Last week we finally got a look at Felix Hernandez at the big league level. At least one member of the Yahoo! Sports team drafted him more than five months ago in an experts league, so the debut was anticipated to say the least. So what's left to wait for now? Well there is a four-week stretch run to the playoffs in Yahoo! head-to-head leagues. There's also the major league debut of Delmon Young on the horizon for those of you desperately trying to stay involved while football looms on the horizon. No Young (or B.J. Upton) yet, but there was plenty to track around the majors over the weekend:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
- As a fantasy analyst, I spend about three seconds each night scanning the latest New York Yankees box score. What is there to learn really? Their first seven hitters in the lineup are all owned in close to 100 percent of leagues, with only Robinson Cano sitting unclaimed in more than a few dozen leagues. That leaves Tony Womack (worthless), Bernie Williams (see Womack) and baseball's most inconsistent pitching staff to monitor. No thanks. I bring this up because the Yankees are on the outside of the playoff race looking in, yet they remain everybody's fantasy darlings. Baseball's hottest team, meanwhile, isn't getting much rotisserie respect.
The team, of course, is the Oakland Athletics. The sleepers? Where to start? Sunday's leadoff hitter, Mark Ellis, is available in more than 95 percent of leagues despite a .350 average since July 1. First baseman Dan Johnson hit .364 in July, but it took a recent four-game homer streak to catch the attention of roughly 40 percent of Yahoo! leagues. With Jay Payton, skepticism is justified, but don't tell me that he wouldn't be a hot commodity if he hit six homers with 19 RBIs in 20 games while wearing pinstripes. Need pitching? Joe Blanton (2-0, 0.69 ERA in August), Danny Haren (8-0 since June 1) and Kirk Saarloos (6-2 since June 1) are all widely available. Ellis, Johnson and Blanton have the most long-term value, and their availability will likely shrink as this week's division matchup with the Angels garners national attention. Better check for them now.
- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire wants to see his team get faster. That's a tall order when you consider that more than one-third of the team's stolen bases landed on the disabled list when Torii Hunter was lost for the season. "I'd like to see some speed out there," Gardenhire recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You'd like to be able to steal bases, (or go) first to third on base hits." So who is left that can steal bases for the Twins? Well, one candidate is Lew Ford, Hunter's replacement in center field. He stole second base Sunday, his third theft in eight games.
Don't forget that Ford stole 20 bases in 2004 while also hitting .299 with 15 homers. Since the trade deadline passed without activity – ensuring that Ford will play out 2005 as the team's starting center fielder – the 28-year-old is 9-for-26 (.346). He has a great shot at making an impact in fantasy leagues, much as he did last year when he scored 20 runs with five stolen bases in 27 August games. Jason Bartlett is also expected to add speed to the Twins lineup. Though he's not a stolen base threat, the rookie did hit .332 at Tripe-A Rochester this selason. He went 2-for-4 Sunday. Though he has struggled at the big league level, Minnesota is expected to stick with him the rest of the way.
- Fantasy alert: Colorado begins a 14-game homestand Monday. In a normal season, there wouldn't be much for fantasy owners to do in response to a revelation like this. This season, however, several potentially productive Colorado players remain widely available. Let's start with first baseman Ryan Shealy, who is 11-for-31 with a homer and eight RBIs in his past eight games subbing for the injured Todd Helton. He slugged 20 homers in 83 games for Triple-A Colorado Springs this season. Less likely to be available but still worth a look is Matt Holliday. He homered three times in the final three games of the latest Colorado homestand, and then kept it going with two homers and five RBIs on a road trip through San Francisco and Arizona.
Garrett Atkins has cooled off considerably, but he still owns a .362 average at Coors Field with 33 RBIs in 42 games. A longshot to have a big series is catcher J.D. Closser. He's been a disappointment this season, but he did hit a season-high four homers in July and has already gone deep once this month. The mild run of success gives him five homers in his last 55 at bats.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
- Joey Gathright, OF, TB
This isn't a list you want to appear on multiple times. Doing so generally means you've already played yourself off the fantasy radar once. Such is the case with Gathright, who was 11-for-51 with only two stolen bases following his promotion in early July. Why is The Skinny giving him a second chance? Well, four-game stolen base streaks will go along way toward earning forgiveness. Since July 30, Gathright is 10-for-27 with four steals in five tries and six runs scored. The Devil Rays are suddenly competitive, so manager Lou Piniella will likely stick with a lineup that's working.
