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Charging the Mound: Players to Watch in the Second Half

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 2:17am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: RE: Charging the Mound

Chris, because we're on our annual All-Star break trip to Vegas, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about some second guys worth gambling on (yeah, really stretched that metaphor out). I'm looking to find more value in some guys before they really go off. It's too late to tout the likes of Dexter Fowler - that ship has already left port. Who are some of the players you're hoping cash in over the second half? They can be guys that haven't gotten the call from the minors, for instance, like Domonic Brown or Desmond Jennings - though we've talked about both in this space already. Or they can be players that might inherit a new role thanks to trades opening up a position for them. Or just simply guys that have had a poor first half or have been underused so far.

I'll start with a few relatively obvious players. Both Chris Perez and Drew Storen are on teams that should be selling off their respective closers at the trade deadline, and both are pretty secure as the top next-in-line choices behind Kerry Wood and Matt Capps, respectively.

Perez has been lights out since May, plus the Indians don't have a readily identifiable alternative besides Perez once Wood gets dealt. As we've mentioned on-air, Wood's recent string of competence is a good thing for Perez's owners, as it increases the likelihood that the Indians can find a buyer for Wood. Surely in deeper leagues Perez is long gone, but the asking price for him in trade talks still might be lower before a trade occurs, and he still might be floating around in a handful of 10-12 team mixed leagues.

A month ago, I might have thought Storen's place as the closer-in-waiting was less certain, but Tyler Clippard has started to fade, as have the Nats. Clippard's backtracking isn't a surprise - not only were his numbers ludicrously good, but he had a really heavy workload given all the one-run games the Nats played over the first two months of the season. I still like him, but this is closer to his true level.

There are two big names coming off the DL shortly after the All-Star break that I want to get your opinion about. Carlos Beltran will be coming back from his knee injury, playing center field and maybe even batting cleanup. I spoke with Will Carroll on our radio show today, and he was fairly pessimistic about Beltran's outlook, an opinion I share. I don't think he's going to run much, and I suspect he's going to need multiple days off. He might still be able to rake when he's in there, but I don't think he's going to bring the return people are expecting.

The other guy coming back from injury that interests me is Edinson Volquez as he returns from Tommy John surgery. His last rehab start was a gem, and the reports on his velocity have been outstanding. The thing with most of these Tommy John returners is they'll have their full velocity pretty quickly and maybe even the full movement on their breaking pitches, but they won't always have the command. With Volquez, how much will we be able to tell the difference? Even at his peak, he was a bit wild - perhaps effectively wild at times, but wild nonetheless. Will you make a push for him if he's available in any of your leagues?

The more interesting question regarding Volquez is this: once Aaron Harang comes off the DL, who gets bumped from the rotation? Strictly looking at the stats, shouldn't it be Harang? Especially at home, he's operating under the "a homer a day keeps the fantasy owner away" principle. Will the Reds look at his performance and decide he's the one, or will they let his contract and tenure decide? Or maybe there's a case to be made for him sticking the rotation based on his performance? I tend to think that a six-man rotation isn't really tenable, but I'm willing to hear arguments to the contrary.

Looking at prospects that haven't gotten the call yet, there are two that interest me that I bid on in a couple of leagues - Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia and Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda. Arencibia has to wait for the Jays to clear the decks for him by trading John Buck, but I think they should explore that idea. Is there a time when Buck's trade value will be any higher? He's only under a one-year contract, too, so he should be pretty easy to move if they want to do so. Pineda is the likely ultimate replacement for Cliff Lee in the rotation, even if he doesn't get the call this week or next. But he's the most interesting arm in the Mariners' system, and he has a 28:8 K:BB in 21.2 innings in Triple-A. Should he get the chance, he'd bring that package along with pitching in a great park and in front of a great defense. It's worth putting in a minimum bid now before he gets the call and gets more expensive.

So there's a few situations to look at for the second half. Who else are you looking at?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 4:42am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

I'm looking at Josh Beckett and Brett Anderson who I have in the CardRunners League and - knock on wood - should be back in the next week or so. I'm actually a little more nervous about Anderson who looked like he was fine after coming back from his forearm injury the first time, only to re-injure it in his second start back. In other words, no matter what he does, it'll be hard to shake the concern that he could go down any moment.

Volquez is absolutely worth a gamble given his velocity and track record when healthy. Some pitchers struggle with command more than others upon returning - Josh Johnson seemed to be just fine a couple years ago, for example.

You mentioned Jennings and Domonic Brown - who should be rostered already in most formats - before they actually get the call. Jennings has more stolen base upside, but Brown could hit for power right away in that park.

