Eno Sarris

Saves and Steals

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Closers in Waiting

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Tier 4: Question marks (6) (AKA: The "Chicago Cubs traded RHP Ryan Dempster to Texas Rangers for RHP Kyle Hendricks and 3B Christian Villanueva." Tier.)


Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Gregg, Chicago Cubs
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies


File this trade under "intentions, good." The Rangers needed to rent a starting pitcher and they didn't pay a high price. Just turns out Dempster wasn't a great fit for their home park, is all.


Completely unrelated to the trade deadline: Ernesto Frieri might be in the process of losing his job. After blowing his save last night, Frieri has allowed eight runs in his last four appearances, and four walks figured heavily into those runs. That's always been the risk with the funky fireballer, since he can't really corral his pitches. His manager says he'll play the match ups a little bit more going forward, and Dane de la Rosa is the name that has come up the most. That makes sense because the great Dane has 94 mph gas, three pitches, ground-ball stuff, good control and decent strikeout ability backed by above-average whiff rates. Really, it's the whole package, if a little light in the Ks for a closer. If Ryan Madson ever starts his rehab stint, he could factor in, too. Newcomer Cory Rasmus has the potential to close, but probably not in his first year with the organization. Especially since he has control problems of his own. Kevin Jepsen has the stuff to do it, too, but in five years with the Angels, he's been given the ball for three saves, total.


Casey Janssen blew another save. But it was a one-hit, one-walk, two-strikeout kind of blown save, not an implosion. And recently he's been striking people out again. So he's probably fine. But Steve Delabar did something of note this week, too: he struck out the side. On nine pitches. The Immaculate Inning. Delabar has been very impressive recently, as he's improved his walk rate significantly. After 13 walks in April, he's only walked 11 in the three months since. If he's not a candidate to close this year -- and he really is, actually -- then he's a reliever to keep on your radar next spring.


Jim Henderson, driving that train. Two saves on one day. Walk rate nearing league average. John Axford is comfortably in the second chair.


Fernando Rodney has a little more fire under his seat after his team actually traded for a reliever. He's lucky that reliever is on the DL with shoulder problems for now. Because when Crain is healthy, he has a double-digit strikeout rate and is showing great control this year. He throws almost 95 with four legit pitches, which is basically like having a starter pitch the end of the game for you. That drops Rodney next to Kevin Gregg, who has some trade-deadline-related angst about him too. There's a chance that Gregg still goes somewhere, but the best landing spot for him, the pen most in need of help, is Arizona. And he might actually close there. And since he has such a long history of mediocrity before this year, there's actually that possibility that nobody offers anything of value to the Cubs for Gregg.


Rex Brothers and Mark Melancon are is both great fill-in closers, so they move up. But while Jason Grilli is vowing to return this season and might not make it, Rafael Betancourt still could get healthy and take that job back within the next two weeks. Don't count all your eggs in this basket.


Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (5) (AKA: The "Seattle Mariners traded RHP Brandon League to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Logan Bawcom and CF Leon Landry." Tier.)


Joaquin Benoit (first chair), Jose Veras (second chair), Detroit Tigers
Huston Street (first chair), Luke Gregerson (second chair), San Diego Padres
Tom Wilhelmsen (first chair), Danny Farquhar (second chair), Yoervis Medina (third chair), Seattle Mariners
Jose Cisnero (first chair), Josh Zeid (second chair), Josh Fields (third chair), Houston Astros
Brad Ziegler (first chair), J.J. Putz (second chair), Arizona Diamondbacks


Why would you trade for Brandon League. And then why would you give him three years and all that money. Why.


At least when the Tigers traded for Jose Veras this week, they were in contention. And Veras is under team control at a good price for next year, too. He could even be their closer next year. He could even be their closer this year. For now, Joaquin Benoit is all good and Veras will sneak saves when the closer needs rest. But Benoit's balls sometimes leave the park, and if that happens in a few consecutive appearances, reach for the former Astro closer.


