Commentary

Around the AL: Clemens ready to return

Updated: September 19, 2007, 11:55 AM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

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:

American League East

Baltimore Orioles: It's official: Erik Bedard's season is over. He was placed on the 60-day DL Sunday, meaning single-season owners can safely drop him and keeper-league owners can tuck him away in a DL slot. Those in keeper leagues shouldn't fret here. The Orioles are merely playing it safe with their ace left-hander, and although the decision is a shame since it'll likely rob him of a chance to win the Cy Young Award, the fact that he was a candidate at all backs his top 10 keeper status among starters. Bedard finishes with a 3.16 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, and he still leads the majors with 221 strikeouts. What would have cost him in the Cy Young voting is his 13 wins. The only starting pitcher to win the award with that few victories was Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 (he had 13), and that was a strike season. ... To provide rotation depth, the Orioles purchased Victor Santos' contract from the Reds last Friday and Victor Zambrano's contract from the Pirates on Sunday. Neither warrants fantasy consideration; the Orioles are merely trying to fill out their remaining starts. Santos is 21-39 with a 5.26 ERA in 85 career big league starts, while Zambrano is 8-15 with a 4.88 ERA in his past 34 big league starts.

Boston Red Sox: Such strange things inning limits can do. What was rookie Clay Buchholz 's reward for his no-hitter against the Orioles on Sept. 1? He was demoted to the bullpen, where he'll presumably finish out the season, barring a potential spot start. It's a decision that makes sense in terms of limiting his innings. He has 143 1/3 total innings (86 2/3 for Double-A Portland, 38 2/3 for Triple-A Pawtucket and 18 for the Red Sox) this season, and the Red Sox likely are trying to limit him to the 150-160 range. Buchholz tossed three scoreless innings in his first relief outing last Thursday and could be an ERA/WHIP helper in AL-only formats in his new role. Still, his primary value is in keeper leagues, and a strong finish will help his chances of breaking 2008 camp as a member of the rotation. ... Jacoby Ellsbury has hit safely in each of his 11 games since being promoted on Sept. 1, batting .400 (16-for-40) with three homers, nine RBIs and three stolen bases and starting eight games in left field while Manny Ramirez nurses a strained muscle in his side. Ellsbury should continue to start in left against right-handers until Ramirez returns, and like Buchholz, he could be a strong bet to break camp with the Red Sox next spring if he finishes the season well.

New York Yankees: Roger Clemens, who left his Sept. 3 start with inflammation in his elbow, missed his scheduled start Sunday. Fortunately for the Yankees, off days allowed them to shuffle their rotation to skip Clemens' spot without needing a fill-in. Clemens threw in the bullpen Tuesday and hopes to return to the rotation this weekend against Boston. With untested rookie Ian Kennedy and struggling veteran Mike Mussina sitting in their rotation during crunch time, the Yankees need Clemens back soon. And keep in mind that, with the exception of the three-game weekend series at Boston, the Yankees' schedule is matchup-friendly for their pitchers. One must wonder, though, with Clemens' recent elbow problems, whether this is finally the "swan song" to the right-hander's career.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The St. Petersburg Times reports that Rocco Baldelli, out since May 15 with a hamstring strain, might rejoin the Devil Rays during their current 10-game road trip that ends on Sept. 19. However, it's unclear whether Baldelli will return to the lineup or just work out with the team. Even if he's activated, Baldelli likely would serve only as a DH. That'd cut into the at-bats of Jonny Gomes and Greg Norton, who have been platooning in that role the past several weeks. ... Before getting knocked around by the Red Sox in Boston on Tuesday, Andy Sonnanstine had won three straight starts, with a 1.89 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and .222 batting-average against during that span. This includes a start at Yankee Stadium. Though his struggles at Fenway Park made it obvious he's far from dependable, AL-only owners can continue playing his matchups and get a good look at him for 2008.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jeremy Accardo has shown signs of tiring of late, with a 5.40 ERA and .333 BAA in his last five appearances. As a result, manager John Gibbons told The Toronto Globe and Mail he will monitor his closer's workload more closely the remainder of this season, which could lead to an occasional save chance for Scott Downs or Casey Janssen. Janssen blew the save in his first opportunity to stand in for Accardo on Monday, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk without recording an out, so don't be surprised if Downs gets the next chance to stand in. AL-only owners can consider adding Downs or Janssen, but don't count on too many saves for any of the three relievers. After all, the Blue Jays have only two wins in their last seven games.

American League Central

Chicago White Sox: The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting Jon Garland, the subject of trade rumors for much of the calendar year, might again be on the trading block this winter. The right-hander is eligible for free agency after the 2008 season, and the Sun-Times said that if the White Sox were to move a starter, he'd be the most likely candidate. A trade out of Chicago, freeing him of the homer-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field, could only help Garland's chances at a better 2008 following his disappointing 2007. ... Joe Crede's rehabilitation from lower back surgery is going well, and his physical therapist, Brett Fischer told the Chicago Tribune he "looks great." Crede is currently working on rotation and strength exercises, and the White Sox expect him to make a full recovery in time for the 2008 season. With Josh Fields now manning left field, Crede's path back to third base is clear again, although owners must track him during spring training to see where he's at.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians promoted Andy Marte from Triple-A on Sept. 4, rewarding him for a hot streak to finish his season with Buffalo. Although he finished with a mediocre .267 average, 16 homers and 60 RBIs in 96 games for the Bisons this season, Marte managed a .308 batting average and five homers since Aug. 1, making better contact in the process (one strikeout per six at-bats). Still, manager Eric Wedge said Marte won't play much of a role for the contending Indians in September, as evidenced on Monday, when Chris Gomez got the start at third base on an off day for Casey Blake. Marte will have to settle for a pinch-hitting role the rest of this season, and he'll be a long shot to win the third-base job next spring.

