Lidge Defying the Odds

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Are nine blown saves and a 7.33 ERA enough reason for a closer to lose his job? 

In 99 percent of cases, the answer is yes. 

Brad Lidge, however, seems to be the exception.  After all, this is the same guy who went a perfect 41-for-41 in save chances last season and played a major part in bringing the Phillies their first World Series title in 28 years.  Without question, he deserves a longer leash than most, but five months should be long enough.  His fantasy owners have suffered long enough.  You can bet that many of them would rather see him demoted.  At some point, the gain in the saves category is outweighed by the loss in ERA and WHIP.  We’ve reached that point.

On the heels of Lidge’s most recent implosion, Ryan Madson received the save opportunity last night, leading many to speculate that a change had been made.  Not so fast.  Lidge had pitched four straight days, so manager Charlie Manuel likely just wanted to give him a breather.  Regardless, Madson did not exactly make a positive impression, blowing a save of his own but managing to pick up a vulture win thanks to Philly’s 10th-inning rally.

The rehabbing Brett Myers, who struck out five in two scoreless innings yesterday for Double-A Reading, is another closing candidate.  Myers served as the ninth-inning man for the Phils down the stretch in ’07, so he does bring something of a track record.  On the other hand, there are considerable risks involved with trusting anyone who hasn’t graced a big league rubber in three months.

As of now, it appears that the Phillies are committed to Lidge, but there comes a time when a contending team must concentrate less on the past and more on the present and immediate future.  The clock is ticking.

Zach Steinhorn, MLB.com

Wagner bound for Beantown

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Billy is heading to Beantown.

 

That is, Billy Wagner, who reversed course
Tuesday and waived his no-trade clause after reportedly saying he would remain
with the Mets one day earlier.

 

Wagner, who was claimed on waivers by the Red
Sox last Friday, now heads to a crowded Boston bullpen in exchange for two
players to be named.

 

What changed his mind?

 

The Red Sox offered nothing new. They
accepted Wagner’s request to decline his contract option at season’s end, but
refused to budge on declining his salary arbitration, which would thereby
ensure them an additional Draft pick if he bolts.

 

All this seems to point toward Wagner’s
desire to play for a contending team.

 

Of course, the whole problem with pitching
for a contender is depth, and this case is no different. 

 

For Wagner to actually provide fantasy value
beyond just ERA, WHIP and a strong K/9 rate, he’ll need to earn a few saves. It’s
difficult to see that happening, what with Jonathan Papelbon already having a
firm grip on the closer job, and Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard and Takashi Saito
all competing for setup duty.

 

The good news is that Wagner, a six-time
All-Star closer who had Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on Sept.
10, 2008, has worked hard to claw his way back to prominence, and it
shows.  The 38-year-old lefty has combined for nine scoreless innings in
the Minors and the Majors this season. Remarkably, his fastball is back where
it was before going under the knife — in the mid-90s.

 

Perhaps that’s why Boston’s front office felt
willing to shoulder his hefty salary for a few weeks of the regular season.

 

Because at least now if something happens to
Papelbon, another experienced finisher can be called upon to step up, someone
who has more experience shutting the door than does Papelbon himself.

 

If you own Papelbon and you’re concerned
about his rising walk rate, there are worse gambles available than Wagner.

 

 

–Alex Cushing, MLB.com

No place like Atlanta for LaRoche

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Yesterday,
I wrote about how August has been anything but the Dog Days of Summer for
hitters, focusing on Delmon Young as the prime example.

Hours
later, he finished the night hitless in four at-bats.

Go
figure.

Let’s
hope the jinx doesn’t wear off on Adam LaRoche, another hitter who’s working
overtime to put the past few months behind him.

Owners
who were smart enough to lock down LaRoche weeks ago know this all too well.
Granted, late-season surges are nothing new for the 29-year-old. But who knew getting
traded to Atlanta at the July 31 Trade Deadline would result in the National
League version of Justin Morneau?

The
third team of 2009 turned out to be the charm for LaRoche, who owns a
staggering .410 average with seven homers, 15 RBIs, 14 runs scored and a .787
slugging percentage for the Braves entering Saturday after more or less going
through the motions with the Pirates and Red Sox.

Maybe
all he needed was the inspiration of playing a major role on a contending team,
a feeling he hasn’t experienced since, well, playing for the Braves four years
ago.

Maybe
all he needed was a little offensive protection after largely having to fend
for himself in Steeltown.

