NBA free-agency tracker:

The Skinny: Memorial weekend

Matt Romig
Yahoo Sports
CLOSER HOT SEAT
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Wagner
2nd Chair: David Weathers, Kent Mercker
Skinny: Wagner finally got his shot on Friday, but the 22-year-old couldn't protect a two-run lead against Pittsburgh. The blown save didn't come without encouraging signs. With Weathers up and throwing in the pen, Wagner kept his focus and retired two batters with the go-ahead run on third. Weathers, meanwhile, has the only save since Danny Graves was demoted, but he blew a chance on Tuesday and was roughed up in a non-save situation on Saturday. Wagner was warming up during the ninth inning on Monday before the Reds offense turned a save situation into a laugher. Given that he's the team's closer of the future, The Skinny sees Wagner getting the first shot at nailing this job down.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS RED HOT
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt, Mike Wood, Ambiorix Burgos
Skinny: After sailing through his first two rehab outings with Triple-A Omaha, Affeldt was roughed up on Sunday. Though he would eventually strike out the side, the lefty surrendered three hits, including a three-run homer, in relief of Jimmy Gobble. The next test is appearing in back-to-back games this week. If all goes well, Affeldt could be back with the parent club by the weekend. What his role will be then is anyone's guess. The team has been impressed by his velocity and the trio charged with holding the fort in his absence has been less than stellar, so a quick return to the closer chair is possible.
ATLANTA BRAVES RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Kolb
2nd Chair: Chris Reitsma, Adam Bernero
Skinny: Pitching coach Leo Mazzone still believes in Kolb. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees Kolb regaining his job, even as the righty currently finds himself mired in a closer-by-committee situation. Since the demotion, Kolb has one save and eight strikeouts in four innings. Reitsma and Bernero are still candidates to close, but Kolb gets the nod as the guy with the most long-term value. Manager Bobby Cox won't comment on his bullpen shakeup, but it's clear that everyone in the organization from the GM down expects Kolb to get the job done come September.
FLORIDA MARLINS RED HOT
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Guillermo Mota
Skinny: Manager Jack McKeon hates fantasy baseball. How else can you explain his tendency to employ closer committees? Doesn't he realize how maddening closer tandems are for rotisserie managers? Analyzing his body of work, he clearly doesn't get it. He shuffled closers in Cincinnati (Graves, Scott Williamson, Scott Sullivan) and Florida (Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina) and appears to be at it again with the 2005 Marlins. Mota is back and throwing in the mid-90s without pain, but for now he'll serve as set-up guy for Jones. McKeon isn't saying how long this arrangement will last, but you have to figure the job is Jones' until he falters.
CHICAGO CUBS HOT
1st Chair: Ryan Dempster
2nd Chair: Joe Borowski, Danny Graves?
Skinny: With Mark Prior out, Dempster rejoins the starting rotation and Borowski returns to the role he performed so efficiently in 2003. It's a convenient solution, but not one the Cubs are considering. Team officials told Dempster that he would remain in the bullpen for the rest of 2005 and for now they are sticking to their word. Last week's trade for two starting pitching prospects is further evidence they are committed to Dempster. However, most local media outlets reported last week that the Cubs have at least a mild interest in deposed Cincy closer Danny Graves. Dempster, a former teammate with the Reds, is among those who have endorsed the idea of bringing Graves aboard.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS HOT
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Jason Christiansen, LaTroy Hawkins
Skinny: Giants GM Brian Sabean isn't done tinkering. He dealt for Hawkins on Saturday, but more bullpen help and a left-handed bat remain on his wish list. For now the team is sticking with Walker as the closer. He has allowed nine hits and six earned runs in his last three outings, but manager Felipe Alou prefers to point to Walker's 7-for-7 record in save opportunities to evaluate his closer. Still, this is a guy who barely made the team out of spring training and who has allowed opponents a .311 batting average in 2005. Hawkins was sharp in his Giants debut on Sunday and remains a candidate to close despite his struggles in Chicago.
COLORADO ROCKIES HOT
1st Chair: Brian Fuentes
2nd Chair: Jay Witasick
Skinny: Though he yielded a run in a non-save situation on Thursday, Fuentes' May numbers remain impressive: 1.50 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .172 opponent's batting average. Like his counterparts in Kansas City and Oakland, however, Fuentes' value is dragged down by the Maytag effect – there's just no work to be done. He has only two saves this month despite the favorable splits. Witasick pitched a scoreless inning on Sunday, his 10th straight appearance without allowing an earned run.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS WARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: Octavio Dotel can't brush his teeth without feeling pain, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Saturday. Though the closer has been told surgery isn't necessary, he is concerned enough about his progress that he is seeking a second opinion from a specialist in Alabama. Dotel has done some light throwing, but not enough to establish a projected return date. On the off chance Oakland's bats come alive and deliver a save chance to the bullpen, Street will continue to serve as closer.
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS WARM
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Jose Valverde
Skinny: A second opinion confirmed that Brandon Lyon won't need surgery on his injured elbow, but the closer will miss at least another month, the Arizona Republic reported on Saturday. That's tough news to swallow for fantasy owners. Lyon led the majors in saves when he went down and his replacements in Arizona have hardly filled the void. Valverde allowed three earned runs on Friday and Bruney has been scored upon in four of his past five outings.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: Orvella was recalled from Double-A Montgomery on Monday and will serve as a middle reliever for manager Lou Piniella. Including 2004 numbers, Tampa Bay's top relief prospect has a 0.28 ERA with 43 strikeouts and only six walks in his past 32 innings. Baez blew a save on Monday and is rumored to be on the trading block if the right offer comes along.
CLEVELAND INDIANS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Bob Wickman
2nd Chair: Bob Howry, Arthur Rhodes
Skinny: The Cleveland Beacon Journal reported Monday that Wickman was available if needed in a save situation on Sunday. The Indians closer had left Friday's game with back spasms and was unavailable on Saturday. Manager Eric Wedge said Howry or Rhodes would have closed with Wickman out. David Riske has been effective this year, but has struggled lately, allowing five earned runs in his past six innings.
OK, now things are starting to take shape. Managers and general managers alike used the long weekend to do some fine tuning. The Giants and Cubs made a deal, Atlanta shook up its outfield and Oakland welcomed a few injured youngsters back to the fold. Mike Hargrove is contemplating changes in Seattle, a couple of 2004 draft picks finally signed and Mark Prior was injured – again. It was a busy weekend, so if you totally checked out you have some catching up to do before adjusting your roster for the dog days. Let's get started:

