Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Trades Done, Trades to Come

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


It's trading time. Time for new closers to be born into the world. Trading time. Turn up the lights on every bullpen and take a look.

 

Terrible song references aside, it really is that time of year again. Over the next four weeks, the buyers -- and there are a ton of them now that there are two wild cards -- will pick over the sellers' rosters. Twenty scouts were on hand to watch Zack Greinke against the Phillies! The new wild card rules might make for more buyers, even if it also makes for fewer sellers.

 

In any case, at least one more high-profile reliever will trade places, and we've already seen two get moved. Some of the moves so far were totally predictable, and some weren't, that's the nature of the game. So we'll focus on trade rumors and trade possibilities in this week's Saves and Steals. And we'll name the tiers after high-profile reliever trades of the past, just to get an idea of how long this has been happening.

 

Tier 1: Elite (5) (AKA: The "Octavio Dotel" Tier.)

 

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

 

Octavio Dotel is not elite, himself. But in terms of hired hands, he's got to be the most available, cheapest best arm of the past two decades. Here's the list of names that have been traded in deals including Dotel: Derek Bell, Mike Hampton, Mark Teahen, Mike Wood, Carlos Beltran, Kyle Davies, Andrew Lambo, James McDonald, Anthony Jackson, Trever Miller, Colby Rasmus, Brian Tallet & P.J. Walters. There are some good names on there, but Dotel was often traded in packages. It really just serves as a reminder of how many times he's been traded. He's the elite rental arm.

 

This tier is full of elite pitchers, no doubt. Aroldis Chapman deserves a special shoutout for racking up two Kimbrels in his past ten appearances, and adding in three three-strikeout, no-walk, one-hit appearances as well. In fact, he 'only' struck out one batter once in his past ten, and that was in an outing that lasted… one out.

 

But what makes this tier even more special is that these pitchers come with the benefit of leash to boot. None of their teams is rumored to be looking for help in the bullpen, either, so that leash won't get any shorter. And even if they did acquire a reliever, there's little chance these guys would lose their job to a newcomer.

 

Tier 2: Rock Steady (7) (AKA: The "Ugueth Urbina" Tier.)

 

Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Soriano, New York Yankees
J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays

 

In 2003, Ugueth Urbina was traded from the Rangers to the Marlins for Will Smith (minors), Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Snare. Urbina helped the Marlins win the world series that year and was excellent. He did about as much as could be expected from a mid-season acquisition. Of course, that IS the Adrian Gonzalez, but that was way before Adrian Gonzalez was Adrian Gonzalez. (Also before Ugueth Urbina was Ugueth Urbina, prisoner.) The Rangers made the same mistake later, so the Marlins are forgiven.

 

Jason Motte leaves the top tier, but it's no fault of his own. If you look up and down the top tier, though, you'll notice that Motte would be the only pitcher without a double-digit strikeout rate. Sure, he strikes out a player per inning, but the average rate for the top thirty pitchers in saves in a given year is over eight per nine. So the top pitchers are elite in the truest sense of the word, while Motte is merely great.

 

There isn't a ton of worry in terms of trade rumors affecting this tier. Most of these players are either cheap, pitching well for a contender, or both. Rafael Betancourt might be the one that catches your eye -- but he's only going to cost the Rockies around nine million dollars over the next two years, and that sort of affordable closer works for a team with any budget or plans for contention.

 

Fernando Rodney walked two batters in an inning Tuesday night. That was the first time he'd done so this year. He managed that same feat eight times last year, in ten fewer innings. The 35-year-old had a 4.52 career walk rate coming into this season. Before he walked those two batters Tuesday night, Rodney's 1.03 walks per nine was the seventh-lowest walk rate by a reliever over 35 since free agency began in 1974. Seventh-lowest! This guy was walking a guy every other inning for 440+ innings before this season! This is an amazing story.

 

Tier 3: OK options (7) (AKA: The "Matt Mantei" Tier.)

 

Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Santiago Casilla, San Francisco Giants
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles

 

In a strange link to the last tier, Brad Penny was traded to the Marlins for Matt Mantei in 1999, and he won two games for the Marlins in that same 2003 World Series that included Ugueth Urbina. In fact, the Marlins got Vladimir Nunez and Abraham Nunez along with Brad Penny. The Diamondbacks got five years of Mantei, but he was only the closer for two and a half of them, and had some injuries, and wasn't quite the pitcher they thought they were trading for. Most people would take the starter in this situation, but the Diamondbacks found some use in Mantei, and you'll get good use out of the closers in this tier.

 

Tom Wilhelmsen is the man, and I'm not just saying that because I own him about eight times. He has 12 strikeouts against five walks in his last ten outings, and that does well to describe him: filthy and a little wild. He may not be the best dynasty league asset since that wildness lurks, but the bartender is tending bar in my heart for now.

 

There are some definite trade rumors in this group. In fact, two have been linked recently -- Chris Perez and Santiago Casilla. The Giants have some interest in the Indians reliever, and he'd probably push Casilla into a setup role. The Indians are still in the chase, though, so the deal would have to include some interesting prospects. The Giants do, sometimes, give up interesting prospects for rentals. Just ask the Mets. Nothing that Casilla and Perez owners can do other than wait and hope -- the rumors are out there and have already damaged the fantasy trade value for both pitchers.

 

The rest of the tier might survive the deadline. Huston Street is suddenly negotiating a long-term contract in San Diego instead of being on the block. Addison Reed is supposedly still the closer -- sorry Brett Myers owners, but that trade was a long time coming -- and Jim Johnson is cheap and good and on a team that's in the mix for a wild card spot.

 

Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Ron Davis" Tier.)

 

Ryan Cook, Oakland Athletics
Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jonathan Broxton, Kansas City Royals
Alfredo Aceves, Boston Red Sox
Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers

 

In 1981, Ron Davis threw 73 excellent relief innings for the Yankees, and set up Goose Gossage in the modern sense of the word. He struck out ten per nine with great control and was headed for closerdom when traded to the Twins after the season. What happened then? Let WikiPedia take it away:

 

Among Twins fans, with whom he came to be known as Ron "Boom-Boom" Davis, his name is still synonymous with ineffective relief pitching, despite finishing in the top 5 for saves in the A.L. in three of his five seasons with the team. In 1984, Davis tied the record for blown saves in a single season with 14. No one since has blown this many saves in a single season.

 

Oops. Some of the guys in this tier might put up some Jekyll and Hyde numbers this season in the Ron "Boom-Boom" Davis tradition.

 

Well, not Tyler Clippard. He is moving up the ranks -- Drew Storen is back and his velocity is reduced, and he's not even pitching in the eighth inning in close games. Clippard might keep this job all year, and the peripherals are awesome. He has deserved this chance for a long time now. While Ryan Cook has the bad walk rate as an asterisk, Clippard really has no asterisks other than Storen. Casey Janssen doesn't have Clippard's strikeout rate, but he's in the same boat. With every save, these guys are pushing for promotion to the next tier.

 

Jonathan Broxton has an asterisk as hefty as his frame: he's both involved in trade rumors and he's not quite the pitcher he used to be. He's not getting the swinging strikes, and if he ends up in the wrong pen, he won't be the closer. If he ends up in New York, though, all bets are off. That's a terrible pen and he could actually be the best pitcher in the group.

 

Read more about the most volatile closer situations on the next page.


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Eno Sarris is an editor and writer at FanGraphs.com. You can find his work gathered in one place at and enosarris.com. Follow his misadventures in writing on Twitter as well.
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