Cockcroft: Trade deadline recap
What's been going on around the American League the past week? Tristan H. Cockcroft takes a quick-hitting look at the news and notes for each of the 14 AL teams:
Baltimore Orioles: Chris Ray was placed on the 15-day disabled list last week, and the team later said that the right-hander has a sprained medial ligament in his elbow, not bone spurs, as was initially reported. He'll be sidelined a minimum of five weeks -- three for rest and rehabilitation, two more for a throwing program -- putting his return date around Sept. 1 at the earliest. In Ray's absence, interim manager Dave Trembley has been playing coy as to his closer would be on any given night. Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker are his candidates, and Walker has three saves and Bradford has one since Ray's last appearance July 20. Committees are unappealing in shallow fantasy formats, but there's AL-only value in the trio, probably in the order Walker, Bradford and Baez. Don't forget, too, that the hot hand often steps up as the go-to guy, becoming mixed-league worthy. To that end, Walker has 10 1/3 scoreless innings and a .167 batting-average against in 10 appearances in July. ... Miguel Tejada returned from the DL on Friday, and he didn't show any signs of being limited by the broken bone near his left wrist. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with 4 RBIs in the team's three weekend games plus the inning and a half of a June 28 suspended game. Power should continue to be a problem for him, but a .300-plus batting average and a respectable RBI total should be within his reach.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox significantly upgraded their bullpen Tuesday by acquiring Eric Gagne from the Rangers in exchange for Kason Gabbard, David Murphy and rookie-ball outfielder Engel Beltre. In order to make the trade, Boston had to convince Gagne to waive his no-trade clause despite demoting him from closer to set-up status. Gagne has been one of the better relievers in the AL since returning from the DL on May 10 -- with a 2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and .191 BAA in 30 appearances -- but what matters to most of his fantasy owners is that he'll no longer be a strong bet for saves. Sure, he'll step in as Jonathan Papelbon's primary set-up man and a better saves handcuff than Hideki Okajima, who has snuck in four saves around Papelbon's outings this season. Still don't expect Gagne to contribute too much outside of ERA and WHIP in Boston. Okajima's owners should now only count on him as an ERA/WHIP specialist with the slim chance he could net a sneaky save on a Papelbon off day against a team loaded with left-handed hitters ( the Yankees?). ... Jon Lester appears set to remain in the rotation the rest of the year following the trade of Gabbard; one of the two would have been bumped when Curt Schilling returns from the DL next week. Lester might be a bit more a matchup type than an every-start option. Still, don't forget that he was 7-2 with a 4.76 ERA in 15 starts for the Red Sox in 2006, and he'll have one of the game's best offenses backing him.
New York Yankees: Phil Hughes tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed only three hits in his most recent rehabilitation start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, probably his final tune-up before returning to the Yankees. If it was indeed his final rehab outing, he finished his five-start stint with 21 2/3 innings, one earned run allowed, 25 strikeouts and a .137 BAA. Hughes should be penciled in to take over as the Yankees' No. 5 starter Saturday against the Royals, replacing the ineffective Kei Igawa. Igawa was demoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last Friday after he posting a 5.97 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and .295 BAA in his last six starts. Hughes probably won't be that dominant with the Yankees, but he could get 10-12 starts and has the potential to be a top-40 fantasy starter the rest of the year. ... Thinking Joba Chamberlain, who was shifted to the bullpen at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this week, can step in at the big league level sooner than later, the Yankees traded Scott Proctor to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday in exchange for Wilson Betemit. Though it could be a better long-term move for Betemit -- he becomes a fall-back option at third base for the Yankees in 2008 should Alex Rodriguez opt out of his contract -- it's a devastating development for Betemit for this season. Unless he adapts quickly to a first-base role, he'll have to fight for at-bats as a utility infielder behind one of the game's stronger infields, making him a nearly useless fantasy entity this year -- he should AL-only consideration if someone gets hurt.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Instead of thinning out their bullpen by trading closer Al Reyes, the team's one reliable reliever this season, the Devil Rays actually bolstered their relief corps with three trades Saturday. First, they swapped Triple-A relievers, getting Grant Balfour from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Seth McClung, a former closer hopeful. Next, they acquired two Triple-A relievers, left-hander Brian Shackelford and right-hander Calvin Medlock, from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Jorge Cantu and Double-A outfielder Shaun Cumberland. Then, minutes later, they landed Dan Wheeler from the Houston Astros in exchange for Ty Wigginton. Wheeler is the most significant of the team's acquisitions; the right-hander was the Astros' closer as recently as four weeks ago. He had been struggling of late, with a 6.59 ERA and .294 BAA in 24 appearances since June 1. Still in terms of raw talent, Wheeler is no less the pitcher Reyes is. The Devil Rays could attempt to sneak both Reyes and Wheeler through waivers to trade either -- or both -- of them in August. But for now, expect Reyes to remain the closer, with Wheeler his useful AL-only handcuff. ... With Wigginton gone, the Devil Rays shifted Brendan Harris to second base Monday, perhaps opening up the shortstop role for a Josh Wilson/Ben Zobrist platoon. Zobrist was a huge bust in a stint as the team's starting shortstop in April/May, managing a .159 batting average, .156 on-base percentage and .222 slugging percentage. But Zobrist has batted a respectable .273 with seven homers and eight stolen bases in 60 games for Triple-A Durham, so he could be a sleeper in deep AL-only formats.