Detroit Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman is out indefinitely and might be done for the season because of inflammation in his right elbow. He admitted he had been pitching through pain for awhile, although an MRI Monday revealed no damage and he reported no pain in the ligament that often leads to Tommy John surgery. It's a similar ailment to the one that bothered him in 2005. It's nice to finally have an explanation for Bonderman's struggles the past several weeks; he's 1-8 with an 8.23 ERA, 1.81 WHIP and .335 BAA in his past 10 starts. In addition, it's encouraging that Tommy John surgery doesn't seem like it's in his future, preserving his keeper value. It's probably better for Bonderman's value if he's shut down for the year, as he could be a top-25 starting-pitcher option in 2008 with a healthy report at the onset of spring training. With Bonderman sidelined, Jair Jurrjens, he of the 3.15/0.90/.169 numbers in his first four career big league starts, likely moves into the rotation for the rest of the year. He should be owned in AL-only leagues.

Kansas City Royals: The Royals have begun working rookie Billy Butler into the mix at first base, providing perhaps a glimpse of their plans for the position in 2008. That seems to make him a better bet to get the bulk of the starts there next season than Ross Gload, who is best used as a utility player, or Opening Day starter Ryan Shealy, currently on the DL with a strained hamstring. Unfortunately for fantasy owners in leagues with 20-game requirements for position eligibility, Butler might not play enough first base to qualify there next season. He has eight games there so far, and the Royals have just 18 games left. Still, Butler has performed well enough in his rookie year -- he has .296/.354/.453 rates in 77 games -- to warrant AL-only and deep-mixed keeper consideration, especially now that it seems he won't be restricted to DH duties.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer returned to the lineup Sunday for the first time since Aug. 25, either an indication of the Twins' desperate circumstances behind the plate or a response to the local media's questioning of the young catcher's commitment to playing hurt. To the first point, the Twins haven't been lucky with health at the catcher position. Since Mauer strained his hamstring on Aug. 25, Mike Redmond injured his left middle finger on Sept. 4, and No. 4 catcher Jose Morales landed on the 60-day DL with a sprained left ankle. To the second point, manager Ron Gardenhire was critical of a Minneapolis Star Tribune column that suggested Mauer shift to third base to eliminate a high degree of injury risk. Mauer is 1-for-7 with two walks in two games since returning to the lineup. Even at less than 100 percent, if that's the case, he's valuable enough to activate in all formats. Still, he'll continue to sit on occasion so as to not risk a long-term problem.

American League West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Bartolo Colon was activated from the DL on Sunday after a brief Triple-A rehab stint. It's unclear initially how the right-hander will be used, although Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders are the most at-risk to lose their rotation spots to make room. The Angels also could go to a six-man rotation to keep their starters fresh, though Colon shouldn't warrant much more than AL-only owners' consideration the rest of the season. ... Vladimir Guerrero returned with a bang Tuesday after missing time with elbow tendinitis. But don't be surprised if he sits out a couple more games in order to rest before the playoffs start. Even at less than 100 percent, though, Guerrero is too good a hitter to reserve.

Oakland Athletics: Daric Barton was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento on Monday, and he should receive everyday at-bats the remainder of the year as the A's determine how he fits into their 2008 plans. He batted .293 with nine homers and 70 RBIs in 136 games at Sacramento but only .246 in 51 games since the All-Star break. Barton, only 22, can be a better hitter than that with time, and he's well worth adding in AL-only and keeper formats. Still, he might not be much more initially than what a Conor Jackson or Adam LaRoche were earlier in their careers. Jack Cust, Dan Johnson and Mike Piazza figure to lose at-bats as a result of Barton's promotion; the rookie can play only first base and DH. Since Piazza is the least likely to be a part of the A's 2008 plans, he stands to lose the most here.

Seattle Mariners: Horacio Ramirez's stay in the Mariners' rotation might finally be at an end after the left-hander allowed five runs on four hits in 1 2/3 innings Monday. He's now 3-4 with a 7.64 ERA, 1.89 WHIP and .344 BAA in his last 10 starts, poor numbers for a pitcher who not once had his rotation spot seriously threatened during that time. Ramirez has been a huge disappointment for the Mariners in his first season in the AL, and it's likely the team won't be bringing him back for 2008. Expect the Mariners to seek more experienced alternatives on the free-agent or trade markets this winter.

Texas Rangers: Brandon McCarthy returned quicker than expected from a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade but didn't fare well in his return start Tuesday. He had been pitching well at the time of his injury, with a 2.93 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and .261 BAA in his last seven starts, and while he's a risky bet for fantasy success the remainder of the year, he could be an interesting AL-only sleeper for 2008 with a strong finish. ... Closer C.J. Wilson has been battling some aches and pains of late, putting his workload in question. Pitching coach Mark Connor has indicated that the Rangers would like to avoid using Wilson in back-to-back games the rest of the year, and with his usage limited, the left-hander might not be the best bet in the bullpen for saves. Right-hander Joaquin Benoit, who was also a strong candidate to assume the closer duties when Eric Gagne was traded on July 31, has three saves and 1.35/0.75/.134 numbers in 18 appearances since that date. Expect Benoit to get at least an even split of the save chances in Texas the rest of the year, making him a useful AL-only and deep-mixed pickup.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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