July 2012

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Closers: Royals, Rockies, Mets

The long-awaited trade deadline arrives this afternoon, so be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter, which will keep you posted on any deals that have ninth-inning ramifications.

In the meanwhile, we're going to do something a little bit different in this space this week, focusing first on the best setup men to target as handcuffs in anticipation of potential promotions before turning our attention back to the usual bullpen comings and goings. On with the rundown ...

Royals
Jonathan Broxton's name seems to be turning up on MLB Trade Rumors on just about a daily basis lately. There's no question that teams (Giants, Rangers, Orioles?) are interested in acquiring the right-hander, and that makes sense despite his overall slip in stuff: His surface stats are strong and is under contract only through this season.

The Royals can be cagey about making trades like this, so it's impossible to say for sure whether a deal will go through. In the meantime, I'd advise you saves trollers to snap up setup man Greg Holland. The right-hander is not flashing the kind of dominance he did only a season ago -- walks have become an issue, most notably -- but his strikeout and groundball rates are very good, resulting in a 2.92 SIERA that looks far more attractive than the 3.63 ERA.

There's no guarantee that Holland would take over the ninth inning were Brox traded, as the Royals boast a pretty deep bullpen on the back end with Aaron Crow and Tim Collins. But Holland closed in Joakim Soria's stead over the final month or so of 2011 and was considered to have at least an even-odds shot of getting the job before losing out to Broxton when Soria again went down this spring due to Tommy John surgery.

So, add Holland now. We should know by this evening whether he's a closer.

Rockies
As with Broxton, Rox closer Rafael Betancourt's name is also surfacing in the rumor mill. The right-hander enjoyed a career year in 2011 and is pitching well again this season at age 37. He's potentially under team control through 2014 at very affordable salaries, but therein lies the rub: the Rockies could just as easily keep Raf-Bet for the same reason that other teams want to acquire him. And since he's a useful and cheap Major League commodity, there's no reason for Colorado to deal him off without getting a decent return, further complicating a potential trade.

Based on their contracts, Broxton looks to me like a stronger trade candidate than Betancourt, but it would hardly shock me if the Rox -- an organization in desperate need of some change -- were to offload their closer. In that event, I like Rex Brothers to take over the ninth inning in Denver. The Rockies have invested heavily in Brothers (first-round draft pick in 2009) and fast-tracked him for life as a high-leverage reliever. With already strong strikeout rates and a whopping 14.1% swinging-strike rate, Brothers specializes in missing bats, so he certainly fits the closer profile.

Again, we're basically looking at a one-night waiting period as far as Brothers' closing prospects. So, add away, and you can hold or cut him accordingly by Wednesday morning.

Mets
The Amazin's weekly appearance in this space soldiers on (this time with a couple of updates that materially move the situation along!). For one, injured closer Frank Francisco is finally making tangible strides in his minor league rehab stint after a couple of setbacks. I have zero confidence that Frank-Frank is held together by anything more than chewing gum and Scotch tape at this point, but I suppose the Mets will do their best to return him to the mound if he's anywhere near game shape. It's not like they're trying to protect at this point of his career.

As well, interim stopper Bobby Parnell continues to struggle, getting tagged for a pair of runs Monday night. Since Francisco was lost to the DL, Parnell has posted passable but not great numbers (3.46 ERA, two blown saves), albeit in a small sample, perhaps furthering the narrative that he's not "cut out" to close. Do the Mets believe that? Maybe, but I'm banking on Francisco closing once/if he comes back.

As always, I'd advise Parnell owners to hold on till he's officially been deposed. And with Francisco's injury woes, that is far from inevitable. But I think the Mets' ideal situation is to return Francisco to closing and slide everyone else down a peg, so Parnell owners should prepare for that scenario.

Quickly
The Brewers have gone back to John Axford as their closer. He's not inspiring much confidence and is actually getting dropped in many fantasy leagues, but at least there is some hope that he can return to being a decent closer, whereas Francisco Rodriguez's has gone completely off the rails. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey is scheduled to commence a minor league rehab stint Wednesday. He'll need at least a couple weeks to get back into Major League shape. Alfredo Aceves' owners are safe. ... The Padres and Huston Street finalized a contract extension, cementing the right-hander's place as the team's closer for the remainder of this season and beyond. Injuries are always a concern with Street, but when he's healthy, he's usually pretty good. ... Santiago Casilla's owners should hold their breath till after the deadline. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants acquire Broxton, Betancourt or someone else to take over the ninth.


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Silver League Update: Dealing at the Deadline

I know what you're thinking: The fantasy trade deadline isn't until the end of August! (in most leagues, anyway). What kind of deadline could ... oh, right. The real deadline. The one where the players on your teams suddenly seem to be wearing different colors on TV, with different words and pictures on the front of their jerseys.

All right, so most of us aren't so caught up in our fantasy teams that we aren't watching the real games and the real standings, too, but I know I cared a lot more when I saw that Anibal Sanchez was traded than when I saw that Zack Greinke was. And I'm actually an Angels fan. And a Brewers fan. The thing is, of course, that Sanchez is the one on my fantasy team.

Perhaps thanks to the new rules about how many teams will make the playoffs this seems like it's been an especially active deadline, with some fantasy (and yes, real life) cornerstones changing uniforms and (more importantly) leagues, home parks, supporting lineups and defenses, and most frequent opponents. We'll take a look at some of the most important moves and what they'll mean in fantasy. We'll start with the Sanchez trade, because that's the one I care about most. Also, it happened early and "Anibal" starts with A.

Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit

My first reaction to this trade was, "Great, he's going to a good team!" Then I remembered that that same good team has some pretty terrible infield defense and gets to play against DHs instead of pitchers, so this one is a bit of good news/bad news for owners. Marlins Park hasn't been a bad place to hit, with a park factor of 1.112 this year and is tied for ninth when sorted by runs added. Comerica Park hasn't been the pitcher's haven this year that it has in years past, but, with a 1.034 rating it's still a slight improvement. The offense represents more good news, as the Tigers are 11th in baseball in runs scored, with 454. That's good enough to make them an average scoring AL team. The Marlins? They're 29th with just 366. Pretty bad even for the NL. Unless Sanchez's luck gets weird, expect him to win a few more ballgames. Unfortunately, you can expect his ERA and WHIP to take a hit with the league switch. At least Infante will help the defense a little?

Ichiro to the Yankees

It kills me not to get to see Ichiro in a Mariners uniform one last time, but, really, were we seeing the real Ichiro this year anyway? With Brett Gardner out for the season, expect Ichiro to remain a starter in one corner or the other for now, but don't be shocked if he slumps doesn't improve and the Yankees make another deal that relegates him to a fourth outfielder role. The good news is that this trade probably can't make things any worse and the park switch should help at least a little. I'm not normally one for believing in the power of ephemeral things like "chemistry" or "atmosphere" impacting someone's play, but exchanging the forgiving-to-the-point-of-indifferent Seattle for the madhouse of Yankee baseball could inject a little something into Ichiro's play.

"Magic" Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates

I've been waiting a long time to use that nickname in print, and even longer to say that getting traded to Pittsburgh could be a good thing, but here we are. The Buccos need more help on offense, but with 405 runs scored they're barely below the NL average and miles ahead of Houston's 386. Of course, it's not a guarantee that Rodriguez will win more games.... Maybe even better is the change of parks, as he swaps Houston's nearly neutral 0.914 park factor for PNC Park's infinitesimal 0.642. He might as well have been traded to Seattle or San Diego, but with an almost average offense. High five, Wandy owners.

Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers; Nathan Eovaldi to the Marlins

If the park switch is a good one for Sanchez, it isn't so good for Ramirez. True to its repuatation, Dodger Stadium is 22nd in park factor, with a rating of 0.854. There's a silver lining for his owners, though: while Los Angeles does suppress homers at an .0875 rate, Marlins Park was actually worse, with an 0.801 score. Hitting behind Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier should help him in the RBI department, though a middle of the order lineup slot might hurt his steals. Hitting in front of James Loney won't exactly help his runs scored, either.

The good news for Eovaldi, who goes to a worse park, with a worse team, is that at least he'll get to play. Everybody wins. He's talented enough to keep an eye on, but he's probably more like a sleeper for next year.

Cole Hamels stays with the Phillies

For many owners (including me, just not in the Silver) this was a disappointment, like the Phillies themselves this year. We got excited over the idea of Hamels getting some run support, but it wasn't meant to be and it wasn't a big shock. Would Philadelphia really spend all that money on Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee only to let Cole Hamels go? I didn't think so either. As it is, you can expect more of the same excellence from Hamels. At least he didn't get traded to the AL....

Zack Greinke to the Angels; Jean Segura to the Brewers

Ranger fans aren't thrilled, but Greinke owners should be. Though he's going to the DH league and its tougher standard of competition, Greinke is a pitcher who's already shown that he can thrive in that environment. Better yet, he's leaving a moribund Brewer club for the thick of the pennant race in Anaheim. Despite the market size, the traditionally low expectations of Angel fans should keep just the right amount of pressure on Greinke (and no more--teams like the Yankees and Red Sox wouldn't touch him). Expect the Angels to send him a few more wins than the Brew Crew would have, and (maybe) expect Angel Stadium to save some of the runs that DHs and stiffer competition score, with its 0.843 park factor. Much better than Miller Park's 4th ranking 1.296. Though the Halos will play ten more games agains the powerhouse Rangers, they more than make up for it with twelve more against the Mariners, and ten against the A's.

Most of the players that have moved so far have seen increases in their value, which isn't exactly standard. With more time to go at the time of writing, we could still see closers traded out of their roles or a middle-grade hitter traded to Pittsburgh, so by the time you read this you (and I) will already be stressed out.


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, July 30-August 5

As mentioned last week, I absolve myself of all responsibility should one of the players mentioned in these streaming tips get dealt before Tuesday's trade deadline. That's right, ALL of it.  Nothing bad can possibly come from shirking responsibility! Here are this week's streaming yays and nays....

* Kris Medlen.  Right off the bat, here's one of those deadline-contingent recommendations. Unless the Braves trade for a new starting pitcher between now and 3 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Medlen will step into the Atlanta rotation and pitch on Tuesday against the Marlins (and then presumably Sunday against the Astros).  Those are two pretty nice matchups for Medlen, who has a 2.48 ERA (3.52 SIERA), a 51.6% ground-ball rate, a 2.77 K/BB ratio and 38 strikeouts in 54 1/3 relief innings for the Braves this season.  Since Medlen is still being stretched out and recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2010, his initial starts will probably be limited to 75 pitches or less...though against the Marlins and Astros, that could end up accounting for seven innings each.  Medlen is an intriguing dark-horse two-start option this week.

