It has been another wild and crazy week covering bullpens. I hope you read my piece earlier this week reviewing the trade deadline. There were a considerable amount of bullpen arms moving as we expected, with the biggest move being the Josh Hader trade to San Diego. That being said, many other teams strengthened the back ends of their bullpens by acquiring valuable arms. See that piece if you want to learn more. We have lots to get to today with more anguish and hand-wringing around MLB this week. With essentially a 50-game sprint remaining, there won’t be lots of indecision for those teams trying to get into the playoffs. Let’s take a look at this week’s performances and issues.
MLB Bullpen Updates
Baltimore moved the revitalized Jorge Lopez to Minnesota, and manager Brandon Hyde stated that holdovers Felix Bautista, Dillon Tate, and Cionel Perez would all get chances. Bautista got the first one on Friday night, and he’d be my best guess as the first option. For now.
Many will not want to read or accept this, but Clay Holmes is struggling. He’s given up five earned runs in his last two outings, in both games, earning losses. He’s gone two weeks now without a save, also surrendering eight walks and three hit-by-pitches in the last two weeks. Egads! While he’s been dominant this year, with 17 saves, five wins and a sparkling .96 WHIP, these outings may give manager Aaron Boone some pause. Boone does have options if he chooses to give Holmes a break; ever heard of lefty Aroldis Chapman? On Friday night when asked, Boone told reporters he was planning to use Chapman in the ninth if the Yankees had maintained the lead; Holmes had been on to pitch the eighth. The Yankees also added Lou Trivino and Scott Effross to their impressive cast of arms in their bullpen. No need to panic, as the Yankees maintain a 10.5-game lead in the AL East, but this is one to watch carefully, especially with Chapman on many waiver wires in shallower leagues.
Tampa Bay continues to play musical chairs at closer. We have all adjusted and have the mental capacity to not allow this to make us insane. Jason Adam got a save this week, and Colin Poche came back and got one Friday night, his first since July 13. Pete Fairbanks is back and will get chances, and Nick Anderson is on a rehab assignment at AAA and could be back soon. Nine different pitchers have saves for the Rays.
In a move that flew under the radar a bit, the White Sox brought in lefty Jake Diekman to bolster their bullpen. The Sox have been without an experienced lefty ever since Aaron Bummer went down with a lat injury. Rookie lefty Tanner Banks has been decent. The Sox have spent $40 million on rebuilding their bullpen this year, adding Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman to support Liam Hendriks. Adding Diekman gives them another piece to that puzzle, and he responded with two scoreless outings this week. Make no mistake, Hendriks is the clear closer, but the Sox have a plethora of experienced arms in their bullpen as they push to try and win the AL Central.
Detroit moved one of their bullpen arms, Michael Fulmer, but hung on to power lefty Gregory Soto. I thought there would be a hot market for Soto, but he remains in Detroit. For those looking for holds here, Andrew Chafin remains, and veteran Jose Jimenez may step into Fulmer’s setup role.
Minnesota added two excellent relievers in Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer this week. In a small sample size this week, it appears that manager Rocco Baldelli plans to use Lopez as his closer, moving rookie Jhoan Duran to a stopper role. Fulmer will then fill in the eighth in the primary setup role. Minnesota holds a slim two game lead on the Cleveland Guardians and the Chicago White Sox. So let’s see how it worked Friday night: Duran pitched the eighth without incident, Lopez then got the ninth and blew the save, allowing the tying run to score. Fulmer ended up getting the win in the tenth. Also, remember that Griffin Jax has been steady all year and will get setup opps for holds as well. Of interest to some will be that former stalwart Tyler Duffey was designated for assignment this week. Oh how quickly fortunes can change in major league bullpens…
No movement here, but much to my surprise, the Kansas City Royals did not move any of their valuable bullpen arms at the deadline, so Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont remain atop the bullpen here.
The Los Angeles Angels surprised many by moving Raisel Iglesias to the Atlanta Braves. The pecking order here appears to be Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup. On Friday night manager Phil Nevin went to the well-travelled Jesse Chavez for the first opportunity, and he flopped. Jimmy Herget ended up earning the save, and he may be one to watch emerge here with the disappointing Angels having little to play for the rest of the way.
