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The Skinny: Out with the old

CLOSER HOT SEAT
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS RED HOT
1st Chair: Brian Bruney
2nd Chair: Greg Aquino
Skinny: For all his struggles, Bruney is 5-for-6 converting saves since Brandon Lyon landed on the DL. He even added a new pitch on Friday, showcasing a curveball while tossing a scoreless inning as Arizona dropped its 11th decision in 16 June games. While Bruney adds pitches, the D'Backs seek a new closer. They are reportedly interested in Jose Mesa and Danys Baez, though acquiring either is a longshot. Triple-A closer Brandon Metters, who boasted a 1.80 ERA and .194 opponent's average at Tuscon, was recalled on Saturday. Manager Bob Melvin told the East Valley Tribune that using Medders as the closer would be "too dicey."
CINCINNATI REDS RED HOT
1st Chair: David Weathers
2nd Chair: Ryan Wagner, Kent Mercker
Skinny: The Reds lost six games last week by an average of 5.3 runs. Their pitching staff leads the majors in home runs allowed, which is just part of the reason why the bullpen has inherited a league-low 18 save opportunities. In other words: If you're looking here for saves, you might as well make it a package deal and sign Oakland's leadoff man so you can make a move in steals. For what it's worth, Weathers owns a 1.42 ERA in June and will continue to get the bulk of save chances for the foreseeable future.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS RED HOT
1st Chair: Danys Baez
2nd Chair: Lance Carter, Chad Orvella
Skinny: The Devil Rays have made a flurry of roster adjustments of late, and they would love to add a deal involving Baez to the transaction log. Their closer needs to start pitching better if the club is going to find any suitors. In his past five outings, Baez has allowed five runs on 10 hits (with four walks) in five innings – all while battling shoulder stiffness. A player to watch is rookie Franklin Nunez. He has been clocked in the high 90s and manager Lou Piniella already believes he can be an effective late-inning set-up guy.
PITTSBURGH PIRATES HOT
1st Chair: Jose Mesa
2nd Chair: Mike Gonzalez
Skinny: Mesa is gradually backing off his "I will retire if dealt" stance. He now says he'll accept a trade if he can remain a closer, stay on the East Coast and find a team that will pick up his option for 2006. That's not likely to happen, but chances are Mesa will make further concessions as the trade deadline approaches. Gonzalez may well inherit this job yet, but he has some physical hurdles to clear first. The lefty has suffered knee and arm pain of late, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that his velocity was down about five mph on Wednesday against the Yankees.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS WARM
1st Chair: Mike MacDougal
2nd Chair: Jeremy Affeldt
Skinny: Affeldt isn't happy in a set-up role. He told the Kansas City Star as much last week, but he picked the wrong time to make his case. The comments were printed one day after MacDougal closed out the Dodgers for his second save in as many days, and Affeldt proceeded to allow six runs in his next two appearances. Manager Buddy Bell isn't about to change roles right now. MacDougal has converted seven straight save chances, allowing only three hits and a walk in the process. Only his history of losing command extends his stay on the Hot Seat.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS WARM
1st Chair: Yhency Brazoban
2nd Chair: Giovanni Carrara