* Tommy Milone.  It's another two-home start week for Milone, and thus yet another week where I point out his ridiculous home splits.  Milone has an 0.91 ERA in eight starts in Oakland this season and while he was hit hard in two road outings against the Rays and Blue Jays earlier this season, I suspect Milone will get his revenge when he gets the two AL East squads on his home turf.  Though Milone has enjoyed some solid road outings in Texas, Seattle and Minnesota recently, he still owns an unsightly 5.77 ERA in 12 away starts, making him essentially the poster child for the whole concept of streaming starting pitchers.

* Todd Frazier.  With Joey Votto still on the DL for at least most of the coming week, Frazier will continue to be the Reds' top option at first base.  Frazier has shown pop from both sides of the plate (.942 OPS against lefties, .849 OPS against righties) so though the Reds are scheduled to face five righty starters this week, the right-handed hitting Frazier should still be productive.  Of course, playing the streaming game with Frazier is dangerous for those allergic to incredulity thanks to those special days when Dusty Baker decides to sit Frazier in favor of Miguel Cairo at first base. Yes, THAT Miguel Cairo. 

* Yasmani Grandal, Alexi Amarista, Will Venable.  It's pretty rare that San Diego hitters are good streaming options but with the Padres scheduled to face seven right-handed starters this week, here are a few promising bats that could benefit.  The switch-hitting Grandal has an impressive .931 OPS through his first 80 Major League plate appearances so he's a great pickup as a backup catcher or even as your starter if your regular catcher is ineffective. (To wit, I just picked up Grandal in one of my leagues to fill in for the slumping Matt Wieters.)  Amarista has recently been bothered by a thumb injury but he's back in the lineup and has a .290/.327/.467 line against right-handers this season.  Amarista is eligible at second, shortstop and left field in Yahoo fantasy leagues, so he provides some multi-positional help to boot.  Venable has a modest .256/.325/.436 career line against right-handers, so I might stream him during the Padres' series in Cincinnati since Venable's career road OPS is 128 points higher than his OPS at Petco Park, but Venable is admittedly somewhat of a borderline option.

* Cameron Maybin.  Only the Mariners have a worse team OPS against right-handers than the Padres' shoddy .682 mark, so this week of seven right-handed opponents is a particularly daunting task for the entire San Diego lineup.  Exhibit A is Maybin, who carries just a .234/.312/.329 mark against right-handers, and that's actually his BETTER set of splits compared to his .525 OPS against lefties.  Maybin has been a big fantasy disappointment in the wake of his solid 2011 season, providing so little offense that not even 20 steals is worth a regular spot in your lineup.  If you've hung onto him for this long then you're long overdue to cut bait, so offer him to a team that's desperate for some stolen bases.

* Jose Quintana.  The advanced metrics (3.74 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 4.17 SIERA, .260 BABIP) throw some cold water on Quintana's impressive 2.58 ERA, and while he has shown terrific control with just 14 walks in 76 2/3 innings, the White Sox southpaw's 5.2 K/9 rate indicates that he isn't missing many bats.  This could be the week that Quintana's bubble bursts as he is scheduled to face two of the league's better-hitting lineups against left-handed pitching -- the Twins are fourth in MLB with a .786 team OPS against lefties, while the Angels rank seventh with their .769 OPS.  If you're wondering, yes, I did originally type 'Carlos Quintana' before backspacing.  Force of habit


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RotoAuthority Live Chat

Click below to read a transcript of this week's live chat with Steve Adams...



Stock Watch: Buy & Sell Analysis

Last week's Stock Watch recommended claiming Ben Sheets where available, and he has continued to impress since his return to the Majors with six more shutout innings and a win against Washington.

Buy

  • Adam LaRoche - A notorious second-half hitter with a batting average nearly 50 points higher after the All-Star break, LaRoche has now homered in three straight games. LaRoche is enjoying a productive season from the clean-up spot, and has the highest line-drive percentage of his career.  
  • Justin Ruggiano - With Emilio Bonifacio shifting to second base after the trade of Omar Infante, Ruggiano should be in line for everyday at-bats. Ruggiano has both seven home runs and steals in only 137 plate appearances, and he showed a good power/speed combination for the Rays' Triple-A minor league club with 15 home runs and at least 23 steals in both 2009 and 2010.
  • Starling Marte - Another power/speed combination hitter, Marte homered in his first career at-bat Thursday and has raked at every level of the Pirates system.  Marte had 12 home runs and 21 steals in 431 plate appearances in Triple-A before being called up, and produced 12 home runs, 24 steals and a .332 batting average for the Pirates' Double-A affiliate in 2011.
  • Peter Bourjos - With the Angels looking to acquire help for the stretch run, Bourjos has been mentioned in trade rumors that would result in him starting for the club that acquires him.  Bourjos is coming off a season in which he hit 12 home runs with 22 steals, and would be a productive fourth or fifth outfielder in 12-team mixed leagues with everyday at-bats.

