Had a lousy catcher on your team all season? This may be the week you get a reprieve, as I can’t remember so many good potential free agent catchers in one week in a long time. Carlos Ruiz, Russell Martin, Ronny Paulino and Michael Napoli all found playing time opportunities. OK, if you’re in a 10-team mixed league you’re not exactly excited, but it’s pretty rare in a deep NL- or AL-only league when you can find one catcher on any given week who’s more than a backup. There are also a lot of big names set to come off the DL this week (Griffey, Bradley, Wood, Kinsler, Hermida), so be sure to think ahead with those players. Here’s a look at players whose stock is rising or falling based on recent events.

Note: all statistics below are through Monday, May 9, unless otherwise noted.

Rising – AL

  • Melky Cabrera (NYY) – With Gary Sheffield on the DL, Cabrera was called up and will get playing time in right field. He was hitting .385/.430/.566. At just 21, he may be too raw to thrive as a Joe Torre Yankee, but he’ll get playing time in the short term.
  • Esteban German (KC) – He’s getting a shot at third base after Mark Teahen sent to Triple-A. He’s hitting .447 and has always shown good plate discipline. He had 43 steals at Triple-A last season, so that alone makes him worth a flier if he gets any consistent playing time.
  • Tommy Murphy (ANA) – With Darin Erstad and Casey Kotchman hurt, Murphy will get a chance to play in center. He was hitting .352/.398/.495 over 91 at-bats at Triple-A. At 26, he’s not viewed as a top prospect but may be worth a shot in deeper leagues.
  • Michael Napoli (ANA) – Homered in his first AB and could get steady at bats at catcher with Jeff Mathis now demoted.
  • J.J. Putz (SEA) – He’s taken over the closer role from a struggling Eddie Guardardo, although Rafael Soriano may also get some save chances.
  • Juan Rivera (ANA) – Back off the DL and started right away on Tuesday. He should get plenty of at bats with several Angels on the DL.
  • Michael Cuddyer (MIN) – He’s on fire at the plate (13-for-31 over his last seven games) and has overtaken Lew Ford as the starting right fielder, moving to first base against most left-handed pitchers (with Justin Morneau going to the bench).

Falling – AL

  • Travis Lee (TB) – He’s in a 9-for-59 slump and the Devil Rays are finally getting healthy. He may end up on the bench in place of Ty Wigginton when Jorge Cantu and Rocco Baldelli return from injuries.
  • Kyle Lohse (MIN) – Another bad outing has his ERA up to an eye-popping 9.71. It may only be a start or two before he’s replaced by Francisco Liriano in the rotation.
  • Eddie Guardado (SEA) – Loses the closer’s job in Seattle, and probably isn’t even second in line if something were to happen to J.J. Putz. There’s no guarantee that anyone tries to trade for him and make him their closer later in the year, either.
  • Tony Batista (MIN) – Sat in favor of Liu Rodriguez on Tuesday night, and could continue to get less playing time in the future.
  • Justin Huber (KC) – Called up last week when Mike Sweeney got hurt, but inexplicably has only three at-bats since then. Since we can’t downgrade Allard Baird or Buddy Bell any further, consider this a symbolic downgrade.
  • Jeremy Reed (SEA) – Another young player getting squeezed on playing time. What are these teams thinking?

Check Status – AL

  • Milton Bradley (OAK) – He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Friday from knee and oblique injuries, but may need a few more days.
  • Jose Contreras (CHI-A) – He went on the 15-day DL Tuesday with a pinched nerve in his right leg.
  • Darin Erstad (ANA) – Just went on the DL with an ankle injury.
  • Jason Kendall (OAK) – Out four games after dropping his appeal of suspension for charging the mound against John Lackey.
  • Ian Kinsler (TEX) – Could return from a thumb injury this week, but may need a short rehab assignment first.
  • Casey Kotchman (ANA) – He finally went on the 15-day DL on Tuesday with a viral syndrome.
  • Gary Sheffield (NYY) – He landed on the 15-day disabled list with a left hand contusion.

