Cockcroft: Emil Brown worth a look
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: Radhames Liz, considered by many the Orioles' top pitching prospect, had a respectable effort in his MLB debut Saturday. It was a spot start for the right-hander, perhaps a one-and-done kind of thing, as he went six innings and allowed five runs on four hits and three walks, throwing 59 of 92 pitches for strikes (64.1 percent). The latter numbers are the key ones; Liz had long been criticized for shaky command in the minors. He had an 11-4 record, 3.22 ERA and .204 BAA in 25 starts for Double-A Bowie at the time of his promotion, but he also had 70 walks in 137 innings and a 1.25 WHIP. That indicates Liz might need time to adjust fully to this level of competition, though he'll probably get a long look for a rotation spot next spring. AL-only keeper owners can stash him away because he could be one of the more interesting rookie sleepers in 2008. Liz might even get another start or two in place of Garrett Olson, who was demoted to rookie-league Bluefield last Thursday to clear roster space for relief help. Expect Olson back in September, though he probably won't be of help before next season, either.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox demoted Jon Lester to Double-A Portland on Thursday, looking to capitalize on a favorable matchup for Julian Tavarez against the White Sox on Sunday. After Tavarez managed a quality start in a spot start against the Angels on Aug. 19, it made sense to try him against the righty-heavy White Sox lineup, and the right-hander delivered a quality start again (six innings and only one run allowed on two hits). He'll remain in the rotation for now, presumably being shuffled around tough matchups like the Yankees, and might even stick beyond the Sept. 1 40-man roster expansion depending on his performance. AL-only owners can consider Tavarez based on the matchups, though Lester will be lurking beginning next week depending on the veteran's performance. Another factor to consider: With the Red Sox potentially in line to clinch a playoff spot early, they might use spot-starter types like Lester, Tavarez and perhaps even Clay Buchholz to shuffle their rotation to line it up for the postseason, meaning each pitcher could have a bit of AL-only or deep-mixed value in September.
New York Yankees: All eyes are on the Yankees this week after Mike Mussina was pounded for a third consecutive start on Monday. The veteran right-hander allowed six runs in three innings at Detroit, and in his three consecutive losses he has horrendous numbers: a 17.69 ERA, 3.10 WHIP and .472 BAA. Mussina's velocity has been down, and as a result he has slipped into something approaching the quality of a batting-practice pitcher, a development that puts his rotation spot in jeopardy. Manager Joe Torre was noncommittal about Mussina's future after Monday's game, but it's possible the right-hander will be demoted to the bullpen, with Kei Igawa, Ian Kennedy or Stephen White possible alternatives. For fantasy, Mussina's owners shouldn't trust him until he shows noticeable signs of a turnaround, and only in starts, that is. Torre said Kennedy is unlikely to be promoted this season, perhaps a result of the right-hander not being on the current 40-man roster. Still, with Kennedy sporting 2.08/1.04/.205 numbers in six starts since being promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and 1.91/0.96/.182 rates in 26 games (25 starts) combined between Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, it's not a bad idea to give him a shot. AL-only and keeper owners should snatch him up just in case.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The news on Rocco Baldelli is not at all good, as he suffered yet another setback when he was pulled off his rehabilitation assignment last week due to "general soreness." The Tampa Tribune reports that he spent Monday being examined by team doctors to determine the source of his health issues, which most recently date back to the strained left hamstring that knocked him out of a May 15 game. Rumors are beginning to swirl that Baldelli has already been ruled out for the season and might in fact be considering retirement. Once one of the top prospects in baseball -- Baseball America ranked him No. 2 overall in 2003 -- and considered a future 30/30 candidate, Baldelli has quickly become one of the most brittle players in baseball; he has appeared in only 127 games since the start of the 2005 season. As a player who likely will enter 2008 as a huge injury risk, he's not trustworthy enough even in keeper formats.
Toronto Blue Jays: A.J. Burnett has looked remarkably healthy since his return from the DL on Aug. 12, tossing four consecutive quality starts, during which time he has a 1.63 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and .149 BAA. That's a marked turnaround from his last attempt to return from a sore shoulder, when he rushed back to allow five runs on six hits in four innings against the Twins on June 28. To be fair, though, Burnett has capitalized on some favorable matchups; he has faced the Athletics twice and Royals once, so don't get your hopes up too high. After all, of his Blue Jays' final 31 games, seven come against the Yankees, six against the Red Sox and one against the Tigers. Plus, the Devil Rays, against whom the Blue Jays have six more games, boast at least a middling offense. Burnett is a little safer than a matchups type, but in shallow mixed formats, his value should be more limited.
