Cockcroft: Adam Jones recalled
What's been going on around the American League in 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: Manager Dave Trembley finally named a full-time closer Friday, though surprisingly, his choice was neither Chad Bradford nor Jamie Walker, both of whom have been his most effective relievers of late. No, instead, Trembley picked Danys Baez, who promptly went out and notched his first save of the season hours after being promoted to the closer's role. Such a move once again serves as an example of a manager going with experience ahead of recent performance in making a closer decision; Baez had a 5.70 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 38 appearances this season before Friday's announcement. Bradford, meanwhile, had 0.73/0.81 numbers in 11 appearances since July 1, while Walker had 11 2/3 scoreless innings and four saves in four chances during that span. Baez is well worth adding in AL-only and larger mixed formats upon news of his promotion, though he's no guarantee to remain effective enough to keep the role. Still, he has a 1.93 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and .161 BAA in nine appearances since returning from the DL on July 12. Trembley's plan has Bradford and Walker being used in set-up roles in tougher relief situations, and in one-run games it's possible either could notch a situational save, but neither warrants much more than AL-only attention at this point.
Boston Red Sox: Curt Schilling returned from the DL on Monday night against the Angels and took the loss after allowing four runs on nine hits in six-plus innings. He threw 56 of his 83 pitches for strikes and didn't walk a batter. Prior to his return to the Red Sox, Schilling looked very sharp in his 15 scoreless innings at Triple-A Pawtucket -- he allowed eight hits, no walks, struck out 18 batters and had a .157 BAA in his three turns -- so Schilling should be regarded the same as he was to begin the season, when he was 5-2 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 11 starts through the end of May. Those aren't the same Cy Young-caliber numbers he posted in past years, but they're still indicative of a must-start pitcher regardless of matchup. Schilling could be on a somewhat limited pitch count again in his next start, but he should be at 100 percent within a week.
New York Yankees: Jason Giambi could return from the DL on Tuesday after completing a rehabilitation assignment split between Class-A Tampa and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was 5-for-22 (.227) with one homer, two RBIs, nine walks and seven strikeouts in nine games, better demonstrating his plate discipline than his raw power. Of course, despite Giambi's expected return, it's unclear how he'll get the playing time needed to be the fantasy option he was before getting hurt. That's because Johnny Damon, who has played at less than 100 percent since Opening Day, has been limited mostly to designated hitter duties of late, serving in that role in 21 of the Yankees' last 38 games. Damon could sneak in some time in left or center field, presumably at Melky Cabrera's expense, but owners of Cabrera, Damon and Giambi shouldn't count on any of them playing every day the remainder of the season.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: For those of you in more shallow fantasy leagues, it's time to familiarize yourself with the name Evan Longoria. The Devil Rays' first-round pick in the 2006 draft (No. 3 overall) Longoria was promoted to Triple-A Durham Wednesday after batting .307 with 21 homers and 76 RBIs in 105 games at Double-A Montgomery. He's 4-for-13 (.308) with three RBIs in his first four games for Durham, and if he can maintain similar rates to his Double-A numbers, could be in line for an early-September promotion. Keep in mind the Ty Wigginton trade clears up some of the Devil Rays' second base/third base glut, and the team was considering shifting current third baseman Akinori Iwamura to second during spring training. At worst, Longoria should get a long look for the third-base role next spring, but there's a good chance he'll earn a promotion in the 40-man roster expansion Sept. 1, making him an AL-only or larger mixed pickup.
Toronto Blue Jays: Citing John McDonald's stellar defense at the position, the Blue Jays officially handed him the starting shortstop role Friday, designating Royce Clayton for assignment. It's not a big surprise; McDonald had started 31 of the team's 45 games at the position since June 15, compared to 14 for Clayton. McDonald's offensive numbers aren't anything exciting to the fantasy owner -- he's a .274 hitter with little to offer in the other rotisserie categories -- but he's solid on defense, which often can help a player in his quest for regular at-bats. He's 10th in MLB in fielding percentage (.981) and second in range factor (5.09) among shortstops with at least 400 innings at the position, stellar numbers. AL-only owners can probably find better for their middle infield spots than McDonald, but as a regular, he could be a .260 hitter with a handful of runs scored.
