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Closers in Waiting and Relievers Worth Adding

The Major League Baseball Trade Deadline is fast approaching. I expect the removal of the waiver trade period in August will bring about a flurry of activity throughout the month of July, particularly around the All-Star break, as teams can take a step back and assess their situations. Typically, we see a fair amount of turnover at the closer position as a result of midseason trades. Forward-thinking fantasy owners use this as an opportunity to speculate on pitchers who may find themselves closing games in the second half of the season. Keeper league owners can also benefit by identifying pitchers who may end up closers in 2020 and getting them cheap now. I think finding those closers in waiting is a bit more difficult this year than in years past. There are several reasons for this in my opinion.

I think part of the reason is that it’s hard to identify closers in waiting when we don’t even know who the closer of the present is on some teams. With more teams employing a matchup-based approach, precious few teams have a bona fide Closer. (Emphasis on the capital “C”.) Teams like Baltimore and Seattle will be sellers, but I can’t imagine many teams clamoring for Mychal Givens or Roenis Elias. On the flip side, even good teams have eschewed the prototypical closer. Boston, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota have multiple options they use at the back end of ballgames. Despite these teams combining to win nearly 60 percent of their games, none of their pitchers appear in the top-20 in saves.

Many teams consider relievers to be interchangeable parts. This mindset has resulted in more pitchers being trusted to finish ballgames. Last season, 165 pitchers record a save, and 59 of them had at least five saves. In 2013, those numbers were 130 and 42, respectively. There have already been 126 pitchers to record a save in 2019. It is a sort of “chicken or the egg” scenario. Are teams using multiple pitchers to close games because they lack a dominant stopper? Or are they preventing a potential top-shelf closer from emerging because they are keeping multiple relievers in the mix? Either way, it’s a tough row to hoe for fantasy players. That terrain is even tougher to navigate when trying to forecast trades and how teams may look to manipulate usage and contracts going forward.

Before I get to my thoughts on the situations where I believe we are most likely to see a change at the closer position as a result of midseason trades, let me quickly touch on teams that I do not believe will trade away their closers despite their poor records.

In Search of Closers in Waiting

Five Teams Who Should Stand Pat

Baltimore Orioles

Mychal Givens is the best of a bad lot in Baltimore. He is arbitration eligible for the next two years and should receive a moderate raise this offseason. I do not expect any potential salary increase to be an amount that would force the Orioles to look elsewhere. Even if Baltimore deals Givens, there just isn’t a lot to get excited about. Shawn Armstrong has pitched well and would likely lead a committee including Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier among others. Givens has been the primary closer for most of the year and has just six saves. There is no reason to rush to acquire any pitcher in Baltimore’s bullpen.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have settled on Ian Kennedy as their closer. One would think Kansas City would be wise to capitalize on Kennedy’s solid season and ship the veteran to a contender. But there are 16.5 million reasons why I do not expect that to happen. That is the amount of money Kennedy is under contract for next season. Kennedy has proven to be an effective closer, but I cannot imagine anyone taking that contract on. In fantasy leagues, I would much rather add Kennedy (52 percent owned) than speculate on another member of Kansas City’s bullpen.

New York Mets

Edwin Diaz is an established closer who, despite his recent struggles, is among the best young relievers in the game.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Recent reports indicate the Dodgers have interest in Pirates’ closer, Felipe Vazquez. No kidding. Them and 25 other teams. Vazquez is an elite closer and is under team control through 2023. They may not have a realistic shot of making the playoffs this season, but Pittsburgh is still just four games out of a playoff spot. I cannot imagine Pittsburgh dealing Vazquez unless they got a ridiculous offer from a desperate team.

Cincinnati Reds

Raisel Iglesias is under contract through 2021, so I would expect the Reds to keep Iglesias at least through this season. Besides, his value has taken a hit with his poor play of late. Cincinnati would be selling relatively low on Iglesias. They would be better served to keep their closer for now.

Five Teams Most Likely to Trade Their Closer

Detroit Tigers

Closer: Shane Greene – Greene figures to see a significant pay bump this offseason in arbitration. He is also a free agent following the 2020 season. Detroit is in full rebuild mode and has no reason to sign Greene to an extension.

Closers in Waiting: Joe Jimenez (30 percent owned), Victor Alcantara (3 percent), Buck Farmer (1 percent)

All signs point to Detroit shedding Greene and giving Jimenez the chance to be the man. Yet I have little confidence that Jimenez will be a major fantasy asset over the last two months of the season. We have been waiting for Jimenez to overtake Greene for almost two years now, and it hasn’t happened. If Jimenez was truly special, shouldn’t he have been able to usurp Shane Greene at some point?

