Cockcroft: Update on Liriano
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: Chris Ray underwent Tommy John surgery last Thursday, a report that came out of the blue, considering he had resumed throwing only last week at the team's minor league complex in Sarasota, Fla. The right-hander reported soreness during those sessions, though, and was diagnosed with a bone spur, forcing surgery, during which Dr. James Andrews also discovered damage to the ulnar collateral ligament. Ray will now miss most, if not all, of 2008, putting the Orioles in the market for a new closer during the winter. Danys Baez has been handling those duties most recently in Ray's absence, though he has a 7.20 ERA, 1.80 WHIP and .350 BAA in six appearances since recording his first save of the season on Aug. 3. In fact, Baez actually was lifted from a save chance on Aug. 15 after allowing two singles to lead off the ninth inning against the Yankees, a sign that manager Dave Trembley doesn't entirely trust the right-hander as his go-to guy. Jamie Walker could still sneak in a situational save the remainder of the season, though with Baez's struggles all year -- he has 5.88-1.38-.237 numbers -- the Orioles will more than likely shop for a new ninth-inning option on the free-agent market.
Boston Red Sox: Top prospect Clay Buchholz recorded the win in his MLB debut in a spot start for the Red Sox on Friday, allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings against the Angels. It wasn't enough to earn him a longer look as the team's fifth starter -- he was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after the game -- but it bodes well for his near future. Buchholz almost certainly will see more time with the big club in September, albeit in a low-pressure role, most likely, but this could indicate he'll be in consideration for the 2008 rotation. He could be one of next year's most promising rookie pitchers, especially looking at his 8-3 record, 2.15 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .187 BAA in 22 games (21 starts) combined between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season. ... Doug Mirabelli landed on the DL on Friday with a strained right calf, something much less troublesome to his few fantasy owners than it is to Tim Wakefield's. Consider that Mirabelli caught each of Wakefield's last 42 starts, during which time he had a 4.67 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. By comparison, in the nine Wakefield starts caught by other catchers since the start of 2005 season, he had 5.87-1.60 numbers, effectively useless fantasy stats.
New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera hasn't been his usual self the past couple of weeks, blowing a save against the Orioles on Aug. 13, then losing a game by allowing three runs in the 10th inning to the Orioles two days later. It's probably only a slight bump in the road for the right-hander, though looking at his performance this season, it seems the effects of age are finally getting to him. Rivera has only 20 saves in 49 games, eight short of his worst total from 1997-2006 (28 in 2002), though much of that can be blamed on his Yankees not handing him as many chances as usual. But his ERA is also 3.40, his highest since 1995 (5.51); he'd need to throw 10 1/3 shutout frames simply to get his ERA below his highest number from 1996-2006 (2.85 in 2000). At 37 years old, Rivera isn't nearly as safe a closer as he was during his prime, though he still has better job security than most pitchers in his position. Expect him to pitch at least as effectively as he has to date, though he probably won't be the elite fantasy option he was from 2004-05.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Ben Zobrist landed on the DL on Sunday with a strained right oblique, not that he'll be particularly missed by fantasy owners. He managed only a .147 batting average, .231 on-base percentage and .176 slugging percentage in 12 games since being promoted from Triple-A Durham on July 30. Josh Wilson, who should play regularly at shortstop in Zobrist's absence, might actually be a more useful player for the Devil Rays in the short term. Keep in mind he batted .276 with 27 homers and 32 steals in 232 games at the Triple-A level from 2006-07, and he has .256/.279/.341 rates for the big club since the All-Star break. Most important: Zobrist's absence opened a roster spot up for one-time top prospect Joel Guzman, promoted Sunday to assume Wilson's utility role. Guzman batted only .242 and averaged one strikeout per 3.56 at-bats at Durham this season, making him a poor risk to break out this season. Still, if he gets off to a hot streak and sees an increase in at-bats, he could become AL-only worthy.
