This time each year fantasy players across the country don a red fur suit, shake their beer-filled bowls of jelly and prance insanely around neighborhoods in 95-degree heat in search of toy-making elves.
Why the loony behavior?
It's Christmas in July.
This is the month when "only" league addicts hope their baseball stockings are filled with a bulldog closer capable of double-digit saves and a power-hitting corner-infielder with a .300 average. Only days away from the July 31 trade deadline, fast and furious rumors about titanic fantasy All-Stars Adam Dunn, Miguel Tejada, Mark Teixeira, Ken Griffey and Jermaine Dye have swirled about. These whispers have created a renewed sense of optimism for those whimsical owners in fantasyland desiring to max out their FAAB credit cards to obtain the missing piece to their championship puzzles.
If your cash supply is limited or your waiver wire spot undesirable, don't worry. Each year, the flurry of expeditious deadline deals paves the way for overshadowed youngsters to leap to the fantasy forefront.
Jump in your reindeer-pulled sleigh, belt out a Ho! Ho! Ho! and give the gingerbread man a "good game." It's time to break down the hidden fantasy gifts that could find their way under this year's deadline tree.
Adam Dunn/Ken Griffey, Cin
Rumored Teams: Washington, Boston
Opens the door for … Joey Votto and Norris Hopper.
Y! Availability (Votto/Hopper): 99.8, 99.4
Notes: Votto, advertised prominently in this space in recent weeks, has seen a slight dip in power numbers at Triple-A Louisville this season – 12 HR, 57 RBI in 241 at-bats. However, his .302 BA and 11 steals are nothing to scoff at considering only Gary Sheffield and Alex Gordon have swiped double-digit bags at first this season. As for Hopper, a vacated outfield spot would give him a regular gig. The base burglar stole 25 bases in 98 games at Triple-A Louisville in '06. If you have a need for speed, Hopper could be your remedy.
Mark Teixeira, Tex
Rumored Teams: Atlanta, Boston, LA Angels, LA Dodgers, NY Yankees, San Francisco
Opens the door for … Jason Botts.
Y! Availability: 99.7
Notes: As mentioned in the "Thunderstruck" edition of the Noise last week, Botts is the Optimus Prime of potential late-season call-ups. Prior to being placed on the seven-day DL on July 19, Botts had ripped 51 extra-base hits, smacked 13 homers and driven in 74 runs in 345 at-bats. He'll split time between outfield and DH once Big Tex and/or Sammy Sosa are shipped. Talks for Teixeira have intensified in the past 24-plus hours, so a trade seems imminent.
Ty Wigginton, TB
Rumored Teams: NY Yankees, Minnesota
Opens the door for … Evan Longoria.
Y! Availability: 99.6
Notes: Mr. Tony Parker, the top hitting prospect in the D-Rays organization, has scorched Southern League pitching this season – 352 at-bats, .298 BA, 19 HR, 68 RBI, 73:49 K:BB. A wee little pup at 21, Longoria's promotion would shift Akinori Iwamura from third to second if the white-hot Wigginton is dealt.
Octavio Dotel, KC
Rumored Teams: Atlanta, Boston, LA Dodgers, Cleveland
Opens the door for … Joakim Soria.
Y! Availability: 58.3
Notes: The shocking news that the Royals might deal former top farmhand Zack Greinke after he was labeled the team's "closer of the future" a month ago means Soria is the clear frontrunner for save opportunities once Dotel inevitably is traded. Soria, who saved 7-of-10 with Dotel shelved in April/May, needs to be stashed in deeper 12-team formats.
Jermaine Dye, ChW
Rumored Teams: Boston, San Diego, NY Mets
Opens the door for … Jerry Owens.
Y! Availability: 99.5
Notes: The gazelle of the White Sox outfield, Owens would cement his every-day role with a Dye trade. Despite a deceptive .244 BA, Owens has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games with six steals. Last year, he stole 40 bases in 112 games at Triple-A Charlotte. Because speed is an ever-present priority in fantasy, Owens could be a sensational solution. Don't be floored if he mimics Juan Pierre down the stretch.