Sell

  • Matt Harrison - Enjoying a 3.02 ERA and 12 wins following a season of 14 wins and a 3.39 ERA, now is an excellent time to sell high.  Harrison's strikeout rate has decreased from last year to only 5.40 strikeouts per nine innings, and he has historically been a better pitcher in the first half.  Last year his August ERA was 6.07, and his career ERAs in August and September are 4.97 and 4.74 respectively. Harrison's SIERA sits at 4.21, and it would not be a surprise for him to have a matching ERA the rest of the season.
  • Matt Harvey - After dominating the Diamondbacks Thursday night, Harvey is going to a popular name in fantasy circles this week.  Those owners in re-draft leagues that are fortunate enough to have claimed Harvey off waivers should be looking to sell to an owner that will overpay for rookie hype.  Harvey showed typical control issues for a young starter this year in Triple-A, as he walked nearly four batters per nine innings, and may initially struggle in the majors as he learns command.  Stock Watch also recommended selling Trevor Bauer in re-draft leagues for many of the same reasons. RotoAuthority's Mike Axisa recently warned about the Mets' poor defense potentially inflating Harvey's WHIP and ERA, as well.
  • Dee Gordon - Those sitting on Gordon to return from the DL should be looking to deal him to steals-starved owners, as a report has surfaced that Gordon may return to a bench role following the Dodger's acquision of Hanley Ramirez. As only a one-dimension player when he is starting, Gordon can safely be dropped in 12-team mixed leagues.


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Mets (Finally) Turn To Matt Harvey

There was only so much Miguel Batista the Mets could take. After allowing eight baserunners and four runs in three innings to the Dodgers last weekend, the Amazin's cut ties with the 41-year-old right-hander and decided to finally turn the reigns over to 23-year-old top prospect Matt Harvey. He'll make his big league debut against the Diamondbacks in Arizona tonight, the Mets went so far as to recall catcher Rob Johnson from Triple-A with him just to make sure he's comfortable.

Harvey, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft, was ranked the second best prospect in the Mets farm system and the 54th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America before the season. "Harvey holds his velocity deep into starts but has below-average command and presently lacks a reliable changeup, so evaluators project him as anywhere from a No. 2 starter to a high-leverage reliever," wrote the publication in their subscriber-only scouting report. He regularly runs his fastball into the mid-90s and will use both a slider and curveball when ahead in the count.

After splitting last season between High-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, Harvey opened this year with Triple-A Buffalo. He's pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 110 innings across 20 starts, striking out 112 (9.2 K/9 and 23.7% of batters faced) while walking 48 (3.9 BB/9 and 10.1%). Data at First Inning shows that he gets a decent amount of ground balls (46%), but any pitching prospect worth a damn with have a solid ground ball rate in the minors. Harvey did allow nine homers in Triple-A this season (0.7 HR/9), a bit higher than you'd expect from a top prospect.

Harvey has a little Max Scherzer in him in the sense that it's overpowering raw stuff with less than stellar command. It remains to be seen if he'll have the same homer issues as the Tigers' right-hander, but the high-strikeout potential is there as well as the potential for frustratingly high ERAs. The Mets do not have a great defense - though it's better with Lucas Duda in Triple-A and not right field - and of course you can't really expect their bullpen to hold many of the leads given to them. It's a great young arm thrust into an undesirable situation, unfortunately.

At this point of his career, as a rookie set to make his big league debut, Harvey shouldn't be considered more than a strikeouts guy for fantasy owners in traditional 5x5 scoring formats. The walks and spotty defense will likely lead to higher than usual WHIPs and that tends to results in runs. Wins figure to be hard to come by as well. Following tonight's start in Arizona, Harvey is lined up to start in San Francisco against the Giants then in San Diego against the Padres. Those are some pretty fine matchups in terms of the lineups he'll be facing, but keep his limitations in mind. Different doesn't always mean better, but it almost certainly will be in the case of Harvey vs. Batista. In terms of fantasy output, be careful not to fall in love with the hype.



Injury Watch: The Starting Pitcher Shuffle

This week's Injury Watch is all about those pitchers good enough to return from the disabled list. See guys, not everyone has to blow out their UCL and require Tommy John surgery. (I'm looking at you, Colby Lewis!) Some pitchers even come off the disabled list, and return to lead their squads (and your fantasy team) to glory. Or perhaps not. Today we'll discuss the pros and cons of two starters on contending teams.

[Note: Thanks to a last-minute edit, we'll also talk about a certain New York third baseman who looks to miss the rest of the regular season!]

Chad Billingsley, Dodgers and Gavin Floyd, White Sox

Two starting pitchers for contending squads recently came off the DL, and both look ready to go for the rest of the season. On Monday, the Dodgers activated Chad Billingsley from the DL, where he served a minimum stint for elbow soreness in his pitching elbow. That same day, the White Sox activated Gavin Floyd, who suffered from a similar issue (right elbow tendinitis) and served the same minimum stint on the DL. Both pitchers seemed to be getting a simple post-All-Star-Break rest, and neither guy's arm issue seems to be serious. So which pitcher is the better fantasy pickup for owners in standard leagues?

Honestly, I'm a big Chad Billingsley believer. Both in real life and in fantasy, I feel like he's a guy who gets a raw deal, especially since he gets compared to Clayton Kershaw and never fully fulfilled his promise as an ace starter. His stats tell the story of a power pitcher who has some command troubles, and he has peripherals like SIERA (3.68) and xFIP (3.67) that don't quite match up to his ERA (4.15). Make no mistake, Billingsley has a history of underperforming his peripheral numbers, so he could be one of those rare pitchers where advanced stats oversell his abilities. But Billingsley is also pretty darn consistent. Though 2011 was a down year, Chad's strikeout numbers have climbed in 2012, and he's walking fewer batters per nine innings than at any point in his major league career.