Chicago White Sox: First, the White Sox failed to find a taker for Jose Contreras on the trade market before the July 31 deadline. Now the veteran starter doesn't even have a rotation spot, after the team demoted him to the bullpen in favor of Gavin Floyd on Sunday. The switch was advertised as a one-start situation initially, but after Floyd threw six scoreless innings of seven-hit, no-walk, six-strikeout baseball at Detroit, it seems likely he'll assume Contreras' spot on a more permanent basis. It's not a bad decision at all; Contreras was 1-10 with an 8.87 ERA, 1.91 WHIP and .357 BAA in his past 12 starts dating back to May 28, and with the team already looking toward 2008, it makes sense to test Floyd out now. Contreras' owners can feel free to drop the right-hander, though Floyd, despite his recent outing, remains an AL-only or keeper consideration at best. After all, he still has a 6.35 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and .297 BAA in 22 career MLB starts, and 6.06/2.39/.361 numbers in three starts this season (Sunday's included), making him a risky bet indeed.
Cleveland Indians: Aaron Laffey pitched respectably enough in his MLB debut Saturday to stick around a bit longer, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing only three runs on six hits in a losing effort. In fact, those numbers don't entirely do justice to how effectively he pitched; he allowed only one single in his first 3 1/3 innings of work, inducing eight ground ball outs and his one K during that span. Perhaps Laffey wore down under the pressure of it being his first career start, meaning his second and third turns should be closely monitored. The left-hander was 11-4 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and .239 BAA in 20 games (19 starts) combined between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo, and he's a command specialist, averaging 2.97 walks per nine for his minor league career, 2.16 since the start of the 2006 season. Call him an AL-only or mixed matchups consideration for now. Incidentally, should Laffey struggle in the near future, Jeremy Sowers could get another chance; he has a 0.92 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his past three starts for Buffalo.
Detroit Tigers: Neifi Perez drew an 80-game suspension Friday after testing positive for a banned stimulant for the third time, ending his season and probably also his Tigers career. It's hardly a loss for the Tigers, because he was better known for his defense than his offense; Lee Sinins in his "ATM Reports" notes Perez is the all-time leader in RCAA (runs created against the league average). With Perez sidelined, expect the Tigers' pursuit of Jack Wilson to heat up, assuming the Pirates shortstop first clears waivers, though it could also help the short-term AL-only value of Ryan Raburn, who is 15-for-42 (.357) with three homers in 15 games since being promoted to take Perez's roster spot on July 6. Andrew Miller left his Friday start after four innings due to a strained left hamstring, which sent him to the DL a day later. He claims he'll be able to return in the minimum 15 days, putting him on track to pitch Aug. 19, the first day he's eligible, though his owners should keep in mind the tricky nature of hamstring injuries with pitchers. Miller hadn't thrown more than five innings in any of his five starts since the All-Star break, a sign that he's still adjusting to big league competition, so be prepared for the Tigers to be conservative with him. Chad Durbin, an AL-only matchups consideration at best, will fill in for the rookie.
Kansas City Royals: Reggie Sanders' season could be over after he was placed on the DL Wednesday due to another tear in his left hamstring. It's the same hamstring in which a tear cost him two and a half months earlier in the season, though it's to a different muscle this time. Sanders' prognosis is a four-to-six-week recovery period, meaning he could be able to rejoin the team in September, though by that time it might merely be in a reserve role. With the veteran sidelined, the Royals started speedster Joey Gathright in left field in four straight games over the weekend, with decent results. Gathright went 8-for-15 (.533) in those four contests, bringing his season batting average to .352, and it appears he's doing a much better job of using his speed to leg out base hits, with a 6.43 groundball-flyball ratio, much improved from his 2.64 ratio when he batted .201 with the Devil Rays early in 2006. He's not a great batsman, but if he continues at his current level, could be a .260-.270 hitter and an underrated source of steals for AL-only owners.
Minnesota Twins: Michael Cuddyer returned from the DL on Friday, immediately reclaiming his everyday right field and cleanup roles. He went 3-for-11 (.273) with two doubles and two RBIs in the Twins' weekend series against the Indians, enough to inspire confidence in him from his fantasy owners once more. He should continue to be one of the more underrated outfielders around, having enough runners on base to drive home with Joe Mauer hitting ahead of him, while seeing enough quality pitches to hit with Justin Morneau hitting behind him in the lineup. Keep in mind that since Cuddyer was shifted permanently to the cleanup role between those two on June 11, 2006, he's a .287 hitter (214-for-745) with 25 homers and 135 RBIs in 193 games, or roughly seven homers and 36 RBIs per 52 contests (the number of games left in the Twins' regular season).