Skinny: Brazoban blew a save on Saturday in his first chance since Eric Gagne was placed on the DL. He threw 30 pitches and retired only two batters while yielding four runs. Since his last save on May 13, Brazoban is 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA. The Dodgers don't have any other options on their roster, however. If Brazoban falters, expect the club to make a move via trade rather than promote from within.
ATLANTA BRAVES WARM
1st Chair: Chris Reitsma
2nd Chair: Dan Kolb, Joey Devine?
Skinny: John Smoltz owners have to be breathing easier now that the Braves have a reliable stopper at the end of the bullpen. Since blowing back-to-back saves in mid-May, Reitsma has a 1.29 ERA in 12 appearances and is 5-for-5 in pressure situations. So why hasn't manager Bobby Cox named him the closer? It could be because the club is committed to giving Kolb a chance to win his job back. The 2004 All-Star still faces an uphill battle, but he is working on a streak of three straight appearances without allowing a run. Devine, the team's first round draft pick, still has an outside chance at making his MLB debut in 2005.
FLORIDA MARLINS WARM
1st Chair: Todd Jones
2nd Chair: Guillermo Mota, Jim Mecir
Skinny: Mota has been aching for ninth-inning opportunities ever since he lost his closer job to Jones. He got two such chances last week, and the fact that manager Jack McKean called his name is evidence of just how far Mota's stock has fallen. On Monday, he was tasked with protecting an eight-run lead. His next time out, the margin was 10. Jones, meanwhile, has 11 saves, a 1.35 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP since April 28.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Tyler Walker
2nd Chair: Scott Eyre, Scott Munter
Skinny: Walker made history in relief of Jason Schmidt on Friday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first pitcher to strike out the side with the bases loaded to earn a save since the stat was first recorded in 1969. Two days later, one of his victims, Chris Shelton, paid him back with a game-tying, two-run homer. The blast ended Walker's streak of 10 straight successful save conversions. Temporarily (and mercifully) out of the picture for now is LaTroy Hawkins. He and his 15.75 ERA were placed on the disabled list by the Giants on Friday.
DETROIT TIGERS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Troy Percival
2nd Chair: Kyle Farnsworth, Franklyn German
Skinny: Percival allowed his fourth homer of the season on Sunday, a three-run shot that resulted in his third blown save in eight chances. He did manage three strikeouts, which set the stage for an extra-innings victory.
OAKLAND ATHLETICS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Huston Street
2nd Chair: Justin Duchscherer
Skinny: The hamstring injury suffered by Street on Saturday is being called "slight," but it was serious enough to keep the Oakland rookie on the shelf for the weekend. Duchscherer, a reliable setup guy, recorded the final two outs on Saturday to close the book on a one-run win. He also notched a save on Sunday. Street is considered day-to-day.
Father's Day weekend provided a little something for everyone. There was the bloodbath that was the final round of the U.S. Open, a war of attrition that weekend hackers could easily relate to. Monday morning quarterbacks will have a field day with Larry Brown after Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Just a thought – but when you're scheming to stop your opponent on a game-deciding inbound play, you may want to give some consideration to guarding one of the best clutch shooters in NBA playoffs history. And, of course, there was a full slate of MLB games that The Skinny took in with notebook in hand:

