Insert your own monetary joke here. Brad Penny ("Brother, can you spare a Penny?"; "Penny-wise, mound-foolish"; "A Penny saved is a Penny burned") cleared waivers Monday and immediately began to negotiate with National League teams. As humiliating as it must be for veteran pitchers to get torched in the AL East, one imagines a soothing aura settles over such a hurler when his agent tells him an NL squad is interested.
After all, Penny was pretty much horrible all year for the Red Sox: 5.61 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and an average of 5 1/3 innings -- and 99 pitches -- per start. Yet he saw John Smoltz pitch even worse (8.32 ERA, 1.70 WHIP), then turn around and join the St. Louis Cardinals, whereupon he posted two gems. So when the Giants came calling Monday, Penny jumped at the chance. He'll replace Joe Martinez in the San Francisco rotation.
Now, the move is a terrific one for the Giants. They have very little to lose, and Penny still throws extremely hard. They're not paying him much at all (well, in Major League Baseball terms), and they don't think Randy Johnson will be able to rejoin their rotation this year. But what about fantasy owners? Should they expect a Smoltzian return to glory?
I'm not ruling it out, because the NL has several joke offenses, and the Giants will play a few of them. (Of course, the Giants also are one of them, which doesn't play to Penny's advantage.) I think in an NL-only league, Penny is a must-add. But I saw him pitch an awful lot this spring and summer, and all I can say is: Those NL West hitters better not be able to hit a fastball even when they know it's coming. Sure, Penny throws hard (94 mph on average with his fastball, according to FanGraphs.com), but he couldn't find any other pitch that would get out American League hitters all year. His curve, once his calling card, was horrid. He couldn't locate it, and when he got it near the plate, it was nearly always a cookie. So teams knew the fastball was coming, and they tattooed it.
Maybe the change of scenery will be good for Penny's breaking stuff. Maybe he'll simply face much worse hitters, whom he can overpower simply by throwing really hard. But I wouldn't take a chance in a mixed league, the way I'm betting you're tempted to do with Smoltz right about now (see below). I don't see that kind of resurgence for Penny. And if it does happen, the AL might want to file divorce papers from the NL for playing an entirely different sport.
Note: This is my last Sixty Feet, Six Inches column of the season, and my last baseball work altogether. Thanks to all you readers for making it a great summer. I leave this column in the capable hands of Jason Grey, who'll no doubt update the starting pitching ranks with his incredibly knowledgeable spin, and believe me: Grey has seen more prospects live than almost anyone on the planet. He'll do a great job. Thank you, Jason, and thanks to all of you, too. See you in fantasy football land!
" Barry Zito, Giants: What a story Zito has been, as the Giants continue to battle unexpectedly for the NL wild card. He has gone nine straight starts without allowing more than three runs and hasn't struck out fewer than four hitters during that span. He still battles those long, looping mechanics that can lead to wildness every once in a while. But for the moment, he's worth riding in mixed leagues. He's unowned in 86 percent of ESPN.com leagues.
" Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: I was set to add Buchholz to the top 80 list last week, but he submitted a horrible start against the White Sox and thus talked me out of it. But as bad as Buchholz was that day, he was that good in his next outing against the Blue Jays: nine strikeouts, two walks, three hits and one earned run in 8 1/3 innings. Those K's are what we expected from Buchholz last year, although I'm not ready to rely on them for the rest of this season. However, the Red Sox don't have a lot of choices at this point, which means Buchholz is their No. 3 starter with an awfully good offense behind him.
" John Smoltz, Cardinals: I just wrote about him above, but I'm skeptical this solid performance will last. As I've been saying all summer, there's no question Smoltz still has the velocity to get major league hitters out. So how did he go from a bum in Boston to a star in St. Louis? Maybe the fact that he's pitched against the Padres and Nationals has something to do with it. Never fear, though, because he'll play the Pirates next time out. Once he starts facing better teams, he'll have to improve his command. He's still, as they say, "wild in the strike zone."
" Joba Chamberlain, Yankees: Chamberlain was pulled after just three innings in Sunday's start against the White Sox, although it wasn't because of injury or ineffectiveness. Instead, the Yankees will continue to baby Chamberlain through September, in hopes of keeping him fresh enough to be able to pitch in the playoffs. As such, it'll be awfully tough to assign much value to Joba in fantasy leagues during the next four weeks. He'll supposedly pitch every fifth day no matter what, but that's cold comfort to his owners if he's going only a few innings each time.
" Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers: Kuroda threw a simulated game this past weekend and reported no ill effects from his concussion, but he's been out long enough that the Dodgers almost certainly will need to send him to the minors for some rehab work. L.A. hopes to get him back in a couple of weeks, but time is running out for fantasy teams.
" Jake Peavy, White Sox: Peavy, who some believed would make his White Sox debut Saturday against the Yankees, instead pitched for Triple-A Charlotte that day and had to come out in the fourth inning because of tightness in his elbow. Uh-oh. An MRI reportedly didn't reveal anything serious on Monday, but this puts a serious crimp in fantasy owners' plans, as Peavy no longer looks like a lock to pitch at all for the fading Sox this season.