Toronto Blue Jays: Troy Glaus admitted last Wednesday that the foot problem that has bothered him all year is plantar fascia, and that it has been going on since Day 4 of the season. It's actually one of the more forthcoming pieces of injury information to come out of Blue Jays camp this year; the team has been notorious for withholding prime nuggets to date. Glaus' admission helps explain his recent hitting funk; he's batting only .168 with two homers and 39 strikeouts in his last 28 games. During that time, he was out of the starting lineup five times and came on as a pinch hitter in two others. Expect the Blue Jays to take it easy on Glaus looking forward, giving him rest on occasion and lifting him from other games when they get out of hand, limiting his appeal in shallow formats. Still, with his power, he's too valuable to bench despite the injury risks.
Chicago White Sox: Jermaine Dye's "contract-year" status is gone, after the veteran signed a two-year, $22-million extension on Saturday. The deal includes a mutual option for 2010. Of course, Dye's owners shouldn't be too worried about a decline in performance now that he's under the White Sox's long-term control. He has torrid .298/.374/.641 rates in 35 games since the All-Star break, reasonably close to his .315/.385/.622 numbers in his breakout 2006 campaign. For his career Dye is a .274 hitter who averages one homer per 20.3 at-bats, each a fair expectation for him in what's remaining of his season. Plus, considering the White Sox play 23 of their final 39 games at home, and Dye has .275/.343/.529 career numbers at U.S. Cellular Field, it's reasonable to think he could stick close to his those second-year rates of his thus far.
Cleveland Indians: Rookie Asdrubal Cabrera has made four consecutive starts at second base in place of the slumping Josh Barfield, and had back-to-back multi-hit efforts against the Devil Rays over the weekend. It's a move that makes some sense; Barfield has only .185/.224/.272 rates in 31 games since the All-Star break. Still, while Cabrera might be attracting deep AL-only attention, don't be too hasty to trust him. Scouts call him a solid defender, but while he was a .310 hitter with 25 steals in 105 games combined between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo, Cabrera is nevertheless a .283 career minor league hitter who averaged only 23 steals per 150 games played. That's a decent player, but hardly a star-caliber hitter. He's still only 21 years old and might be no more than a .270 hitter who nabs a handful of steals for AL-only owners the remainder of this year.
Detroit Tigers: It's been a year chock full of offensive prospects getting the call and making quick impacts -- think the Astros' Hunter Pence, Brewers' Ryan Braun and even the Diamondbacks' Justin Upton -- and you can tack one more name onto the list, as the Tigers promoted 20-year-old Cameron Maybin from Double-A Erie on Friday. Tabbed the No. 3 prospect in the minors by Baseball America at midseason, Maybin was batting .400 (8-for-20) with four homers in six games for Erie, after managing .304/.393/.486 rates with 25 stolen bases in 83 games for Class-A Lakeland to begin the season. Scouts have compared him to both Ken Griffey Jr. and Eric Davis in the past, though it's important to remember for this season that he's young, inexperienced and now playing out of position. Maybin, a natural center fielder, is patrolling left field for the Tigers following the team's designating Craig Monroe for assignment on Friday, and those who saw him play in the weekend series against the Yankees witnessed first-hand his struggles to adapt to his new position. Maybin did hit his first big-league home run against future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens on Saturday, and he's speedy enough to make an impact in stolen bases, too, but he'll probably be inconsistent while getting used to the MLB level. His primary value is in keeper leagues, but AL-only owners can take a chance on him as well.
Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon has heated up the past few weeks, batting .289 (26-for-90) with five homers in his last 24 games, with three of the homers coming in his last nine contests. That still brings him up to only .245/.317/.403 rates for the season, not too far off the rookie numbers of the man he's most often compared to, George Brett (.282/.313/.363 in 1974). Interestingly enough, Gordon has batted .302 (70-for-232) with eight homers, 34 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 62 games since a breakout, four-hit effort on June 7 at Cleveland, which isn't a bad player at all. He could easily offer a .285-plus batting average with decent power/steal numbers the remainder of the year, and with him cutting his strikeout rate from one per 3.36 at-bats to one per 5.04 since that date, Gordon's future is looking much more promising. It's not unthinkable that with a year's experience under his belt, he'll be a top-10 candidate among third basemen in 2008.