I'm more agnostic about Beltran - he might sit out games initially, but if and when his knee passes the test of playing in big league games, who knows? Maybe he'll be able to play nearly every day - especially with the Mets in a pennant race and needing him in the lineup.

Pineda's mostly been great at every stop - though he does have eight walks in 22 IP at Triple-A. Also keep in mind he's just 21 years old with 100 innings above A-ball. Arencibia's having a monster year at Triple-A (.319/.369/.661) - like Brown and Jennings, he's already worth picking up before the team officially makes room for him. I'd like to see what Felix Pie can do at age 25. I think because he's a toolsy prospect from the Cubs organization, the lazy comp is to Corey Patterson and to assume that like Patterson, Pie won't amount to an above-average major leaguer. But like the Mo Vaughn-David Ortiz comp we talked about last year - just because two players are associated with each other doesn't mean they're likely to share the same fate.

I still haven't given up on Everth Cabrera, Lastings Milledge, Alex Gordon, Michael Brantley or Rick Porcello, either. And even Nolan Reimold could man first base for the Orioles down the stretch once he shows he's 100 percent healthy. Cabrera's been banged up most of the year, but he still has 20-steal upside in the second half, as does Brantley if he ever gets a ball to drop in for a hit.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, July 15, 2010 6:47am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

I'm glad you mentioned Brantley. I've held onto him patiently in the very same CardRunners League, just waiting for that opportunity. Unfortunately, I also had Grady Sizemore in that league and still have Shin-Soo Choo (actually have him in way too many leagues), so that chance only came at the expense of me losing not one but too more expensive and valuable guys. This obviously isn't the way I wanted it to happen, but now that he's in there, Brantley has to produce over the next month to convince the Indians front office he deserves more playing time than either Austin Kearns or Trevor Crowe upon Choo's return. I'm going to be less than objective here and hope he starts hitting more than he did before the break.

In general principle I like your "haven't given up on" list. It's worth remembering that (a) we're barely past the halfway point in the season and (b) all of these guys have a base level of talent that could make them pretty valuable with the right combination of playing time and a little bit of good fortune. Factor in that there's usually a percentage of the league that's stopped paying attention to these guys, and you can acquire them cheaply. If you've got the bench spot on a contending team to stash them away, or if you're struggling right now and need to take a few chances, they can be a good area of profit. Moreover, they're probably easier/cheaper to acquire than some of the prospects we're keying on.

Pie is really interesting, and for that matter, what the Orioles do before the trade deadline could be pretty interesting too. Clearly they're sellers, and they've made a couple of good trades previously with this current regime. Last year they dealt George Sherrill away for Josh Bell, and while Sherrill pitched well last year, he's imploded this year and was just put on waivers by the Dodgers. Now they have to make room for Bell, and I wouldn't be surprised if they traded away Miguel Tejada before the deadline. Pie just came back and while he's already banged up again, his return has put a little bit of a playing time crunch on them, and that's before Luke Scott comes back. They have to find room between left field, first base and DH between Patterson, Pie, Ty Wigginton, Luke Scott and Jake Fox eventually, though Wigginton can also play second. I think Wigginton and Scott should be available for the first decent trade offer, though. Until that happens, we're not going to see any hint of Reimold getting the call.

Who would you draft first next year? Brett Anderson or Trevor Cahill? Anderson still has the higher upside, but how much does his health risk cancel that out? Cahill doesn't strike out a ton of guys yet, and I know that he's on a lot of people's "likely to decline" lists. Does he fall under that category for you, too?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, July 15, 2010 9:17am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging the Mound

Definitely Anderson if he's healthy down the stretch. Take a look at his peripherals - they're elite. But we'll have to wait and see. If I have to pick now, I'd say Anderson in a 12-team mixed league for sure. In an AL-only league, maybe Cahill where safety matters more.

If Reimold shows he's healthy and hits, he's up on September 1 no matter what. And he'd get semi-regular or regular at-bats. It could happen much earlier if they move Tejada/Scott. I actually like Corey Patterson assuming he's an above average corner outfielder - which he should be considering he used to be an adequate center fielder. He's hitting .289/.335/.423 with 16 steals in 18 attempts. The problem is that Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Pie have to play the outfield, and Patterson's line is pretty weak for a DH.

If the Indians don't commit to playing Brantley every day for the rest of the year regardless of how long it takes him to heat up, they should be contracted, converted into an NFL team and moved to LA. Teams move all the time these days, but you never see them move and change sports.