Still not completely convinced Huston Street is healthy, but in a strange twist of fate, that unease is probably shared by GMs around the league, which might keep Street in San Diego and in the closer's role. He'll move if the recent uptick in velocity and swinging strikes holds. The opposite is true for Tom Wilhelmsen. As he's pitched better, he's made it more likely that his team can move him. And now he's in the rumors. Next in line is probably Yoervis Medina (despite his platoon and control issues), but it could also be Danny Farquhar, who throws 95, has three pitches and has been improving his control recently. Farquhar also has a hold more recently than Medina, so let's put him in the second chair right now.


On the other side of the Jose Veras trade is a mess. Jose Cisnero, a converted wild starter who is still wild in the pen, is probably in the first chair. His velocity is up to 93 in his new role, and he's still got that starter's arsenal. He's not great at getting strike one, or controlling any of his four pitches, on the other hand. Things are so bad that new call up Josh Zeid, who had a walk rate near six in Triple-A and has two major league outs on his resume, might be in the second chair. He throws 95 at least. Problem is, his second pitch is a slider, and we don't know if he can control it enough to avoid platoon splits. Beyond those two, there aren't many attractive candidates. Wesley Wright is a LOOGY. Rhiner Cruz has velocity but can't strike anyone out. Hector Ambriz is meh. Josh Fields is probably in the third chair, but he can't find the plate (six walks in last four appearances) and isn't getting swinging strikes right now. He's worth tracking, though.


I still don't believe in a side-armer with platoon splits and fewer than five strikeouts per nine, even if he does have an elite ground-ball rate and good control. You have to think Arizona is looking for a new closer today, and even if he survives today, J.J. Putz is getting healthier and could take his job back fairly easily.


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Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Joel Hanrahan (forearm), Boston Red Sox
Kyuji Fujikawa (elbow), Chicago Cubs
Sergio Santos (elbow), Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Grilli (forearm), Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Betancourt (appendicitis), Colorado Rockies


No news, really. Which is weird for Sergio Santos, who was supposed to be back by now. Ditto Ryan Madson. Jason Grilli says he's going to make it back. Vows it even.


The Deposed


Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals
Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox


Jose Veras? Maybe?


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The Steals Department


The trade deadline has not produced any speed options so far. Avisail Garcia was traded in the Jake Peavy trade, and really he should be with the big league team shortly. But they still have Dayan Viciedo in the outfield (he should probably be at first) and Paul Konerko is still with the team (could they still trade him?), meaning that Garcia is in Triple-A for now. And even when he comes up, he's a guy that might steal four or five bags the rest of the way. Jordan Danks is up for a bit now, and he does have speed, but his batting average is so bad that only deep leaguers should brave it. Back in Detroit, Andy Dirks' job is safer now and he actually has 15-stolen-base type speed, so he might be useful. Just be sure to only use him against righties.


But, yeah, so far the trade deadline's been a bit of a dud. Even if a few twitter bros tried to convince Hunter Pence he'd been traded. Fun times.


Deeper leaguers might want to watch the Cubs outfield. Nate Schierholtz has been in some of the rumors, and if he goes, there will be an opening in the outfield. Julio Borbon might get an extended look, or they might call up Matt Szczur (pronounced 'caesar,' get your mind out of the gutter) since he's the only outfield prospect that looks ready right now. He has legit 30+ stolen-base speed, so he'd be an interesting pickup. Of course, Junior Lake is already playing in that outfield thanks to the trade deadline, and we'd be remiss not to discuss him. The problem with Lake is that he's hacktastic. And spastic on the basepaths. He's been caught three times in four tries. But he's all tools, and even with a .250 batting average, it looks like he'll keep trying to steal bases, and he'll even knock a few out. Definitely should be owned in all deep leagues.


And don't forget about Cody Asche in Philadelphia. One of the more robust rumors is Michael Young to the Red Sox, presaged by the callup of their exciting young third baseman. He has some power and speed and would be an immediate pickup in all leagues of depth if Young leaves town. As he should.

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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