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The Skinny: Ignored in Oakland

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
PITTSBURGH PIRATES RED HOT
1st Chair: Salomon Torres
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Just days after interim manager Pete Mackanin said it wasn't his place to change closers, general manager Dave Littlefield stepped in and made it his business. The two met Saturday and reached a decision to remove Mesa as closer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday. Mesa's recent ineffectiveness – three blown saves and nine runs allowed in three appearances – played a big role, but the team also wants to see how Torres and Gonzalez fare in the role. The two will reportedly share closer duties, but since Torres has been the more effective reliever this season, he gets the edge here.
BOSTON RED SOX RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike Timlin
2nd Chair: Keith Foulke
Skinny: So far, so good for Foulke, who has pitched three shutout innings since returning from the disabled list, allowing two hits and a walk while punching out three. Manager Terry Francona continues to say he will keep Foulke away from pressure situations until the rust is off. Patience is a luxury he does have, thanks to the efficiency of Timlin, who has five saves and a win in his past seven appearances. He simply has better stuff than Foulke right now. There is still an outside chance that first-round draft pick Craig Hansen will join the team before the season is out. He is reportedly hitting 96 mph on the gun with a 90-mph slider. He won't close this year, but he is a guy to watch for fantasy owners.
ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Kyle Farnsworth
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma, Dan Kolb
Skinny: General Manager John Schuerholz recently told the New York Times that he hopes the team has, "found a guy who can put a grip on [the closer's] responsibility." He's talking about Farnsworth of course, and it looks like they've found their man. He is 6-for-6 converting saves with the Braves and he's doing it in dominant fashion. In 18 innings with Atlanta he has 21 strikeouts against only two walks. He is, of course, prone to control lapses, so Reitsma remains on the radar in case Farnsworth reverts back to his 2004 Cubs form.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Armando Benitez
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre
Skinny: Benitez finally blew a save Wednesday, his first since returning from the disabled list. The fact that it came against the hated Dodgers won't sit well with Giants fans, but fantasy owners can't complain about a comeback that has included eight saves in a 20-game span. The return of Barry Bonds to the lineup and the emergence of Matt Cain as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter should serve to boost his value a bit down the stretch.
DETROIT TIGERS WARM
1st Chair: Fernando Rodney
2nd Chair: Franklyn German
Skinny: It's been a nice run for Rodney – only one run allowed with 11 strikeouts in 7.2 innings – but fantasy owners don't have much to show for it. The Tigers seem to be auto-programmed to deliver a save chance to their bullpen once a week. Rodney collected saves on Aug. 17, 23 and 31, and then had to wait until Sept. 10 for his first chance this month. German has been hit a bit of late, so Rodney looks secure for as long as his elbow holds up.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Jose Valverde
2nd Chair: Brandon Medders, Tim Worrell
Skinny: After recording only three saves in August, Valverde already has two saves and a win this month. He's not pitching any better, of course, but rather has taken advantage of back-to-back series against Pittsburgh and Colorado. Worrell and Medders have quietly combined for some solid set-up work – further pushing April favorite Brandon Lyon out of the picture.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Duaner Sanchez
2nd Chair: Steve Schmoll, Yhency Brazoban
Skinny: Sanchez is making the most of the few save opportunities he inherits and manager Jim Tracy doesn't have a lot of options, so now seems like as good a time as any to update Eric Gagne's rehab. According to MLB.com, Gagne says he plans on pitching for Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Though he hasn't resumed throwing yet, he appears to be ready to test his surgically repaired elbow by playing catch within the week. Not much help this year, but good news for keeper league owners.
Yes, the Skinny managed to get its standard dose of baseball box scores in over the weekend. It wasn't easy, of course. The distractions came fast and furious, with Notre Dame's upset of Michigan Saturday kicking off a parade that didn't stop until the game clock mercifully ticked down to 0:00 for the Ravens on Sunday night. On a day when football officially took over the fantasy consciousness, it was only appropriate that a "Wil-lie" chant broke out in Pittsburgh, and it had nothing to do with the late slugger, Pops Stargell. For those of you who totally tuned out on baseball, here's a quick catch-up:

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

  • Weekly reminder: Mark Ellis is batting .354 with eight homers, 38 runs scored and 29 RBIs since the All-Star break. If you want to find a more productive second baseman in the past month, you'd better start with names like Kent, Reyes and Cantu. Ellis has been far more productive than the likes of Brian Roberts, Chase Utley and even Alfonso Soriano. Oh, and in case you fear he's cooling off, Ellis racked up two more hits Sunday and is now batting .425 in September. Well, he is slipping a bit. By going 2-for-5, he lowered his batting average as the Oakland leadoff hitter to .488.