Minnesota Twins: There's finally some news on Francisco Liriano's comeback from Tommy John surgery, as a report in Saturday's Minneapolis Star Tribune detailed the left-hander's progress. General manager Terry Ryan noted that Liriano has been working out in Fort Myers, Fla., with no setbacks, throwing 10 times from 40 and 60 feet, five times from 90 feet and 15 times from 120 feet every other day. Ryan also said he's impressed with the southpaw's fitness and work ethic, things that bode well for a comeback campaign in 2008. It's possible Liriano will pitch during winter ball, and he's not an absolute guarantee to break spring training as a member of the Twins' rotation in 2008, though things are looking good for him today. Check his offseason progress if you're banking on him in a keeper league, as any setbacks will make him far less appealing a keeper choice.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: It's perhaps a case of fortunate circumstances, but Ervin Santana is back getting another chance in the Angels' rotation. He tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run, four-hit ball at Boston on Friday, in a spot start due to a doubleheader. That's a remarkable performance for Santana, who historically has struggled on the road; he's 10-20 with a 6.98 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and .298 BAA in 37 career road starts. Interestingly, Santana didn't do too much to warrant the promotion, managing 5.01-1.52-.305 rates in five starts for Triple-A Salt Lake, though he did manage a quality start in each of his last two appearances there, and it's clear he's part of the team's long-term future. With his road history he's too risky to call anything more than a matchups consideration, mostly in deeper leagues, though AL-only owners should add him for now. Joe Saunders should retain his rotation spot after going 7 2/3 innings allowing one run on Sunday, meaning Dustin Moseley seems likely to be bumped after recording 6.86-1.78-.337 numbers in four starts as a member of the rotation. He's probably bullpen-bound.
Oakland Athletics: The Athletics lost two outfielders to the DL in the past week, Mark Kotsay to lower back spasms (went on Friday) and Travis Buck to a strained left hamstring (Monday). That thins out the team's depth, particularly in center field, where Buck would have been Kotsay's primary stand-in. Nick Swisher and Jeff DaVanon presumably will share at-bats in center field, opening up regular at-bats in right field for the underrated Jack Cust. Cust has starts in each of the Athletics' past 12 games, eight of them in right field, three at designated hitter and one in left field, and has batted .317 (13-for-41) with three homers and 12 RBIs during that span. He's well worth having active in AL-only and larger mixed formats now that he's assured everyday at-bats. Mike Piazza also should benefit, starting virtually every day at DH, while Dan Johnson seems likely to alternate starts with DaVanon, with Swisher playing first base on days when Johnson sits.
Seattle Mariners: Despite his 7.38 ERA in 14 starts for the team to date, Horacio Ramirez got a vote of confidence from manager John McLaren last Wednesday, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. That's in spite of the left-hander having an 8.53 ERA, 1.89 WHIP and .348 BAA in six starts since the All-Star break, serving as one of the most hittable pitchers in the AL. Ramirez does have 4.05-1.52-.298 rates in eight starts at Safeco Field, though AL-only owners shouldn't take that as an indication he's a safe matchups type. He's too hittable a pitcher to succeed in the hitting-rich AL, averaging only 4.23 strikeouts per nine innings for his career and walking more batters (32) than he has struck out to date (31). Remember, it's often the case that a "vote of confidence" is closely followed by a demotion of that player, which easily could happen to Ramirez.
Texas Rangers: One-time top prospect Edinson Volquez cost himself a promotion to the Rangers' rotation this week when he overslept and missed a scheduled bullpen session on Sunday. He'll remain in contention for a promotion later this season after managing a 1.89 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .148 BAA in six starts for Triple-A Oklahoma, though the setback makes it significantly less likely he'll make a fantasy impact this season. Experience is a valuable thing for a pitcher, and now he might not sneak in enough starts in time this year to convince his fantasy owners to trust him as a matchups type... The Dallas Morning News reports Akinori Otsuka, who still has some soreness in his right forearm, will visit Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., for an examination this week. That's a troubling development for fantasy, as rumors continue to circulate that the right-hander might require season-ending Tommy John surgery. With the Rangers no longer in contention, it makes little sense for them to push Otsuka this season, making C.J. Wilson, and to a far lesser extent, Joaquin Benoit, a safe saves option looking forward.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.