In what came as a mild surprise to many, Oakland only moved Lou Trivino at the deadline. He went to the New York Yankees, leaving Dany Jimenez, AJ Puk, and Zach Jackson to fight for the table scraps. It looks like manager Mark Kotsay is having auditions for this role and chances could split among these three for some time. However, it’s important to recognize that Jimenez had the job earlier this season and did well with it before injury befell him, earning 11 saves through mid-June. He came back this week with a dominant three-strikeout performance. I would put him as the favorite right now, but with nothing to play for, auditions could be ongoing in Oakland for the rest of the season. Both Puk and Jackson earned saves this week, the third save for each.
Jonathan Hernandez has appeared to ascend to the closer’s role in Texas. He is likely worth an add in many leagues especially if you are chasing saves. Brock Burke, Matt Moore and Jose Leclerc could be in line for holds and do not forget that Joe Barlow is also likely to be used in a stopper role.
Atlanta seems to always lie in the weeds and then make a big move at the deadline, don’t they? This year was no exception. First, they traded veteran lefty Will Smith to Houston, and then finished the day acquiring Raisel Iglesias from the what-are-they-doing Los Angeles Angels. Manager Brian Snitker immediately said that Jansen was “closer number one” and Iglesias “closer number two.” The Atlanta bullpen now has two experienced and excellent closing options, backed up by Collin McHugh, AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek. An embarrassment of riches as they fight for a playoff berth. I am sorry for all those who rostered Iglesias as your number one closer this year; I thought there was a decent chance the moribund Angels would move him but thought he would stay in a closer role. He does not seem to be in that role for now. How long do you hold on to him? Tough call.
Miami got Anthony Bender back this week from the IL and moved setup man Anthony Bass to the Toronto Blue Jays. Could Bender get back in the line for save opps? Maybe, but Tanner Scott appears to still have the role in South Florida.
Philadelphia acquired David Robertson this week and inserted him into the closer role. Manager Rob Thomsen said it would be based on matchups, but I think that may have been so as not to reveal his hand. He has options in Seranthony Dominguez, Jose Alvarado and Brad Hand, but Robertson is pitching the best of this quartet right now and should keep the role at this time.
By the simple process of elimination, it appears that Rowan Wick will now close for the Chicago Cubs, with both David Robertson (Philadelphia) and Mychal Givens (New York Mets) being moved this week. There doesn’t seem to be much competition here for the role and the Cubs have little to play for; might be a good idea for them to see what they have in Wick over the last 50 games.
Things got interesting in Milwaukee this week after the Josh Hader trade. Reporters in the locker room appeared to enter a death vigil; new closer Devin Williams was informed of the move by a reporter and appeared disconsolate. Milwaukee added Taylor Rogers, Matt Bush, and Trevor Rosenthal this week, and also acquired lefty Jake McGee two weeks ago from the San Francisco Giants. Williams then went out and blew his first save opportunity before earning his seventh save on Friday night. This will be an interesting one to watch, as Williams looks to get the bulk of the chances, but the Brewers also have experienced closers in Rogers, Rosenthal and McGee should they prefer Williams back in his stopper role. Even Bush has some experience in the role too. Rosenthal is still a few weeks away from contributing. Hader was likely to earn $16-$18 million next year in his last year of arbitration eligibility, and this appears to be a future cost-cutting move for the Brew Crew. I feel sorry for their loyal fanbase, but this could be a good bullpen moving forward even if it looks very different.
In Pittsburgh, closer David Bednar went on the IL with a back issue. The Pirates traded setup man Chris Stratton to the St. Louis Cardinals, leaving Wil Crowe and Yerry de los Santos as the primary choices to close. On Wednesday, de los Santos got the first opportunity and got blown up for three earned runs before Crowe came on to get the win in the ninth. If I were a betting man, and I am, I would put my money on Crowe in the short term.
Dateline Arizona: they were unable to move Mark Melancon before the deadline, and immediately thereafter, manager Torey Lovullo announced they were going to a committee. We should expect Ian Kennedy and Joe Mantiply to get chances here in the short term. A tip of the hat if this is the end of the closing line for Melancon, who has always been a steady hand despite his lack of dominant stuff.