Verdict: On one hand, Jimenez feels like the most projectable “closer in waiting” out there. Jimenez seems like Detroit’s go-to guy if and when they trade Greene. From that standpoint, he is worth a speculative add if you can afford the roster spot. However, I would warn against expecting too much. Jimenez has a career ERA of 5.90 and career WHIP of 1.40. Sure, some of his underlying metrics suggest he is better than those numbers indicate. But his 4.30 xFIP hardly screams “dominant closer”.

In addition, Greene’s year-to-date save total is extremely fluky. Greene has saved 81 percent of Detroit’s wins. That is not sustainable. The Tigers have the third-worst record in the sport. Even if Jimenez is given the chance to be a solo act in Motown, I am not overly excited about an average pitcher on a bad team. You are basically hoping for a dozen or so saves and a 4.00/1.25 ERA/WHIP over the last two months of the season. Those numbers could have value depending on your need for saves. I just wouldn’t break the bank to acquire Jimenez.

San Francisco Giants

Closer: Will Smith – Smith has been one of the very best in baseball this season by nearly any measure. The Giants are not going anywhere soon and would be wise to deal Smith, who is arguably their best trade chip.

Closers in Waiting: Tony Watson (24 percent owned), Reyes Moronta (17 percent), Sam Dyson (14 percent)

This situation is very interesting to me because the Giants have three legitimate options they can use. All three have proven they are quality relievers. All have ERAs under 3.00 and FIPs in the 3’s. None of the three have a fixed salary for next season. Tony Watson has a $2.5 MM player option, Sam Dyson is arbitration eligible, and Reyes Moronta is pre-arbitration eligible. Moronta has the best swing and miss stuff, but he has also walked 19 batters this year. Dyson and Watson have combined to walk just 10 hitters all season long. Bruce Bochy has given Watson the most eighth inning looks, but Dyson has a 38-save season under his belt.

Verdict: This is anybody’s race. Well, I hope not anybody. (Looking at you, Mark Melancon.) With the Giants playing for 2020 and beyond, I would like to see them give Moronta a real shot. He is easily the most dominant of the three. If he can harness his control, he could be an upper-echelon closer going forward. Giving him a two-month audition would give fans a bit more hope than inserting Dyson or Watson into the role. Having said that, I have no doubt that either would succeed if given the opportunity. If Bochy announced that he planned on using Dyson or Watson as his full-time closer, I would scoop them up wherever available.

Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Ken Giles – Giles has been one of the best relievers in baseball. He is arbitration eligible at the end of the year and is scheduled to be a free agent following the 2020 season. Toronto may look to deal the 28-year-old rather than sign him to a long-term deal or pay what figures to be a raise over his current salary of $6.3 million.

Closers in Waiting: Joe Biagini (18 percent owned), Daniel Hudson (4 percent), Tim Mayza (2 percent)

None of the three candidates have particularly stood out this season, and none are especially young. Mayza is the youngest at 27 years of age. Hudson has the best ERA of the three, but the worst FIP. Mayza is the opposite, with Biagini in the middle. Biagini has been Toronto’s eighth-inning pitcher throughout the season, so he could earn a promotion to the ninth. I am pulling for him because it would be fun to say, “Biagini and grant my wish for a save!” But I am not convinced they go that route.

Manager Charlie Montoyo gave Hudson the first save chance when Giles was recently sidelined with an injury. I can see that being the case again if Giles is moved. Hudson is an impending free agent, so Toronto can pump up his value and let him walk at the end of the year. Biagini is arbitration eligible, so the Blue Jays could be incentivized to keep him in his current role and suppress his earning potential. Mayza is pre-arbitration eligible, so he could find himself in the same boat. He is also the lone lefty in Toronto’s pen. He has done well against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, but the club may want to utilize him in different situations.

Verdict: This could very well be a committee situation, but I think Hudson gets the chance to close if Giles gets traded. However, keep in mind that Toronto does not figure to generate a ton of save chances. Giles has just 12 saves despite being one of the more dominant relievers in the league. Hudson has outperformed his peripherals to this point. That may continue if given the gig, but owners should exercise caution here. Hudson has a FIP just under 5.00 and an xFIP in the mid-5’s. He is essentially an average pitcher at this point in his career. I have no issue adding Hudson if you are desperate or speculating, but I would not drop anyone of consequence to pick him up.

Miami Marlins

Closer: Sergio Romo – Romo is a free agent at the end of the year and Miami is in perpetual rebuild mode. They have no reason to keep the 36-year-old beyond the end of next month.

