Albert Pujols, Cardinals: Well, this should come as no surprise to anyone, but Pujols is a pretty decent player. We normally try to avoid the obvious here, but Pujols demands attention. He's now hitting .391 and while we mentioned it would be tough for him to overtake some of the other big bats on the ESPN Player Rater because Pujols doesn't run, we stand corrected. Despite nary a steal, Pujols is the top player in fantasy baseball right now, beating the five-category guys easily. If you can acquire him in a deal, do so. But then again, you already knew that. Look up Larry Walker's amazing 1997 season, subtract the steals and enjoy this.
Luis Matos, Orioles: Now here's a guy you can get easily. The Oriole center fielder has a track record of running, but not hitting. Now he's doing both, though you probably haven't noticed since all you hear about in Baltimore is Melvin Mora. But Mora owes some success to Matos, since he's on base so much. Mora's hitting third now and Matos second, generally, and they're feeding off each other. Matos entered 2003 with a .212 average in the bigs, but he's at .346 now and sustaining it. He hit three homers and stole two bases in the past week alone, and remains owned in only 29.9 percent of leagues. Act now.
Rod Beck, Padres: You don't care if he's 73 years old, or throws his fastball at that speed as well. All you care about are the saves, and Beck's the guy getting them in Padreland. Don't worry that Jay Witasick closed Sunday; Beck was brought in to what appeared another hopeless Padre loss in the eighth, then they came back. Beck's allowed runs in only two of his outings, and he's got four saves in the last two weeks. It's not much - hey, the Pads don't exactly win much - but saves are saves, especially if you lose your league by one of them. And why bother with a middle reliever who might get lit when Beck's got 10 Ks in 10 innings? And while we have the Padres on your mind, Jake Peavy just got through shutting down the Mariners to the tune of zero runs in 14.2 innings, and he's readily available. He's now won four straight starts, and he finished June with a 3.43 ERA in six starts.
Bill Mueller, Red Sox: All it takes is one good weekend and a slump turns into a hot streak. Mueller is normally a consistent hitter, but he entered the weekend in a June swoon, hitting .203 with a lame three RBI, and ESPN owners were cutting him. Then the Sox score 800 runs this weekend, with Mueller going 7-for-12 with a homer and seven RBI. Look, Mueller's not a star. But this Red Sox lineup can make him pretty valuable, more than some big name guys. If you dropped Mueller a week ago, it was probably a mistake.
Raul Ibanez, Royals: This guy has generally underachieved this season, as he's on pace for nothing special, just 19 homers, 87 RBI. But he's been a little hot, homering Saturday, and it's time for him to get really hot. Ibanez has had a fine June, with 17 RBI and a .275 average. Remember last July? Ibanez hit nine homers and knocked in 31 and he was on his way to 100 RBI. With Mike Sweeney out of the Royals lineup, Ibanez moves up in the order and the RBI should be a flowing. So maybe Ibanez isn't truly hot, not like a Bo Hart or Gabe Kapler, each of whom are sure to cool off fast, but this is speculative.
Jose Reyes, Mets: This ought to anger the Mets fans, but look at this numbers. Reyes does have an incredible 15 RBI in 19 games, a staggering ratio for a guy like him, since he can't really hit. Reyes is batting .200 and it's no fluke. He doesn't walk and has no power, and it showed in Triple-A earlier this season. Can he run? Of course, he could steal bases right away. But as a fantasy player it's not about the emotion he brings or the fielding, which are the reasons the Mets probably won't send him down. Reyes might kill your average, and his RBI pace is purely fortunate; his homer was a grand slam, and overall 12 of the RBI came in three games. It doesn't prove he's clutch, either. In a year, I want Reyes; today, don't get too attached, because the future is not now for this 20-year-old. Find the Mets fan in your league and deal Reyes before Rey Sanchez is again the starting SS.
Frank Catalanotto, Blue Jays: MIght be time to get a little worried about this guy, who has had a terrific first half, but might have become a bit overrated. The Cat is ninth in the AL in runs, a pure result of Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells doing their Mantle-Maris in 1961 impression. But his average is dropping - it's down to .303 after a .240 week, and there isn't much in the power department he can sustain. We're not saying drop the guy, just that if there was a good time to deal him, it's here or it's passed. Reed Johnson will take his lefty at-bats, and at some point this year when the Jays stop keeping pace in the AL East Jayson Werth will get a shot to play right field.
Brad Lidge, Astros: Grabbing middle relievers can be a risky deal for fantasy owners. On one hand, the real good ones give innings and never get lit; they steal a few wins, strike people out, etc. Lidge was the top middle man in the NL until last week - yes, better than Octavio Dotel - when he tortured those who believed in him by giving up eight earned runs over two outings against Arizona and Texas. Just a bad few days, you say? Well, Lidge is on pace for nearly 100 innings, but many owners won't get more than 20 or so out of him, and those eight runs will defeat the purpose of adding him. His season ERA was 1.40 a week ago, now it's double. He might be fine and not allow another run for a month, but it's more likely this injury prone guy - he would've been up a year ago if he could have stayed healthy - is suffering from some degree of overuse. You should never fall in love with a middle reliever, but go with the hot ones. Right now Lidge isn't hot.
Alex Sanchez, Tigers: Shocked? You shouldn't be. The Brewers cut the guy, what more info do you need. We still don't know why a 120-loss team in Detroit would want a non-tools outfielder like this, but we do know why fantasy owners would; he steals a lot of bases. When Sanchez doesn't do that, then you don't want him. Regardless of whether baseball people think this guy should be a fifth outfielder, a Tom Goodwin clone if you will, Detroit might be close to cutting him loose. Sanchez stole 10 bags in his first 10 games with Detroit, but they were meaningless steals; he wasn't scoring runs. He hasn't stolen a base in the last six games, but has been caught three times. In his last 27 at-bats he's scored no runs. Don't invest anything in Sanchez, since he could be on his way out again and even if he sticks as a Tiger, he's a one-category guy. Unless you're desperate for each and every steal, you'd be better off with a more well-rounded player, and we can name about 100 of them right now.
Jeff Nelson, Mariners: When Kazuhiro Sasaki went down with that strange injury - for those not aware, he broke ribs while lifting a suitcase - it appeared a great time to add Nelson, a proven setup man with closing experience. Now the Mariners have to be worried about Nelson and Arthur Rhodes. And we'd recommend looking at Shigetoshi Hasegawa, unless the Mariners make a trade or Sasaki overcomes his Samsonite disorder real soon. Nelson's allowed seven earned runs in his last four outings, covering a grand total of 2.2 innings. That's bad. And the Padres, of all teams, were responsible for two of those outings. Nelson's no lock to get any more saves, or he could remain the main closer. Do you want to take the chance?