Or maybe
he would have raked regardless of uniform color, as he always has during the
second half.

Whatever
the cause, one thing is clear: Say what you want when the season is over, but
as things stand, it’s safe to declare the sweet-swinging first baseman the
winner of the Trade Deadline.

The only
downside is the effect it’s had on younger brother, Andy, whose struggles have
only grown worse since Adam’s departure from Pittsburgh.

If only
second-half surges were hereditary.

-Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Snider, LaPorta among few remaining impact bats

When it comes to finding impact bats on the waiver wire time
of year, options are limited.

 

Nobody wants the same ol’ recyclables in Jeremy Hermida or Edgar
Renteria
.

 

Owners want something new, something more, something capable
of making noise.

 

Enter Travis Snider and Matt LaPorta, probably the game’s
top two hitting prospects who were both recalled within a day of one another.

 

Snider celebrated his Tuesday promotion by going yard in his
first big league at-bats since May 20.

 

Wednesday will be LaPorta’s turn, as the Indians recalled
him to replace the ailing Trevor Crowe in left field.

 

Both are power-hitting outfielders, and both have the goods
to succeed right away. With the Indians and Blue Jays more interested in shaping
their 2010 rosters than making the playoffs, playing time is virtually
guaranteed. LaPorta will man left, while Snider takes over in right.

 

If you can afford two free roster spots, go right ahead and stash both of them away.

 

If you have to choose between the two, my vote would go
to Snider.  

 

That’s nothing against LaPorta, mind you. He has all the trademarks
of a middle-of-the-order slugger, fully equipped with size (6-foot-2, 210 lbs.)
and a Minor League track record to back it up, evidenced by his .299 average,
17 homers, 60 RBIs and .530 slugging percentage for Triple-A Columbus this
season.

 

Snider just so happens to possess LaPorta’s power and Will
Clark’s contact skills to boot.  When it
comes to run producers, he’s the full package, made clear by his performance at
Triple-A Las Vegas, where he boasted a mighty .337 average, 14 dingers and a
.663 slugging percentage. Oh, and he’s also three years younger than LaPorta,
at 21 years old.

 

The Blue Jays have been searching for left-handed pop since
Carlos Delgado split town. Now, they have two of the game’s most promising
lefty hitters locked up for years to come in Snider and Adam Lind.

 

If you can get your hands on Snider, you’ll be adding a
potential All-Star for the price of nothing. If that doesn’t pan out, there are
worse second choices in the world than LaPorta.

 

 

–Alex Cushing,
MLB.com

All locked up, Strasburg sets sights on Nats rotation

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The time for talking is over.

 

After a long and windy road, the Stephen Strasburg negotiations finally came to an end minutes before the 12 am ET deadline Monday. The San Diego State product came to terms with the Nationals on a record-setting deal reportedly worth more than $15 million over four years.

 

Strasburg’s advisor, mega-agent Scott Boras, seemed to be holding out for even more, but the Nationals stuck to their guns and got their guy in the end.

 

For fantasy owners, the biggest question is one of timing: When will the uber-prospect be ready to make a Major League impact, and just what might his role be when he does crack the bigs?

 

Strasburg hasn’t seen game action since pitching in a College World Series regional game May 30, so he’ll need some fine tuning before being given a shot to compete with the big boys. Finding a suitable venue for his seasoning could prove challenging, though, as the Minor League campaign is nearly complete. 

 

“We have to figure out where he is at and how in shape his arm is,” said acting Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. “How much we have to ramp him up before he can start pitching competitively?”

 

While that’s not exactly a statement of intent, it leaves open the possibility that the 20-year-old fireballer could get his feet wet in Washington sometime before the 2009 season is through.

 

True, a non-contending Nationals squad has no need to risk the health of its most prized possession by hastening Strasburg’s development, but bear in mind that the righty was commended as much for as upside as for his readiness.

  

Reports suggest Strasburg needs little seasoning, as he already features a four-pitch arsenal with devastating breaking stuff and command beyond his years.

 

We’re talking about a guy who waltzed through his junior year at San Diego State, going 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 starts take home the Golden Spikes Award. His 195/19 K/BB ratio over 109 innings in that span is the mark of a man among boys.

 

Still, a dazzling track record and impressive stuff do not a fantasy ace make, particularly in terms of the immediate future. If Strasburg were to be called up for a few September starts, could he really be trusted to make an impact? 