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

  • "The ace is back," Felipe Alou said following Jason Schmidt's eight innings of shutout work on Friday. Giving the box score a quick look – Schmidt allowed only seven hits, all singles, while striking out five – it would be easy to take San Francisco's manager at his word. Make no mistake about it, though, this wasn't the return of the "old" ace as much a former fireballer growing accustomed to life as a finesse pitcher. No longer is Schmidt blowing away batters with 97 mph heat in the seventh inning. Rather, he relies on change of pace and location to keep batters off-balance. On Friday, that worked, and the All-Star lowered his ERA from 6.12 to 5.40 while earning his first win since May 24.

The relief might not end there for fantasy owners. Schmidt next faces Arizona, a team that dropped 13 of its first 18 games in June. Still, expectations must be tempered. Even as he kept Detroit at bay in his last start, Schmidt's fastball topped out at 92 mph. His season high for strikeouts is nine, established in his first start and not matched since. Last season he struck out nine or more 14 times. You can't just cut this potential ace outright, of course, but a run of decent outings could boost his trade value. In recent weeks, Schmidt has been dealt straight up for the likes of Gary Sheffield, Chone Figgins and Chad Cordero. Obviously, if you need pop, steals or saves, the Schmidt name still carries some value on the trade market.

  • With all due respect to Scott Rolen and his return to the St. Louis batting order, the most dramatic lineup development on Saturday occurred in Seattle, where Bret Boone's name was noticeably absent from manager Mike Hargrove's lineup card. It was less a day off and more a sign of things to come. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, Boone will sit through the end of Seattle's current homestand, which wraps up on Thursday. Hargrove is calling this a short-term move to allow the slumping Boone a break from the daily grind. In reality, this is the beginning of the end for the 36-year-old who is in the final year of a four-year contract.

Since 25-homer, 100-RBI potential is hard to come by at second base, fantasy owners have been hesitant to cut Boone loose. If you're among the faithful, let Hargrove's move serve as a guilt-free way out. The Skinny recently cut Boone loose in favor of a surging Jorge Cantu and Boone cleared waivers without so much as a nibble. With more productive options like Cantu, Rickie Weeks, Robinson Cano and Craig Counsell out there, Boone maintains value in only the deepest of leagues. His temporary replacement, by the way, is Jose Lopez, who went 5-for-12 with a double, two RBIs and a stolen base over the weekend. He is a highly regarded prospect who hit 13 homers and stole 18 bases in his last full season in the minors.

  • The way the Colorado lineup card looks these days, you have to wonder if the folks working the grounds crew at Coors Field have been emulating their lovable counterparts from the movie Major League – asking each other questions like, "Who are these guys?" It is, after all, a legitimate question. The franchise that once brought us Walker, Galarraga and Bichette in the heart of its order now rolls out a lineup that includes the likes of Danny Ardoin, Eddy Garabito and Ryan Shealy. Even regular Todd Helton bears no resemblance to the perennial Silver Slugger contender who has been a staple in the Rockies lineup since 1998.

While Rox fans may not be thrilled with developments, inter-league road games did give fantasy owners a chance to preview what Colorado's lineup may look like after the trade deadline. At 6-foot-4 and nearly 250 pounds, first baseman Ryan Shealy is physically suited for launching balls into orbit at Coors. He went 6-for-18 with a homer and three RBIs on the club's recent road trip. Of course, it would take a deal involving Helton to increase Shealy's role in 2005, and management says Helton isn't on the block. Preston Wilson is more likely to go, a move that would boost the value of Jorge Piedra, who collected three hits and a steal on Friday in a rare start. Ardoin's strong play may force the Rockies to make a tough decision when catcher Todd Greene returns from the DL. Greene may be traded, or the club may demote J.D. Closser. The diminutive Garabito is worth a look in deep leagues. He has five multi-hit games and three stolen bases in his past eight games.

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

  • Jason Lane, RF, Hou
    Lane went 0-for-4 on Sunday, striking out twice. It was a rare bout with futility for Houston's hottest hitter in June. Through 14 games this month, Lane has been held without a hit only three times, crossed the plate for a run in all but six games and driven home a run more often than not. The totals look like this: .320, 5 homers, 9 runs, 10 RBIs. This, of course, is the type of productivity everyone has been waiting for all season out of this popular draft-day sleeper. Bonus: Houston plays 10 of its next 13 games against Colorado and Cincinnati. Colorado is Colorado and Reds pitchers lead the majors in home runs allowed.
  • John Lackey, SP, LAA
    A series of no-decisions has him flying under the radar, but Lackey has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball since mid-April. In his past 11 starts, Lackey is 4-1 with a 2.81 ERA. Los Angeles has won 10 of his 14 starts on the season. As fantasy owners who have gambled on Lackey in the past can attest, he's not a WHIP-friendly pitcher. This year has been no different, but the righty is beginning to offset his propensity to allow baserunners with some solid power pitching. Through three June starts, he has 19 strikeouts in 18.1 innings.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Kenny Kelly, CF, Cin (ETA – Recalled June 12)
    Wholesale changes could be in the works for the Reds, which may open up playing time for Kelly, recently recalled from Triple-A Louisville where he was batting .327 with 17 stolen bases. The former University of Miami quarterback drove in two runs with his first Major League hit last Sunday and was 1-for-3 in his first start later in the week. He is blocked, of course, by Ken Griffey Jr. on the depth chart, but that could change in a hurry as the trade deadline nears.
  • Joel Zumaya, SP, Det/Double-A (ETA – September 1)
    Zumaya improved his record to 5-3 on Friday, striking out eight in six shutout innings against Portland. In his past three wins, the youngster has struck out 37 while allowing seven hits and no earned runs in 20.2 innings. He leads all Eastern League pitchers in strikeouts with 113. Scouts say his future may be as a closer, which could be fine with Detroit as aging stopper Troy Percival reaches the twilight of his career. Either way, this former 11th-round draft pick is looking like a sure bet to get a Major League call-up this season or next.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Jonny Gomes, OF, TB – Recently recalled from Triple-A, where he was batting .321 with 14 homers, Gomes has already worked his way up to the No. 5 position in the Tampa Bay lineup. Gomes began the week with his third homer in 27 at-bats and closed it with two doubles on Saturday and an RBI single on Sunday.