The place where Chad can hurt you in fantasy is in WHIP and, occasionally, in ERA. But Chad's owned in only 35% of ESPN leagues, which means he probably can be had. If you're looking for a pitcher who's going to pitch in a favorable ballpark, and probably draw some weak-hitting teams (I'm looking at you, Padres and Giants) that can get you some strikeouts, then Chad's your man. And with the Dodgers going all-in on the season by acquiring Hanley Ramirez, he might get a few more wins than usual too!

Gavin Floyd is a different story. I know Don Cooper (the pitching coach for the White Sox) is a miracle worker, but Gavin Floyd is simply not reliable enough to anchor a fantasy staff...and he's barely worth rostering in most leagues. I know what you're thinking, actually: but he looks so similar to Billingsley in terms of ERA and WHIP! And even if you get into advanced stats, you see that Floyd, like Billingsley, tends to underperform his FIP. So what's the difference?

Well, aside from pitching in a more difficult league and unforgiving home park, Floyd just isn't the strikeout pitcher that Billingsley is. And not only that, Floyd's home run-allowing tendencies are getting worse and worse over the last few years, and the rest of his peripheral numbers are no better than Chad's. Do yourself a favor and don't bet on a pitcher who's given up 1.4 HR/9 during the season. You're only asking for heartbreak (and gaudy ERA numbers). Even though Floyd is owned in slightly more leagues than Billingsley, he should be a second (or third) choice for your team.

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Late last night, Alex Rodriguez's hand exploded. No one likes being hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch, and A-Rod wasn't the only guy to get plunked last night, but this one hurt a bit more than usual. Rodriguez has a fracture in his left hand, and looks to miss about six to eight weeks, taking him right up to the end of the regular season. While Alex hasn't been his old MVP-candidate self for about three years now, he's still a productive bat (121 wRC+ in 2012) at a weak position, and an integral part of the Yankees' offensive attack. Replacing him isn't easy, or even really possible.

While the Yankees may be able to cruise on autopilot, or fill in with Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez, you, as a fantasy owner, can't. You need a real third baseman. And with that said, there's really only one question you need to ask yourself: "Is Todd Frazier still available in my league?" If the answer to this question is "yes", then your problem is pretty much solved.

All Todd Frazier has done this season is hit, and with Joey Votto out in Cincinnati, he's had the opportunity to rack up regular playing time. In just 241 plate appearances, Todd has managed 10 HR and a solid .283 batting average. And though Frazier has gone about a dozen games without a dinger, there's no reason to believe that he's slumping - he's still making solid contact over the last two weeks and getting hits.

Though Frazier doesn't have the cozy lineup spot Rodriguez does (he usually hits around the sixth or seventh place in the order) he can provide the raw power and average numbers A-Rod can, and off the waiver wire. Though he may not rack up R and RBI in the same way, and may be pushed for playing time once Joey Votto returns, Todd Frazier is a cheap, worthwhile waiver pickup available in 95% of ESPN leagues.

Quick Hits: Colby Lewis, as mentioned earlier, joins about thirty other major league pitchers in needing Tommy John surgery this season. This is a bummer for both the Rangers and for fantasy owners, as he probably shouldn't be rostered until 2014. ... Sam Fuld may not see a bunch of playing time, but now that he's been activated from the DL, at least he'll see some. Fantasy owners extremely desperate for steals (or playing in a Web Gems league) might want to take a flyer on him. ... Erick Aybar was well on his way to playing himself out of a job in Los Angeles (of Anaheim) before he broke his big toe fouling a ball off his foot. Hot prospect Jean Segura didn't come up from the minors to sit, so look for Aybar to hit some DL time for now. ... Johan Santana hit the DL with a sprained ankle, but is also suffering from shoulder soreness. He'll probably be treated with kid gloves until the season is over. ... Jed Lowrie is stuck on crutches with a nerve injury in his right leg. Don't expect him back until the end of August, which is a bummer considering how well he'd been playing. ... Juan Carlos Oviedo, formerly known as Leo Nunez, was finally on his way back to the majors before spraining his UCL. He'll probably join the Tommy John surgery club, and we may next see him in 2013 or 2014. ... It'd be comical if it weren't sad, but Franklin Gutierrez was shut down with a concussion, and there's no current timetable for his return. ... Giancarlo Stanton is already taking batting practice, so he could return to the Marlins lineup in early August. The only question is whether there will be any other major leaguers left on the team when he comes back.


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Closer Updates: Astros, Brewers, Marlins

It's been a busy week in Closer Land, and more action could be on the way with the trade deadline now only seven days away. We'll keep you covered here, but as always, keep an eye on the @closernews Twitter feed for the latest breaking info.

Astros
Well, the Astros pulled off what the Padres couldn't do last year, trading off both their closer and primary setup man. The frenzy of deals had greater fantasy impact than anything else, with Brett Myers going from closer to setup man with the White Sox, Brandon Lyon remaining a setup man as he moved to the Blue Jays, and Francisco Cordero getting his passport stamped with "closer" en route from Toronto to Houston.

Phew.

