And so the closer dance continues. What is it about the ninth inning that causes teams to act irrationally?
The Tigers gave up two of their best prospects to bring in Joakim Soria last week, only to decline to make him their closer initially. After all, that would have been disrespectful to Joe Nathan, a 39-year-old having a pretty terrible season in his first year in Detroit. So, the Tigers surrendered yet another chunk of their future in an effort to improve their chances this year, only to continue to put their chances in greater jeopardy by leaving Nathan in the preeminent role in the pen.
The Rangers, minus Soria, were left with no attractive options in the closer’s role, but they did have Neal Cotts and Shawn Tolleson with 3.27 and 3.28 ERAs, respectively. Cotts was serving as Soria’s primary setup man, and Tolleson, while homer-prone, has been just as effective against lefties as righties this season.
But instead of picking either, the Rangers turned to Neftali Feliz, who saved 72 games in 2010-2011, became a starter in 2012, blew out his elbow and then struggled so much to work his way back that he spent the first three months of this season in the minors. Since returning to the majors, he had come in with the Rangers down five times and tied twice (taking the loss in one of those). He had allowed only three runs in 10 1/3 innings, but he had also struck out just four batters in the process, with his velocity still well down from where it was before he got hurt. An obvious key to turning Feliz back into a useful reliever would seem to be to get him consistent work, perhaps in longer outings, and the Rangers were doing just that; he got five or six outs in four of his seven appearances while exclusively working on one or two days’ rest since his callup.
However, that’d all seem to be out the window now, since Feliz is closing for a team that’s gunning for the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Closers on bad teams tend to have very inconsistent workloads, and even if the Rangers do get a few save chances in a row, will Feliz even be up to the task? He’s worked on back-to-back days just twice all year, both of those times coming in the minors (once in May, once in June).
The Rangers, of course, will say they need to see if Feliz can be a closer headed into next year. Which is silly. Feliz has already proven that he has the “closer mentality.” What he needs to prove is that he can still be a quality reliever. Maybe he can be. His velocity has been better in his three appearances since the break than it was earlier this month, though it’s still down a bit from his post-Tommy John cameo last September. I don’t think he’s trustworthy right now, but it doesn’t really matter what I think.
As for the Tigers, well, I’ve made it clear several times here that I don’t believe Nathan is done. However, I also wouldn’t feel very confident about owning him right now with the lingering possibility that he’s one blown save away from getting replaced by Soria. For that reason, I wouldn’t go dropping Soria in mixed leagues, not until Nathan strings together a few more outings like the one he had Thursday (he struck out all three Angels he faced for his 21st save).
- Going back to the Rangers for Soria were right-handers Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson. Knebel was 55th a couple of weeks ago in my 2015 reliever rankings, and he’d be higher now. Figuring that Soria wouldn’t be back with the Rangers, I had Feliz 44th and the injured Tanner Scheppers 58th in those rankings. Knebel isn’t necessarily a long-term closer, but he has a shot with his 92-96 mph fastball and strikeout curve. He should get a look in the Texas bullpen next month. Thompson, a 2012 second-round pick, won’t be a factor until next summer at the absolute earliest, but he has No. 3-starter potential.
- The Red Sox sending Jake Peavy to the Giants was far short of a concession, though they do appear to be leaning towards going that route. Jon Lester would obviously be the big prize, but the Red Sox continue to weight keeping him and trying to re-sign him as a free agent him over the winter. If they can get a prospect back for Stephen Drew, they should. However, Drew is a player who will be just as tradable in August as he is now. A Drew deal would likely put Xander Bogaerts back at shortstop and return Will Middlebrooks to the majors. Middlebrooks has 10 hits and three homers in his last eight games for Triple-A Pawtucket.
It doesn’t sound like there’s much chance Koji Uehara will go, though he’d be a terrific final piece for any contender, whether it’s to work the eighth or the ninth. If the Red Sox do make that move, they’d probably go to Edward Mujica in the closer’s role, even though Junichi Tazawa is more deserving. Andrew Miller would also be in that closer mix, but he’s much more likely to go in a trade than Uehara.