The Skinny took some heat from readers a few weeks ago after accusing fantasy owners of an East Coast bias. In that column, I compared Jay Payton's recent productivity to that of Albert Pujols, and many of you took issue with the comparison. To clarify: I wasn't, of course, suggesting that Payton was more valuable than Pujols. The point I wanted to get across was that Payton was tearing it up, and what better way to do that then by measuring him against a stud like Pujols? My contention was that he would be universally owned if he was putting up numbers like that for the Mets or Yankees. Instead, Payton is only about 75 percent owned and Ellis is a free agent in about 60 percent of leagues. Do yourself a favor and Photoshop some pinstripes on Ellis and then get him on your roster.

  • Ryan Zimmerman looked right at home at third base for Washington Sunday. He'd better get used to playing there. Manager Frank Robinson gave Zimmerman a shot at shortstop Wednesday in place of struggling Cristian Guzman, but the rookie booted two grounders in a lopsided loss. While Robinson hasn't ruled out giving the kid another shot at short, it is much more likely that he'll become a regular at third. Zimmerman played third base almost exclusively at the University of Virginia and he has only eight professional starts at shortstop under his belt.

Wherever he plays, here's hoping the Nationals find a way to get his sweet stroke into the lineup. Zimmerman touched John Smoltz for a ground-rule double Sunday and later singled home a run during a furious Washington rally. In less than half a season at the Double-A level, the first-round draft pick hit .326 with nine homers and 32 RBIs. In case you haven't noticed, Vinny Castilla has been a bust this year. He showed some life with four homers in August, but he's hitting just .239 since the All-Star break. The club loves Zimmerman, as evidenced by his rapid rise from Class-A to the big leagues in less than three months. His value would increase considerably if he can scratch together four more starts at shortstop, but even at third he's worth watching in NL-only leagues.

  • Attention McCovey Cove kayakers: Barry Bonds will be back in the Giants lineup Monday when the team hosts San Diego. It just so happens that Bonds feasts on Padres pitching. Bonds has three lifetime homers against Monday's starter Adam Eaton, and overall more than 10 percent of his career home runs have come at the expense of San Diego hurlers. So will he see any pitches? Since he's coming off several knee surgeries and he hasn't seen game action in close to a year, you have to figure he will. However, teammate Moises Alou told the San Francisco Chronicle that as soon as Bonds homers, it will be back to business as usual on the free pass trail.

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

  • Jack Wilson, SS, Pit
    After hitting a season-best .267 with 17 RBIs in 28 games in August, Wilson has kicked off the month of September on a 15-for-39 (.384) tear. He hit himself out of the No. 2 hole in the Pittsburgh lineup earlier this season, but he's back there now setting the table for a red-hot Jason Bay. He went 1-for-4 Sunday to snap a string of four straight multi-hit games, but he did manage to score ahead of a Bay double. If Nate McLouth can continue to get on base ahead of him, Wilson has a chance to be a productive sleeper pickup at the middle-infield position.
  • Aaron Cook, SP, Col
    Disclaimer: this is a Colorado Rockies starting pitcher. But maybe not your ordinary Rockies starter. Cook was named the top prospect in the Colorado system in 2003 by Baseball America. Their scouting report touted both his mid-90s fastball and, more importantly, his heavy sinker as big-league ready. Well, he's here now, and he accomplished the unheard of Sunday – pitching a complete game at Coors Field. In his past six starts, Cook is 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA and only four walks in 39 innings. On the road this year he has a 1.96 ERA, and he'll get his next start at Arizona against the same team he shackled on Sunday.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Kendry Morales, 1B, LAA (ETA – 2006)
    You'll be hearing a lot about Morales in the near future. The Cuban defector began the season at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga before earning a promotion to Arkansas, where he hit .306 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs in 74 games. He closed the season on an absolute tear – a hot streak that would have earned a promotion had the parent club not been involved in a pennant race. If Dallas McPherson can get his act together and stay healthy at third base, the Angels figure to have the corner infield positions locked up for some time to come.
  • Craig Hansen, RP, Bos (ETA – TBD)
    Hansen, Boston's top pick in the 2005 amateur draft, was close to earning a promotion to the big leagues after not allowing a run in eight appearances at Double-A Portland. The former St. John's University closer impressed the club with his overpowering fastball and matching hard slider. The innings took a toll, however, and Hansen has been shut down since Aug. 26 due to fatigue. He's now a huge longshot to reach the majors this season, but clearly Boston sees him as their closer of the future – possibly as early as next season.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Matt Cain, SP, SF – Just 20 years old, Cain is making a huge splash in the National League that has unfortunately been dwarfed by King Felix's explosion on the junior circuit. Cain has won his past two starts, allowing only five hits and two walks in 15 innings in the process.

