MLB Skinny: Overlooked Import

CLOSER HOT SEAT

HOUSTON ASTROS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: Lidge's '07 start has been a nightmare – a blown save and 16.20 ERA combined in two outings covering 1.2 IP. His troubles since the '05 postseason have been well-documented, and as evidenced last season when he posted a 5.28 ERA, he seems to wither under the media microscope. His early struggles in '07 have brought about a change, with manager Phil Garner handing the job over to Wheeler, who has sported an ERA of 2.46 in his 161-inning career in Houston. Wheeler hasn't been particularly sharp in '07, but his past success gives reason to believe he can handle the appointment. Said Garner, "I'm going to change the bullpen configuration a little bit. Brad is not going to close as a general rule. … As of right now I'm going to pitch him earlier in the game, sixth inning area, sixth-seventh inning area 'cause I want to pitch him more often, give him more consistent work. As it stands right now I'll probably close with Wheeler, set up with [Chad] Qualls and [Rick] White." Fantasy owners only wish all managers would spell out their bullpen situations with as much clarity as Garner.

FLORIDA MARLINS HOT
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: Kevin Gregg, Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom
Skinny: Julio's save conversion rate from '01 to present is an uninspiring 80 percent. Control has long been his Achilles heel, and so far he has issued a free pass in each of his four outings of work this season – he also blew his only save chance on Wednesday. With 4 BB, 0 K, and a 16.88 ERA in the first 2.2 IP of his Marlins' career, Julio is already feeling the heat. But the Marlins gave up a solid young arm to attain his services from Arizona, so Julio can expect a little extra leeway. "We've got to show confidence with Julio," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "He's our guy, and we need him. We've got to get him right, and I think he can do it."

KANSAS CITY ROYALS HOT
1st Chair: David Riske
Injured: Octavio Dotel
Skinny: Riske is 1-for-2 in save chances while filling in for the injured Dotel. After converting his first opportunity against Detroit on Friday without incident, Riske gave up a game-winning three-run home run to Ivan Rodriguez on Sunday – he claims he thought Pudge was going to bunt. Dotel is eligible to return mid-April from his DL stint for a strained left oblique muscle. It's not inconceivable that Riske could retain his current role as closer until the end of the month while Dotel works off the rust, assuming Sunday's woes are the exception, not the norm, going forward.

TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
Injured: Eric Gagne
Skinny: Gagne's rehab (elbow/back) is going well – he's shown a mid-90s fastball and recently pitched back-to-back days – and he could be activated from the DL in time to travel with the team to Seattle for a weekend series. Meanwhile, Otsuka continues to thrive in the role for the Rangers, picking up a save over three scoreless outings, giving him 33 saves in 37 opportunities while filling in for Francisco Cordero ('06) and Gagne. As an Otsuka owner, I can tell you that he will retain a spot on my roster at least until Gagne proves himself healthy and reliable once again.

CINCINNATI REDS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dave Weathers
2nd Chair: Mike Stanton, Todd Coffey
Skinny: When Dustin Hermanson was released just prior to the start of the season, Cincinnati became one of the bigger unknowns at closer in the league. In one of my leagues, Weathers, Stanton and Coffey were all immediately added – thankfully, I was the one who landed Weathers. While conventional wisdom was that this would be a platoon situation, Weathers has thus far been the man. He has yet to allow a run in picking up two saves over three appearances (3.0 IP). Despite blowing 11 of 45 chances over the previous two seasons, the fact that Weathers is more experienced in the role than his teammates should factor in him getting the most chances here, and perhaps all the chances for as long as this current run of success lasts.

Check KFFL's Closer Hot Seat later in the week for updates.

