To truly be useful as a writer in the fantasy world, one needs to somewhat-accurately project the future and take a few chances along the way. But too often in this industry, writers play it safe, state the obvious, wait for value changes to develop before they give advice, and ultimately hand you a playbook that only works if you're up against mediocre competition. I'm not going to say I've never fallen into that trap myself (I welcome your respectful and intelligent feedback on anything), but the goal is to keep looking forward, constantly search for news you can use and apply.
I heard Justin Verlander discussed as a buy-low in some fantasy circles around the All-Star break, and that gets my dander up. The guy had 12 useful turns in a row entering the break - he had been effective since mid-May for crying out loud. How could his fantasy owners not realize this? Verlander added to the streak with another solid turn at Baltimore Sunday, so let's just all agree that Verlander is legit and move on.
Alex Rios has been running all month (eight steals), and he added some power to the mix Sunday (homer, two steals). Buy-low, you say? That's great, if Rios is owned by someone who checks boxscores about once a month. Robinson Cano was an excellent buy-low candidate not too long ago, but an 8-for-14 stretch against Oakland this weekend probably kills the opportunity.
Sell-high is another concept that gets fudged in our communities. Can you really sell high on a guy like Xavier Nady when he gets hot for a month or two? When a soft-tosser like Jesse Litsch gets a few wins and some luck on balls in play, is it really possible to peddle him to an opponent who thinks he's the next Roy Halladay? Hey, maybe it is, and if so great. But if that's the nature of your competition, you don't need our help. Just repeat until rich.
If I had $20 for every "Cliff Lee won't keep this up" nugget I've passed over this season, I'd be typing this from Hawaii surrounded by hula dancers. Anyone can tell you that Cliff Lee won't maintain an ERA below 2, or Chipper Jones is unlikely to hit .400, or Nate McLouth isn't going to win the National League MVP. The real question on surprising surges is this: "what level can we expect the player in question to settle in at?"
That Sunday rant out of the way, let's take a stroll through 15 ballparks and see what's worth a mention. I fully realize as I collect these stories that it's impossible to make the column perfectly relatable to everyone- there are so many ways to play Fantasy Baseball these days. Hopefully there's something you can use, or enjoy, in the bullets to follow.
• So what's the story with Billy Wagner? He experienced shoulder cramping in the bullpen Sunday, but the Mets still brought him out for a save at Cincinnati, and he passed the test with flying colors (perfect inning, three strikeouts). Nonetheless, the team will play it safe and do an MRI Monday. (Monday update: The Mets are no longer planning that MRI. Alrighty, then.) Sticking with the Metropolitans, Pedro Martinez had a good session on flat ground Sunday and is hoping to return to action next weekend. In a weekly-transaction league, there's no way I risk it with him this period.
• Jermaine Dye took a pitch off the knee Sunday and was forced out of the game; X-rays came back negative and he's day-to-day. It's hard to keep a good man down in Chicago, especially when he's wearing No. 23 (MJ, Ryno, the ridiculous Devin Hester, etc).
• You probably ignored Willie Harris's big day in Atlanta (homer, five RBIs, three walks), but let's take a deeper look here. The plucky Harris has been a useful fantasy option since the beginning of June (.315, four homers, six steals), and he covers three positions in the Y! game (2B, 3B, OF). I'm not saying you should run out and grab him in shallow mixed leagues, but if you're digging a little deeper, he's a handy bench option and probably free for the taking (Harris was less than 1 percent owned in Yahoo Nation last I checked).
• Highly-regarded lefty Jaime Garcia made his first major-league start for the Cardinals Sunday, an ordinary performance (5 IP, 5H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 2 HR). He was dominant in six starts at Double-A earlier in the year, but his Triple-A results (4.59 ERA, 1.41 ratio) are enough to keep him off the mixed-league radar for the moment, albeit he did have 57 strikeouts in 68.2 innings.
