The July 31 MLB trade deadline has come and gone, with lots of top veterans changing teams and leagues. For anyone in AL-only or NL-only leagues, this was a great week as new stars are now entering your leagues. You have Manny Ramirez leaving the AL for the NL, Mark Teixeira leaving the NL for the AL, Jason Bay leaving the NL for the AL and even Ken Griffey Jr. going from the NL to the AL. Let the bidding for the top stars begin.
But most fantasy-leaguers play in mixed leagues, and for them the trade deadline produced more duds than studs. A few young prospects earned better roles as a result of those trades, but not enough to change the landscape dramatically during the last two months of the MLB season. Still, take a look at these youngsters down the stretch as they could turn into fantasy gems if all works out:
Andy LaRoche, 3B, Pirates: The Pirates may have been the biggest winners in this three-way trade involving Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers and Jason Bay to the Red Sox as they came away with four solid prospects. LaRoche has been handed the starting third base job, but he could eventually move to second base as the Pirates already have top prospects Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez in their plans at the hot corner. LaRoche never got untracked in Los Angeles this year as he was hitting .188 with just two homers and six RBIs at the time of the trade. In a smaller market and with the starting job ensured -- thus pushing Jose Bautista to the bench -- it's possible that LaRoche will settle down and be a productive fantasy player the rest of the year.
Brandon Moss, OF, Pirates: Moss was included in the deal to Pittsburgh and will be given the starting left field job, although Jose Bautista could get some starts there as well. Moss is a 2002 eighth-round pick who has shown good upside recently and he was hitting .282 with eight homers and 30 RBIs at Triple-A Pawtucket before seeing action in 34 games with the Red Sox. He has good power potential, but from a fantasy perspective he might be a bit too risky to jump on for 2008. Give him time to grow in this organization and then look at him next year.
Jeff Karstens, SP/Craig Hansen, RP, Pirates: Acquired in separate deals, both pitchers have some fantasy appeal down the stretch, but it's limited. Karstens was acquired from the Yankees in the late July Xavier Nady deal and he threw six shutout innings in his Pirates' debut on Friday night to earn the win against the Cubs. Before that, he started 12 games at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre and was 6-4 with a 3.80 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. Hansen is a '05 first-round pick out of St. John's who just hasn't been able to harness his control enough to be an effective big league pitcher. In 32 games with Boston this year, he was 1-3 with a 5.58 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 23 walks in 30.2 innings. He has the potential to be a closer down the road, but for now he will be a setup man and eventually grow into the later innings.
Emilio Bonifacio, 2B, Nationals: Acquired from Arizona in the Jon Rauch deal two weeks ago, Bonifacio had a solid debut at Triple-A Columbus as he hit .452 with three RBIs and four stolen bases in eight games and now has earned the leadoff job in Washington for the rest of the season. The Nationals will give him every chance to succeed this year as he offers an element of speed that wasn't present before. Bonifacio stole 61 bases at Class A Lancaster in '06, added 41 last year at Double-A Mobile and had 21 SBs in 93 games in the minors this year. He also was hitting .314 in the minors, although he was hitting .238 for the Nationals through last week. If you need speed, grab Bonifacio for the stretch run and hope the batting average gets a boost.
Francisco Liriano, SP, Twins: Liriano was finally promoted to the Twins over the weekend and made his debut on Sunday with the Twins on the verge of catching the White Sox in the AL Central Division. It was about time as Liriano was 10-0 in his last 11 starts at Triple-A Rochester with a sub-2.50 ERA. He has been downright dominant in his last six starts with a 0.42 ERA and good control and should be a great late season addition for any fantasy team.
Other call-ups of note include pitchers Anibal Sanchez of Florida and Tommy Hunter of Texas. Sanchez made his first MLB start in 15 months on Thursday night after battling back from Tommy John surgery. He picked up the win by allowing just two runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 5.2 innings. Remember, he was a 10-game winner in '06 before the injury and his fastball looks good again. He could be a cheap pickup for the stretch run if you need another arm. Hunter was a '07 first-round pick who has gone from Class A to the majors this year, which may be too quick of a jump. He was 11-8 in 22 starts in the minors this year with a 3.56 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 144 innings. He was rocked for six earned runs in five innings on Friday in his MLB debut and may be limited to one or two more starts. It's not wise to pick up any Texas pitcher at this point and Hunter may be in over his head right now.
With Todd Jones on the DL, the Tigers handed the closer's role to Fernando Rodney and he gave up runs during his first three appearances after that, blowing one save. It's his job to lose, but don't be surprised if newly acquired Kyle Farnsworth gets a look in the late innings. He was solid in 45 games with the Yankees before the trade and he put up some of his best numbers with Detroit in '05. Watch that situation closely as Farnsworth could be a worthy pickup now.
Jason Isringhausen was handed the closer's job again in St. Louis and on Friday he earned his first save since May 5. If he's somehow available in your league he's worth a second look.
With Francisco Liriano now in the majors, the next big-time name in line to get called up is Tampa SP David Price. I know I've hyped him for weeks now, but with the Rays battling for a divisional title, it may be time to add one more quality arm to the rotation. Price, the No. 1 pick of the '07 draft out of Vanderbilt, could be a staff ace in a few years and he definitely could help the Rays down the stretch this year. He remains unbeaten in 14 minor-league starts this year, going a combined 10-0 at Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Montgomery with a 1.97 ERA, 85 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 86.2 innings. This guy is something special and he could determine the AL race -- and your fantasy league race -- during the last month of this season.
The Rays are also close to calling up veteran OF Rocco Baldelli to DH and platoon in the outfield, but his continued health problems make him a questionable pickup in fantasy leagues because he will struggle to play back-to-back games. In 13 games at Montgomery, he was hitting .297 with three homers, eight RBIs and a .409 on-base percentage. He could make an impact at DH down the stretch, but only if he can remain healthy and in the lineup. Watch his situation closely before doing the same and committing to him down the stretch.
Now is the time where you make the final push with key pickups and pull away for that fantasy league title. The waiver wire remains thin as most of the top prospects were called up earlier this year, but keep watching and the right pickup will be there for you. Good luck.