CLOSER HOT SEAT

HOUSTON ASTROS RED HOT
1st Chair: Dan Wheeler
2nd Chair: Brad Lidge
Skinny: Lidge's '07 start has been a nightmare – a blown save and 16.20 ERA combined in two outings covering 1.2 IP. His troubles since the '05 postseason have been well-documented, and as evidenced last season when he posted a 5.28 ERA, he seems to wither under the media microscope. His early struggles in '07 have brought about a change, with manager Phil Garner handing the job over to Wheeler, who has sported an ERA of 2.46 in his 161-inning career in Houston. Wheeler hasn't been particularly sharp in '07, but his past success gives reason to believe he can handle the appointment. Said Garner, "I'm going to change the bullpen configuration a little bit. Brad is not going to close as a general rule. … As of right now I'm going to pitch him earlier in the game, sixth inning area, sixth-seventh inning area 'cause I want to pitch him more often, give him more consistent work. As it stands right now I'll probably close with Wheeler, set up with [Chad] Qualls and [Rick] White." Fantasy owners only wish all managers would spell out their bullpen situations with as much clarity as Garner.

FLORIDA MARLINS HOT
1st Chair: Jorge Julio
2nd Chair: Kevin Gregg, Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom
Skinny: Julio's save conversion rate from '01 to present is an uninspiring 80 percent. Control has long been his Achilles heel, and so far he has issued a free pass in each of his four outings of work this season – he also blew his only save chance on Wednesday. With 4 BB, 0 K, and a 16.88 ERA in the first 2.2 IP of his Marlins' career, Julio is already feeling the heat. But the Marlins gave up a solid young arm to attain his services from Arizona, so Julio can expect a little extra leeway. "We've got to show confidence with Julio," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "He's our guy, and we need him. We've got to get him right, and I think he can do it."

KANSAS CITY ROYALS HOT
1st Chair: David Riske
Injured: Octavio Dotel
Skinny: Riske is 1-for-2 in save chances while filling in for the injured Dotel. After converting his first opportunity against Detroit on Friday without incident, Riske gave up a game-winning three-run home run to Ivan Rodriguez on Sunday – he claims he thought Pudge was going to bunt. Dotel is eligible to return mid-April from his DL stint for a strained left oblique muscle. It's not inconceivable that Riske could retain his current role as closer until the end of the month while Dotel works off the rust, assuming Sunday's woes are the exception, not the norm, going forward.

TEXAS RANGERS WARM
1st Chair: Akinori Otsuka
Injured: Eric Gagne
Skinny: Gagne's rehab (elbow/back) is going well – he's shown a mid-90s fastball and recently pitched back-to-back days – and he could be activated from the DL in time to travel with the team to Seattle for a weekend series. Meanwhile, Otsuka continues to thrive in the role for the Rangers, picking up a save over three scoreless outings, giving him 33 saves in 37 opportunities while filling in for Francisco Cordero ('06) and Gagne. As an Otsuka owner, I can tell you that he will retain a spot on my roster at least until Gagne proves himself healthy and reliable once again.

CINCINNATI REDS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Dave Weathers
2nd Chair: Mike Stanton, Todd Coffey
Skinny: When Dustin Hermanson was released just prior to the start of the season, Cincinnati became one of the bigger unknowns at closer in the league. In one of my leagues, Weathers, Stanton and Coffey were all immediately added – thankfully, I was the one who landed Weathers. While conventional wisdom was that this would be a platoon situation, Weathers has thus far been the man. He has yet to allow a run in picking up two saves over three appearances (3.0 IP). Despite blowing 11 of 45 chances over the previous two seasons, the fact that Weathers is more experienced in the role than his teammates should factor in him getting the most chances here, and perhaps all the chances for as long as this current run of success lasts.

Check KFFL's Closer Hot Seat later in the week for updates.

