next week we'll break down all the deals that do go down, but until then we focus on the field:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- In his last 32 games, Reds outfielder Austin Kearns is batting .353 with eight homers and 25 RBIs. The rotisserie impact of the streak, of course, has been minimal. Twenty-eight of those games were played at Triple-A Louisville, where the 25-year-old was sent to work on both his swing and his conditioning. That stay ended Thursday when Kearns returned to the Reds lineup with three hits and two RBIs in a 9-6 win. He had two more hits Friday, a single and a sacrifice fly Saturday and his first homer at the big league level since June 3 on Sunday. Not a bad weekend for Kearns – particularly in light of the fact that Wily Mo Pena is mired in a 6-for-45 slump.
Kearns hit .315 as a rookie in 2002 and began his sophomore season with nine homers and 19 RBIs in April. That May he drove in 27 runs in 26 games, but what has followed is month after month of unremarkable play. Injuries have played a role in his demise, and one of the reasons the Reds sent him down was to have him return in better shape. Mission accomplished. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kearns lost 10 pounds while working on the farm. I'm in favor of giving Kearns a shot in fantasy leagues. Pena simply isn't getting it done, and Kearns is a proven power hitter who, if healthy, can join Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr. in a potent power lineup.
- Whether you call it a "Grand" entrance or a "Grand" opening, or whichever play on words you prefer, Curtis Granderson's 2005 debut was something to remember. He singled Friday in his first at-bat of the season and hit a game-winning homer Saturday in the opener of a double-header – but both hits were merely a prelude to his breakout performance Sunday. After misplaying a fly ball into a three-base hit early in the game, Granderson hit a two-run triple off the wall in the fifth and blasted a 426-foot homer two innings later to lead the Tigers past Minnesota. The rookie is batting .429 in four games since being recalled from Triple-A Toledo.
So who is this guy? He was a stranger to most before the weekend, but Baseball America did name him the top prospect in the Detroit organization – ranking the outfielder higher than heralded pitcher Justin Verlander. Through 94 games at the Triple-A level this season, Granderson was batting .297 with 13 homers and 17 stolen bases. According to the Oakland Press, he was brought up to form a center-field platoon with the struggling Nook Logan. That, of course, was before he played an integral role in taking three of four from the Twins. Scouts say the left-handed hitter has the perfect hitting style for Comerica Park and its cavernous outfield gaps. He clearly has more power than Logan and should stick in the lineup if he can top Nook's .319 on-base percentage. At the very least, AL-only managers should be getting to know this 24-year-old real soon.
- Kerry Wood may be heading to the disabled list. The Associated Press reported Sunday that manager Dusty Baker feared Wood's injury would keep the injury-prone righty out for more than one start. An extended absence would result in a short-term promotion for Rich Hill into the rotation. He was impressive his last time out – striking out six in 4.1 hitless innings in relief of Wood Friday. In his first two minor league stints, Hill struck out 152 batters in 101.1 innings.
Wood owners obviously are conditioned to prepare for the worst. This latest setback isn't expected to be all that serious – but contingency plans should be made nevertheless. Chicago may deal for an established starter, but in the meantime rotisserie owners should take a close look at Hill or Jerome Williams, who improved to 3-1 with the Cubs with a victory Saturday.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Ryan Howard, 1B, Phi
Watching Howard hit is a pleasure. He had two doubles Sunday – one a missile that narrowly missed clearing the fence in left-center. In his past 10 games, the powerful left-handed slugger is 11-for-36 with four homers and 11 RBIs. One way or another, his fantasy value will be dramatically impacted by the trade deadline. If Jim Thome is dealt, Howard inherits a full-time gig at a hitter's park (all six of his homers have come at home). If it is Howard who is traded, it certainly will be to a team with an immediate need for a power-hitting corner infielder. The worst-case scenario has both staying in Philly and Thome returning to health – in which case this will be one Bargain Bin acquisition best returned to the shelves.
