It's trade season! We've already seen a blockbuster and a couple major moves. The closer market has developed slowly, and I suspect there's a reason.
A few teams have prominent closers available on one or two year contracts. The Padres have two such pitchers. The Rangers and Phillies have one apiece. The Rockies, Marlins, and Astros could potentially disrupt the market too. The Tigers and Giants are the only two teams with a strong need, and there are rumors that neither team has the resources to make a trade. The Angels, Orioles, and Blue Jays would probably like to acquire a top reliever. As such, we're in a position where supply may substantially outstrip demand.
So who breaks cover first? Will the Tigers or Giants do the obvious and cut a deal with San Diego? Do the Phillies foist Papelbon upon somebody? Will a team like the Athletics decide to supplement their already deep bullpen? We shall see.
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Tier 1: Elite (5)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
It was a quiet week in the top tier. None appeared more than twice nor did any allow a run. Holland didn't appear at all. Since there's plenty to report among the plebeian closers, let's talk fantasy trade value.
Those of you in keeper leagues are probably considering a saves-for-keepers type offer. It's easy to justify selling saves, just be aware of the big value provided by these top quality arms. I've seen a lot of owners give up a Kimbrel or Jansen as a sort of throw in. They should return a high quality keeper all by themselves. In other words, don't give away the barn when you sell the house.
Tier 2: Rock Steady (10)
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins
Sean Doolittle, Oakland Athletics
David Robertson, New York Yankees
Joakim Soria, Texas Rangers
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins
Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers
Huston Street, San Diego Padres
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Fernando Rodney, Seattle Mariners
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Perkins allowed two hits, a walk, and a run last Wednesday in a shaky outing. He bounced back to pitch a trio of three batter innings, but only one of those was in a save situation. In any case, he did nothing to shake his position as the sixth ranked closer.
When we last checked in on Doolittle, he had just allowed a walk off grand slam to Rajai Davis. He appeared three times in the last week and pitched well. He did allow another home run – this time a solo shot. Since he works up in the strike zone, I expect he'll allow a few more homers than most teams want from their closer.
Robertson picked up three saves in four days against the Twins last week. He struck out eight batters in those three innings, bringing his strikeout total up to 56 in 30.2 innings. After Robertson pitched three times in four days, the Yankees called on Dellin Betances to record the first save of his career on July 7. If Betances was a closer elsewhere, he'd rank between Robertson and Soria.
Cishek picked up two more undramatic saves in the past week. I'm toying with the idea of adding a sixth tier to differentiate between possibly elite closers and purely steady guys. Cishek sits right on the boundary.
Rodriguez threw one tune up outing, but he hasn't had a save opportunity since June 28. His 27 saves are now tied with Kimbrel for the league lead. Three others have 26 saves.
Street Watch 2014 continues. Street blew a save on the fifth when he allowed a solo home run. The outing shouldn't affect trade discussions. Benoit pitched a couple perfect innings, but Alex Torres had a tough week. Across three outings and just 0.2 innings, he allowed three runs, walked three, and gave up three hits. If Street is dealt, then Benoit would likely occupy the spot before or after Cishek on this list. If both pitchers are traded, Torres would probably debut at the top of Tier 5. Dale Thayer's also somewhere in the discussion.
With four appearances, Allen was busy this week. His first two were a bit shaky, but he survived without allowing a run. He followed those with two perfect appearances (five up, five down).
It's time to promote Rodney to the trusted table. He recorded three more perfect saves this week with four strikeouts for good measure. I've been saying all along that Rodney's walk rate is the stat to follow. He's allowed one free pass since the start of June and only three total since his last two walk outing on May 8. He's allowed only four runs over that same period. It looks like his shaky start to the season is behind him. Danny Farquhar has done his best to keep pace, which gives the Mariners great flexibility in the late innings.
The Nationals closer situation was expected to be fluid this season, but Soriano has done his best to squelch all conversation on the subject. Much of his success can be attributed to an avoidance of home runs. His xFIP of 3.80 looks a lot worse than his 1.00 ERA. For the uninitiated, xFIP attempts to remove luck from a pitcher's ERA. In this case, Soriano's .207 BABIP and 2.2 percent HR/FB ratio are the lucky components. The Nationals don't have enough margin of error to suffer blown saves, so they'll hope it continues. Tyler Clippard appears to be first in line with Drew Storen nipping at his heels.
Tier 3: The Mid-Tier (5)
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
After picking up a win last Wednesday, Janssen allowed a run in a non-save situation against the Athletics. He's now allowed runs in two of 21 appearances. If there is cause for concern, it's his low strikeout rate. Batters are still swinging and missing at his pitches, which is usually the top peripheral for strikeout rate.
Rosenthal turned in a couple ugly outings during a four appearance week. He saved two, took a blown save loss, and won another. I don't know where his command and control went, but he's walking way too many batters. His strikeout rate is high enough to mitigate most of the damage, but it's disappointing to see his elite stuff wasted. There was talk of getting him some rest, but he pitched last night anyway. Pat Neshek is expected to pick up the odd save while Rosenthal gets himself sorted out.
Papelbon has kept up the strong performance despite mediocre peripherals. His ERA is the second best of his career while his xFIP is the second worst of his career. A big chunk of the discrepancy is the zero home runs he's allowed. Someone will hit a big fly off him.