In September 2003, the Detroit Tigers received some much-needed divine intervention from rock god Bruce Springsteen. After a tumultuous season in which the Tigers lost an AL-record 119 games and finished an insane 47 games out of first place in the Central, the Boss performed an on-stage exorcism at Comerica Park to help resurrect the "Glory Days" of the franchise. Three years later, the once-downtrodden D-town club boasts the best record in baseball and took two out of three games from the defending champion Chicago White Sox late last week. Is their newfound success because of the front office? Jim Leyland? Eminem? Magnum P.I. reruns? Nope. Thanks to the Boss' spiritual cleansing on that early fall night, Detroit is now a "Lucky Town." Here are the news and notes that touched em all over the weekend:
WEEKEND UPDATE: Need-to-know info from the past few days
• After Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Shea Hillenbrand nearly came to blows with manager John Gibbons in an ugly "sinking ship" clubhouse skirmish, Hillenbrand was traded late last week with pitcher Vinnie Chulk to the San Francisco Giants for reliever Jeremy Accardo. The disgruntled Hillenbrand brings a great deal of baggage and a hefty .301 batting average to a Giants club fighting for an NL West crown. San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean didn't seem too worried about Hillenbrand's penchant for blowing up clubhouses. "It's not easy being a .300 hitter in both leagues," Sabean said. "[Hillenbrand] also hits a lot of doubles and he can hit a home run. The opportunity to play every day, not only for his sake but the team's, should benefit both parties." Hillenbrand is 2-for-10 in his first two games in The City.
When Gibbons challenged Hillenbrand to punch him in the face, shades of the 1992 "Sweet" Lou Piniella vs. Rob "Nasty Boy" Dibble scuffle in the Cincinnati Reds clubhouse instantly crossed my mind. Hillenbrand, labeled a cancer by Gibbons, is a medicine man for NL-only players searching for consistency at corner infield. Hitting third in front of Barry Bonds and a career .314 hitter in 70 at-bats at AT&T Park, the Giants' new first baseman possesses a smooth, compact stroke that makes him a valuable source of batting average, homers and RBIs in all formats. For owners concerned about Derek Lee's slow recovery, Hillenbrand is the ideal insurance policy. Available in 20 percent of Yahoo! leagues, let his frustrations and anger translate to fantasy success for your team. You can expect a .300 average, 8 HR and 35 RBI.
• The Alfonso Soriano trade rumors are hotter than a fuming Mariano Duncan in a hat-tossing contest. Several reports out of Detroit indicate the Tigers are making a serious pitch for the 30-year-old left fielder. Many sources close to the Washington Nationals suggest general manager Jim Bowden is asking for the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria – minor-league glove-poppers Humberto Sanchez and Jair Jurrjens and stud Single-A outfielder Cameron Maybin – for his prized chess piece. Detroit scoffed at the Nationals' original offer, saying they would have to leverage too much of their future, but talks continue. If a deal gets done, it will likely happen within 72 hours of the July 31st deadline. The Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers also have expressed interest.
It's not a matter of if, but when for Soriano. If he does find a home on the junior circuit, AL-only leaguers holding onto a top waiver wire position are in a prime spot to score arguably the best all-around threat in fantasy baseball. Playing in a more potent offensive lineup would certainly boost Soriano's RBI and run totals. Eligible at multiple positions and on pace for a 40-40 campaign, he is a player that can instantly turn fantasy owners from pretenders to contenders. Jittery NL-only players need to deal Soriano to a risk-taking opponent before it's too late.
For fantasy aficionados with an eye to the future, the most attractive part of the rumors are the youngsters wearing gold-plated diapers. With John Patterson done for the season after forearm surgery, Sanchez could become a fantasy darling if sent to Washington. In 119 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this season, the Carlos Zambrano clone has posted a stellar 1.89 ERA and 125 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Maybin has drawn comparisons to Andre Dawson as a versatile, multi-talented numbers compiler. Only 19, he will grace the cover of fantasy magazines during the prime of his career given his 30-30 upside. In 230 at-bats at West Michigan, Maybin has a .313 average with four homers, 44 RBI and 21 stolen bases. A cousin of Minnesota Timberwolves guard Rashad McCants, he has the stuff to push fantasy libidos to inappropriate limits. For those in deep keeper leagues, store his name in your long-term memory in anticipation of a 2008 debut.