Chad Cordero, Was
Rumored Teams: NY Mets, Boston
Opens the door for … Jon Rauch.
Y! Availability: 98.6
Notes: At 6-foot-11, Rauch is the Washington Monument personified. With Cordero on bereavement leave in mid-May, Rauch collected three consecutive saves and proved he has stuff and the stones to be counted on in the ninth. In 52.2 IP this season, he's notched a superb 44:13 K:BB split.
Edgar Renteria, Atl
Rumored Teams: Chicago White Sox
Opens the door for … Yunel Escobar.
Y! Availability: 99.3
Notes: Falsely optimistic South Side GM Ken Williams doesn't understand that 14½ games is nearly insurmountable. If Renteria headed north, Escobar would shag grounders at short everyday with Kelly Johnson returning to a full-time role at second base. Escobar has played well in spurts this season, slapping a .304 BA in 125 at-bats. Although many scouts believe he eventually will develop 15-20 home run power, he's more of a Freddy Sanchez-type source of BA at this point in his career.
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
.281 BA, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 53 R, 17 SB, 49:28 K:BB
The once soggy breakfast table staple is no longer drowning in a bowl of mediocrity. Since June 14, Crisp has sparkled, slapping a Teddy Ballgame-esque .388 BA with four homers, 22 RBI and five steals. Crisp's skyrocketing play can be attributed to a drastic cutback in strikeouts (April/May: 16.0 K%, June/July: 11.9 K%) and an outstanding 22.4 LD% – significantly higher than his career 19.1 LD%. With Julio Lugo sporting a Medusa-like .290 OBP and .226 BA, Beantown skipper Terry Francona demoted his maligned shortstop to the nine-hole on July 23 and promoted Crisp to leadoff. Coco responded with a 3-for-5, three-run night in his old stomping grounds at Jacobs Field. Look for Crisp to make occasional appearances at the top of the Red Sox lineup heap for at least the short term. Available in about 50 percent of Y! leagues, Crisp will be a searing source of BA, R, RBI and SB during baseball's dog days. Fearless Forecast (60 G): .310 BA, 7 HR, 28 RBI, 35 R, 10 SB.
4 W, 36.1 IP, 2.97 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 26:15 K:BB
To embellish a lyric from punk pioneers The Ramones, "Gabbard, Gabbard, Hey!" Future presidents of the Red Sox Nation are worshipping their new hero as Gabbard, filling in for the injured Curt Schilling, has collected three wins and notched a microscopic 1.93 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and .133 BAA in four July starts. Gabbard's repertoire is similar to soft-tosser Kenny Rogers in that he deceives hitters with varying speeds and his plus breaker. This approach has helped him keep the ball down in the zone and generate numerous ground-ball outs (55.6 GB%). However, his high number of walks (3.72 BB/9), albeit improving (2 BB in past 16 IP), and .223 BABIP suggest his current 2.97 ERA likely is a mirage. Based on his recent string of stellar performances, he could force Julian Tavarez to the pen when Schilling returns next week. Deeper leagues in search of a flexible starter temporarily should employ Gabbard, but expect his ERA to climb near 4.00 soon. Fearless Forecast (10 starts): 4 W, 4.18 ERA, 1.26 WHIP,
.320 BA, HR, 18 RBI, 34 R, 16 SB, 38:22 K:BB
Alongside the memorable Felix Millan (who?), Harris became the second player in Braves history to go 6-for-6 in a game against the woeful St. Louis Cardinals on July 21. Prior to his hitting exposition, Harris had tallied a meager .152 BA with zero RBI in 47 July at-bats. Likely to stick in the starting lineup over platoon-mate Matt Diaz in the short-term, Harris has gone 1-for-14 since his breakout and has notched a repulsive 24.2 K% on the month. Due to the lack of depth in fantasy outfields this season and because Harris' totals appear solid, now is a great time to package him to an owner who is desperate for steals. With Diaz hitting .352 against lefties and .349 overall, Harris' extended playing time will be brief. Fearless Forecast (60 games): .268 BA, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 21 R, 8 SB.
