Note: All stats are prior to games on Thursday.
As the trade deadline nears, so does the finale of our Thursday "Fantasy Fever" format, as most of our diamond love transitions to preparation for the gridiron. I deliberated on pulling a Will Hunting and driving off into the sunset without saying goodbye, but then I realized the jerk implications of such a move. Seriously Matt Damon, just going to peace out on Ben Affleck and friends minus the courtesy of an adios? You at least gave Robin Williams a farewell letter, and you only knew him for 20 minutes. And yes, I know the bouncing minus a farewell stems from Affleck's speech earlier in the film; don't bring facts into this debate. But I digress...
The FOXSports.com Fantasy Team still has all your rotisserie baseball needs covered until the end of the season, and I'll continue to contribute a piece or two on our National Pastime, just that our weekly Thursday forum is taking a seat on the back burner. Thanks to everyone who participated in our discussions, and hopefully you stick around for our pigskin coverage in the fall. On to this week's advice...
C: Ryan Doumit, Twins
Despite posting 10 homers, 46 RBI and an impressive .287/.339/.470 line on the season, Doumit is available in 76 percent of FOXSports.com leagues. Not only has the 31-year-old been raking (.328 average, five homers, 20 RBI in past 36 games), but Doumit has the added bonus of switching between catcher and DH positions, keeping his legs and bat fresh. With the lack of viable free-agent options at this point of the year, consider the attainment of Doumit a steal.
1B: Eric Hosmer, Royals
After submitting a superb performance in his rookie campaign (.293 average, 19 homers, 78 RBI in 128 contests last season), Hosmer has been stalled in struggle status for 2012, owning a putrid .224 batting mark after starting the second half with two consecutive o-fers. However, we're not quite ready to conduct last rites on the KC first baseman, as Hosmer has started to bring the hammer after being dropped in the lineup, hitting .306 in his last 10 games. Defensive shifts continue to cause Hosmer fits, and his run production should suffer working later in the lineup. Yet what was viewed as a lost cause just weeks ago suddenly has hope on the horizon, and Hosmer, owned in just 69 percent of leagues, could be a fantasy x-factor down the home stretch.
2B: Danny Espinosa, Nationals
Like Hosmer, Espinosa was mired in a sophomore slump in the first half of the season, possessing an underwhelming .232/.309/.374 slash. The midseason sabbatical appears to have been just what the doctor ordered, as Espinosa has been working the wood the past 13 games, going 21-for-55 with two homers, eight ribbies and 10 runs. Though he likely won't replicate his bomb barrage from a year ago (21 homers in 2011 versus a meager nine dingers in 2012), Espinosa is swiping bags at a higher intensity, and his improvement in line-drive percentage makes him well-rounded force.
3B: Brandon Inge, A's
Granted, his .200 average and sub-.300 OBP are underwhelming, but managers in AL-only formats searching for suitable A-Rod replacements should be intrigued by Inge's nine long balls and 43 RBI in the past 53 games. Better yet, implementing Inge allows for personal investment in Oakland's July domination of the Junior Circuit, so it's a win-win. Speaking of which, despite their ridiculous run this month (15-2), how many A's do you think the casual baseball fan could name? Three? Possibly four? And does this mean Moneyball II: The Rise of FIP is on the horizon? And if so, will the movie replicate its formula of totally disregarding Oakland's catalyst for success to focus on embellishing a trivial entity? If that's the case, can't wait for Jonny Gomes to take center stage while Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook are nowhere to be seen.
SS: Willie Bloomquist, Diamondbacks
Historically, Bloomquist has been a solid ballplayer whose contributions in the real world failed to translate to rotisserie. However, 2012 has been a different tale. Though he was previously getting the majority of nods at short this season, Ryan Roberts' departure from the desert should equate to more starts at third for the 34-year-old, who's hitting .301 with 44 runs on the season.
OF: Roger Bernadina, Nationals
This counsel comes with caveats, as Bernadina's .375 BABIP indicates his recent proficiency with the pole is somewhat inflated, and he will probably be relegated to a reserve role once Jayson Werth returns from a wrist injury. Yet Rick Ankiel's exit has paved the way for Bernadina to relish in the starting center-field role, albeit temporarily, hitting .421 in 38 at bats in the second half. He won't drive in a plethora of runs, but does have a solid .373 OBP despite the absence of power, and is definitely worth a short-term stay on your roster.
