- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Brian Cashman looked cool and composed sitting at Fenway Park as Joba Chamberlain twirled an absolute gem (seven shutout innings, 10 strikeouts). It's pretty clear now he knew something we didn't know.
For all their talk about investing in youth and letting their best prospects work their way to the majors, the Yankees fired a warning shot across the AL East's bow in more ways than one Friday. They won a 1-0 nail-biter in Boston. And they went a long way toward replacing their aged, missing bats and Chamberlain's setup spot in their bullpen. New York acquired Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates. The big prize Pittsburgh got in return is Jose Tabata, a 19-year-old (he turns 20 next month) outfield prospect who has scuffled at Double-A this year, and who comes with a potentially questionable wrist and a potentially questionable noggin.
First, what does this tell us about the Yankees? Well, they don't seem to be counting on anything from Hideki Matsui the rest of this year; expect Godzilla to announce he'll undergo surgery in a couple weeks. Nor do the Pinstripers seem to believe that Jorge Posada will be able to give them anything as a designated hitter. Posada has a labrum injury in his throwing shoulder and can't play catcher until he has surgery, but according to the New York Daily News, he's still considering whether he should delay that surgery and try to help the Yanks as a DH. Nady's acquisition puts the kibosh on that faint glimmer of hope for Posada's fantasy owners, and also seems to indicate that Cashman and Joe Girardi believe Jason Giambi can continue to be their everyday first baseman.
Nady, a right fielder in all 81 of his starts with Pittsburgh this year, figures to play left field or designated hitter most nights in the Big Apple. He certainly needs to be added in all AL-only leagues, but don't go crazy with your expectations. He's picked it back up again in July after a terrible June, but his batting average on balls in play continues to be .367, fifth-highest in baseball and 48 points higher than his career average. In short, he's been lucky, and he's never played in the American League, so he's got a whole new group of pitchers to learn in two brief months. Damaso Marte's fantasy value as a Yankee is simply crushed: He goes from being Matt Capps's replacement as closer (he had five saves overall and was 4-for-4 in save opportunities since July 7) to being a lefty setup man in the New York bullpen. In AL-only leagues that reward holds, he's an add, but in shallow leagues, you can pretty much drop him.
In Pittsburgh, Nady's spot in right field seems likely to be inherited by Steve Pearce, who has only managed to post a .310 on-base percentage this year for Triple-A Indianapolis, and who was called up early this year for a cameo in which he went 1-for-3; last year, however, he got a long look in September and hit .294 with a .342 on-base percentage and stole a couple bases. He seems a better bet to get the starting right field gig than Andrew McCutchen, a guy who's actually having a better season at Triple-A, but who's more of a center fielder and is just 21 years old (while Pearce is 25). Pearce can be added in NL-only leagues.
In the bullpen, with Capps still out until at least September and possibly for the entire year, the closer's role is wide open once again. John Grabow figures to get the first shot; he's pitched well in a setup role this year: 3.08 ERA. 1.29 WHIP, with only a couple of blown saves and a couple of losses. Fantasy speculators would be wise to grab him right away. If Grabow stumbles, Denny Bautista could get a look in a saves role; he's got wildness issues (22 strikeouts and 20 walks in 35 innings), but probably has more pure "closer's stuff" than Grabow does. Tyler Yates could also be an option, though if Bautista has "control issues," Yates is a freaking wild man: 35 strikeouts and 34 walks in 50 1/3 innings. To be fair to Yates, though, in July he's got 10 strikeouts and just four walks. Fantasy teams in NL-only leagues with an extra bench spot could try either Bautista or Yates, just in case.
Finally, what of Tabata? The Pirates really didn't get much else in the deal: Ross Ohlendorf was once the key reason the Yankees traded Randy Johnson to Arizona, but since then has converted to relief pitching and doesn't look like more than a middle reliever at this point; George Kontos has middle-of-the-rotation upside but is considered a head case; finally, Phil Coke is a pitcher who isn't expected to be a major leaguer. Tabata's is a name dynasty-league fantasy players have known for a while: Signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela, he was a bonus baby who evoked comparisons to Manny Ramirez until he was hit on the right wrist by a pitch in '06. The problem lingered and eventually required surgery, and he hasn't had the same kind of power since. Plus this year, as a teenager in Double-A, he's shown immaturity, storming out of the clubhouse and going home in the middle of a game after striking out -- resulting in a three-game suspension from his team. In fact, when it happened, the Trenton Times reported that Tabata was thinking about asking for his release. In all, playing at Double-A this year, Tabata has hit .248 with a .320 on-base percentage and just a .310 slugging percentage, three homers and just 36 RBIs, with 10 steals. He's still got upside, and fantasy leaguers can keep the name in mind, but it's going to be a few years.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports.
You can e-mail him here.
5hThomas McKean, ESPN Stats & Information