.371 BA, 6 HR, 23 RBI, 23 R, 3 SB, 27:9 K:BB
Fantasy owners and serial Dodger seducer Alyssa Milano are salivating over Kemp's hotness. Since July 13, Kemp has seen increased playing time in right and has tallied five multi-hit performances, blasted three homers and racked 10 RBI. A highly touted basketball prospect in high school, Kemp is a natural athlete who showcases tremendous raw power and an aggressive demeanor at the dish. Most scouts believe Kemp eventually will develop into a Torii Hunter-like perennial threat capable of a .275 BA, 25-30 HR and 10-15 SB. Kemp has reduced his number of strikeouts this season ('06 K%: 34.4, '07: 23.3) and laid more consistent wood on the baseball (.446 BABIP). Although he'll likely continue to hit in the RBI-unfriendly eight-spot, he has the skills to be a surprising four-cat contributor (BA, HR, RBI, and SB). Twelve-team leaguers in search of outfield depth need to scour the wire for the 22-year-old Vero Beach product. Fearless Forecast (60 games): .290 BA, 11 HR, 31 RBI, 27 R, 5 SB.
.302 BA, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 16 R, 5 SB, 28:7 K:BB
Franklin has minted a pristine .324 BA in July and has begun to wrestle away playing time from Jason Michaels in left. The 24-year-old Gutierrez has bounced between Triple-A Buffalo and the parent club for three straight seasons. At 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, the Venezuelan native is a long, wiry youngster who generates terrific bat speed but has had difficulties with pitch recognition (career 24.0 K%). Gutierrez has a shot to develop into a 15-20 HR, low double-digit steals producer annually, but until he learns to take a pitch (6.8 BB%), his ceiling is more Juan Encarnacion than Alex Rios. Click the "add" button in AL-only formats, but refrain in shallower mixed leagues until he can prove more consistent. Fearless Forecast (60 games): .270 BA, 6 HR, 26 RBI, 30 R, 4 SB.
9 W, 146.2 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 104:46 K:BB
Oswalt's WHIP has been roughed up more this season than Scott Olsen's face in a drunken skirmish with law enforcement. The upper chest strain Oswalt sustained on July 20 forced him to miss his scheduled turn in the rotation on Wednesday – just the latest stain on an otherwise forgetful year. Outside of the injury, Oswalt has posted a nauseating 5.61 ERA and 1.55 WHIP this month, and his WHIP is way higher than a season ago ('06: 1.17, '07: 1.40). Under the surface, signs of a turnaround are abundant. He has chopped his BB/9 from 3.19 over the first three months to 1.07 in July and has generated more ground-ball outs (53.6 GB%). With his BABIP currently standing at an unlucky .322 and given the improvements in his command, Oswalt is a sensational buy-low candidate right now. He was dealt straight-up for Roger Clemens, Aramis Ramirez and Dan Uggla in Yahoo! Plus leagues this week. Fearless Forecast (12 starts): 6 W, 3.45 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 75 K
3 W, 123.0 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 89:63 K:BB
In his past six starts, Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn has possessed the body of Cain. Since June 22, Cain has walked an appalling 6.6 batters per nine IP and has tallied an equally despicable 6.63 ERA and 2.01 WHIP. Interestingly, Cain has decreased his HR/9 split from 2006's 0.85 to 0.51 and his HR/FB percentage from 7.1 to 4.3 this season. If he can lasso his control and pinpoint pitches with more accuracy his 6.51 K/9 likely would travel north while his ERA would shipwreck somewhere in the mid-3s. But forget about thoughts of double-digit wins. Someone you wouldn't want to stand next to at a craps table in Vegas, Cain has received a dismal 3.65 runs of support per nine, 68th in the NL. If I were a Cain owner and Buddy Carlyle were available in a 12-team non-keeper league, ties most certainly would be cut. Fearless Forecast (12 starts): 3 W, 3.85 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 66 K.