Closers in Waiting: Nick Anderson (10 percent owned), Adam Conley (6 percent), Tayron Guerrero (5 percent)

Though Miami is rebuilding, none of the three potential closers are young. All are at least 28 years old. Conley was supposed to be a contender for saves following a promising 2018, but he has regressed this season. Anderson came over from the Twins’ organization and has put up some good numbers in Miami. Guerrero walks nearly seven batters per nine innings. I can’t imagine him getting many save chances. He and Conley have negative WARs this season.

Verdict: This looks like it will probably be a committee approach. For fantasy purposes, you do not want to invest much in committees on bad teams because the saves will simply not be there on a consistent basis. If I had to pick one, I would take Anderson. His 4.73 ERA does not look good but is a bit inflated due to a blowup against Atlanta in early May. Removing that game would put his ERA at 3.52, which is much more palatable. His FIP and xFIP are even better, at a shade under 3.00. Anderson has a K-BB rate of just under 30 percent. That is an elite number and should play well late in games.

Chicago White Sox

Closer: Alex Colome – The Chicago White Sox were right on the cusp of playoff contention a couple of weeks ago. But they are now 6.5 games out of the final Wild Card spot with six teams to hurdle over. The likelihood they trade Alex Colome is much greater following their recent cold spell. Colome has quietly put together a fantastic season. Chicago has some good young pieces and may look to deal Colome with an eye towards competing in 2020 and beyond. Colome is arbitration eligible at the end of this year and is scheduled for free agency following next season.

Closers in Waiting: Kelvin Herrera (26 percent owned), Aaron Bummer (9 percent) Evan Marshall (2 percent)

Herrera was supposed to challenge Colome for closing duties coming out of Spring Training, but Colome ran away with that competition and never looked back. Herrera has been a mess all season long but does have the most experience closing games of the three in question. Marshall and Bummer have both had breakout seasons but have struggled a bit in recent weeks.

Verdict: I think Chicago would give Herrera the first crack at closing games in the event they trade Colome. Herrera is under contract for next season at a hefty $8.5 million. Chicago may feel the need to justify that salary by letting him close. A closer on a decent team would be worth a speculative add, but Herrera has been awful since the middle of April. I would only add him in a scenario where adding a few saves here and there is worth the ratio hit.

Four More Closers in Waiting Who Can Be Added

There are obvious names who should be owned in all formats but are still out there in many leagues. This includes Hansel Robles (63 percent owned), Carlos Martinez (86 percent), Jose Leclerc (72 percent), and Liam Hendriks (59 percent). Here are four more beyond that who are worth a speculative add based on the state of their clubs’ bullpens.

Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies (29 percent owned)

Wade Davis has been abysmal since his return from injury earlier this month. The veteran has an ERA of 11.57 to go along with a 2.36 WHIP. He has also struck out just six of 48 hitters since coming back from the Injured List. Colorado is right in the thick of the Wild Card race and may look to Oberg, who excelled while Davis was injured. I do not like to touch Rockies pitchers, but saves are saves, and Oberg could be in line for a promotion in the days and weeks ahead.

Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (37 percent owned)

Strickland is still on the road to recovery from an early season lat injury. He should be back within a few weeks. Roenis Elias (44 percent owned) is the closer de jour in Seattle and is worth adding in the short-term. However, I would expect Strickland to eventually take over. At the very least, those who are already using Elias should add Strickland as a contingency.

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves (45 percent owned)

Minter has pitched well following his return to the Majors. Since being recalled by the Braves, Minter has allowed just two hits in 7.1 innings. His control problems have crept up a bit, but he locked down a four-out save on Wednesday with Luke Jackson (64 percent) unavailable. Jackson has been a bit of a roller coaster ride as the Braves’ closer. Jackson has 12 saves, but he also has a 4.32 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over the past six weeks. Jackson’s high wire act may wear thin with Atlanta trying to stay atop the division. This is another scenario where Minter should at least be added by those who own Jackson.

Juan Nicasio, Philadelphia Phillies (2 percent owned)

Please let me be wrong about this. I love Hector Neris and would really like to see him keep the gig all year long. But Neris has now had two really ugly outings over the last two weeks, including Thursday’s blowup. Manager Gabe Kapler has stuck with Neris so far, but it remains to be seen if the notorious tinkerer will continue to stick with his closer. If a change is made at some point, I would expect Nicasio to get the first shot. The 32-year-old is nothing special, but he has been around long enough to be able to navigate the waters if necessary.

Are you on board with Mick’s closers in waiting? Then check out his full archive for more great fantasy baseball and football analysis.

Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.

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