Rising – NL

  • Jose Bautista (PIT) – Just called up from Triple-A, he’ll get steady at bats in center field and at third base.
  • Carlos Beltran (NYN) – He’s hot since coming back from a hamstring injury with 5 HR, 7 RBI, 2 SB in nine games. The steals are perhaps the most encouraging sign since he had a leg injury.
  • Joe Borchard (FLA) – He’s getting regular playing time since coming over from Seattle. He should get an opportunity to get plenty of at-bats in Florida where all outfielders but Josh Willingham are struggling – at least until Jeremy Hermida returns from the DL.
  • Juan Cruz (AZ) – He’s always had a strong skill set, but couldn’t find a role. After two strong starts (five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts his last time out) it looks like he’ll stick.
  • Carlos Ruiz (PHI) – He’ll get regular playing time while Mike Lieberthal is on the DL and could be the future behind the plate for the Phils. He was hitting .385/.448/.637 at Triple-A with six home runs.
  • Steve Finley (SF) – Should play nearly every day with Moises Alou on the DL.
  • Nomar Garciaparra (LAD) – He’s hitting third, looking healthy and heating up at the plate (10-for-33 in his last 10 games).
  • Cole Hamels (PHI) – He’s given up just one run in 23 innings at Triple-A, and just got called up to Philly.
  • Noah Lowry (SF) – Off the DL and pitched well in his first game back.
  • Sean Marshall (CHI-N) – The rookie is starting to look for real with three straight strong starts (18/6 K/BB ratio in 20 IP). His WHIP on the year is 0.89.
  • Russell Martin (LAD) – The top catching prospect is getting everyday duty after getting called up from Triple-A and could keep the job over Dioner Navarro.
  • Ronny Paulino (PIT) – He’s getting the bulk of catching duties while Ryan Doumit remains troubled by a strained hamstring, and could keep part of the job if he stays hot at the plate.

Falling – NL

  • Matt Cain (SF) – Avoids a demotion for now, but if his command doesn’t improve soon, he could end up reacquainting himself with Fresno.
  • Brad Hennessey (SF) – Loses his spot in the starting rotation with Noah Lowry coming back.
  • Odalis Perez (LAD) – He’ll work in the bullpen after a slow start (6.90 ERA in six starts).
  • Elizardo Ramirez (CIN) – Skipped because of the off-day this week, and likely sent down once Eric Milton is ready to come off the DL.
  • Glendon Rusch (CHI-N) – Demoted from the rotation after struggling.

Check Status – NL

  • Moises Alou (SF) – Ankle sprain looks fairly serious. The Giants immediately put him on the DL, but we won’t have a full prognosis on his return date until later this week.
  • Ray Durham (SF) – Could return from a hamstring injury this weekend.
  • Jeremy Hermida (FLA) – He started working out Tuesday in coming back from a sore hip flexor. He could return at some point next week.
  • Prince Fielder (MIL) – He’s struggling with a sore groin muscle and has missed two consecutive games.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. (CIN) – He could be activated from the DL any day now from a knee injury. He’s return is day to day, so watch his status closely.
  • Wade Miller (CHI-N) – He had a setback (shoulder “didn’t feel right”), which means he’s out indefinitely.
  • Sidney Ponson (STL) – Went on the disabled list Tuesday with a strained muscle in his right elbow, which means the Cardinals will go with a four-man rotation with off days the next few weeks.
  • Joe Randa (PIT) – Placed on the DL because of a bruised right foot, his injury opens playing time for Freddy Sanchez and Jose Bautista.
  • Wandy Rodriguez (HOU) He is doubtful to make his start on Saturday due to an infection in his mouth and throat.
  • Ben Sheets (MIL) – It was thought he could maybe start this Thursday, but his sore shoulder landed him on the DL.
  • Jack Wilson (PIT) – Out until this weekend due to a strained hamstring.
  • Kerry Wood (CHI-N) – He’s looked dominant in his first rehab start from a shoulder injury, striking out 12 Single-A Lansing Lugnuts batters in a dominant five innings Sunday. He’s due back May 17.
  • Victor Zambrano (NYM) – Out for year with a torn flexor tendon.

The Disclaimer

One of the problems with writing an upgrade/downgrade column for baseball is the very nature of the sport. Nearly every player goes through assorted streaks and slumps, and trying to capitalize on those swings is a dangerous business. Fantasy players run the risk of catching the tail-end of such a swing, just in time to see the opposite take effect after you act. While we will point out such streaks in this column, please keep in mind that we are also looking for role changes, or changes in the player’s base skill-set.

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