- Claudio Vargas, SP, Ari
Teammate Brad Halsey landed here last week and promptly pitched six strong innings to cool off Houston. This week we turn to Vargas, who recorded his eighth straight quality start Sunday. Since June 25, the big right-hander is 4-2 with a 2.73 ERA. Better yet, he's striking out right around one batter per inning. Only a streak of hard luck has kept him from catching on in Yahoo! leagues. Twice in his past six starts Vargas has pitched at least seven innings and allowed just one run, only to come away with a no-decision.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
- Anderson Hernandez, 2B, NYM (ETA – Sept.1)
The headline on the New York Post website reads, "Hernandez riding fast track to Shea." You can say that again. Hernandez stole his 18th base of the season for Triple-A Norfolk Sunday. Not bad, you might say? Look closer – that's 18 steals in 39 games. The 22-year-old also has 26 RBIs and 23 runs scored in those 39 contests. All of that to go along with a .315 average. The Mets aren't rushing the kid, but with the second base position a disaster at the big league level, it would be a surprise not to see Hernandez get a shot later this season.
- Francisco Liriano, SP, Min (ETA – Sept. 1)
Alfonso Soriano would be patrolling second base for Minnesota today if the Twins had been willing to part with Liriano at the trade deadline. If that's not praise enough, Baseball America just named him the best pitching prospect in the International League. Why all the fuss? Scouts say he has three big league-ready pitches. All three were on full display Thursday when he struck out 13 in seven one-hit innings for Triple-A Rochester. On the season, he is 6-1 with a 1.62 ERA and a ridiculous 0.74 WHIP. Fantasy owners who missed out on Felix Hernandez should keep an eye out for this 21-year-old lefty when rosters expand in September.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Khalil Greene, SS, SD – Last August, Greene hit .311 with five homers, 16 runs and 16 RBIs. A great buy-low candidate, he has started this month 6-for-22 (.273) with two homers, four runs and seven RBIs in six games.
Ronnie Belliard, 2B, Cle – His 10th home run of the season brought home three runs Sunday, giving the second baseman 15 RBIs in his past 15 games.
Olmedo Saenz, 1B/3B, LAD – Saenz sat Sunday, and frequent time off is the only thing holding his value down these days. In his past 10 games, Saenz is 14-for-34 with five homers and 16 RBIs.
Chris Duffy, OF, Pit – Hamstring tightness kept Duffy out of action Sunday, putting a temporary hold on a 12-for-24 streak for the rookie outfielder. He has seven runs scored in six August games.
Brad Eldred, 1B, Pit – The man they call Big Country had three doubles Wednesday and hit his first major league homer Friday. The 270-pound slugger homered 10 times in his final 10 minor league games.
Eric Byrnes, OF, Bal – Byrnes has hit in each of his nine games with Baltimore, going 14-for-43 (.326) in the process.
Gary Matthews Jr., OF, Tex – Last week's curiosity is rapidly becoming a phenomenon. Matthews homered Sunday, his seventh in his past 12 starts. He had two or more hits in seven of those 12 games.
Jorge Sosa, SP, Atl – Seven shutout innings led to a no-decision Sunday, thanks to Chris Reitsma's ninth-inning meltdown. Sosa's numbers over his past eight starts: 4-0, 1.81 ERA, 1.37 WHIP.
Jake Westbrook, SP, Cle – Westbrook won his fourth straight start Saturday, tying a season high with eight strikeouts in the process. He has pitched at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs in eight of his past 12 starts.
Jose Guillen, RF, Was – Guillen (shoulder) is expected to skip the team's upcoming series at Houston and there's word he may even miss out on a trip to Coors Field later in the week.
Scott Podsednik, CF, ChW – He's just four for his last 11 on stolen base attempts, which makes his recent struggles at the plate harder to swallow.
Felipe Lopez, SS, Cin – Lopez hasn't homered since July 22 and is currently mired in a 1-for-23 slump.
Yahoo! Experts League Update
What is this, a pending trade? The league's saves leader sends Francisco Rodriguez and Derrick Turnbow to the team that tops the league in wins, getting Mark Buehrle and Andy Pettitte in return. A textbook example of finding the right trading partner and executing a deal.