Chicago White Sox: It's a move that would have made a lot more sense before the season than this late in the year, but nonetheless, the White Sox on Sunday shifted Josh Fields from third base to left field (apparently for the rest of the season). That might have been a smart decision when Joe Crede was healthy, but with Crede out until next season, Fields' shift leaves third base in the hands of Andy Gonzalez, a .234 hitter (59-for-252) with five homers in 81 games between Triple-A Charlotte and the White Sox this season. It also drops Scott Podsednik into a reserve role, meaning the White Sox effectively go from Podsednik's .257 batting average, .323 on-base percentage and .382 slugging percentage to Gonzalez's .227/.327/.305 numbers, while also absorbing any decline on defense while Fields gets comfortable. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Fields logged enough time at the hot corner to qualify there in most formats for 2008, though owners of pitchers slated to face the White Sox should consider the adverse impact the shift might have on the team's offense looking forward.
Cleveland Indians: While all indications were that veteran Cliff Lee would get the call when the Indians next needed a fifth starter on Aug. 25, the team instead turned to rookie Aaron Laffey, who promptly tossed a quality start against the Royals. That should earn the left-hander another turn in the rotation, especially accounting his 2-0 record, 1.93 ERA and .226 BAA in two starts for Triple-A Buffalo between stints with the big club. Laffey should be a strong candidate for a rotation spot in 2008, but for this season, he could be a matchups consideration, based on his solid command numbers in the minors (2.06 walks per nine between Double-A Akron and Buffalo). As for Lee, who has a 3.09 ERA and .193 BAA in six starts for Buffalo since being demoted last month, he presumably was passed over due to his 21 walks in 32 innings, too high a ratio for the Indians' tastes. For Lee to get another chance with the Indians, Laffey might have to implode in the next several weeks, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Lee on another team heading into spring training 2008.
Detroit Tigers: While the Tigers' rotation received some good news with the return of rookie Andrew Miller on Friday, it suffered yet another hit on Sunday when Jair Jurrjens was forced from his start in the second inning with a shoulder injury. An MRI revealed no significant damage to Jurrjens' shoulder, though he landed on the DL Monday and might miss the rest of the season as a precaution. Miller, meanwhile, takes one of the team's open rotation spots and should fare much better than his 4 1/3-inning, six-run effort against the Yankees on Friday the further he gets from his hamstring injury. Still, with Kenny Rogers not particularly close to full strength after coming back from elbow problems, the Tigers have a rotation spot yet to fill. Chad Durbin, he of the 4.89 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 17 starts this season, should continue to stand in until Rogers is ready, though at best he'll warrant AL-only matchups consideration. ... Gary Sheffield was placed on the DL on Monday after being limited to only one of the Tigers' past six games due to persistent soreness in his shoulder. He has batted only .172 (15-for-87) with one homer in his past 23 games, meaning his owners should temper their expectations for him even if he returns in two weeks. Sheffield could require offseason surgery or perhaps even succumb to an operation early if his Tigers fall out of the playoff race.
Kansas City Royals: Mark Teahen landed on the DL on Friday after tests revealed he suffered a hyperextended left elbow in a game Aug. 18. He might be able to return in early September, though the concern is that he had his 2006 season cut short due to injury (in that case, shoulder surgery), meaning he might not make as quick a recovery as expected. The Royals have little to gain by rushing Teahen back, though his owners should take a look at Emil Brown, now playing regularly in right field in his place. Brown is batting .444 (12-for-27) with one homer and eight RBIs in seven games in place of Teahen, playing every inning of those contests, and has long been an underrated power source for AL-only owners to consider. In fact, he has more homers since Aug. 17 (two) than Teahen had from May 30 through Aug. 18 (one). ... Odalis Perez also was placed on the DL on Wednesday with a sprained left knee, not that fantasy owners really noticed. He had a terrible 5.57 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 26 starts, though with him sidelined, one-time top prospect Zack Greinke finally gets another chance in the Royals' rotation. Greinke tossed three shutout innings of one-hit ball in Perez's place on Friday and might be an interesting matchups type for the season's final month. What'll be most interesting with Greinke, though, is how the Royals plan to use him in 2008. With a strong finish, he could be back in the rotation instead of being groomed as a future closer, which for awhile seemed his 2008 role.
