It's like the calm before the storm. Just days away from the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline and we've heard a lot of rumblings but nothing more than that so far. But as we've seen in the past, the constant chatter is rarely all for naught. A flurry of activity is likely to take place, sending fantasy owners into a trade frenzy of their own as they scramble to counter any potential negative fallout that hits their teams. And as usual, one of the places where fantasy owners will get hit hardest is in the bullpen. If the chatter is any indication of what will be, then you need to prepare yourself as the closer carousel starts up again.
Rumors are rumors and obviously nothing is set in stone, but just like boarding up windows in your home when a hurricane is about to hit, you need to make preparations. Will the Rangers, currently just a game and a half out of a wild card spot and just five behind the A's in the AL West, really trade Joe Nathan, as we've heard? The chances seem pretty slim, but if you're a Nathan owner playing in an AL-only or fairly deep mixed league, you may need to sacrifice a bench spot for a few days and pick up Joakim Soria just in case. It would be terrible to have to drop a solid bench commodity for an insurance policy, but better to lose a bench guy now than a closer for the remainder of the season. And if you've been keeping up with all the latest rumors, you know there are plenty of other situations that could be in flux over the next few days.
When Cubs closer Kevin Gregg walked the bases loaded Saturday night, there were probably a number of general managers out there wondering if they should just leave it at kicking the tires or if they really should pursue the veteran right-hander to bolster their bullpen. Still, the Cubs are likely to be aggressive on the trade front with Gregg so the chances of him being dealt remain high. His chances of losing his value as a closer are also high as he will probably land somewhere as a set-up man. Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Pedro Strop will probably be the guy to step in when Gregg is moved. He's been having a little trouble with the long ball this season, but with a 10.13 K/9, a ground ball rate over 50-percent, peripherals a good run and a half better than his bloated ERA, and an increased swinging strike rate, Strop is easily the best option the Cubs have in that bullpen. Blake Parker was a favorite back in late June, but has struggled in July, including allowing three runs over his last five appearances.
Other situations that bear monitoring are:
Colorado Rockies - Rafael Betancourt's trade value could be hindered with this recent bout of appendicitis. Should the Rockies not be able to deal him, will they keep Rex Brothers as the closer or will the job default back to Betancourt?
Houston Astros - Should the Astros move Jose Veras, will Jose Cisnero be the next in line, or will it be Hector Ambriz who just returned from a stint in the minors to clean up his mechanics?
Arizona Diamondbacks - Will they be content moving forward with Brad Ziegler and three former closers (J.J. Putz, Heath Bell, David Hernandez) or will they make a move for someone a little more stable?
As for who's rising and falling this week, well, here you go.
Andrelton Simmons, SS ATL - Just a quick glance at Simmons' overall numbers (.242 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI) and one might not take a second look, deeming the production average, at best. But when you consider the fact that five of those home runs and 14 RBI have come in July, one might reconsider their opinion and seek him out as a second half breakout. Obviously you want to be in on that type of production early on, but recent games and certain numbers indicate that the surge may not be over. Since coming back from the break, Simmons has hit safely in seven of his nine games with four of his July home runs, but he's been doing it with just a .189 BABIP. While he's never posted a high BABIP, it is still a good 50 points lower than his average for the season which, if regression to the mean occurs, means we could be looking at further batting average improvements and, with a bit of luck, a continuation of some of this power.
Jayson Werth, OF WAS - After missing all of May due to injury and then putting forth a solid comeback effort in June, Werth exploded in May and is starting to look as comfortable at the plate now as he did back in 2010, when he was banging close to 30 home runs with close to a .300 average. His walk rate has steadily increased, he's cut down on the strikeouts in a major way, line drives and long fly balls are up while the ground ball rate has been cut considerably, and he's seeing more pitches per plate appearance recently. The Nationals are dealing with their struggles as a whole, but Werth is looking like a man who wants to put a team on his back for the next two months.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B BOS - While Middlebrooks is only batting .269 with a .329 on-base percentage, he has popped eight home runs and four doubles for a .209 ISO and has improved his walk rate to a much more respectable 8.2-percent. With Jose Iglesias struggling mightily and the trade market for third basemen looking a little bleak, the Red Sox may very well give Middlebrooks another shot at the starting gig while they make their annual push for the playoffs. If the Sox don't make a move in the next few days to bolster their hot corner, you can probably expect to see Middlebrooks up sooner than later.