Comings and goings
" Scott Kazmir, traded by the Rays to the Angels for pitching prospect Alex Torres and two other minor leaguers, will make his Los Angeles debut Wednesday against the Mariners. His fantasy value probably doesn't change all that much as an Angel, although he does seem slightly likelier to get wins playing for the AL West leaders.
" Tim Hudson will return to the Braves' rotation Tuesday against the Marlins. He originally was scheduled to pitch Monday, but by delaying a day, the Braves didn't have to clear space on the 25-man roster for Hudson.
" The Marlins demoted Chris Volstad to Triple-A New Orleans on Friday after he gave up six runs, six hits and two walks in 1 2/3 innings against the Padres. Volstad was on my "fortunes falling" list last week, and is completely off the top 80 list this week; the Marlins haven't commented about whether Volstad will return to the majors this season, but one imagines the team would have to get pretty desperate. Volstad is still a good prospect and will have value next season (he'll turn only 23 this month), but he'll have to shape up.
" The Angels activated Joe Saunders from the disabled list last week, and he pitched five innings, allowing six hits, two walks and two runs while fanning six against the Tigers. Saunders wasn't exactly efficient in the outing, but he did get his 10th win and came within one of his season high in strikeouts. Saunders was much better Monday, shutting out the Mariners for seven innings.
" The Reds activated Johnny Cueto from the DL on Monday, and he pitched a night game against the Pirates. Cueto looked better than he did for several starts before his stint on the disabled list, going five innings and whiffing five while allowing one run, one walk and three hits. But it was against the Pirates.
" The Rays will recall Andy Sonnanstine from Triple-A Durham on Tuesday to face the Red Sox in what Tampa Bay hopes will be a last-ditch effort to stay in the wild-card race. Remember Sonnanstine? He was one of draft day's biggest busts this spring, posting a 6.61 ERA with the Rays before being sent down. He shouldn't be owned in any mixed leagues, although AL-only owners desperately trolling for starters could roll the dice, especially the way Tampa Bay has owned Boston this year.
" The Dodgers acquired Jon Garland from the Diamondbacks on Monday in exchange for a player to be named later. Presumably, Garland replaces Charlie Haeger in the Los Angeles rotation at the moment, although how things will shake out once Hiroki Kuroda returns isn't clear. Garland's August numbers included a 3.89 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP; his value is enhanced in NL-only leagues.
" Ian Snell took a liner off his wrist in his past outing, but the Mariners expect him to be able to take his turn in the rotation this week.
" Tim Wakefield will miss his turn in the Boston rotation this week because of continued pain in his injured back, which means that Paul Byrd, who was recalled to face the Blue Jays on Sunday and submitted six scoreless innings, should get at least one more start. Junichi Tazawa will also return from the minors and take a start this week. Daisuke Matsuzaka got beaten up (five runs in two innings) at Double-A Portland on Sunday, so he's not returning to Boston's rotation just yet.
" The Padres haven't confirmed yet whether Mat Latos is done for the season after a poor outing Sunday against the Marlins. A couple of weeks ago, San Diego said Latos wouldn't pitch in September, but it hasn't commented yet on whether that still holds. Either way, his fantasy value is just about gone.
" The Astros will skip Bud Norris his next time through the rotation because of concerns about his innings count. The 24-year-old has thrown 152 2/3 innings this year (120 of them at Triple-A Round Rock). He won't be a huge help down the stretch.
" Sergio Mitre took an A.J. Pierzynski liner off his forearm Saturday and is considered questionable to take his turn in the Yankees' rotation Thursday. Presumably, Chad Gaudin would start if Mitre can't go.
" The Nationals signed Livan Hernandez, who was released by the Mets, and immediately inserted him into their rotation. He allowed two runs and six hits in six innings in his debut against the Cubs last week, then pitched a complete game Monday against the Padres, allowing three runs in eight innings.
" The Rockies acquired Jose Contreras from the White Sox on Monday and presumably will use him in the rotation to replace Josh Fogg, who was filling in for the injured Aaron Cook. Contreras has an ERA of 5.42 and a WHIP of 1.45, and has pretty much been blasted since the All-Star break. This is one guy who I don't think will benefit all that much from the league change, but I guess we'll see.
" Brandon McCarthy is expected to return to the majors Tuesday to take one of the Rangers' doubleheader starts against the Blue Jays. McCarthy has been out since June 4 with shoulder trouble.
" Carlos Carrasco, whom the Indians acquired from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal, is expected to be recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday to face the Tigers in his big league debut. Carrasco was once a blue-chip prospect whose star faded a bit in the past year, but since changing over to Cleveland's organization, he has gone 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP, 36 strikeouts and seven walks in 42 1/3 innings. He's worth a look in AL-only leagues.
" Daniel McCutchen was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday to pitch the first game of a doubleheader for the Pirates. It was his big league debut, and he allowed three runs, five hits and two walks while fanning five in six innings. He'll stay on the Pirates' roster now that Sept. 1 has come.
" The Reds recalled Matt Maloney from Triple-A Louisville, and he started Sunday against the Dodgers, getting roughed up for five runs and eight hits in six innings. He shouldn't be owned in fantasy leagues.
" The Padres recalled Wade LeBlanc and inserted him into their rotation Saturday to face the Marlins. LeBlanc pitched decently, allowing four runs, four hits and two walks and fanning two in six innings. But he probably shouldn't be owned in fantasy leagues, either.
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.