So, Fran-Cor is the reliever who emerges from this rearrangement of deck chairs with a sharp uptick in value. If you recall, the Jays tried him as their closer earlier this season when Sergio Santos first went on the disabled list. Remember that? Yeah, I do, because I owned Cordero and vividly recall him failing miserably before yielding to Casey Janssen. So, it's hard for me to give Cordero much of a vote of confidence. On the other hand, the NL Central ain't the AL East, and Cordero closed in this division rather effectively as recently as 2011.

If you need saves or need to prevent a competitor from accruing more of them, nab Cordero and hope for the best. If the former is your motivation, you always have the option of benching him. As for Myers, Lyon and Astros righty Wilton Lopez, whom some scooped up as a deep sleeper, it's safe to cut away.

Brewers
Let's remain in the NL Central, where those feisty Brewers are giving fantasy owners fits.

On the surface, it looks like John Axford has followed up his breakout 2011 with a complete dud. But mostly, the Ax Man has been the victim of some bad luck and a flukey home run rate (20.7%!), with his 3.10 SIERA sitting much closer to his 2.86 career ERA than his 4.91 2012 ERA.

Until last week, the Brewers had been surprisingly patient with the Axford, even sticking with their guy when no one would have blamed them for looking to someone else. ... But they'd apparently seen enough after another Axford debacle, giving him a chance to sort things out in lower-leverage situations while old friend (to no one) Francisco Rodriguez took over.

K-Rod, though, has been walking a tight rope all season, and it really bit him on Monday night, when he was tagged for four earned in two-thirds of an inning against the Phillies. Oof. If someone cut Axford loose in your league, snap him up with the quickness. I think he'll be back closing before long. Remember that Milwaukee signed him to an extension before the season, so he's their closer of the future.

Marlins
Steve Cishek has two of the Marlins' three post-break saves, and I think he'd have all of them were it not for an apparent illness that sidelined him last week and opened the door for Mike Dunn to pick one up. Cishek is clearly Ozzie Guillen's guy right now, so nab him if he's still on your league's wire. But the real question here is what Heath Bell owners should do. Clearly, there is some indecision, as Bell is still owned in 78% of Yahoo! leagues.

I would treat Bell as a "preferred" own -- someone I'd like to hold onto if I could, but if something more pressing comes along, I'd cut away. I say this because I could envision Bell shoehorning his way into the Marlins' supposed "committee" if he can continue to pitch better (four consecutive scoreless outings since the All-Star break). The Marlins, after all, are stuck with Bell for two more years; I'm sure they'd love to trade him, as has been reported, but no one is taking him off their hands unless they eat basically the entire contract, which ain't happening. Easing Bell back into some save situations down the stretch would be a more palatable saving-face move for The Franchise the franchise and set up Bell to once again take the reins heading into 2013.

Quick-ish
Mets
closer Frank Francisco was on the verge of commencing a minor league rehab stint but had another setback. Bobby Parnell owners can hold on, although between his recent slump and the Mets' relative dearth of save opps, owning the Mets' interim closer is tough sledding these days. I expect Francisco to regain closing duties upon his return, but let's see him return first. ... The Padres are nearing a contract extension with closer Huston Street. As such, he won't be changing teams, so those who handcuffed Luke Gregerson can move on. ... White Sox closer Addison Reed has had a sometimes shaky indoctrination into the Major Leagues this season, providing Chicago with ample opportunity to make (yet another) shuffle. Sox brass has declined, though, so I think Reed is safe even with the addition of another closer candidate in Myers. ... The Royals are fielding offers for Jonathan Broxton. I think there's even odds he gets dealt, and I like Greg Holland to take over if Brox goes. Aaron Crow would be another possibility, mostly because of Holland's struggles relative to last year, but I think the Royals are still figuring out who/what Crow is. ... Nationals right-hander Drew Storen is back from the DL, just in time to put a scare into the owners of the struggling Tyler Clippard. But with Storen having missed so much time, he's probably not in midseason form, and the Nats will want to go easy on him. I think Clippard is safe unless he's still slumping another week or two from now, when Storen will have more appearances under his belt. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey is nearing a minor league rehab stint, which would put him on track for a mid-August return barring setbacks. Alfredo Aceves is expected to keep his job as Boston's closer, though.


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Silver League Update: RBIs Off The Wire

I was excited this week because I had inched up the Silver League standings to an almost-middle-of-the-pack ninth place on the strength of an excellent Thursday. Even more exciting, I had moved up to eighth place in RBIs, for a season-high five points in the category! It was thrilling. I wanted more.

I wasn't the only one, though. The Spirit of St. Louis flipped the underperforming Shane Victorino to Left is Right for Josh Willingham. St. Louis wondered if it was a case of selling too low for too high and maybe it was, but Willingham's power has played his whole career. He just hasn't always stayed on the field, missing so much time to injury. That's one way to get RBIs, but I don't have much on my team that's useful in trades (Willingham would be my best position player and Victorino wouldn't be too far behind). As always, I turned my attention to the waiver wire.

With an injury to Jose Bautista (so much for my evaluation of that trade), Travis Snider has made his return to the Majors and the Silver  is one of just 2% of leagues that has picked him up. I was too late to snag him for RBI help, but given how he was hitting in the minors (.325/.409/.567), he could be worth another shot. Again. He's been batting eighth, but if he hits well enough to be worth rostering, you can expect him to move up in the order. That would put him nearer to Edwin Encarnacion (.385 OBP) and  allow him to stay in the lineup when Bautista (.360 OBP) comes back. Of course, maybe Snider will do what he always does, and head back to the minors in search of his own Minor League home run record.