P: Paul Maholm, Cubs
If a group of hardball aficionados were polled, "Who has been the best pitcher in baseball in the past month?" the usual suspects of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and Jered Weaver would undoubtedly reside in the retorts. In the same breath, feel confident in proclaiming Paul Maholm would fail to garner a single vote. Yet in his last six appearances (five starts), the Windy City starter is 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. The facilitator of this realization has been Maholm's reduction of walks, conceding a mere five free passes during this stretch. His next scheduled start comes against a formidable foe in the Cardinals, but with the game coming at Wrigley, where Maholm possesses a 2.78 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 10 starts (versus a 5.33 ERA and 1.55 WHIP on the road), feel secure in starting the Cubbie hurler.
C: Wilin Rosario, Rockies
Rosario went yard on Wednesday, giving the Rockies rookie 16 four-baggers on the season in just 208 at bats. Alas, while Rosario is hitting .273 on the month, Ramon Hernandez's return means split duty for Rosario, severely hampering his fantasy value. There's a reasonable chance Hernandez could be moved to a contender before the trade deadline, resuscitating Rosario's worth, but if this move fails to come to fruition, owners may need to explore other options behind the plate.
1B: Carlos Pena, Rays
Unless he submits a solid last week of July, this will mark the third straight month that Pena was stuck on the interstate (.134 in May, .191 in June, and .160 in 75 at bats in July). A 14.3 walk percentage is keeping Pena relevant in OBP formats, but his 30.1 strikeout rate is his highest since 2005. Pena does have 14 homers, and the Rays have been known to pull a rabbit or two out of their hat in the latter stages of the season. Unfortunately, the sabermetrics doesn't necessarily state improvement is forthcoming, and as he continues to fall down the Rays lineup, so does his fantasy significance. Speaking of the Rays...
2B: Ryan Roberts, Rays
Stirring debut for the Tatman in Tampa, as Roberts went deep with two RBI in the Rays' 10-1 victory on Wednesday. Still, not enthused on Roberts leaving the friendly, laidback confines of the NL West to set up shop in the ultra-competitive AL East, as such a transition rarely projects beneficial. And while some think Roberts is having a down year compared to 2011, his average, BABIP and K rate mirror last season's figures, meaning proprietors hoping a change of scenery is all the spur Roberts' needs are mistaken.
3B: Martin Prado, Braves
Prado is experiencing a bounce-back year with a .304 average, .363 OBP, 53 runs and 12 steals, but the Atlanta outfielder/third baseman is struggling mightily in July, with a .241 batting mark and 6.3 walk percentage in 21 contests on the month. Prado continues to inhibit the two-hole in the Braves order, though the advantageous location will be for naught if he neglects to get on base.
SS: Trevor Plouffe, Twins
Whenever I read "Plouffe" in the box score, the Minnesota slugger's name harkens the image of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters . Probably not the moniker the California native was shooting for, but at least it's original, no?
While I do harbor affinity for Plouffe, the breakout basher has been dealing with a bruised thumb that has kept him shelved since July 20. The team was encouraged by a batting session on Wednesday, but if he's unable to suit up by Friday's contest, Plouffe is likely headed to the DL. Even if he's good to go, keep him on the bench for a few days until he illustrates no lingering issues with the handle.
OF: Hunter Pence, Phillies
Hard to hate on 17 homers, 59 ribbies and 59 runs, yet Pence is under the Mendoza Line in July, hitting .189 with one meager blast. Pence's BABIP implies progression in August, and we certainly don't envision the Philly outfielder to maintain July's 25.9 whiff percentage. Unfortunately, it's been a major point of contention that Pence has been unable to cash in on the returns of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, leading some to speculate Pence could be packing his bags in the next week or two.
P: James McDonald, Pirates
Tuesday's rough outing (six innings, two homers, five runs) gives Jimmy-Mac 16 runs (15 earned) in his last three starts, culminating in an ERA rise from 2.37 to 3.15. Most of these issues derive from command problems, a recurring conundrum for McDonald until this season, as he surrendered 12 walks in the past 15 2/3 innings. Hold your ears, McDonald vendors, it gets worse. His .254 BABIP and 3.87 xFIP don't paint a pretty picture on the pitcher's outlook. He remains a good source of strikeouts, but McDonald's run as a frontline fantasy ace is nearing an end.