- In something of a surprise, the Red Sox took back major league-ready arms for Peavy instead of low-minors guys with more upside. But it was still a nice return for Boston. It seems like Heath Hembree has been a top relief prospect forever -- and that’s unusual, given that relief prospects tend to advance quickly or flame out -- but he’s still a quality arm and he should get a long look in the Boston bullpen after the team trades Miller or Burke Badenhop. His problem is the home run ball; he’s allowed 12 in 94 2/3 IP in the PCL the last two years, but he’s also posted a 109/29 K/BB ratio during that span. He no longer has the look of a closer, but he should be pretty useful in a setup role. Left-hander Edwin Escobar has less upside than several of Boston’s other polished arms, and I wonder if he might not be traded again before getting his first taste of the majors.
- Given the chance to get Chase Headley for next to nothing, the Yankees smartly took him, surrendering only Yangervis Solarte and pitching prospect Rafael De Paula in the process. Even though the NL-to-AL transition can be tough on hitters, Headley’s fantasy value got quite a boost with the move and he’s again a legitimate option as a mixed-league corner infielder.
- The Mariners’ first go at improving their offense was to reacquire Kendrys Morales from the Twins and to call up Chris Taylor as a shortstop alternative. Both moves made plenty of sense, though it was rather hard to believe the Mariners both took on the entire amount Morales was due over the rest of the season (about $4.25 million) and gave up a decent property (reliever Stephen Pryor) for him. Morales had hit even worse than Corey Hart, Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison during his time with the Twins, but that’s not so surprising after all of the time he missed, and he projects to be the best player in the group the rest of the way.
Taylor should have been called up when Brad Miller was at his low point in mid-May, but just when it seemed the switch might be about to happen, Taylor broke his pinkie finger, and then Miller found his stroke in June. Miller has slumped again of late, but not nearly in the same sort of fashion he was in April and May. He’s still the Mariners’ best choice to play shortstop against righties, while Taylor should play versus lefties. However, whether it works out that way will be up to Lloyd McClendon’s whims, so Miller is droppable again in mixed leagues.
- The Mariners still want to upgrade their outfield. Dustin Ackley has suddenly started spraying singles and doubles around the ballpark, hitting .358 in 67 at-bats this month, but that comes with no homers and two walks, suggesting that it’s not any sort of real breakthrough. James Jones has faded, which always seemed like a given. The Mariners are hopeful of getting Michael Saunders back within 7-14 days, but oblique injuries are always prone to setbacks. The Mariners are being mentioned in connection with Matt Kemp, and if the Dodgers are willing to cover a substantial portion of the $115 million he’s owed through 2019, he’s worth targeting. Marlon Byrd probably isn’t happening. Drew Stubbs might, though he makes more sense as a part-timer against lefties than as a starting outfielder. Chris Denorfia is another guy like that. The Red Sox could part with both Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes and the Mariners could certainly find room for the pair, but that would mean taking on a lot of money and Boston doesn’t have as much use for Nick Franklin as some other potential trade partners do.
- Alex Rios doesn’t seem to be on the Mariners’ radar, but he’s probably going somewhere this week, perhaps to the Yankees as an upgrade over Ichiro Suzuki in right field (the Bombers are on his no-trade list, according to FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, but why would he turn that deal down?). A Rios trade would free up more time for Jake Smolinski, Daniel Robertson and Jim Adduci in the Texas outfield. Robertson is the best bet for fantasy purposes in that group. Ideally, Michael Choice would return to the majors and earn regular playing time in right field the rest of the way. Choice, though, hasn’t impressed since his demotion to Triple-A, hitting .246/.328/.368 with 21 strikeouts in 15 games.
-Boston’s Mike Carp requested a trade in the hopes of more playing time elsewhere, but I’m not sure there’s a likely situation out there for him right now. He would have been a great get for the Reds when Joey Votto went down, but they foolishly decided to try to fill the gap internally. He’d still make a lot of sense for the Rangers, even if they’re not really interested in upgrades at the moment (he’ll earn a modest $2 million or so in arbitration next year). He could also help Baltimore-- the Orioles need a left-handed power bat for the bench -- but that wouldn’t necessarily give Carp any more playing time.