After that my next (and least sensible) choice was to sort the available players by RBIs. I learned from Moneyball that past success can indicate future success, but my options weren't exactly overwhelming. Topping the list with 50 RBIs was J.D. Martinez (15% owned). Batting third for the Astros, I was intrigued until I looked closer at just who he's batting behind: Jordan Schafer (.313 OBP) and Jose Altuve (.330 OBP). Shafer's just embarrassing as a leadoff hitter and Altuve's surprisingly decent season makes him look like an All-Star next to the Astros. He...um...isn't, at least not in the on-base department. I'm not quite desperate enough to let someone go for Martinez.

Not far down the list is Raul Ibanez (19%). I've mentioned him before and, while I really don't like hitters that I have to platoon, he's got his uses. It's been a rough month for the veteran slugger, with just eight RBIs, but he has continued to bat behind Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira (both on-basing .342). If you can handle benching someone against lefties, or playing him mostly at home Ibanez could be worth a few extra runs batted in. Teammate Andruw Jones (2%) has had a much better month, with six homers and 13 RBIs but he's still the short half of the real life platoon.

Justin Smoak (10%) leads Silver League free agents with 13 homers, but his team keeps his RBI opportunities down. So does his sub-Mendoza batting average. Pass.

Underwhelmed by the opportunities I could see this way, I started looking by team runs scored. Even lesser players on top scoring teams should drive in some runs by accident, right? Boston and Texas top the list, but unfortunately, Boston's lineup has settled in to a bunch of guys already owned on most teams now that Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford have come back. For the Rangers, the only name who stood out was Craig Gentry (1%). He hasn't exactly been a full time player, but his 20 RBIs in 159 at bats have been pretty good. And batting ninth in the Texas lineup is better than batting third for Houston. He's probably worth more of a look if the Rangers shuffle things up a little less and play him a little more, but you don't find too many no-namers with a .340 average and nine steals. Keep an eye on him.

Disappointed to see a mix of players good enough to be on almost everyone's team and cunning real-life platoons on top scoring teams (St. Louis, Toronto, Colorado, and the Yankees proved less than fruitful), I decided to take a different tack. What about getting the guys who hit behind superstars stuck on bad teams? This idea led me to Andrew McCutchen and his .427 OBP. Hitting behind him: Garrett Jones (17%). Unfortunately, he's already taken in the Silver, but he's exactly the sort of player I'm looking for: decent and hits behind a great player. With his manger predicting more playing time, expect Jones to be a pretty good pickup for the rest of the season.

Speaking of Joneses, Adam Jones is pretty good and the Orioles aren't too good: opportunity? Batting directly behind Jones is Matt Wieters, who isn't available in tons of leagues. But next is typically Wilson Betemit (5%), particularly with Chris Davis playing more in the outfield. Betemit isn't awesome, but he isn't terrible and could be getting more RBIs as things continue. He's more of a reserve for your fantasy squad, but his triple-position eligibility (OF/3B/1B) helps him achieve that.

On the West Coast, we're seeing a lot of Alberto Callaspo (2%) batting behind Mark Trumbo (.358 OBP). He isn't a power hitter, but his teammates have propelled him to 31 RBIs, including 13 in the last month. Up the coast in Oakland, Seth Smith (4%) has usually been batting behind Yoenis Cespedes (.361 OBP), and Josh Reddick (.351 OBP). Smith is a bit of a part timer, and he doesn't tear the cover off the ball, but he hits his teammates in pretty often. With Joey Votto's injury, Todd Frazier (7%) should be getting more playing time. The only downside is that he won't be able to hit Votto in.

With RBIs so much the province of home run hitters, they can be hard to come by off the waiver wire. There are always a few options, but you might be best off trying to run the hot streaks of players like Smith, Betemit, and Callaspo together, hoping they can take advantage of their more talented teammates. Of the players I looked at only two, Snider and Garrett Jones (Him? Yes, him.) look to me like they're worth making using a permanent roster spot on. 


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This Week In Streaming Strategy, July 23-29

This week's streaming tips could very easily be thrown off by the July 31st trade deadline. There's nothing like a deal to completely alter a platoon situation, rotation matchups or bullpen usage, so keep a close eye on your fantasy lineups in case you're hearing one of your guys is on the trade block. Of course, the best way to track the rumor mill heading up to the deadline and beyond is to make MLB Trade Rumors a daily (or hourly) visit, but odds are I'm not telling you anything you don't already know.

Here are some of the week's dos and don'ts for fantasy streaming options....

* Tyler Colvin, Dexter Fowler. It's a very tiny silver lining amidst Colorado's pitch-black cloud of a season, but one thing the Rockies do well is hit right-handed pitching.  The Rockies' .775 team OPS against righties is the third-best mark in baseball.  Five of the Rockies' six games next week are against right-handed starters, providing opportunity for Colvin (.935 OPS vs. RHP) and Fowler (.909 OPS vs. RHP and almost the same mark against lefties) to be big contributors.  Colvin has spent the last week cooling off after his hot start to the season, and while his .327 OBP is a sign that he isn't quite developed as an offensive threat yet, Colvin has been mashing the ball to the tune of a .583 slugging percentage.  He's owned in just 42% of Yahoo fantasy leagues so there's still time to grab Colvin in case he heats up again.  As for Fowler, he's on pace for by far the best season of his five-year career and yet even he is owned in just 66% of Yahoo leagues.  The trick is to only put Fowler in your lineup when the Rockies are at Coors Field (home-road splits) though this week the road splits shouldn't be quite as pronounced as the Rockies play three games at Arizona's hitter-friendly Chase Field.

* Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez. The Yankees have been rumored to be looking for outfield help in the wake of Brett Gardner's likely season-ending surgery, so this is one of those situations that could change within the next week.  Until we hear otherwise, however, presume the Yanks will stick with their platoon of Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left, with the other usually part of a DH platoon with whomever isn't playing third base between Chavez and Alex Rodriguez.  I'll single out Chavez and Ibanez because they both have very good numbers against righty pitchers this season (.878 OPS for Chavez, .794 OPS for Ibanez) and New York is set to face four right-handed starters this week, including three in a row in Seattle from Monday through Wednesday.  You'll have to check the daily lineup to make sure exactly how the platoon shakes out (especially with Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise also in the mix for "give the veterans a break in the field" spot starts) but Chavez and Ibanez are both good bets to see action.  It doesn't hurt that they're also two of the few human beings on Earth who enjoy hitting at Safeco Field --- Chavez has a career .860 OPS in Seattle while former Mariner Ibanez has a career .285/.357/.474 at his old haunt.

* Justin Masterson.  I drafted Masterson in two different leagues last spring hoping he would duplicate his solid 2011 season as a fourth starter in my fantasy rotation, though I've long since dropped him due to his inconsistency.  Few pitchers this season have swung from terrific to horrible as quickly as Masterson, who has okay overall numbers (4.29 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.82 K/BB ratio) but is prone to one horrible start every few weeks that can just torpedo a fantasy owner in a weekly matchup.  In four July starts alone, Masterson tossed seven innings of one-run ball against the Orioles and seven shutout innings against the Blue Jays combined with two shellackings at the hands of the Rays.  You're never going to feel totally comfortable with Masterson on the mound but for this week, he's a good two-start streaming option.  He has the Orioles (a measly .689 team OPS against right-handed pitching) at home on Monday, where Masterson's ERA is almost two points lower than it is for road starts.  The second outing is on the weekend in Minnesota, and though Masterson's road numbers and career splits against the Twins are shaky, you can roll the dice if you're in need of some counting stats to win your weekly pitching matchups.  I'd definitely start Masterson on Monday and then play the wait-and-see game.

* Jeff Samardzija.  I like the guy just because his nickname is "Shark" (a.k.a. the nickname I've been trying to give myself since the third grade) and because he was a fantasy darling over the first two months of the season.  The Shark then hit rough waters over in June when he posted a 12.27 ERA over four starts and was dropped from many a team.  Samardzija has gotten back on track in three July starts --- a 2.37 ERA and 24 strikeouts against six walks over 19 innings --- but I still don't love him as a two-start option this week.  He first faces the hot-hitting Pirates in an away start, and Samardzija has a 5.40 ERA on the road this season.  The Cubs go back home to take on the Cardinals over the weekend, and while Samardzija has pitched better at Wrigley Field, he's had mixed results in two starts against St. Louis this year.  It's basically the opposite of my Masterson recommendation; while I can predict one quality start for Masterson and one question mark outing, Samardzija seems in line for one tough outing and then a who-knows affair against the Cards.  The Shark could prove he's all the way back and shut down two of the NL Central's top teams this week and if he does, I promise, I'll let Samardzija keep the nickname.

* Daniel Nava.  The legend of the undrafted Santa Clara product coming an out-of-nowhere star for the Red Sox in the first half of the season has taken a turn for the worse.  Nava owned a .979 OPS following Boston's June 22 game; over his next 23 games, Nava has hit just .145/.270/.263 in 89 plate appearances.  Surely Nava wasn't going to keep up his early-season success, but I'm not sure anyone quite expected such a sudden plummet back to earth, either.  His struggles have naturally led to a massive dropping in fantasy leagues and if you've kept him around just because you're tempted by his still-solid .380 OBP, do nothing more than keep him on the bench on the off-chance he gets his mojo back.  The Red Sox are still making room for Nava in the lineup due to David Ortiz's DL stint and have even been putting him at or near the top of the batting order.  It seems like the Sox are making a mistake putting a guy this ice-cold into a key spot in their lineup; don't make the same mistake with Nava in your fantasy league.

* Jay Bruce.  The dirty little secret keeping Bruce from being a true fantasy asset is that he's only good against right-handed pitching and is nigh-unplayable (career .650 OPS) against lefties.  Unfortunately for Bruce owners, the second-level dirty secret is that he's also not very good away from the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.  Bruce has a healthy .275/.350/.539 career line in his home stadium, but on the road, he's a pedestrian .235/.309/.417.  Both struggles could clash this week as Bruce faces six road games, at least three of which will be against left-handed starters.  So, even though he's facing the batting practice-level pitching staffs of the Astros and Rockies this week, I'm going to recommend that you put Bruce on the bench this week.  The bright side is that despite these two dirty secrets, Jay still has a long way to go to take over the title of Most Secrets Possessed By A Bruce.  This guy probably has it clinched for eternity.


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