- Sean Douglass, SP, Det
Suddenly, the Detroit Tigers are a .500 baseball team. While that may be cause for celebration within the organization, reaching the break-even mark isn't likely to impress Douglass. He threw seven strong innings Sunday to improve to 12-1 on the season and 3-0 with the Tigers. In five starts at the big league level, he has a 2.10 ERA while holding opponents to a .229 average. This is a surprise season for a guy who entered 2005 with a 44-48 record in eight minor league seasons.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Brad Eldred, 1B, Pit (ETA – Recalled Friday)
Eldred went 2-for-3 with a double for Triple-A Indianapolis in his final game before his promotion to Pittsburgh. When measured against his production in the 10 games prior, his farewell performance could be characterized as a power outage. Before getting the call, Eldred homered 10 times in a 10-game span, a streak that was capped by back-to-back two homer games. The man they call Big Country has 28 homers in 65 minor league games this season. Fantasy owners should see plenty of him in the next several days as the club figures out what to do with struggling starter Daryle Ward.
- Travis Bowyer, RP, Min/Triple-A (ETA – July 31)
The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported Sunday that the Twins may deal reliever J.C. Romero before Sunday's trade deadline. If they do, International League All-Star Travis Bowyer may get a chance to prove he belongs in the majors. The 23-year-old reliever has 19 saves, a 1.68 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 53-plus innings for Triple-A Rochester. Minnesota obviously doesn't have a short-term need for a closer, but Bowyer is someone rotisserie owners should keep on the radar as he has all the makings of a dominant stopper.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
John Rodriguez, OF, StL – One of many players who could benefit from the injury suffered by Reggie Sanders, Rodriguez hit two homers in his first five games in the Cards' lineup. He had 17 homers and 47 RBIs in 34 games with Triple-A Memphis before getting the call.
Kevin Millwood, SP, Cle – After receiving only two runs of support in his past three starts combined, Millwood finally got some help Sunday. With a 1.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in his past three outings, he deserves better than a 1-2 record.
Adam Everett, SS, Hou – Steal-hungry rotisserie owners like to salivate over matchups against the Mets and aging catcher Mike Piazza. Houston has a four-game set against New York later the week. Everett may have a running start as he begins the week with four steals in his past four games.
Omar Infante, 2B, Det – People forget that Infante hit 16 homers and stole 13 bases as a 22-year-old in 2004. He failed to drive in a run Sunday, but in his previous six starts Infante had two homers, eight RBIs and four runs scored.
Javier Valentin, C, Cin – It's hard to classify this as anything other than a ridiculous hot streak for an otherwise average journeyman, but a streak of five homers and 11 RBIs in a three-game span cannot be ignored. Valentin is batting .364 in July.
Matt Holliday, OF, Col – Back after missing more than a month with a finger injury, Holliday went 7-for-18 with a homer and a stolen base in a three-game stretch to end the week.
Mark Ellis, 2B, Oak – The last A's hitter to get in on the act, Ellis is batting .341 in July with nine runs scored and 10 RBIs in 13 games. Add Dan Johnson and Jay Payton to the list of surging Oakland batters to keep an eye on.
Richard Hidalgo, OF, Tex – The trouble with this guy, of course, is that by the time a hot streak comes to your attention, he's usually poised for a tailspin. Still, it should be noted that Hidalgo is 13 for his last 35 with three homers and seven RBIs.
Ray Durham, 2B, SF – Durham entered play Sunday with a .386 July average and 14 RBIs in his past 16 games. He may be traded before Sunday's deadline, in which case he almost certainly would wind up in a more favorable lineup.
Nook Logan, CF, Det – He's hurting and slumping – not a good combination when a rookie call-up who plays your position has a monster weekend.
Wily Mo Pena, OF, Cin – Ditto for Pena, who may see his role diminished thanks to a 6-for-45 slump and Austin Kearns' splash in his return to the Reds.
Bill Hall, 3B/2B/SS, Mil – His homerless drought reached 18 games Sunday, and to make matters worse, he is batting just .183 over the past month.
Yahoo! Experts League Update
Fantasyguru's stay atop the standings was short-lived. Bolstered by a seven-steal week from Jose Reyes and solid relief work from Baez (3 saves), Rivera (2) and Cordero (2), Yahoo! Sports' Brandon Funston regains the lead. Not going down without a fight, Guru made 11 moves last week. Streaking Astro Chris Burke could prove to be the most valuable of the bunch.