Derek Jeter, SS NYY - Love him or hate him, the Captain is back for the Yankees and will assume his starting shortstop duties for the duration of the season. Yes, he's 39-years old and his overall totals have been down the last few years, but knowing the type of ballplayer he is and the fact that we're talking about a guy who is a career .313 hitter, you have to admit that two months of Jeter is likely to be better than anything you're going to see on your waiver wire between now and the end of your season. If you're able to grab him for your middle infield, you could be looking at a nice surge in your average and runs scored. Heck, he might even kick in a few stolen bases while he's at it.
Brian Wilson, RP FA - There's a little piece of me dying inside right now as I type this, but I wouldn't be doing my job if I failed to mention it. Yes, Brian Wilson, after his second Tommy John surgery, could be back in the big leagues for the final stretch of the 2013 season. He's been throwing in front of a number of scouts this past week (at least seven teams have sent representatives to watch) and not only are they citing his consistent 93 mph velocity, but they note his command has been excellent as well. He may not get picked up to close right away, but the likelihood of someone taking a shot on him is strong and, given his experience, could find himself in the saves mix at some point as well.
Staying the Course
Brandon Beachy, SP ATL - Ok all you crazed Beachy-lovers who have been stashing him away all this time. Your moment has finally arrived. The 26-year old right-hander has fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and is making his first start of the 2013 season this coming Monday, July 29. But before you go doing your happy dance, keep in mind some of his struggles during his nine rehab starts. While he's posted a solid 2.93 ERA, he's allowed four home runs and has just a 33:20 K:BB over 40 innings. Like most pitchers making their way back from Tommy John surgery, he's likely to have command issues early on and may not be everything you've dreamed he'd be just yet. 2014 though, should be a much better story.
Albert Pujols, 1B LAA - While the wheels have been falling off the wagon for some time now, it looks as if it's finally time to put it in the shop. The plantar fasciitis that has been plaguing Pujols all year long is expected to send him to the disabled list at just the wrong time for fantasy owners. He originally insisted that he would play through it, but with a potential run at the playoffs, the Angels are likely to err on the side of caution and put him on the shelf until he's really ready. Unfortunately, that could be a lot longer than his owners would like as this is way more than just a two week thing - in fact, recent word suggests Pujols could be out for the season.
Tyler Skaggs, SP ARI - Seven earned runs over just 3.2 innings in his last start looks to be the nail in his coffin as the young left-hander has now given up 23 earned runs over his last six starts and forced the Diamondbacks to back to Brandon McCarthy, who is recovering from a shoulder injury that has had him out for nearly two months. Skaggs has posted a solid 8.38 K/9 over 38 innings but also has a dreadful 17.1-percent HR/FB and is pitching to a considerable amount of contact. Even if McCarthy is just average in his return, it should still be enough to send Skaggs either to the bullpen or back to the minors.
Jedd Gyorko, 2B SD - The first part of Gyokro's call-up was fantastic as he hit .284 with eight home runs and 25 RBI, but a groin injury put him on the shelf for a little more than a month. Since his return? Awful. Just awful. We're talking 4-for-44 (.093) with just one RBI and 13 strikeouts awful. He's looked completely lost at the plate and with four strikeouts in five at-bats Saturday, you can see he's really pressing. The only silver lining you may find is that the Padres are obviously going nowhere so they don't have a single reason to not let him just work things out on his own. Unfortunately, if he's on your team, you are in need of someone to replace him, at least for the time being.
Roberto Hernandez, SP TB - It looks like the man formerly known as Fausto Carmona could be on the outs from the Rays rotation relatively soon. With Alex Cobb getting ready to return from his concussion, Chris Archer throwing complete-game shutouts and Hernandez floundering with a 4.92 ERA, the Rays may decide to bump him and give Cobb a look to see how he's recovered. Hernandez would likely fall back into a bullpen role, as the Rays may consider that a better move for them than dealing with the prices of relief pitchers on the trade market.
Matt Harvey, SP NYM - Take a breath. Relax. He's not hurt and I have nothing negative to say about his level of performance. But in the spirit of properly preparing you for the future, we must add him to this list because manager Terry Collins has stated that Harvey has maybe 10 starts left in him this season. That means that he will probably miss the final two weeks of September which, for those in head to head leagues, is right there during the championship. You had to know it was coming as 10 more starts would put Harvey at the normal 40-50 inning increase for young hurlers, but it doesn't make it hurt any less as the guy who could end up driving you to the championship game will be waiting in the car while you head inside. Enjoy what you can from him here at the end, but start thinking about a contingency plan once you've lost him.