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels plan to keep Dustin Moseley in their rotation despite his ordinary 6.30 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in two spot starts the past two weeks, though at this point it's clear the right-hander is the next in line to be bumped, probably once Bartolo Colon returns from the DL. It's Joe Saunders' owners, though, who should feel a little more secure in the knowledge that their starter should remain a member of the rotation the rest of the season. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in three starts, two of them quality starts, since being promoted from Triple-A Salt Lake, while Ervin Santana hasn't been nearly as sharp since his demotion there. Santana has a 6.05 ERA, 1.66 WHIP and .329 BAA in three starts for Salt Lake, allowing six runs in back-to-back turns. He'll be back once he gets himself straightened out, but it's looking awfully likely he won't be a fantasy factor again until at least early 2008.
Oakland Athletics: Don't be surprised if Mike Piazza gets traded despite the passing of July 31's trade deadline; the veteran catcher/designated hitter passed through waivers without being claimed, according to Buster Olney, meaning he can now be traded to any team. The Angels and Twins were the most heavily rumored to be interested in Piazza's services a week ago, though the Twins' trade of Luis Castillo might signify they've given up hope for a playoff run. If Piazza indeed gets dealt, it can only mean good things for Jack Cust, who has started only 10 of the Athletics' 17 games since Piazza's return from the DL on July 20, splitting them almost evenly between DH, left field and right field. After missing seven consecutive games and 10 of 11, Eric Chavez landed on the DL on Friday with back spasms. He was batting only .222 (20-for-90) with a .287 on-base percentage and .378 slugging percentage in 27 games since June 18, so it shouldn't be nearly the loss to his owners as it might seem. Marco Scutaro has nine starts at third base in the Athletics' past 10 games, though his .239/.308/.335 rates hardly make him look like a worthy fantasy pickup. Still, they're not far from what Chavez had been offering the past month, which says a lot about how far Chavez's stock has fallen in recent seasons.
Seattle Mariners: Adam Jones, tabbed the No. 10 prospect by Baseball America in its midseason rankings, finally got the call by the Mariners on Friday. He picked up two starts in the team's three-game weekend series against the Red Sox, one in center field and one in right field, at the expense of Raul Ibanez (Friday) and Jose Lopez (Sunday). Ibanez, Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen -- who had some choice words regarding Jones' promotion -- stand to lose the most at-bats in the next two months, though Jones owners shouldn't assume he'll be handed everyday at-bats, until he first proves himself capable. He batted .314 with 25 homers and 84 RBIs in 101 games for Triple-A Tacoma, though, enough to make him a worthy pickup in AL-only and larger mixed formats. Richie Sexson stands to lose a fair share of at-bats thanks to his season-long struggles; his 13-for-86 performance (.151) dropped his season batting average to .196, 25 points lower than his mark through Aug. 5 of 2006. Ben Broussard, a .289/.342/.459 hitter against right-handers this season, picked up starts in each of the Mariners' past three games against a righty, and will continue to do so, with Vidro perhaps also sneaking in time there. It's worth noting that Sexson did bat .359 (66-for-184) with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 50 games from Aug. 6, 2006, until the end of last season, meaning AL-only owners should keep him stashed on reserve for now. But with his decrease in playing time, such a rebound isn't going to be so easy this season.
Texas Rangers: C.J. Wilson picked up back-to-back situational saves on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. With slugging Indians left-handers like Travis Hafner and Kenny Lofton coming up in the ninth, the Rangers turned to Wilson, who has .093/.198/.120 rates against lefties this season. Manager Ron Washington maintains that Joaquin Benoit, who actually began the ninth inning Wednesday, is still in the closer picture, but both pitchers could offer enough chances to be AL-only worthy. Until one steps up as the clear go-to guy, though, don't expect much from either in mixed formats. Sammy Sosa was informed Wednesday that his playing time will be greatly reduced in the season's final two months, presumably to the point where he'll only occasionally get a start at designated hitter against a tough left-hander. His .321/.423/.593 rates against that side back up this premise, though that'll limit the veteran to mere spot-start status in leagues that allow daily transactions. Jason Botts started four of the Rangers' first five games in August at DH, and is the one AL-only owners should want looking forward.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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