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

  • The Cubs insist they didn't deal LaTroy Hawkins to the Giants for two pitching prospects as a reaction to Mark Prior's injury. We'll take them at their word, but Chicago could be forgiven for making a quick move after watching Prior use his elbow to make a stick save on Brad Hawpe's slapper up the middle on Friday. This is, after all, a team that is now prepared to insert John Koronka into its starting rotation. The Cubs have other options, but none are all that appealing. Their bullpen is already a mess, so they'd rather not pull a starter from there. Their system is not without promising prospects, but it would take some tricky roster maneuvering to get them to Chicago.

The Hawkins for Jerome Williams trade signals two things. First, manager Dusty Baker and the Cubs believe Williams can right the ship after a miserable spring. The 23-year-old has shown flashes of brilliance since making his debut in 2003, most notably a 3-1 July as a rookie when he posted a 1.87 ERA. He'll start on Tuesday for Triple-A Iowa and could find himself in the Chicago rotation after a successful start or two. From the Giants side, the deal is a sign that GM Brian Sabean believes Barry Bonds will return, and contribute, in 2005. The team has Matt Cain and Jesse Foppert in the system, so Williams was expendable. Still, without Bonds, the team can't contend, so why acquire an aging setup guy if the team doesn't plan on having the franchise back in the lineup for the stretch run? Hawkins, by the way, was not brought on board to close, according to team officials.