- Jake McGee’s usage last week suggests that the Rays are finally willing to make a true closer out of him. They didn’t want to do that and drive up his arbitration salary, but they’ve definitely found a pairing that works with Brad Boxberger in the eighth and McGee in the ninth.
- Zach Putnam’s DL stint seemed to settle closing matters in Chicago for a spell: Jake Petricka is now the have favorite for saves on the White Sox. Putnam expects to return in a couple of weeks, though.
- Danny Salazar’s first two starts back in the Cleveland rotation went as well as anyone could have hoped, and it looks like he’ll be sticking around this time. He’s worth another try in mixed leagues.
- It took them two months to figure it out, but the Dodgers finally put Yasiel Puig in center last week and immediately became much better for it. Unfortunately, the switch still leaves Joc Pederson out of the mix, even as he continues to dominate the PCL (he’s hitting .347/.543/.694 with four homers, five steals and 19 walks in 15 games this month). Interestingly, Pederson hasn’t seen any time in the corners since the Puig move, suggesting that he’ll stay in center and Puig will move back to right if the Dodgers trade an outfielder and decide to call him up.
The chances of a trade seem quite a bit more likely now. No longer must Andre Ethier be kept as the fallback in center (though that was lousy reasoning in the first place), and the Dodgers wouldn’t have to eat quite as much money to move him as they’d have to in a Kemp or Carl Crawford deal. Still, the trade speculation at the moment is focusing on Kemp, who is owed $114 million through 2019. Of course, it’s worth noting that all three of those guys are virtual locks to clear waivers, rendering the trade deadline essentially irrelevant in this case.
- The Dodgers are certainly buyers first and foremost, and while David Price no longer seems to be on the table, Lester might be. The Red Sox would likely want two of the team’s three top prospects: Pederson, left-hander Julio Urias and shortstop Corey Seager. It’d be an outrageous price to pay for a two-month rental, but the Dodgers would enter October as the clear World Series favorites with a Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke-Lester-Hyun-Jin Ryu rotation. The Red Sox could also throw back some bullpen help and/or Drew as Hanley Ramirez protection in an effort to land their ransom. Perhaps they could even take back Kemp’s contract. Still, the Dodgers probably won’t bite, not unless they can get Lester for just one of the big three and maybe a lesser name or two. They could always go get Cliff Lee for less, though Lee seems awfully far from a sure thing at the moment.
- Lee’s velocity now is about where it was in May before he went on the DL this year, which is about one mph down from April, two mph down from 2013 and three mph down from 2012. With his pinpoint command, he can succeed anyway, and I think he will prove to be worth using in mixed leagues the rest of the way. Still, I’m pessimistic he’ll recapture 2013 form at any point during the second half.
- Mat Latos is another guy who returned from an elbow injury without his usual stuff; he’s been working at 88-92 mph with his fastball, down from his usual 91-95 mph. He’s held it together anyway, but his strikeout rate is low and it should be noted that the Reds defense isn’t very good right now with Brandon Phillips and Votto out and Jay Bruce occasionally shifting to first base. I’d be willing to sell low on Latos in fantasy leagues and take my chances with lesser names in the rotation.
- Ryan Zimmerman’s hamstring strain is a bad one, and it looks like he’ll be sidelined into September. The Nationals will be on the lookout for a utilityman prior to the deadline or perhaps a second baseman to start over Danny Espinosa. The Cubs’ Emilio Bonifacio, briefly a National six years ago, would be a nice fit as a guy who could push Espinosa now and prove useful in a bit role come October. Alternatively, the Nationals could just settle for Darwin Barney instead.
- It’s doubtful anything will happen on the Ryan Howard front, despite the Phillies reportedly being willing to eat most of his salary. I’m guessing it’ll be a rather quiet week for the team. Chase Utley is the only regular who will bring back big talent, and he’s the guy they most want to keep. Jonathan Papelbon’s 2015 salary will scare off suitors, as will A.J. Burnett’s player option. Lee, Jimmy Rollins, Byrd and Carlos Ruiz are all under control for 2015, and with his job perhaps on the line, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. might prefer to take his chances with keeping the veterans together than accepting lukewarm talent in return. Left-hander Antonio Bastardo seems like the best bet to go. Kyle Kendrick or Roberto Hernandez could also be flipped to a team in need of rotation depth.