Ramon Hernandez, C, SD – Back in the lineup for the first time since July, Hernandez collected three hits Thursday, then homered Friday at Dodger Stadium. There's still time for this popular draft-day catcher to impact fantasy leagues.

Jorge Sosa, SP, Atl – His season strikeout-to-walk ratio won't impress anyone, but Sosa threw 74 of his 99 pitches for strikes Saturday while blanking Washington over eight innings. He's now 8-0 with a 1.71 ERA on the road this season.

Conor Jackson, LF, Ari – Jackson had the first multi-RBI game of his career Saturday at Colorado. Arizona appears committed to giving him a long look as the season winds down, and so far he has impressed, going 6-for-15 with two doubles in his past four starts.

Walter Young, 1B, Bal – Speaking of auditions, Baltimore wants to see exactly what they have on their hands with Young – other than a heavy load. The 300-pound first baseman got his first career start Saturday and he responded with a hit and a walk in four trips.

Ryan Freel, 2B/3B/OF, Cin – Playing everywhere and doing a little of everything – that's what we expected out of Freel this season. Injuries have held him back of late, but he's beginning to deliver as promised, with two steals and two homers in his past nine starts.

Rick Short, 2B, Was – This is more a sentimental addition than anything, but it's great to see this 11-year minor league veteran finally get a shot. The fact that he homered off Dontrelle Willis and John Smoltz last week certainly doesn't hurt is value either.

Josh Towers, SP, Tor – Towers has pitched at least six innings while allowing three or fewer runs in 10 straight starts. The secret: control. In his past six starts, Towers has issued three total walks. The rest of the numbers: 3-1, 1.85 ERA, 1.01 WHIP.

Nate McLouth, CF, Pit – Like Chris Duffy before him, McLouth is finding hits in bunches in his first extended stretch of major league playing time. He's batting .407 with nine runs scored in eight September games.

Jon Lieber, SP, Phi – Lieber won his 14th game of the season Sunday. For the third straight start, he went at least seven innings while allowing only one earned run.

Brandon McCarthy, SP, Chi(A) – McCarthy struck out eight in 5.2 innings of relief Sunday, but for now manager Ozzie Guillen says he won't move to a six-man rotation to save his staff. That makes McCarthy the odd man out. Well, at least until someone gets tired.

Carl Everett, DH, Chi(A) – Everett was dropped to fifth in the lineup Saturday, and Sunday he didn't play at all. If his slump (5-for-37) continues, look for Ross Gload and Joe Borchard to get some ABs at DH.

Mike Piazza, C, NYM – Piazza says he could have played, but he was sidelined Sunday after getting beaned by Julian Tavarez Saturday night. The injury came during his first game back from a broken hand.

Yahoo! Experts League Update
Team Romig resurrected Barry Bonds from the waiver wire. It's much too late for a run at the league title, but some coworkers who sit in close proximity are still in reach. Casey Blake and Randy Winn are the latest hot bats to be brought into the KFFL – Bruce fold.