Commentary

Bad news for Johan Santana

Top fantasy pitcher heading into season could be done for year

Updated: August 25, 2009, 11:13 AM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

60 Feet 6 Inches

The Mets' disastrous season grew even more disastrous Monday, as the team announced it will skip Johan Santana's scheduled start Tuesday against the Marlins. The team's official Web site reports that Mets players "expect Santana will have surgery on his left elbow." According to the article on MLB.com, Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey said, "I don't think anyone expects good news." And outfielder Jeff Francoeur said he anticipates Santana will require surgery after speaking with the pitcher in the clubhouse Monday. "[He] can get it looked at now and be two months ahead by spring training," Francoeur said.

Yow.

Now, the Mets haven't released any specific diagnosis and are waiting for Santana to meet with a specialist Tuesday before they decide exactly how to proceed. But the fact that Santana evidently has told players he's done for the year is a major blow for fantasy owners. Would Santana be the first player to overreact to pain and tell the world he needs surgery, only to discover he doesn't? No. But the notion that Santana will be able to turn around quickly and pitch again for a team that's way out of contention in the NL East is extremely pie-in-the-sky. He apparently has been dealing with elbow pain for a while this month, which explains why his mid-90s stuff hasn't been there lately. But the elbow pain reportedly reached a new level of badness in Santana's past outing, Thursday against the Braves.

Johan Santana
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJohan Santana had 13 wins, but his K/9 rate was at its lowest since 2001.

I haven't ranked Santana in my top 80 starting pitchers below because everything I read and heard Monday indicates he's done, not necessarily because of surgery, but because the severe pain in his elbow -- no matter what the cause -- isn't likely to go away in a week or two. But because there aren't many other Santana-like options available on waiver wires, you probably shouldn't dump him off your fantasy roster until we're absolutely sure he's really done. I expect that word to come as soon as Tuesday, at which time, well, you've got a roster spot to fill. Plenty of good pitchers are unowned in an alarming number of mixed leagues, guys who are having nice second halves, guys whom I detail below. But let's face it: None of 'em is a multiple Cy Young winner.

Fortunes rising

Tommy Hanson, Braves. It's not the first time I list Hanson here, but this is his high-water mark of the season. He has six quality starts in his past seven outings and has 44 strikeouts and 12 walks in 45 2/3 innings during that span. Ridiculously, Hanson is unowned in 30 percent of ESPN.com leagues, but in non-dead leagues, he presumably has to be mostly owned. But if you're a Santana owner and Hanson is available in your league, you should have your eye on the kid.

Derek Holland, Rangers. It's a top-prospect smorgasbord on the "fortunes rising" list this week, as Holland is living up to his top-of-the-rotation billing in Texas. A former 25th-rounder who threw in the high-80s when the Rangers took him out of junior college, this 22-year-old has matured and now can top out at 97 or 98 mph as well as hurl a fearsome curve. In seven starts since the All-Star break, Holland has a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 36 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. I'm not the first person to compare Holland to the young Scott Kazmir, but that's his upside. And he's owned in 6 percent of ESPN.com leagues.

Jonathan Sanchez, Giants. Unlike a certain fellow from Chicago I'll mention in a moment, Sanchez has pretty much kept up the good stuff since his no-hitter. In the seven starts since a no-no over the hapless Padres, Sanchez has a 3.54 ERA and 1.21 WHIP with 49 strikeouts and, for him, a not-so-terrible 22 walks in 40 2/3 innings. Hey, baby steps. He's owned in only 11 percent of leagues and certainly comes with increased risk, in that his control is often awful. But for owners who need a push in strikeouts, few guys who can get you more.

Top 80 Starters

Note: Christopher Harris' top 80 starters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.