 

The top overall pick will no doubt be fun to watch, and it’s quite possible we could see glimpses of the future Cy Young Award winner that everyone’s hoping for, meaning his name will be tough to ignore if it pops up on the waiver wire.

 

That said, the more relevant question is how Strasburg will fare next year, assuming he’s given the chance to join the big club’s rotation from the get-go. A quick glance at some of this season’s big-name young arms — David Price, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, Clay Buchholz and Vin Mazzaro, to name a few — reveals less-than-dominant early returns. True, hurlers like Tommy Hanson and Mat Latos represent solid counterexamples, but both spent considerable time on the farm and have a ways to go before attaining Tim Lincecum status.

 

Then there are guys like Joba Chamberlain and Max Scherzer, highly-touted youngsters with indisputable skill sets whose progress at this point is measured in years, not months. It’s more than possible they could still one day headline their respective staffs, but extensive coddling has softened their immediate impacts.   

 

Of course, that begs yet another question: Will we be complaining about the Strasburg Rules at this time next year? What about at this time in 2011?   

 

The point is that things remain challenging with a player of this ilk, that the upside and the ambiguity are equally undeniable. Are you willing to invest an early-to-mid-round pick on “the most coveted amateur player in the history of the Draft,” albeit with the knowledge that he could take some time to come into his own?

 

That one I can’t answer for you. 

 

 

Motown blues for Huff?

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Just because your league’s trade deadline may have passed
doesn’t mean the big boys are done dealing.

 

The Orioles traded Aubrey Huff to the Tigers on Monday for
Minor League righty Casey Jacobsen, rated the organization’s No. 10 prospect by
Baseball America.

 

Keep in mind this is isn’t the same Aubrey Huff of 2008, when
he boasted a .304 average, 32 homers and a career-high 108 RBIs. This Aubrey
Huff heads to Detroit hitting just .253 with 13 homers, 72 RBIs and a .405
slugging percentage — in other words, a middling run producer.

 

The larger issue is leaving behind Oriole Park at Camden
Yards, where he’s thrived through the years, taking advantage of the short right-field
porch en route to a career .506 slugging percentage. That’s a far cry from the
mediocre .405 mark he owns at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.

 

The one major thing working in his favor is the presence of
super-slugger Miguel Cabrera, who Huff will likely wind up protecting as the
cleanup hitter, providing some punch from the left side with Magglio Ordonez
batting behind him. That only helps Huff’s chances of reaching the century mark
in RBIs. So while the move probably does little to reverse his sagging power
numbers, at least his run production won’t fall apart. Look for Huff to DH and
play left field, eating into the playing time of Carlos Guillen and Clete
Thomas
.

 

Back in Baltimore, one veteran run producer likely replaces
another, with Ty Wigginton likely taking over first base in Huff’s place.
Remember, Wiggy went off last August with a .379 average, 12 homers and 26
RBIs, and after serving as a utilityman all year, you can be sure he’ll be
plenty motivated to do so again.

 

–Alex Cushing,
MLB.com

Vicious cycle for Pie

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Call
August the month of the cycle.

 

Felix
Pie
became the third player of the month to hit for the cycle on Friday and
the seventh all season.

 

Of
course, the main difference between Pie and the other six cyclists — Orlando
Hudson
, Ian Kinsler, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Melky Cabrera and Troy
Tulowitzki 
— is that the others are actually regulars. They don’t ride
the pine three or four or five nights in a row.

 

Friday
marked Pie’s eighth start since the All-Star game, with his playing time gradually
decreasing over time. If anything, credit the Orioles for sticking by him this
long through thick and thin, like when he finished April hitting just .157, or
when he entered Friday night hitting just .188 for the month.

 

In
other words, anyone who tells you they saw this coming is not telling the
truth.

The
good news is that the 4-for-5 effort added 20 points to Pie’s average, a vast
jump for someone who’s been with Baltimore for most of the season. The bad news
is that he’s still hitting .254 to go along with three jacks , 15 RBIs and one
stolen base.

 

Does
Pie still have 20-20 potential? Sure, while his stock has certainly fallen in recent
years, he’s hardly a finished product at age 24 years old.
Still, when all is said and done, one big game doesn’t erase three years of disappointing
production. All that matters now are results.

So
the question isn’t whether Pie is worth adding in fantasy leagues, but whether
Friday’s cycle does anything to break the perception of him as a bench player.

