Peavy, Harden worth the risk

Jake Peavy has been off our starting pitcher list for about two months. Honestly, despite All-Star break rumblings about the Padres potentially working their ace back into shape in the second half, I have to admit I was never really tempted to put Peavy back under fantasy consideration. After all, he was trapped in a baseball wasteland in San Diego. Why would a horrible team miles away from playoff contention dream of rushing Peavy into action?

Then, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams pulled his Friday surprise.

Williams traded away Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard and a couple of lower-level pitching prospects and suddenly thrust Peavy into the heat of a pennant race. As of today, Chicago is two games out of first in the AL Central, and suddenly Peavy looks like perhaps the most important person in the American League playoff chase.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Peavy tossed a bullpen session Sunday afternoon and didn't have any pain in his surgically repaired ankle. Suddenly, the White Sox are talking about having him active with the big club before the end of August, provided his rehabilitation continues apace. So for the season's final month, it's sounding like there's a really good chance fantasy owners are going to have a chance to add a Cy Young winner to their staffs.

Now, Peavy is still owned in most ESPN leagues. Wisely, it turns out, most of his fantasy owners decided to wait for definitive word that Peavy's season was over before cutting ties with him. But Peavy is available in about 7 percent of leagues, and certainly that should be remedied immediately. If he's available in your league, you've got absolutely nothing to lose by adding him. But should you trade for him?

I think you should. Clearly, you'd be buying very low. There's a chance that something goes bad with Peavy's rehab; there's a chance that he's not able to get his usual stuff on track after such a long time off; there's a chance that a far less favorable pitching environment saps his performance level; and there's a chance that he'll struggle more having to face designated hitters rather than pitchers. But the potential reward is great. Despite the fact that his best-case scenario probably would see Peavy pitch for only about half of the remaining season, I pushed him all the way to No. 67 in our starting pitcher ranks today, and as the weeks go by (and provided he doesn't have any setbacks), that ranking will progressively go up. If he gets, say, six or seven starts in September, and if he's right, Peavy could make a real difference, especially in strikeouts and possibly in wins. Yes, there's more risk associated with him than perhaps anyone on our list (OK, well, Manny Parra is also on the list, so maybe that's an overstatement), but I think he's worth it.

Fortunes Rising

Cliff Lee, Phillies (11th): Fantasy-wise, Lee was clearly one of the trade deadline's winners. He went from a Cleveland offense that didn't offer him much run support to the top scoring team in the National League, led by Ryan Howard and the boys. He went from playing out the string to the adrenaline rush of fighting for the playoffs. And he went from pitching against designated hitters to pitching against pitchers. I'm sure not every start will be wine and roses, the way Lee's first outing was Friday: a one-run, four-hit, two-walk, six-strikeout complete-game win over San Francisco. But Lee was on a pretty good roll anyway. He should be boffo for the Phillies.

Rich Harden, Cubs (22nd): You never know when a great Rich Harden streak will end with him grimacing in pain at some muscle tweak, but for the moment, you just have to ride it out. This guy is smoking. He's up to 115 strikeouts in 98 innings so far in 2009, a rate that would put him third in the league behind only Tim Lincecum and Justin Verlander in strikeouts-per-nine if Harden had enough innings to qualify. In his past four starts, he has 32 strikeouts and five walks in 24 innings to go with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. Were I needing to make a late push in starting pitching categories, I might actually think about trading for Harden despite the fact that I'd be buying high. He's shown that he can keep up this kind of production. It's a high-risk, potentially high-reward idea.

Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies (53rd): Earlier this year, I remarked about how smart the Royals were for trading De La Rosa, a control-challenged lefty, for Ramon Ramirez, whom they subsequently flipped a year later for Coco Crisp. Well, Crisp is out for the year, Ramirez has cooled off since his hot first six weeks, and all De La Rosa has done (when he's not the lead singer for Rage Against The Machine) is turn in six consecutive quality starts, each of which saw him strike out at least five hitters. Since June 16, he has a 3.02 ERA. On the season, he's also 27th in the league in ground-ball rate, a must for Coors success. (Fun fact: Did you know that the Rockies have four starters in the top 27 in ground-ball rate so far this year?) And despite his great stats in the past seven weeks, De La Rosa has a very unlucky strand rate this season (just 67.5 percent, 11th-lowest in the majors). He's available in more than 80 percent of ESPN.com leagues. The starting-needy among us should remedy that.

Fortunes Falling

CC Sabathia, Yankees (15th): I don't know what's eating Sabathia (get it?), but this isn't the guy we signed up for when he became a Bronx Bomber. In his past seven starts, he does have four wins, but he also has an ERA of 3.95 and a WHIP of 1.37. That's not disastrous (which is why I've left him 15th), but it's not good. Sabathia's strikeouts-per-nine for the year is just 6.62, just 47th best among qualifiers. That's his worst strikeout rate since 2004. The Yankees paid $23 million per year for this? Obviously, you can't drop him, nor do I think you can get fair market value for him by trading him. You just have to wait out the big guy.

Roy Oswalt, Astros (24th): Oswalt came out of his start one week ago because of a bad back, and the Astros have been trying to figure out when he'll be able to pitch since then. They immediately scratched him from Sunday's game, but then hoped he'd be able to go tonight. No such luck, as Felipe Paulino will get the call instead. Oswalt told reporters that he still feels pain when he throws, and that he's worried if he lets it go as hard as he can, he'll reinjure himself. That's not good. A DL stint could be in the offing. In the meantime, prospect Bud Norris made a start in Oswalt's place and pitched seven shutout innings. He's addable in NL-only leagues.

Johnny Cueto, Reds (61st). Along with Jered Weaver (and, alas, Matt Cain), Cueto was one of the guys I warned fantasy owners most about after a hot first couple of months. Two out of three ain't bad. Cueto has been terrible for five straight outings: 10.32 ERA, 2.42 WHIP and 17 strikeouts and 11 walks in 22 2/3 innings. I'm vindicated in my belief that he was going to take a downturn, but Cueto isn't this bad. It's possible he's tired or it's possible he's hurt. Either way, I wouldn't have him active in fantasy leagues until the Reds figure it out. Incidentally, Cueto's young rotation mate Edinson Volquez had Tommy John surgery this weekend, and figures to be a long shot to contribute in 2010.

Comings And Goings

Chad Billingsley struck out nine batters in just five innings Sunday night against the Braves, but had to come out of the game because of what the Dodgers have termed a hamstring cramp. As of this writing, the team seems to expect Billingsley to be able to make his next start, but check for updates later in the week.

• Though he came out of his latest start after four innings complaining of a sore hamstring, Wandy Rodriguez expects to make his next start, Friday against Milwaukee. That could change once Rodriguez tries to throw a side session later in the week, but for the moment, it sounds like he's safe to use.

• The Mariners' official Web site reports that Erik Bedard was able to play catch without pain on Sunday. Bedard still has hurdles over which he'll need to jump to be ready to come off the DL this time next week, including the fact he still hasn't thrown off a mound. Anyone who's ever owned Bedard knows that'll be no small accomplishment.

Kevin Millwood, who came out of a July 26 start because of a strained gluteus muscle, is expected to go for the Rangers on Saturday. The team had believed Millwood would be able to pitch Monday, but he wasn't ready yet, so cross your fingers about next weekend.

Francisco Liriano was scratched from his start last Wednesday because of forearm stiffness which, for a guy who had Tommy John surgery, isn't good. Now, Liriano did throw a bullpen session this weekend and said he felt fine, so he'll supposedly start Wednesday night against the Indians. But considering all evidence we've seen from this guy this year, there's less and less doubt in my mind how this movie ends.

Brandon Webb is officially out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery Monday. The surgery was reportedly not as serious as it might have been, and Webb apparently didn't have a torn labrum or rotator cuff. But the Diamondbacks haven't really said exactly what was fixed, so it's hard to get a clear timetable on Webb for 2010 at this point.