1. Tim Lincecum, SF (1)
2. Cliff Lee, PHI (7)
3. CC Sabathia, NYY (11)
4. Josh Beckett, BOS (2)
5. Roy Halladay, TOR (3)
6. Justin Verlander, DET (4)
7. Felix Hernandez, SEA (5)
8. Adam Wainwright, STL (8)
9. Jon Lester, BOS (10)
10. Chris Carpenter, STL (15)
11. Josh Johnson, FLA (6)
12. Rich Harden, CHC (18)
13. Javier Vazquez, ATL (14)
14. Zack Greinke, KC (13)
15. Chad Billingsley, LAD (25)
16. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (17)
17. Dan Haren, ARI (12)
18. Matt Cain, SF (20)
19. John Lackey, LAA (16)
20. Clayton Kershaw, LAD (19)
21. Roy Oswalt, HOU (26)
22. Ricky Nolasco, FLA (21)
23. A.J. Burnett, NYY (22)
24. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (27)
25. Tommy Hanson, ATL (36)
26. Cole Hamels, PHI (23)
27. Scott Baker, MIN (28)
28. Derek Lowe, ATL (24)
29. John Danks, CHW (29)
30. Ted Lilly, CHC (33)
31. Gavin Floyd, CHW (30)
32. Matt Garza, TB (31)
33. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL (35)
34. James Shields, TB (32)
35. Joba Chamberlain, NYY (37)
36. J.A. Happ, PHI (43)
37. Andy Pettitte, NYY (39)
38. Max Scherzer, ARI (40)
39. Mark Buehrle, CHW (34)
40. Jarrod Washburn, DET (38)
41. Edwin Jackson, DET (42)
42. Jorge De La Rosa, COL (44)
43. Jered Weaver, LAA (41)
44. Jair Jurrjens, ATL (45)
45. Ryan Dempster, CHC (49)
46. Carlos Zambrano, CHC (51)
47. Joe Blanton, PHI (50)
48. Randy Wolf, LAD (52)
49. Scott Kazmir, TB (46)
50. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (47)
51. Joel Pineiro, STL (54)
52. Jake Peavy, CHW (57)
53. David Price, TB (56)
54. Jason Marquis, COL (58)
55. Bronson Arroyo, CIN (62)
56. Kenshin Kawakami, ATL (63)
57. Gil Meche, KC (55)
58. Derek Holland, TEX (72)
59. Brett Anderson, OAK (60)
60. Ervin Santana, LAA (73)
61. Scott Feldman, TEX (74)
62. Rick Porcello, DET (64)
63. Zach Duke, PIT (65)
64. Randy Wells, CHC (66)
65. Jonathan Sanchez, SF (78)
66. Jeff Niemann, TB (61)
67. Chris Volstad, FLA (53)
68. Kevin Millwood, TEX (59)
69. Tommy Hunter, TEX (69)
70. Ricky Romero, TOR (70)
71. Fausto Carmona, CLE (NR)
72. Aaron Laffey, CLE (79)
73. Clayton Richard, SD (NR)
74. Barry Zito, SF (76)
75. Ross Ohlendorf, PIT (NR)
76. Carl Pavano, MIN (71)
77. Pedro Martinez, PHI (80)
78. Gio Gonzalez, OAK (NR)
79. Mike Pelfrey, NYM (NR)
80. Scott Richmond, TOR (NR)

Fortunes falling

Mark Buehrle, White Sox. Since his perfect game, Buehrle has one quality start in six outings, which adds up to a 6.21 ERA and 1.62 WHIP with a 12-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 37 2/3 innings. His overall numbers still look great, and you never know when a complete-game shutout can rear its head. But it's hard to argue against the notion that the strain and excitement of his incredible outing against the Rays last month took something out of him.

Chris Volstad, Marlins. I got blasted early this season for not giving Volstad enough love, but the truth is that if there were many more adequately rankable starting pitchers in baseball right now, Volstad wouldn't even belong in the top 80. On June 5, his ERA was 3.65 and his WHIP was 1.16. Since then, his ERA is 5.78 and his WHIP is 1.53. He also ranks fourth in the majors in homers allowed (26), even though he pitches in a favorable home park. Volstad won't turn 23 until late September, and his career prospects are still strong. But he's not of much use in shallow mixed leagues right now.

Kevin Millwood, Rangers. If guys like Holland, Scott Feldman and Tommy Hunter are surging, Millwood is slumping. His ERA has climbed steadily since the All-Star break, he missed time with a strained gluteus muscle, and his past couple of times out have screamed "warning!" because he has walked eight in 11 1/3 innings. Millwood's issue traditionally has been a hurtful WHIP, and since Aug. 8 he has allowed 28 baserunners in 17 1/3 innings.

Comings and goings

• According to the New York Daily News, the Yankees have informed Joba Chamberlain that he'll make six more starts in the 2009 regular season, including one Tuesday against the Rangers. Presumably, Chamberlain will be available as the team's third or fourth starter once the playoffs begin, but he won't be of much use to fantasy owners by then.

Hiroki Kuroda did wind up going on the disabled list after being smashed in the forehead by a line drive after all. The good news, though, is that he hasn't suffered many postconcussion symptoms and looks on track to return to the Dodgers' rotation the first day he's eligible, which is Monday.

Carlos Zambrano pitched well in his most recent rehab start for Class A Peoria and will return to the Cubs' rotation Tuesday against the Nationals. Zambrano has been out since Aug. 1 because of an injured back.

Jake Peavy threw five scoreless innings for Triple-A Charlotte on Monday. Given the fact that Jose Contreras was demoted to the White Sox's bullpen after Monday's terrible start in Boston, the Chicago Tribune speculates that Peavy could take Contreras' spot and pitch as soon as Saturday against the Yankees.

• The Reds put Johnny Cueto on the DL with "shoulder inflammation," but because Cueto says he's positive he'll be able to return to the team's rotation the day he's eligible, it sounds an awful lot as if the Reds were simply trying to give the guy a break from a horrific second half. Micah Owings was activated from the DL as a corresponding move, and is back in the Reds' rotation.