Minnesota Twins: Catcher Joe Mauer left Saturday's game with a hamstring injury, adding that to a pre-existing ankle condition that had been limiting him in recent weeks. He reported improvement on Monday, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes that the defending batting champion is "not close" to returning to action. Manager Ron Gardenhire, in fact, compared Mauer to their "Kirk Gibson," in reference to Gibson's pinch-hit, walk-off home run during the 1988 World Series. With Mauer out, presumably for the entire week, Mike Redmond should receive the bulk of the starts behind the plate, though he isn't a useful option outside of AL-only leagues with daily transactions. Redmond, a .313/.402/.425 hitter against left-handers this season (.330/.388/.434 for his career), should be spotted in only as a No. 2 option against lefties, mainly because he offers little outside of batting average.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Juan Rivera, sidelined all season due to a broken leg he suffered during winter ball, could finally make his 2007 debut with the Angels sometime in the next week. He's batting .265 (13-for-49) with nine RBIs in 13 games of a rehabilitation assignment between Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Triple-A Salt Lake, and might be back as early as Sept. 1, the day of the 40-man roster expansion. Considering the severity of Rivera's injury, don't expect him to make a significant impact this season, though a return this year should make him a more interesting sleeper for 2008. He could sneak in some at-bats between left field and designated hitter, with Garret Anderson and Reggie Willits the most likely to be hurt in terms of fantasy value upon his activation. ... Scot Shields, one of the most reliable setup men of the past half-decade, has slipped into an uncharacteristic funk of late. In 18 appearances since the All-Star break, he has a 9.60 ERA, 2.40 WHIP and .373 BAA, numbers that render him useless even in the deepest of AL-only leagues. Amazingly, the Angels continue to try him in eighth-inning situations, with 16 of those 18 appearances coming in that inning, but don't be shocked if he's demoted to a lower-pressure role until he works out his issues. One has to wonder, especially looking at his 11 walks in 15 innings and 57.8 percent strikes-thrown ratio during that span, whether Shields might not be at full health lately. Beware counting on him for the next month.
Oakland Athletics: Esteban Loaiza marked his return from the DL in the past week with back-to-back quality starts, each time against the Blue Jays. He had been sidelined all season, initially due to a bulging disc in his neck, then knee surgery in early June. Such performances shouldn't be entirely unexpected; Loaiza since 2005 has been noticeably better against right-handed hitters (.257/.291/.373) than left-handers (.295/.354/.446), and the Blue Jays are a right-handed heavy offense. He'll probably struggle against stronger, or at least more balanced, offenses, though Loaiza apparently is healthy enough to contribute to a fantasy team, even if it's only as a matchups type. One strong point regarding his return: With three days to go until the deadline for teams to set a postseason roster, Loaiza could be shopped to a team that might provide him a better chance to succeed. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for one, are rumored to be interested in him.
Seattle Mariners: Raul Ibanez has been on an absurd tear in the month of August, and a key to the Mariners' remarkable run at the AL West title or the wild card, batting .409 (38-for-93) with nine homers and 22 RBIs in 23 games. Of those, 13 were multi-hit efforts. That has brought his full-season rates up to .285/.341/.466, actually within the ballpark of his .289/.353/.516 numbers in his breakout 2006 campaign. More importantly, they're right in line with Ibanez's career rates (.284/.343/.469), and putting 2006 aside, he has annually been a reliable .290-hitting, 20-homer, 90-RBI type. Ibanez's owners can likely expect that level of performance from him the remainder of this season, though one thing his slow start does do is indicates a slight declining trend to his career. It's possible that even if he finishes this year strong, he'll dip again statistically next season.
Texas Rangers: After a visit with Dr. James Andrews last Wednesday, Akinori Otsuka had surgery ruled out on his sore right forearm. An operation might not be out of the question eventually if the soreness persists, though the Rangers say that'd be more of a cleanup procedure than a reconstructive one. Otsuka will rest for three weeks, making it highly unlikely he'll return this season. With him sidelined, presumably until the winter, C.J. Wilson's hold on the closer role should be strong the rest of the year, and that's in spite of Joaquin Benoit actually outpitching him. Benoit has 13 2/3 shutout innings and a .149 BAA in 11 appearances in August, while Wilson is 7-for-7 in saves with a 2.38 ERA in 10 games this month. Still, why mess with a good thing? ... Edinson Volquez, who was to be promoted to the Rangers' rotation last week before being punished when he overslept through a scheduled bullpen session, should finally get the call to start Saturday's game. He tossed six shutout innings for Triple-A Oklahoma on Sunday, bringing his numbers there to a 6-1 record, 1.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and .146 BAA in eight starts. Volquez probably won't come close to those numbers at the big-league level, though he's a promising prospect who could warrant AL-only matchups consideration in September. He'll likely be a strong candidate for the 2008 rotation, too, putting him in the deep-sleeper category.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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