By now we should admit there are some closer scenarios that may never be fully resolved.
At about the two-thirds point, no singular reliever has gained much traction for the Orioles or Royals, and their save chances are too sporadic for us to care much anyway. Meanwhile, the Indians, Twins and Tigers continue to split save chances between the same two relievers that you’re probably tired of hearing about.
So at least in this installment of the Bullpen Report, I’m going to leave those five closer scenarios to languish and focus on others that may be on the verge of more permanent change — namely because of the trade deadline.
While closers are rarely the headliners on July 31, they are responsible for some of the biggest shifts in Fantasy value because of their influence on the coveted save statistic. If any are moved — and some surely will be — a new closer candidate will emerge in his place. I’m endeavoring here to identify a few ahead of time in case you want to stash them away preemptively.
Of course, there are other closer scenarios to address beyond just those with a potential trade at the center, but we’ll begin this week with the three that are most likely to be disrupted by the deadline.
Note: “Pecking order” refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who’s first in line for saves (though it’s usually one and the same).
Craig Kimbrel’s value doesn’t figure to change at the trade deadline since he’ll almost certainly remain the closer no matter where he winds up, but he’ll leave some big shoes to fill. Ryan Tepera did step in one time when Kimbrel needed a day off back in May and has put up closer-caliber numbers in a setup role, but it’s possible he and left-hander Andrew Chafin split closer duties once Kimbrel is gone. For what it’s worth, the Cubs do have some intriguing candidates further down the pecking order if they decide to keep their setup situation intact.
Richard Rodriguez has a couple years of team control left, making him less than a slam dunk to be traded, as bad as the Pirates are. And maybe it’s for the best if he isn’t — better to be the closer for a bad team than the setup man for a good one. David Bednar would be the obvious candidate to replace him since he’s already the eighth-inning guy and has the best numbers. But just in case the Pirates are too clever by half and instead opt to lay the groundwork for a favorable arbitration ruling for Bednar a couple years from now, I’ve listed a couple alternatives.
Like the Pirates’ Rodriguez, Kennedy is probably better off staying put, and it’s not like there’s an exciting alternative lined up for the Rangers. Perhaps, then, the most likely scenario is that they go the Orioles or Royals route and rarely turn back to the same guy for their too-infrequent save opportunities. For the sake of argument, though, Josh Sborz got a save chance when Kennedy was sidelined by injury not long ago — and blew it. Since then, 33-year-old Spencer Patton has emerged as Kennedy’s setup man and looked fairly stable, but the sample is small enough that his numbers could go south in a hurry.
Aroldis Chapman has been a disaster since the foreign substance crackdown began, his ERA rising from 0.39 ERA to 4.41 in the span of 13 appearances, and his corresponding decline in spin rates during that time paint a grim picture. He has looked better since the break, so maybe the storm has passed, but a couple more blown saves could get manager Aaron Boone exploring alternatives. Fellow left-hander Zack Britton has a favorable track record and closing experience, but he’s been sidelined by injury most of this year and has looked unsteady since coming off the IL. Chad Green may be the more logical choice.
After keeping his ERA below 2.00 for the first two months, Yimi Garcia has steadily slipped back into mediocrity, delivering a 7.24 ERA over this past 16 appearances. Manager Don Mattingly so far hasn’t moved to replace him, but an intriguing alternative has emerged in Anthony Bender, who got a save July 5. He’s been a little shaky since then, but his numbers are still studly overall. As with David Bednar and the Pirates, though, a non-contender might hesitate to put a rookie in the closer role, if only for financial reasons.
When Paul Sewald recorded a save in back-to-back appearances, it seemed like manager Scott Servais might be up to his old tricks. After all, Sewald had an ERA that could compete with Kendall Graveman’s along with a strikeout rate more befitting a closer. But it turns out Sewald’s first save came on a day when Graveman was unavailable and his second on a day when Graveman struggled to retire the side in the ninth. Graveman bounced back to secure the Mariners’ latest save chance Tuesday while Sewald struggled in the eighth inning, so it appears the status quo still goes in Seattle.
Peter Fairbanks has handled the Rays’ past two save chances, but with them, we should know better than to presume a changing of the guard is taking place. Fairbanks worked the eighth inning Tuesday, with Diego Castillo following him in the ninth, so I’m thinking Castillo remains the top dog for now. Of course, you shouldn’t be surprised to see J.P. Feyereisen or even Matt Wisler pop in with the occasional save. Collin McHugh and Andrew Kittredge have actually been the Rays’ best relievers, but they seem to have settled in as bulk guys.
After the failed Jose Alvarado experiment, manager Joe Girardi appears to have settled on another left-hander, Ranger Suarez, as the Phillies closer, turning to him for three of the team’s past four saves. The other one went to former closer Hector Neris when Suarez was owed a day off Sunday, which would suggest that he’s next in line. Suarez is lacking big swing-and-miss stuff and doesn’t have the role on lockdown yet, but his extreme ground-ball tendencies have yielded a microscopic ERA.
Heath Hembree has emerged as manager David Bell’s go-to for saves since Lucas Sims went down with a sprained elbow, recording five in July, but seeing as left-hander Amir Garrett got the most recent save, with Hembree working the eighth, it’s fair to say the closer role is up in the air. Sims, then, may still be the favorite given that he was Bell’s most trusted reliever before he went down. He’s set to begin a rehab assignment next week. For what it’s worth, none of these relievers has particularly good numbers.
Losing 31 of 33 games during a stretch that covered most of May and June kept the Diamondbacks’ closer leanings under wraps for the longest time, but in July, it’s become clear Joakim Soria is the guy. He has recorded five saves this month alone, not that he’s looked all that impressive in doing so. Of course, he’s a trade candidate himself given that he’s only signed through this year and the Diamondbacks are buried in the standings. Noe Ramirez has recently emerged as the eighth-inning guy, but he’s a 31-year-old journeyman himself and likely doesn’t have staying power.