 

With
superior bats blocking his path back to a starting role — namely,  Nolan Reimold, Luke Scott, Adam Jones
and Nick Markakis — the right
answer should be easy as pie.

 

— Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Future is now for Tillman

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With
everyone fussing over Roy Halladay rumors last week, another towering
right-hander seemingly got lost in the limelight: Chris Tillman, the 6-foot-5 Orioles
righty who was acquired with Adam Jones from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade.
Not only does he rank among the top young arms in Baltimore, but in all of
baseball, too. 

 

Granted,
you wouldn’t know that judging from how he fared during his first couple of big
league outings, in which he surrendered a total of eight runs. On the bright
side, his 6.75 ERA could wind up scaring off potential buyers or leave current
owners disappointed enough to dump him already.

 

Either
way, all signs point toward Tillman making a splash down the stretch, and for
two reasons:

 

1)
Tillman has the stuff that power pitchers are made of, featuring a mid-90s
heater, an above-average curve and a splitter, changeup and slider. That’s five
offerings. 

 

2) What
really separates Tillman from the pack isn’t power, but polish. Contrary to
popular belief, the majority of young guns do not hit the ground running in The
Show. They get broken in, go through their fair share of growing pains, and
hopefully make it out in one piece.

 

From a
statistical standpoint, there are three major benchmarks each Minor League pitcher should reach before warranting consideration in standard mixed-league play:

1)      Pitched
at least one half season at Triple-A

2)      Struck
out more than one batter per inning there

3)      Compiled
at least 2.5 times more strikeouts than walks

 

Those are
a narrow set of requirements, yes, but Tillman fits the bill. For Triple-A
Norfolk this season, he boasted a 99/26 K/BB ratio over 96 2/3 innings. The one
other minor thing to look out for is homers. Tillman has already served up four
of ’em in 10 2/3 innings, but history suggests it might just be nerves getting
the better of him.

 

After
all, only five balls left the yard with Tillman toeing the rubber for Norfolk
this year.

 

With
everything working in the right-hander’s favor, you have to wonder whether it
will be him — and not fellow O’s youngster Brian Matusz — emerging as
Baltimore’s next big ace.

 

 

–Alex Cushing, MLB.com

Feliz conjures up memories of Joba, K-Rod

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Watching Neftali Feliz dominate his big league debut on Monday — working two perfect innings of four-strikeout ball — I couldn’t help but be reminded of Joba Chamberlain in
2007.

 

Like Feliz, Chamberlain also
rated among the game’s most highly touted starting prospects that year before being converted into a reliever for the stretch run.  The move paid big dividends, not just for the Yankees, but for fantasy owners, too. By the time Chamberlain allowed his first earned
run, on Sept. 16, after 16 dominant innings, his bandwagon had already grown crowded.
Never mind that he was a setup man who had little hope of starting or closing. Good
pitching is good pitching, and the then-21-year-old provided plenty of it
during the season’s final two months, ringing up 34 strikeouts in 24 innings of
one-run ball, good for an 0.38 ERA.

 

Feliz could be headed down the
same path. Like Chamberlain, the Dominican Republic-born righty arrives in
the Majors at 21 and is expected to serve in a relief role down the stretch after
earning rave reviews as one of the game’s top starting prospects.

Perhaps the biggest advantage Chamberlain
had over Feliz was that he attended college and busted into the bigs with more
polish and pitch command.

 

However, what Feliz possesses
that Joba didn’t is a fastball that reaches triple-digits on the radar gun. That’s
right, 100 mph. Add in a nasty curve and a plus changeup, and you’ve got one
dangerous power pitcher, the kind of flamethrower who fanned 10.6 batters per
nine innings during his four-year tenure in the Minors.

 

Also, while Chamberlain worked
mostly as a setup man two years ago, Feliz is expected to serve as a long
reliever in Texas, increasing the chances of him finishing the regular season
with more innings, strikeouts and maybe even more wins along the way.

 

As far as stuff goes, a more apt
comparison might be fellow countryman Francisco Rodriguez, whose late arrival
played a pivotal role in the Angels’ 2002 World Series run, and all at the age
of 20.

 

All signs point toward Feliz
rounding into an elite fantasy option, whether as a top-flight closer or a
front-line starter.

 

No wonder the Rangers refused to
bet the farm on Roy Halladay.

 

-Alex
Cushing, MLB.com

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