I always thought Francisco Cordero got a bad rap with the Reds. True, in no way did his performance validate a four-year, $46 million deal, but the Queen City faithful treated the three-time All-Star, one of the more durable bullpen arms in baseball, like he was the reincarnation of 2009 Brad Lidge, which was simply erroneous. Well, at least used to be, as Cordero's debut with the Astros has been inauspicious, blowing back-to-back ballgames in the ninth inning. The carnage: 1 1/3 innings, five hits, three walks, six earned runs. That's not...that's not good, CoCo. Look for Wilton Lopez, who is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, to take over fireman duties in H-town.
Waivers Watch: Ben Sheets, Braves
Making his first manifestation since 2010, Sheets' two-hit performance against the Mets on July 15 was greeted with applause by most of baseball, as few arms have been hit by the injury bug as bad as the former first-round pick out of Monroe, Louisiana. Conversely, belief in the fantasy community that Sheets could prolong this comeback attempt was scarce. Yet another scoreless outing from Sheets has turned some heads, with more than a small company taking a flyer on the four-time All-Star. I'm usually cautious on matters of this nature; nevertheless, the reasoning is sound. Obviously Sheets can't continue this torrid pace, but he does have the backing of a solid defensive unit, and the Braves rank third on the Senior Circuit in run support. Owned in just 32.8 percent of FOXSports.com formats, Sheets warrants selection in NL-only or deeper leagues.
At this juncture of the fantasy calendar, an abundance of owners use statistical category deficiencies as the stimulus for assembling a trade proposal. Though this rationale is understandable, don't use the standings as the only justification for overhauling your roster. Many times, the disparity in certain stat shortages is too great to overcome. Worse, often one will lose a vital component that helped augment other areas of his/her team to a rival manager who can easily offset lost ground in different measurements. For example, in one of my leagues, I need assistance in saves. However, another owner keeps offering a closer for OBP help, a category in which he's barely trailing me. Though I could gain a point or two in saves, this will be negated by my competitor besting me in the OBP forum by a higher advantage than my progression with closers. Try to keep the bigger picture in mind in your deadline barters.
Rookie Review: Josh Rutledge, Rockies
A third-round pick out of the University of Alabama in 2010, Rutledge tore through the Colorado farm system, hitting .320 with 22 homers, 110 RBI and 154 runs in 211 minor-league games before getting the call-up on July 13. The promotion hasn't slowed the sweet-swinging Rutledge, who has racked up 16 hits in his first 45 at bats with six RBI and six runs. Troy Tulowitzki is nowhere near a return, meaning Rutledge, available in 93 percent of FOXSports.com formats and working in hitter-friendly Coors Field, could be a valuable commodity at such an offensively-deprived position.
The Real Debate
The approaching trade deadline has taken control of the baseball universe, with the Marlins at center stage with yet another fire sale of their assets. But the discussion should not center on Zack Greinke, how the New York Yankees replace their hole at third or the continued ineptitude and swindling against the South Beach fan base by Miami management; rather, the Real Debate should be this: how annoying is this "Sources say..." trend becoming? Between Dwight Howard and Greinke rumblings, sources say I've seen the word "sources" a solid 485,000 times the past two months. This isn't Woodward and Bernstein subject fodder, its sports, so let's stop utilizing "sources" to make a more-than-likely-false report seem important. And unless it's a high-ranking official, agent or family member, please don't share whatever your "source" told you.
This Week in Sam LeCure
LeCure got knocked around by the Astros and put Monday's game in jeopardy before Sean Marshall saved the day, proving once and for all that nobody's perfect. Yosemite Sam still has a career-best 3.57 ERA on the season, though his 1.36 WHIP is somewhat disconcerting. In a follow-up from last week's rant, **SPOILER ALERT** it turns out LeCure is not the protagonist in The Dark Knight Rises . While I probably should have deduced as much when I saw Batman was clean shaven, I still held out hope until the end credits. Although, in fairness, LeCure as a superhero would be an extremely boring film. Why, you ask? The Dark Knight Rises was almost three hours. Anything involving the Reds reliever fighting crime would be over in five minutes, with criminals sprawled across the ground as LeCure gives the six-shooter signal to the screen.
Big League Chew Player of the Week: David Price, Rays
In three outings since the All-Star break, Price has given up just three earned runs in 21 1/3 innings with 25 Ks, keeping Tampa Bay's aspirations of attaining a Wild Card spot burning.
Spit Your Tobacco at: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Didn't seem like most teammates were upset to see Han-Ram go, eh? While some would chalk this up to Ramirez's surly demeanor and questionable worth ethic, I'm assuming the resentment derives from many of the Marlins owning El Nino on their fantasy team, as Ramirez has disappointed his proprietors for the second straight season.