• A couple of weeks after I called Aaron Harang an intriguing fantasy acquisition for the '09 stretch run, he "pulled a Jay Bruce" (Bruce broke his wrist the day I said I'd trade for him in a column earlier this year) and needed an emergency appendectomy that likely will cost him the rest of the season (which is a bummer, because he threw a gem Thursday against the Giants). The Reds haven't decided who'll take Harang's spot in the rotation, but whoever it is, you don't want him. Harang's absence means that guys such as Homer Bailey, Justin Lehr and Owings are all safe for the rest of the season. Hooray.

• The Rockies put Aaron Cook on the DL on Saturday because of a strained pitching shoulder. Cook's velocity reportedly was down quite a bit before he had to leave his start on Friday, but an MRI on Monday showed no structural damage in the offending shoulder. Colorado hopes Cook will be able to return sometime in September, but that's no sure thing.

Tim Wakefield had a successful start for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday, and given the fact that rookie Junichi Tazawa threw well for the Red Sox on Saturday against the Yankees, Wakefield's return will bounce Brad Penny from the Boston rotation. Wakefield will start Wednesday against the White Sox.

• The Red Sox also think they might not be that far away from getting Daisuke Matsuzaka back into their rotation. Matsuzaka pitched another bullpen session Friday and now will make at least three minor league rehab starts during the next couple of weeks. If everything goes well, he could be on pace to return to the big leagues the second week of September.

John Smoltz returned to the National League on Sunday and had great results as a new member of the Cardinals' rotation, tossing five scoreless innings and fanning nine Padres. This is either a condemnation of: (a) NL lineups, (b) the Padres or (c) both. Smoltz might wind up being worth adding in NL-only leagues, but you probably should wait until he faces a real team.

• The Padres announced that rookie Mat Latos will start just twice more this season: once Tuesday against the Braves, then Sunday at the Marlins. He's worth using in those two outings, in my opinion, but obviously non-keeper-league owners won't need to keep him on their rosters thereafter.

• The Angels reportedly will activate Joe Saunders from the DL and use him Wednesday against the A's. Saunders will replace Sean O'Sullivan in the Los Angeles rotation.

• The Phillies believe they're a couple of weeks away from getting Brett Myers back from the DL. Myers had hip surgery way back in May and also got a black eye a week or so ago under dubious circumstances. (Some claim he was seen fighting in a Florida bar, and Myers himself reportedly lied, saying he got hit in the face while playing catch with his 4-year-old son, then claiming he hurt himself slipping while getting out of his truck.) Either way, Myers likely wouldn't rejoin the Phillies as a starter, given that the team already has bounced Jamie Moyer from its rotation to make room for Pedro Martinez, so you can assume Myers probably will wind up in the bullpen.

• The A's announced that Justin Duchscherer is suffering from clinical depression and won't return to the majors in 2009. Duchscherer underwent elbow surgery during spring training and has been the subject of many fantasy-chat questions during the past couple of months but is clearly no longer anyone you need to own in a league this year. Hopefully he'll be available in the spring, because he's clearly a talented pitcher.

• The Cardinals placed Kyle Lohse on the DL after he left his start on Friday with a strained groin. Although Lohse believes he'll be back after the minimum time, he hasn't pitched well at all since returning from his first DL stint. Mitchell Boggs takes Lohse's place in the St. Louis rotation.

• The Marlins activated Anibal Sanchez from the 60-day DL, where he was recovering from what the team called a "sprained shoulder." Sanchez pitched six innings of one-run ball against the Braves on Friday, allowing two hits, walking two and striking out seven. Sanchez was an ultradeep sleeper of mine way back in April (that didn't work out very well), but he still could have NL-only value this year.

Dave Bush will return to the Brewers' rotation Thursday against the Reds. He hasn't pitched in the majors since June 23 because of a torn triceps in his pitching arm. Milwaukee probably will remove Mike Burns from its big league rotation as a result of Bush's return; Carlos Villanueva already had been pushed to the bullpen in favor of Burns last week.

• The Dodgers signed Vicente Padilla, late of the Rangers, and will insert him into their injury-ravaged rotation Thursday against the Rockies. He started one game for the team's Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque, but you don't want any part of him at Coors Field.

• The Twins sent Anthony Swarzak to the minors after another poor start Thursday. In Swarzak's place, the team will try rookie Armando Gabino, who'll make his big league debut Tuesday against the Orioles.

• The Mets designated Livan Hernandez for assignment, meaning Bobby Parnell and Tim Redding should stay in New York's rotation going forward.

• Agent Scott Boras has all but confirmed that Stephen Strasburg won't pitch for the Nationals this season. So there.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can find him at www.facebook.com/writerboy.

ALSO SEE