• Injury news and notes: Godzilla could be prowling the Yankees outfield again just in time for your team's stretch run. Team doctors are expected to give Hideki Matsui clearance to begin playing light catch sometime this week, the first step before he begins a lengthy rehab assignment for his wrist early next month. "It's tough to say how much [of a rehab] he'll need," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He's never been idle for this long." Currently available in almost half of Yahoo! leagues, look for him to return to the Bronx Bombers in about three weeks. … Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was placed on the 15-day DL on Thursday with a stress fracture in the rib cage. Although X-rays showed significant healing, he's expected to miss at least three more weeks. He'd better be careful not to sneeze. … New York Mets flamethrower Pedro Martinez threw 80 pain-free pitches in a Saturday bullpen session. Pedro was positive about his recent workout, commenting, "Everything's coming along. Who knows, this could all be a blessing in disguise. Save some bullets, if you will." Barring a setback there is a good chance he could return to the mound on Friday against Atlanta. For those in weekly transaction leagues, play it safe and leave him on the pine one more week. … Owners of Oakland Athletics right-hander Rich Harden can sleep more soundly after Dr. Lewis Yocum did not recommend surgery on his ailing right elbow last week. A's trainer Larry Davis added, "He's still not ready to throw. It's still healing. We'll continue to have patience. We'll let him sit and marinate." If he is medically cleared within the next two weeks, the best-case scenario has the Humpty Dumpty hurler returning the first week of September. If your league rules allow a DL spot, take advantage. … Ben Sheets, out since May 3 with a shoulder injury, is expected to be activated on Tuesday despite suffering a blister in his July 20 rehab start with Triple-A Nashville. "He's ready," Sounds catcher Chad Moeller said. "His stuff is there. His command isn't as sharp as he wants it to be, but it's still pretty darn good." Start him this week against the sorry Pirates. In 16 career starts against the Bucks, Sheets has a 3.14 ERA. … Fragile Braves third baseman Chipper Jones could head to the DL with a strained oblique if the injury doesn't respond well by this weekend. "Anytime you're dealing with an oblique, it can be an extended period," Braves trainer Jeff Porter said. Get him out of your lineup immediately. Utility man Wilson Betemit will see additional time in Jones' absence.
BARGAIN BIN: Top players available in 50 percent of Yahoo! leagues
• Adrian Gonzalez, SD, 1B
Gonzalez's fluid, line-drive lefty stroke has finally translated into swat success in San Diego. Riding a 14-game hitting streak, Gonzalez has raised his average nearly 35 points since July 6. Over the past 14 days, the first overall pick in the 2000 draft has driven in 12 runs and blasted a league-leading five homers, slugging an insane .952. On pace for 30 homers and 85 RBI, look for him to continue to hover around .300 as a top-flight source of power numbers at corner infield. Owned in a microscopic six percent of Yahoo! leagues, he is hot as a habanera pepper and needs a place in your lineup.
PROSPECT WATCH: Top players down on the farm
• Ryan Shealy, Col, 1B (ETA: Now)
At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Shealy is a slugging leviathan with a potential future in professional wrestling. Prior to being recalled on July 18, he posted a Triple-A line that would put a devilish grin on any NL-only leaguer's face – 222 at-bats, .288 BA, 14 HR, 55 RBI and a 33:20 strikeout-to-walk ratio. A former two-time home run champ in the minors, his massive frame and admirable plate discipline make him this season's version of Ryan Howard. Like Howard, the Philadelphia Phillies behemoth who was log-jammed behind Jim Thome, Shealy's transition to the majors has been blocked by Todd Helton. Garnering trade interest from Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco and Toronto, the 26-year-old Shealy is an aspiring star that needs a big break. If Shealy can find a regular gig, he would instantly emerge as a formidable power presence on any fantasy roster. For fantasy followers in need of a power bat for the stretch run, grab him off waivers and hope this Colorado mountain is moved.
MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values
Carlos Quentin, Ari, OF – The man I call "San Quentin" has jailed opposing NL pitchers, smashing two homers in his first four big league games. Right now a part-time player, look for his at-bats to increase in the next two weeks with Eric Byrnes, Luis Gonzalez and Jeff DaVanon on the trading block. The Stanford product has enormous power potential and will be a perennial 30-homer player.
Adam LaRoche, Atl, 1B – Having gone 12-for-30 with four homers and 10 RBI since the break, LaRoche has smoke rising off his bat. A quality post-break player in his career, he will be a top-15 first baseman over the remainder of the season.
Wilson Betemit, Atl, 3B/SS – News of Chipper Jones possibly heading to the DL means the searing Betemit will trot to third for at least the next few days. Tallying a .375 average with 10 RBI since July 15, he is a short-term juggernaut hitting third in a scorching Braves lineup. Head-to-head owners in need of an injury filler in their infield should pounce on him.
Gil Meche, Sea, SP – With eight quality starts in his past 10 games, Meche is in the midst of a breakout season. Ahead of traditional powerhouses Barry Zito, Roy Halladay and Javier Vazquez with a 7.43 K/9 mark, he has developed into a trustworthy No. 3 starter in 12-team mixed leagues. But don't be mesmerized by his newfangled craftiness. He has a 4.78 career ERA in the second half. Sell high.
Jhonny Peralta, Cle, SS – Just call him Jhonny come lately. Finally bearing fruit for his owners after a dismal first half, Peralta is hitting .315 with 10 RBI in July. Expect a sensational second half from the talented shortstop. Buy low.
Nick Punto, Min, 2B/SS/3B/OF – A fantasy Swiss Army knife, Punto is riding a 15-game hit streak, including eight multi-hit performances. Available in 99 percent of Yahoo! leagues, he is a flexible source of batting average and steals. Play the hot hand.
Macier Izturis, LAA, 2B/SS/3B – Izturis has notched a .280 BA and four steals since Dallas McPherson was sidelined with back spasms on June 24. Reports out of LA suggest McPherson could be activated in about 10 days, making Izturis a strong sell candidate in AL-only formats.
Johnny Gomes, TB, OF – 94-year-old Negro league legend Buck O'Neill looked better at the dish in the Northern League All-Star Game than Gomes has over the past few weeks. Sporting a depressing 16:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in July, Gomes is just seven for his last 52. With his shoulder needing surgery at the end of the year to repair a strained rotator cuff, it's time to bail in shallow mixed leagues.
Craig Biggio, Hou, 2B – Mired in a 3-for-30 slump in his last eight games, Biggio's wrinkles are becoming more apparent with each passing day. He's a .246 hitter in the second half since 2004. Let this Astro float off into space.
Jason Marquis, StL, SP – On July 18, Marquis became the first player since Alfred "Chubby" Dean in 1940 to accomplish the dubious feat of allowing 12 earned runs or more twice in the same season. The St. Louis Cardinals righty has pushed fantasy ERA's to cardiac arrest levels totaling 40 earned runs in his past 46.2 innings. How in the world is he leading the NL in wins?
Yahoo! Experts League Update
The New York Mets of the Y! Experts League, Rotowire's Chris Liss has a commanding 16-point lead over second-place Romig. In a bizarre move, Liss – a Derrick Turnbow owner – added Dan Kolb, Matt Wise and Jose Capellan over the weekend to solidify the Brewers closer's role. For his sake, let's hope Ned Yost doesn't turn to Dana Eveland at some point. Other notable free agent acquisitions include: Adam LaRoche, Jose Valentin, Nick Punto, Chuck James and Rondell White.