8 W, 146.0 IP, 4.44 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 121:25 K:BB
With two abhorrent starts in his past four, James should legally change his name to Brooke. Lit up by the Bronx Bombers for a combined 15 runs in 9.1 IP on July 12 and 22, Shields must be overjoyed that the D-Rays face the Yankees six more times this season. Although his ERA has soared 1.36 points since June 4, Shields is a fantastic buy-low middle-of-the-rotation starter. His excellent 7.46 K/9 and precise 1.54 BB/9 this year coupled with a sagging 36.9 FB% (40.7 FB% on the season) in his past four starts arrows to better days ahead. The pre-ASB strikeout waiver savior will resurface, if Shields can find a remedy for his long-ball disease (2.02 HR/9 since June 1). Traded this week for Ian Snell, Juan Pierre and Jason Isringhausen in Y! Plus leagues, fire a lowball offer to a Shields owner in disbelief. Fearless Forecast (13 starts): 5 W, 3.65 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 75 K.
.281 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 41 R, 17 SB, 36:13 K:BB
In a 4-for-35 swoon, the Kobayashi of Coors has resorted back to his days in the Big Apple. Since his 5-for-5 pasting of his old squad, the NY Mets, on July 3 Matsui has notched a miserable .160 BA with a minuscule four runs – a pretty amazing number considering he's sandwiched between Willy Taveras and Matt Holiday, who've collectively batted .319 this season. Matsui's downturn can be pinned on a 10.9 percentage point spike in GB% and an 8.0 percentage point decline in LD%. The 31-year-old Speed Racer has maintained a skyward 83.9 contact rate, which means his slump likely will be short lived. On pace for 35 steals and 86 runs, he is a reputable speed trade target who could be acquired at a slashed price. Fearless Forecast (60 G): .290 BA, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 42 R, 16 SB.
.330 BA, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 42 R, 8 SB, 60:11 K:BB
Damn that pesky injury imp. The budding Astros prospect will be sidelined for the next 4-6 weeks after an MRI revealed a fracture in his right wrist. Neck-in-neck with Milwaukee powerhouse Ryan Braun for NL R.O.Y. honors, Pence racked an otherworldly 30 multi-hit performances in just 73 games and was on a 22 HR, 15 SB pace. With the Astros out of contention, they will be extremely cautious with their treasured youngster. Even if he were to return sometime in late August or early September, struggles may persist given the nature of the injury – just ask Rickie Weeks about his wrist. Regardless of how the injury affects the rest of his '07 season, discount-minded keeper leaguers should pitch an offer. In Pence's place, flexible glove Chris Burke (8.6 percent owned) will receive a bulk of the playing time in center. Eligible at 2B and OF, Burke could be a sneaky source of steals in August and is worth a gamble as a MI in deeper (14-teams or greater) mixed leagues.
TRUE OR FALSE?
We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.
Ryan Braun is this year's fantasy R.O.Y. – Mike, Albany, N.Y.
Answer: True. Braun's insane home run in every 13.1 at-bats has given Bernie the Brewer a nasty case of slide burn. His incredible 24.2 HR/FB% ranks sixth behind marquee mashers Jim Thome, Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Pena and Adam Dunn. Although he has flashed a mediocre 7.5 BB% and rather disdainful 23.3 K%, he's sprayed line-drives with regularity (22.0%) and accumulated a superb .393 BABIP. Even though his BA likely will sink somewhat, he should finish in the range of .310 BA, 30 HR, 95 RBI, 85 R, 14 SB – rather remarkable considering he'll finish roughly 40 at-bats shy of 500. Bummer Pence had a setback. The race for the R.O.Y. hardware would have been fun to watch.
