The Skinny: Grand Opening

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
BOSTON RED SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Curt Schilling
2nd Chair: Mike Timlin
Skinny: After allowing three runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts in seven relief innings – numbers oddly reminiscent of a typical Schilling start – Boston's closer declared himself ready to return to the Red Sox rotation. Not so fast, says manager Terry Francona. According to the Boston Globe, the team will wait to see what happens at the trade deadline before shuffling roles again. That means Timlin likely is out as a candidate. If Schilling is ready to go, the only reason not to make the move today is to preserve Timlin's role as setup guy. Top draft pick Craig Hansen reportedly agreed to terms Saturday. The team's closer of the future is a long shot to join the bullpen this season.
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Matt Belisle, Kent Mercker
Skinny: The Reds aren't done dealing. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Weathers and Mercker are two of the most likely players to be dealt before next week's deadline. Both are veteran relievers who can add depth to a contender's bullpen. If both are sent packing, Belisle is deserving of a shot at closing. He pitched a scoreless inning Sunday and boasts some impressive July splits: 2.25 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .200 BAA.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Brandon Lyon, Jose Valverde
Skinny: Nearly two and a half months after he was sidelined by elbow problems, Lyon is close to pitching in real games again. The final hurdle to clear is another simulated game scheduled for Monday. According to the East Valley Tribune, Lyon will pitch Thursday for Triple-A Tucson if he responds well to his final tuneup. This is all encouraging news for Lyon owners, but while he may rejoin the team by early August, don't expect him to close right away. Bruney, who has nine saves in 10 chances since Lyon's injury, will keep his job until the rehabbing closer is back to 100 percent.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski
Skinny: What is this, a solid bullpen in Tampa? The same relievers who drove manager Lou Piniella to the brink of lunacy last month suddenly are among the most reliable in the league. Rookie Chad Orvella is working on a streak of seven straight scoreless innings. Newcomer Joe Borowski has allowed only one hit and a walk in 5.2 innings. Baez is 6-for-6 in save situations in July. Assuming Tampa Bay can be realistic in its asking price, Baez will be gone by Sunday's deadline. Expect Borowski to take over if a deal is struck.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: LaTroy Hawkins
Skinny: Walker isn't blaming his recent struggles on his sore shoulder. After yielding a game-tying homer to Atlanta Tuesday, Walker told the San Jose Mercury News that his arm was fine. He blew saves in back-to-back appearances before shutting the door on Florida Friday. Hawkins, enjoying his best month of the season (1.04 ERA, 0.69 WHIP), is bracing for his return to Wrigley Field. The Giants begin a three-game set there Monday.
ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Dan Kolb
Skinny: Joey Devine can be hit. After a string of 13 straight scoreless innings to begin his professional career, Atlanta's first-round draft pick finally allowed a run Friday for Double-A Mississippi. No problem – he was back on the hill one night later, striking out three in 1.2 innings to earn his third save. The kid has a bright future, but the Braves have a dominant closer of their own at the big league level. In July, Reitsma has four saves, a 0.87 ERA and an opponent's average well under .200.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES WARM
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez, Rick White
Skinny: Mesa's name has been noticeably absent from the rumor mill lately, and for good reason. He has insisted that he'll retire if traded to a team that doesn't plan on using him as a closer. He's lucky Pittsburgh still throws him out there with games on the line. Among active pitchers with 15 or more saves, only Tyler Walker has a worse WHIP, and Mesa's ERA is in the bottom three. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Friday that Gonzalez says he'll be ready to return to the club within 10 days. That is a very aggressive timeline, but the young lefty should be ready by mid-August.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara
Skinny: Sanchez, Carrara and Steve Schmoll each have been more effective in July, but manager Jim Tracy isn't about to remove Brazoban from the closer's chair. After Brazoban blew his fourth save of the season Tuesday, Tracy told the Los Angeles Daily News that he didn't see a suitable alternative on his roster. Hardly a vote of confidence, but Brazoban did respond by successfully converting his next two save chances without allowing a base runner.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
2nd Chair: Franklyn German, Fernando Rodney
Skinny: Farnsworth received a six-game suspension for body-slamming Kansas City reliever Jeremy Affeldt; a decision the club is appealing. A month ago, this ruling would barely cause a ripple in fantasy leagues. However, Detroit is piling up wins and Troy Percival's season is over, so a week without Farnsworth actually will sting a bit for rotisserie owners. Rodney has a 2.31 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 11.2 July innings. If the suspension stands or if Farnsworth's stiff neck flares up, look for Rodney to get the call in the ninth.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: The Royals would love to land a power-hitting corner outfielder before Sunday's trade deadline. Though general manager Allard Baird says he isn't dying to break up his bullpen, he acknowledges that the club is entertaining offers for MacDougal and Affeldt. The Kansas City Star reports that Burgos and Andrew Sisco have also garnered interest. MacDougal made good on his 14th straight save chance Sunday, though he allowed a run to snap a streak of 10 straight scoreless appearances.
SEATTLE MARINERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Eddie Guardado
2nd Chair: J.J. Putz, Jeff Nelson
Skinny: According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, both the Yankees and the Red Sox actively are pursuing Guardado. Seattle's closer has a limited no-trade clause, and both teams are among those he can't be traded to without his consent. The report says Guardado wants to stay with the M's, and the club is happy to keep him – so a trade looks less likely today than it did a month ago.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dustin Hermanson
2nd Chair: Cliff Politte, Damaso Marte
Skinny: Bobby Jenks has a fastball that can reach 100 mph and a closer's mentality that allowed him to save 19 games at the Double-A level this season. His next test might be facing late-inning pressure at the big league level. Manager Ozzie Guillen told the Daily Southtown that the rookie may get a shot on days when Hermanson's bad back keeps him out of action. Nice to see Guillen showing confidence in the youngster, but realistically Politte and Marte will get the call when Hermanson needs a rest.
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.

Xavier Nady, 1B, SD – If Phil Nevin gives the thumbs-up to a trade to Baltimore, Nady likely will take over at first base for San Diego. He has seven homers in 97 at-bats since June 1.

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.