  • Raul Mondesi isn't totally to blame for the lack of productivity coming out of the Braves outfield, but he took the fall for it during the holiday weekend. Atlanta benched the 12-year veteran prior to Sunday's game in favor of 23-year-old rookie Kelly Johnson, who was immediately inserted into the No. 3 spot in the Braves lineup. Club officials hope Johnson can play every day in left field, with Brian Jordan platooning with Ryan Langerhans in right. Mondesi, who was hitting just .211 with four homers, is expected to be designated for assignment on Tuesday if he doesn't opt for retirement.

Atlanta has been a bit of a fantasy hotbed of late. First came the demotion of reliever Dan Kolb. Next to make a splash was Kyle Davies. The top pitching prospect in the Atlanta organization won his first two starts without allowing an earned run, striking out 12 in 10 innings along the way. Though he would lose on Monday, he battled into the sixth inning, allowing only two earned runs. If you're looking for an immediate return on investment, give Davies the nod over Johnson. Davies was a strikeout-per-inning pitcher at three levels last year and has picked up where he left off with the big club. Bobby Cox showed a tremendous amount of confidence in Johnson when he batted him third in the order for his MLB debut, but the kid is probably a few years away from being a factor in anything but the deepest of leagues.

  • Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir recorded his third straight quality start on Monday. Only a late bullpen collapse stood between the lefty and his third consecutive win, but the story on this Memorial Day was the lineup he was facing, not his performance. Oakland finally welcomed reigning rookie of the year Bobby Crosby back into the lineup. He doubled in his first at bat since opening day and was followed in the order by Nick Swisher, also playing his first series after a lengthy DL stint. Add rookie call-up Dan Johnson to the mix and A's lineup is starting to resemble the one Billy Beane envisioned when he orchestrated sweeping changes to the makeup of Oakland roster during the offseason.

Is there any fantasy value to be had here? Crosby has considerable rust to knock off and it should be noted that he closed the 2004 season hitting .170 and .219 in consecutive months. He wasn't much better before his injury this year, failing to hit a homer during a .196 spring. Youngsters like Felipe Lopez, Jhonny Peralta and Bill Hall hold more fantasy promise in '05. Like the rest of the Oakland lineup, Swisher hadn't done much of anything prior to landing on the DL. Fantasy owners should remember that he's a Moneyball product. He walked 103 times in 125 games in the minors last year, so he's best utilized in leagues that reward on-base percentage. As for Johnson, he had a solid spring and was tearing up the minors this year. He'll be given a shot to land a full-time job while Erubiel Durazo sits idle on the DL.

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

  • Jeremy Reed, CF, Sea
    Reed is on the verge of regaining a coveted piece of real estate – the No. 2 position in the Seattle order, behind Ichiro and in front of Adrian Beltre. Manager Mike Hargrove has been impressed with Reed's progress and is contemplating the move, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The youngster doesn't seem to mind the No. 7 position. He hit an RBI single on Monday and has reached safely in seven of eight games, batting .324 during that span. Reed hit .397 after a September call-up in 2004 and was the team's second-best run producer this spring with 18 RBIs in 26 games.
  • Aaron Harang, SP, Cin
    Harang stared down "The Rocket" and didn't blink on Monday, fanning 10 Houston batters in seven shutout innings to earn his third straight win. Not even guaranteed a spot in Cincinnati's rotation entering spring training, Harang now is the Reds' most reliable starter. In his past four outings the righty has pitched 30.1 innings, allowing only six runs on 21 hits while striking out 31. We've seen flashes of potential from Harang since he debuted with Oakland in 2002, but he seems to have put it all together in his fourth big league season. Word of caution: his next start comes at Coors Field.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Prince Fielder, 1B, Mil (ETA – July 1)
    Fielder didn't homer for Triple-A Nashville on Monday. Lately, that's news. The slugger went deep twice on Sunday, hit a grand slam on Saturday and a two-run shot on Friday – this after starting the week with two homers on Monday and another blast on Tuesday. Needless to say, Prince is dialed in. Rickie Weeks (10 HR, 41 RBI through 45 games) has also been tearing it up for Nashville, giving Brewers fans hope for a solid offense to support an improving pitching staff.
  • Ian Snell, SP, Pit (ETA – August)
    As has been the case in recent seasons, the Pirates figure to be active around the trading deadline in 2005. Mark Redman, Josh Fogg and Kip Wells are all candidates to be dealt to contenders, and Pittsburgh has an impressive stable of young prospects waiting in the wings. Snell pitched seven innings of three-hit ball on Wednesday to improve to 7-0 on the season. He nearly led the Eastern League in strikeouts a year ago, and is punching out an average of one batter an inning in 2005. Zach Duke also figures prominently in Pittsburgh's plans.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Reed Johnson, LF, Tor – Alex Rios is slumping again and Vernon Wells may be trade bait. Meanwhile, Johnson is the team's most productive outfielder. In his past 10 starts, Johnson is batting .317 with three homers, 12 runs scored and nine RBIs.