Randy Johnson, who has now been diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff, hopes to return to the Giants in September, but reportedly realizes it might not be realistic to do so as a starter. So he's preparing himself to be a potential relief specialist down the stretch drive for San Francisco. Obviously, this is just about the death knell for his fantasy value.

Mat Latos pitched against the Braves Monday night and went seven innings, allowing six hits, two walks and two runs while striking out three. The Padres' official Web site reported Monday that Latos will be on an innings count for the rest of the season and that he's more than likely to be shut down in September. That gives him only four or five more starts this year, but he's got a 2.66 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP so far as a big leaguer. He's addable in the short term.

• The Blue Jays activated Scott Richmond from the DL last week, but he gave up four runs, seven hits, three walks and struck out two in just three innings in his first big league start since late June. He doesn't need to be active in mixed leagues right now, though obviously his first-half production showed promise.

Kevin Hart, who was traded from the Cubs to the Pirates in a trade that brought Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to Chicago, should make his Pittsburgh debut Thursday against the Diamondbacks. He replaces Virgil Vasquez in the rotation.

• The Orioles are expected to call up Brian Matusz to start tonight against the Tigers in place of Brad Bergesen, whom the team placed on the DL this weekend after he was struck in the leg by a batted ball in his latest outing. Matusz joins fellow blue-chip prospect Chris Tillman in the Orioles' rotation, and is worth considering in deeper leagues. Neither Tillman nor Matusz is a future ace, and shouldn't be treated as such right now. But as guys who could develop into No. 3 or even No. 2 starters, they're definitely worth remembering over the next year or two.

Fausto Carmona returned to the Indians Friday night and allowed two runs in five innings. That sounds fine, but Carmona also walked four and fanned just one, perpetuating the alarming trend that got him sent to the minors for a couple of months in the first place. It'll take a brave fantasy owner indeed to invest in Carmona in anything but an AL-only league.

Ian Snell returned to the majors last weekend, but in a Mariners uniform rather than a Pirates one. Snell was part of the trade that also netted Seattle Jack Wilson for Ronny Cedeno and some lesser pitching prospects, and presumably the departure from Pittsburgh helped clear up what had become a bad attitude. Snell was good in his M's debut, allowing two runs in six innings. I still wouldn't go near him in a mixed league, but AL-only owners can take note.

• The Marlins sent Andrew Miller to the minors last week to try to figure out what's wrong with him (he's got 38 walks in 76 2/3 big league innings this year), but he rolled his ankle in a start for Triple-A New Orleans. He also has 11 walks in 5 2/3 minor league innings since his demotion.

Chien-Ming Wang underwent surgery on his right shoulder to repair a torn ligament last week, and is obviously done for the season. The recovery time for this injury is reportedly between six and eight months.

• The Brewers put Jeff Suppan on the DL last Thursday because of a strained oblique; he injured himself during a plate appearance in his latest start. Milwaukee used reliever Carlos Villanueva in Suppan's place this weekend, and Villanueva responded with five shutout innings against the Padres.

Bartolo Colon went on the DL with a right elbow problem, and the White Sox were reportedly displeased that Colon hid the lingering injury from them. With Clayton Richard gone to San Diego in the trade that brought Jake Peavy to the South Side, reliever D.J. Carrasco made a start Friday against the Yankees, and it didn't go well. Chicago may go with Carlos Torres as its fifth starter until Peavy is healthy enough to contribute.

Rich Hill is done for the year with a tear in his labrum, and the Orioles lefty is expected to go under the knife sometime in the next week. The extent of the damage is unknown, but at this point it wouldn't seem like Hill would be a major part of Baltimore's plans either way.

• The Royals designated Sidney Ponson for assignment this weekend and recalled Kyle Davies from Triple-A Omaha to take Ponson's place in their rotation. Davies isn't a good fantasy option in any format.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can e-mail him here.