- I’m expecting pretty good things from Peavy back in the National League. Granted that he was already in a favorable ballpark as far as preventing home runs, but AT&T Park is on another level entirely. I had Peavy 108th among SPs in the July rankings, but I’d push him back into the top 70 now, maybe the top 60.
- After giving George Kottaras all of one start to show what he could do, the Cardinals signed A.J. Pierzynski to take over as Yadier Molina’s replacement behind the plate. I’m not sure that’s an upgrade, but it’s not surprising the Cardinals would go with the more established player and there aren’t many more established than Pierzynski. He should be useful in two-catcher mixed leagues until Molina returns.
- The Cardinals have the artillery to go get Lester, too, though they probably don’t match up as well with the Red Sox as the Dodgers do, not unless they’re willing to part with Oscar Taveras or Carlos Martinez (neither of whom should be on the table for a rental). At this point, it seems more likely that the Cardinals will just go get a reliever instead of trading prospects for a starter.
- CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the Diamondbacks were looking to move Aaron Hill but keep Martin Prado. Both players are signed through 2016, with Hill earning $12 million each of the next two years and Prado $11 million per season. In truth, the Diamondbacks should be open to trading both, but while they have a readymade replacement for Hill in Didi Gregorius, they no longer possess the fallback third baseman after dealing Matt Davidson for Addison Reed last winter. There’s also been some speculation about the possibility of a Mark Trumbo trade, but that seems highly unlikely. Reed should be available, but since he’s not going to command the return the Diamondbacks would want, he’ll probably stay. Brad Ziegler would be the better get for a contender -- in fact, he’d be the perfect final piece for several bullpens -- but he’s likely to stick around, too.
- The Brewers aren’t any sort of lock for October yet, but they’d seem to have the fewest needs of any NL contender. An upgrade from the Mark Reynolds-Lyle Overbay duo at first base would help, but there aren’t any obvious solutions unless Trumbo becomes available. Garrett Jones or Casey McGehee from Miami would make some sense. I do think they could use an upgrade from Jean Segura at shortstop -- he’s been a liability dating back to last August -- but it’s not at all likely that they’ll aim for one.
- The Padres would like to keep shedding after sending Huston Street to Anaheim and Headley to New York, but Ian Kennedy’s oblique injury complicates things there. It’s supposed to be minor, but one never knows with obliques. A healthy Kennedy is the Padres’ best bait right now, and it’d be a shame if the injury cuts into their chances to rebuild.
- The chances of a Joaquin Benoit deal seem slim, especially now that the Tigers have solved their bullpen needs. If Benoit does go, Dale Thayer would likely close for the Padres. Thayer, though, is the better bet to be dealt. The Padres also figure to move Denorfia, freeing up more outfield at-bats for Jeff Francoeur. Carlos Quentin and his troublesome knees shouldn’t have any suitors at the moment.
- With this year’s bullpen not measuring up to last year’s, the Pirates are seeking relief help, perhaps Miller from Boston or Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins. If the Rockies trade Hawkins, Adam Ottavino would likely lead the closer committee ahead of Rex Brothers and Tommy Kahnle. The Pirates would almost certainly use Hawkins in a setup role.
- Justin Morneau is aiming to return the Colorado lineup on Tuesday after serving a DL stint with a neck strain. Ben Paulsen has been really effective in his place, but since he’s strictly a first baseman, he’s still the obvious choice to be sent down to make room.
- Jedd Gyorko will come off the DL prior to Monday’s game. The Padres had been using Solarte at second base since picking him up in the Headley deal, but he figures to be the primary third baseman the rest of the way.
- It doesn’t appear that Brandon Belt will return from his concussion this week. Adam Duvall will continue to fill in for the Giants.
- August rankings next week.