Toronto Blue Jays: It's a little puzzling that the Blue Jays didn't attempt to trade either Reed Johnson or Matt Stairs, both of whom have played in left field this season. Such a deal might have cleared room for rookie Adam Lind on Toronto's roster. Lind -- a .230/.274/.383 hitter in his previous stint with the team this season -- might not have made much of a fantasy impact had he been recalled, but it would have given him a better chance at a more prominent role in 2008. He's a .279 hitter (17-for-61) with two homers and nine RBIs in 18 games since his demotion to Triple-A Syracuse on July 6.
Chicago White Sox: Tuesday's trade deadline passed with Jose Contreras, Jermaine Dye, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez -- who were all considered to be on the trade market -- remaining in Chicago. Still, trading Tadahito Iguchi to the Philadelphia Phillies opened up a spot for an interesting AL-only sleeper, Danny Richar, now the Chicago's everyday second baseman. He got the call Saturday after managing .305/.365/.505 numbers in Triple-A ball this season, .346/.400/.556 numbers in Charlotte after coming over from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 16 in exchange for Class A outfielder Aaron Cunningham. Richar --the 24th ranked Diamondbacks prospects by Baseball America before the season -- might not seem a high-upside prospect, though he wouldn't be the first seemingly out-of-nowhere rookie to emerge from that system. Dan Uggla of the Florida Marlins, after all, managed only a No. 29 ranking among Marlins prospects in 2006 after being snagged out of the Arizona organization in the Rule 5 draft the previous winter. Richar probably won't be a Uggla-caliber talent, but he's a useful AL-only pickup.
Cleveland Indians: Kenny Lofton is back in Cleveland for a third stint, after being acquired from the Rangers last Friday in exchange for minor league catcher Max Ramirez. Lofton started in left field and batted second in both the Indians' weekend games against right-handers; going 4-for-10 in a role he should maintain the remainder of the year. He'll almost assuredly sit out every game against a lefty in favor of Jason Michaels, but that will only help stabilize his batting average, which is currently .306. Plus, considering fewer than 30 percent of all big league plate appearances this year have come against left-handers, Lofton should play enough to make an impact in AL-only or deeper-mixed formats. ... The Indians demoted Cliff Lee to Triple-A Buffalo last Friday after the left-hander went 0-4 with an 11.70 ERA, 2.10 WHIP and .352 BAA in his last four starts -- he is 5-8 with 6.38/1.53/.283 numbers in 16 starts overall. He'll remain in the minors until he works out his problems, opening up a rotation spot on Saturday -- presumably for left-hander Aaron Laffey who is 11-4 with a 2.94 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 19 games (18 starts) combined between Buffalo and Double-A Akron this season. Ranked No. 22 in the Indians organization by Baseball America in the preseason, Laffey has emerged as a solid prospect with a breakout season in the minors. He is well worth AL-only consideration and someone to watch in mixed leagues.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers placed Kenny Rogers on the DL on Sunday with left elbow inflammation, costing him at least two starts. It's his second trip to the DL this season, though the team maintains this one isn't related to his March surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder. Rogers was hit hard in his three starts after the All-Star break -- a 9.98 ERA, 1.89 WHIP and .309 BAA -- and the last two came against weak offenses (Royals, White Sox), so it's possible that he might have rushed his return. Don't be shocked if he's out more than the 15-day minimum, though the Tigers probably won't dip into the trade market to replace him. Jordan Tata, who had a 3.29 ERA and .229 BAA in 11 starts for Triple-A Toledo, was recalled to assume Rogers' rotation spot beginning Monday. AL-only owners with the bench depth can stash him in hopes that he'll emerge as a matchups option. Tata, however, is no better a bet to succeed right now than Virgil Vasquez, who posted a 9.39 ERA and .382 BAA in two spot starts for the Tigers this year, was.