• I bought into the Jacoby Ellsbury hype and pursued him pretty aggressively in some mid-season drafts. Alas, for the last few weeks, the joke's on me: he's hitting a punchless .250 since June 1, lefties are eating his lunch, and he has just one steal (in four attempts) in July.
• Aaron Miles hit a walk-off grand slam for the Redbirds Sunday, his third hit of the day, and he's now carrying around a robust .323average. He's still a tricky call for fantasy owners, though, because Tony La Russa loves to fill out a different lineup card every day and Miles is never guaranteed to play more than 3-4 times in a week. I've had Miles on my Tout Wars roster (NL-only) for most of the year, and despite the fact that it's NL-only (where the pickings get slim), I'm generally hesitant to start him.
• Ryan Zimmerman will come off the disabled list and play Tuesday, but it remains to be seen how healthy his shoulder is. I'm not overly bullish here. I do feel bad for Dmitri Young, who's battling blood-sugar issues and had to go on the DL.
• Not an injury blog: Fausto Carmona (hip) will meet up with the Indians in Anaheim Monday, and if a side session goes well, we might see him on the mound later in the week . . . A sore right ankle kept Adam Jones out of the lineup Sunday . . . Troy Percival (hamstring) came off the DL Sunday and worked a scoreless inning. The Rays figure to give Percival the ninth inning back and spoil all of our Grant Balfour/Dan Wheeler fun, but keep in mind Percy turns 39 in a couple of weeks . . . The Cubs expect to get Alfonso Soriano (hand) back in the mix this week, perhaps as soon as Wednesday . . . J.J. Putz (elbow) came off the DL Sunday, but the Mariners say they won't use him in save chances immediately . . . A forearm injury pushed Jose Contreras to the disabled list. He's been hammered over his last seven turns, so this news shouldn't hurt you . . . As expected, Roy Oswalt and his hip landed on the DL . . . Michael Cuddyer remains in limbo; he'll have a CT scan on his hand Monday . . . Yunel Escobar should be able to play this week, perhaps as soon as Monday.
• No fantasy happiness with the Ray Durham trade - now Rickie Weeks owners have to worry, and Durham's playing time surely will be less in Milwaukee. The Giants have multiple options at second, so mixed leagers can continue to ignore that Bermuda Triangle for the moment.
• Brandon Lyon fell apart against the Dodgers, perhaps because he was working for the third consecutive day. He's not the easiest guy to hedge against, as the Diamondbacks have a deep but tricky bullpen to diagnose.
• Speed round: Ryan Sweeney had two more hits, lifting his average to .307. He's not a power guy at all, but if you need average and a little speed (eight steals), he's worth a look as an outfield back-fill . . . The extra-base hit watch for Ichiro Suzuki (136 plate appearances) ended on Saturday, when he took a Masa Kobayashi pitch out of the park in the ninth inning . . . Richie Sexson didn't start for the second straight day, as it looks like the Yanks will wisely keep him as a platoon guy. It kills his fantasy value, but it's the right move . . . Three more hits and a pair of RBIs for Carlos Delgado, who's raking in July (.419/.500/.726). . . Marcus Thames went deep again for the Tigers and now has an amazing 19 homers on just 196 at-bats.
• Handshakers: Another save and three pretty strikeouts for Francisco Rodriguez (40), though I stubbornly maintain that the club that opens the vaults for him this winter will regret it . . . Jonathan Broxton labored through his second big-chair opportunity (one run, two baserunners, 23 pitches), but he got the job done in the end and that's all we care about . . . Joakim Soria (26) needed just eight pitches to put the White Sox away, and that was with two strikeouts thrown in. No strikeouts for Mariano Rivera (24), but it was a tidy 11-pitch outing . . . The trick-or-treat season continues for C.J. Wilson (23); he's now converted 15 straight save chances, despite his rocky ERA (4.89) and ratio (1.56).
I'm late for a date (okay, it's a football draft), so let's head to the comments and try to figure this all out.