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Adam LaRoche? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
Unlike most of you (sadly), I'm probably the only one who's actually gotten results from the Noise. Seriously guys, Brad does in fact know talent. He hit Billy Butler right on along with Carlos Marmol and Yovani Gallardo. And those are just the most recent ones! He's actually helped turn two of my teams into first-place contenders. Sure, he misses every now and again, but doesn't everyone? I hate reading about what comes out of whiners' mouths. Keep up the "bad" (excellent) work, Brad.
Shawn, Kansas City, Mo.
Brad, thanks for keeping me on the Tim "Boy Wonder" Lincecum bandwagon. His 12 K performance against Arizona and three subsequent strong showings on the road have given me mad fantasy street cred.
Tom, Ansonia, Conn.
Totally unrelated to baseball, but "Thunderstruck" is not AC/DC's best song by far. Maybe your fantasy advice is more apt to another AC/DC song: "Riff-Raff."
Sam, Newport, Minn.
See Bradley, I guess people are sick of your stupid and inane attempts to be post-collegiate sarcastic and clever – always with something "cultural" and witty to say. Stick to the facts. It serves Peter Gammons and other experts pretty well. People are sick of Bill Simmons, too. You must be a joy at home. Your wife must have loved sarcastic college seniors when she was in high school.
Billy, Brighton, Mich.
Noise: Just call me the Chandler Bing of fantasy. Billy, I'm not sure what you're insinuating in that last sentence, but high school girls dating college seniors qualifies as statutory in my world. Maybe you and Elijah Dukes should party at "The Max" sometime. Look, if my random pop culture correlations and sarcastic spins on fantasy happenings are sickening, please, skip over my "inane" attempts at humor and read the explanations. Hey, I admit, I've misfired on a few names over the season, but my track-record is proven – roughly 70 percent accurate – my advice helpful and my demeanor appreciated – by most, anyway.
Can you please stop quoting what a player commanded in "recent one-for-one swaps in Yahoo! Plus leagues"? It's almost as old as the "one time at band camp" lines from "American Pie." Just because some idiot gave up Cole Hamels for J.J. Hardy within the last month should serve as no lesson for any person with at least four weeks of fantasy experience.
Noise: The week I stop listing recent one-for-one Plus league trades is the week my man-passion for Rich Hill evaporates. Since my wife is convinced I'm cheating on her with televised Hill games, the odds of me eliminating the value comparisons are nil. As I've discussed before, the purpose of mentioning recent trades is to emphasize a point and to give readers insight into a player's barometric value. If Richie Sexson is a quality buy-low target, is it not useful to know what people perceive his value as? Whether or not you believe the noted deals are lopsided, the information is a helpful tool for owners of any skill level to ascertain and manufacture fair trades. Get over your phobia of the solo swaps and appreciate it for its revelations.
Hey, great stuff Brad! Keep whacking 'em. It's a nice break from work. I wish I had been reading your insights when I was offered two first-round picks and Brad Hennessey for Bartolo Colon. I almost took it but balked at the last minute. Now I'm stuck with Bart. Tell me Bart has joined a gym and is gearing up for another Cy Young in '08. I don't suppose you have his address so I can send him a Bowflex, do you?
Alan, Calgary, Alberta
Noise: Alan, a Bowflex won't help the beached whale of Anaheim. That dude is the reason why gastric bypass was invented. Distant cousin to Notre Dame Grimace Charlie Weis and Simpson's corpulent jokester Krusty the Clown, Colon-oscopy has been troubled by triceps tendinitis and elbow soreness – which has landed him on the 15-day DL – and looks to be toast for the rest of the year. His improved K/9 split this season (7.04) offers some hope of a rebound next year, but he'll have to cut back on his walk (2.48 BB/9) and HR/9 splits (1.58) to have a chance. I'd say the odds of Beefolo reaching 15 wins with a sub 4.00 ERA next year are 50:1. Hindsight always is 20/20, but you should have pillaged your leaguemate for the two first-round picks.