Welcome back for another baseball marathon. It's always fun in fantasy this time of year to open up box scores and try to make sense of the hot and slow starts coming from unexpected sources. Personally, I'm on the hook for Nick Markakis, Howie Kendrick and Mark Teahen this year, so the nightly numbers bring added intrigue as I track how these players are doing – basically, I hyped these guys ad naseum throughout the spring, so my rep suffers if their batting average, and such, suffers. So far, so good, though – both Markakis and Teahen are over .300, while Kendrick is at just .231, but he has a SB and a HR. Trust me, this won't the last update you get on these guys in this space. Moving on for now, here's a look at the first weekend that was:

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

  • Alex Rodriguez's ultimate revenge against Yankees fans who have showered him with criticism (and boos) in recent years may be that he'll finally live up to his unrealistic expectations, including in clutch situations, become a beloved World Series hero and then void out his current contract and bolt the Big Apple. A-Rod has sizzled out of the gate in '07 and is currently the top-rated player in the Yahoo! game. He leads the league in HRs (4), RBIs (11), is second in Runs (8) and has a SB and a .381 BA, to boot. He also hit a walkoff grand-slam home run against Baltimore with two outs in the ninth on Saturday. He's only five games into the season, but April has dogged him in two of his previous three seasons in New York, so his torrid start should make A-Rod owners giddy.

  • John Murphy, Yahoo! Sports NFL draft guru and avid fantasy baseball player, sent me the following note over the weekend: "Micah Owings, AZ, SP – Is he in the game? I used to see him pitch for Tulane … and I know he has some good upside … big kid with a live arm." Owings became a relevant topic over the weekend when he allowed just one hit and fanned six over five innings in his Major League debut. Owings won his final two starts in Double-A in '06 before going 10-0 to close out the season at Triple-A Tuscon. His win on Friday gives him a 13-0 mark in his past 13 professional decisions. What makes all of this most interesting is that Owings has legitimate talent. Coming into the year, he was the No. 6 ranked Arizona prospect according to Baseball America. He gets high marks for athleticism, maturity, make-up, and a repetoire that includes a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. Said teammate Chris B. Young about Friday's performance: "If you watched him play out there tonight, you would have no idea it was his first time pitching in the big leagues. He looked like he was comfortable and belongs." Considering he could lose his rotation spot when Randy Johnson returns from the DL, Owings isn't worth a mixed league add yet, but he's an interesting arm, nonetheless. Oh, and to answer Murphy's question, Owings has been added in Yahoo! leagues …

  • Notable Notes: Chris Carpenter has landed on the 15-day DL with an inflamed elbow. While the talk about the elbow is not yet dire, it's clearly an awful situation for his fantasy owners to have weighing on them this early in the season … Mike Hampton's comeback plans will be put on hold yet again. He is set to miss his second consecutive season after tearing an elbow tendon … Hideki Matsui has landed on the DL with a hamstring injury suffered while running out a grounder in cold weather. Victor Martinez is in the same boat, but he has yet to land on the DL as Cleveland hasn't had to make a roster move since the injury because all games in the Seattle series were snowed out … Mark Teahen has added OF eligibility in the Yahoo! game, while B.J. Upton is one start away from adding a 2B feather to his cap.

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

  • Akinori Iwamura, TB, 3B
    While Daisuke Matsuzaka has garnered all the attention for his move from Japan to the Majors this offseason, Iwamura's signing with Tampa Bay has been mostly ignored. But Iwamura did produce three consecutive seasons with a .300-plus batting average and 30-plus home runs before landing in Central Florida, so his current .529 BA and first major-league home run (in his third game of the year) can't be taken lightly. His ownership in Yahoo! leagues is on the rise, but he can still be had in roughly 65 percent of leagues. Iwamura currently sits sixth in the league in Runs (7), and he's also contributed to one of Tampa Bay's league-high eight steals. His quick-start coupled with the outstanding numbers he posted in Japan just prior to his arrival should be all owners need to justify taking a flyer.

PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm

  • Tim Lincecum, SF, P (ETA – May)
    As soon as the Giants need to dip into their minor league talent pool for a pitcher, it's going to be very hard to ignore Lincecum. Last year's first-round draft pick out of the University of Washington struck out eight batters in 5.0 IP in his '07 Triple-A debut. Small in stature, Lincecum can still bring a 100 mph fastball to the plate, along with a truly devastating curveball. Seemingly every time he pitches, he creates a stir. Whether he's needed to start, or possibly to replace Armando Benitez in the closer role if/when he gets hurt, it's clear that Lincecum is not long for the minors. He's ready, and you should be too.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Kip Wells, StL, SP – I've always been intrigued by Wells, especially now that he's healthy and under the watch of St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan, known for his reclamation work. Wells, who is available in 92 percent of Yahoo! leagues, has already made an impact, picking up a win, 14 K, and a 1.38 ERA in 13 IP covering two starts.

Oliver Perez, NYM, SP – With every succesful start, fantasy owners are going to hear more and more about the ridiculously good numbers Perez posted in '04. With a victory and 7.0 IP of one-run ball in his first start on Friday (which, importantly, included 0 BB), the hype machine has been turned on.

John Maine, NYM, SP – Maine, who was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA post break in '06, opened the season with 7.0 IP of one-hit, shutout ball on Wednesday.

Eric Byrnes, Ari, OF – The streaky Byrnes is the No. 2 rated player in the Yahoo! game currently – he contributed across the board with a .355 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 5 R and 4 SB.

Mike Jacobs, Fla, 1B – Hitting behind Miguel Cabrera, Jacobs has picked up 5 RBI to go with 2 HR, 8 R (2nd-best total in the league) and .435 BA. He's owned in just 21 percent of Yahoo! leagues.

Freddy Sanchez, Pit, 3/S – The most added player currently in Yahoo! leagues, Sanchez went 2-for-4 on Sunday in his first game back after landing on the DL to start the year.

Orlando Hudson, Ari, 2B – Despite hitting .315 post-break in '06, Hudson came cheap in March drafts. He's looking like a steal early on with a .379 batting average and league-leading 9 R.

Luis Gonzalez, LAD, OF – The 39-year-old is off to a fast start in Los Angeles, hitting .364 with 2 HR in his first 22 at bats.

Mark DeRosa, ChC, 2/3/O – DeRosa's .333 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI and multi-position eligibility have made him a popular pickup in Yahoo! leagues over the past couple days.

Barry Zito, SF, SP – Sure, he's typically a better second-half pitcher, but an 8.18 ERA and 1.64 WHIP combined in his first two starts in San Francisco is not the start the Giants imagined when they forked over $126 million for his services.

Alfonso Soriano, ChC, OF – Another free agent who signed a huge contract, Soriano has gone homerless and without a steal, while hitting just .214, in his first seven games with the Cubs.

Adam LaRoche, Pit, 1B – Slumping players for new teams is the continued theme here: LaRoche leads the Majors with 13 Ks. He's hitting just .125 in his first seven games with Pittsburgh.

Alex Gordon, KC, 3B – Fantasy's most hyped rookie has started his Royals career on a 1-for-19 bender.

John Patterson, Was, SP – The one true hope of the Nationals rotation is off to an 0-2 start and has a 9.35 ERA and seven walks (fourth-most in the league) to show for it.

Yahoo! Sports Blog Funston League Update
You can follow along with the Yahoo! Friends and Family experts league here, but I thought you might want to also stay updated on how the Yahoo! community is doing against yours truly. I currently sit in third place of my Blog league, thanks in large part to Jose Reyes and Felix Hernandez. One owner (Linkin Prospectz) has been trying hard to pry Hernandez from my paws – the latest offer would net me Ryan Howard, Alex Rios and B.J. Ryan in return for Hernandez, Ichiro and Mark Teixeira. I'm in a tough spot, having watched every pitch of Hernendez's first start, and there's no way I'm ready to give that up. I suspect I am going to have to trade for more power at some point, but the season's only a week old, and Big Tex and Carlos Delgado have yet to go yard. It's not time to panic yet …

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