Nate Robertson, SP, Det – Detroit's most effective starter for the first half of 2004, Robertson is now back in a groove. He's 2-1 in May with a 1.97 ERA and a respectable WHIP of 1.28.

Dallas McPherson, 3B, LAA – After hitting a home run roughly once every 13 at bats at three professional levels in 2004, McPherson hit only one homer in the season's first month. Add this 24-year-old to the list of players elevating their games with Vladimir Guerrero sidelined. He homered in three straight games last week and has a modest six-game hitting streak.

Miguel Cairo, 2B, NYM – With Kazuo Matsui sidelined with a sore neck, Cairo hit .379 with four steals and four runs scored for the week. Matsui is batting just .217 in May and is at risk of losing his job.

Bill Hall, SS/2B, Mil – In his past 10 starts, Hall is 13-for-38 with two homers, two steals and 10 RBIs.

Jose Castillo, 2B, Pit – Still largely overlooked in Yahoo! leagues, Castillo collected two hits on Sunday – his sixth multi-hit game since May 20. He has eight runs scored in Pittsburgh's past 11 games.

Steve Finley, OF, LAA – Vladimir Guerrero's injury has brought Finley's sleeping bat to life. He collected three hits and a homer on Sunday and now has nine RBIs in his past four games.

Grady Sizemore, CF, Cle – Though everyone is running on Jason Kendall these days, Sizemore's three steals over the weekend were encouraging. Batting leadoff for Cleveland (and hitting near .300 in May), he could see a considerable spike in his value should Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez get things going.

Antonio Perez, 3B, LAD – Perez went hitless on Sunday, snapping a streak of four consecutive multi-hit games. Hardly an unknown, he was a top-rated prospect in the Tampa Bay organization before joining the Dodgers, where he enjoyed a 20/20 season at the Triple-A level in 2004.

Cory Lidle, SP, Phi – Fantasy owners endure this roller coaster every year. Since striking out 11 in a losing effort on May 11, Lidle is 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA. The streak includes wins over St. Louis and Baltimore, but with Lidle you just never know when the bottom will fall out.

Akinori Otsuka, RP, SD – Last year's bullpen darling was stripped of primary set-up duties after failing to retire a batter in each of his past two outings. Scott Linebrink is now charged with protecting leads in the eighth inning.

Bronson Arroyo, SP, Bos – Arroyo couldn't get out of the third inning on Monday, allowing 10 hits and seven runs in a loss to Baltimore. After teasing owners with a three-game winning streak, he has allowed four runs in each of his past three outings.

Jason Marquis, SP, StL – Though he escaped with a win on Monday, Marquis walked at least five batters for the third straight start.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
5 Combined homers hit by Seattle's starting outfield of Winn, Reed and Ichiro. The power outage is part of the reason Seattle ranks 29th in the major in homers and a big reason why manager Mike Hargrove is contemplating lineup changes.