Kansas City Royals: The trade of Octavio Dotel to the Atlanta Braves clears the closer's role for one of the team's right-handed set-up men to take over. Joakim Soria, who subbed for Dotel the first seven weeks of the season, should get the first crack at the job, making him an instant pickup in all fantasy formats. He has a 1.25 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, .145 BAA and 10.80 K/9 ratio in 19 appearances since returning from the DL on June 8, he also was 10-for-13 in save-situations to begin the season. So, he should be a useful second-tier AL-only or third-tier mixed closer. Of course, Soria's performance should be closely monitored; former starter Zack Greinke could get a look if Soria hits a cold spell. Greinke has 3.25/1.08/.229/9.34 numbers in 29 appearances since his shift to the bullpen, and he has the talent to be a useful handcuff, especially in AL-only formats. ... Kyle Davies, who was acquired from the Royals in the Dotel deal, could bump Leo Nunez as the Royals' No. 5 starter. Although he's a risky bet in the hitting-rich AL, a fresh start could help Davies cause. He could offer an interesting matchup or two to exploit the next two months.
Minnesota Twins: Luis Castillo's departure creates two sleeper opportunities in the Twins infield. Although it might seem logical that Alexi Casilla -- considered the second-baseman-in-waiting -- would immediately benefit, it's just as likely that Brian Buscher -- promoted from Triple-A Rochester last Friday -- will have be better for the next two months. Buscher, a left-handed hitter who batted .309 with a .389 on-base percentage and .494 slugging percentage in 98 games between Double-A New Britain and Rochester this year, started each of the Twins' past three games against a right-hander, going 3-for-11 (.273). He might get a look against all righties the next couple of weeks, but expect Casilla to get a chance to play too, with Nick Punto shuffling between second base, third base and shortstop as needed. Casilla's speed -- he had 24 steals in 84 games for Rochester this year and 99 combined in the minors in 2005-06 seasons -- makes him a strong bet to eventually wind up the everyday second baseman and leadoff hitter. Castillo's trade increases the chances the rookie will be in those roles no later than Opening Day 2008, so keep an eye on him.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Though the Angels were heavily rumored to be in the hunt for a right-handed power hitter, with Paul Konerko, Mike Piazza and Mark Teixeira oft-mentioned targets, they failed to make a move before the deadline. Piazza could still slip through waivers in the next couple of weeks, but the Angels' reluctance to part with many of their top and mid-level prospects helps preserve the fantasy value of their first base/left field/DH glut. Casey Kotchman -- a .333 hitter (16-for-48) with 10 RBIs in 15 games since the All-Star break -- and Reggie Willits -- a .283 hitter (15-for-53) with four stolen bases in 16 games during that span -- should retain their value in AL-only and larger mixed leagues for the time being.
Oakland Athletics: Joe Blanton's owners had to be rooting for a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers to come to fruition; his 6-3 record, 2.99 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 12 career interleague starts suggested the more pitching-oriented National League might have shaved a half-run or more off his ERA. However, the July 31 deadline passed with him remaining in Oakland. Although his improved strikeout rate early in the year was encouraging, Blanton's performance in his past five starts warrants concern equal to that; he's 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA, 1.69 WHIP and .361 BAA during that span. Blanton remains a useful AL-only option, but on a so-so Athletics team his mixed-league appeal is limited.
Seattle Mariners: Pitching was the Mariners' trade-deadline target, but the team fell short in its bids for Octavio Dotel, Matt Morris, Al Reyes and Dontrelle Willis. Seattle's stand-pat stance is actually a bad thing for the team; the Mariners ranked 26th in starters' ERA (5.01). With Horacio Ramirez still in the rotation and Jeff Weaver always a risk to revert to his old inconsistent ways, J.J. Putz shouldn't be expected to retain his torrid pace. He has saves in 31 of the Mariners' past 90 games, with a 0.60 ERA in 41 appearances during that span. The overachieving Mariners could be in for a disappointing final two months, so be prepared if your team is counting on too many of them.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers' fire sale -- they traded Eric Gagne, Kenny Lofton and Mark Teixeira in the past week -- significantly decreases the team's chances at a strong finish to this season, but it also creates interesting opportunities for a few younger players. For instance, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Teixeira deal, should play regularly at either catcher or first base. He's catcher eligible -- although he might play more first base in the coming weeks -- and one of the better young hitting prospects around. Salty could easily maintain his .284 batting average and perhaps triple his home run and RBI output in the next two months, thanks to his new, friendlier home ballpark. Lofton's departure shifts Marlon Byrd to center field, opening up a good share of at-bats in right field for Nelson Cruz, who is 3-for-7 (.429) with two homers in two games since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma. Cruz's free-swinging tendencies -- one strikeout per 3.86 at-bats in his big league career -- make him a batting-average risk, but his power potential at least makes him an AL-only sleeper. Finally, the Gagne deal opens up the closer role, which once was slated for Akinori Otsuka before he was sidelined due to inflammation in his forearm. Otsuka could still be in the picture once he heals (the timing of his return remains uncertain), but for now, owners in deeper leagues should look at Joaquin Benoit, who has a 2.57 ERA and .202 BAA in his last 20 appearances, as the short-term stand-in. C.J. Wilson, who has 2.19/.200 numbers in his last 34 appearances, could sneak in a situational save or two as well.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.