Luis Matos, CF, Bal – In 32 games before landing on the DL, Matos scored 19 runs and stole seven bases. Back in the lineup on Sunday and batting leadoff in place of the injured Brian Roberts, Matos went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored.

Robinson Cano, 2B, NYY – Since June 3, Cano is batting .396 with 12 runs scored and nine RBIs.

Kelly Johnson, LF, Atl – Since beginning his career on a 2-for-34 slide, Johnson has gone 9-for-20 with three homers and 11 RBIs in his past five starts.

Jerome Williams, SP, ChC – After going 1-1 with a 2.59 ERA at Triple-A Iowa, Williams was recalled by the Cubs and will start on Tuesday against Milwaukee. GM Jim Hendry told MLB.com that Williams' velocity is way up and his conditioning has improved since the club acquired him from San Francisco.

Joe Blanton, SP, Oak – Blanton is one of many A's putting things together in June. With a miserable May behind him, the rookie is 3-1 this month with a 2.60 ERA. He struck out a career-high seven in Sunday's win over Philadelphia.

Mike Morse, SS, Sea – With 22 hits in his first 54 big-league at bats, Morse is threatening to make injured shortstop Pokey Reese expendable. In his past six games, the rookie is 11-for-21 with five runs scored and five RBIs.

Jake Westbrook, SP, Cle – Cleveland won its ninth straight game on Sunday behind eight innings of solid work from Westbrook. Though he is only 3-3 since mid-May, he has allowed two or fewer earned runs in six of his past seven starts.

Aaron Boone, 3B, Cle – It's hard to believe, but Boone's average reached .200 for the first time this season on Sunday. Though he's hardly on fire, Boone's June numbers do merit notice. He's batting .327 this month with 10 runs scored, three homers and eight RBIs.

Chris Shelton, 1B, Det – Shelton gained fantasy eligibility at first base on Monday, one day after hitting a clutch ninth-inning homer off Giants closer Tyler Walker. In his past six starts, Shelton is 7-for-23 with two homers, four runs and seven RBIs.

Jose Reyes, SS, NY(N) – A low on-base percentage has dogged Reyes for his entire professional career. It is currently hovering around .220 for June, which prompted manager Willie Randolph to strip him of leadoff duties. Mike Cameron is expected to occupy the top spot when he returns to the Mets lineup.

Joe Borowski, RP, Chi(N) – The Chicago Sun-Times speculated on Sunday that Borowski (9.53 ERA in June) may be optioned to Triple-A so he can work out his problems away from the big league spotlight.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Eyebrow-raising numbers
.426 Derek Jeter's career slugging percentage with the bases loaded after hitting his first career grand slam on Saturday. Much has been made of his previous "futility" with the bases juiced, but he did enter the weekend with a .333 average and 114 RBIs in those situations.