The All Star Break is the only respite in the Major League Baseball calendar. Before the Astros and Rangers return tonight with more regular season action, let’s take a step back to prepare for the final two and a half months. This is the time to make up ground in your leagues, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Or perhaps the goal is merely a respectable mid-place finish compared with a painful end in the basement. If you need saves, the upcoming trade deadline is sure to promises to upend the closer market. For this week, we’ll set aside our usual tiers. They’ll return next Wednesday.
Before diving into the action, we need to check in on Tampa Bay and Oakland. Let’s start out west where Blake Treinen has returned from the injured list. The Athletics officially announced they’d stick with Hendriks as the closer. Treinen was saddled with the loss in extra innings on July 3. In his next outing, his velocity spiked three mph from his previous appearance. His 98 mph heater was the third-best velocity he’s showed all season. While there are plenty of reasons to expect Hendriks to hold the role, now may be your best opportunity to stash Treinen in case he rebounds. He has a history of mixing slumps with dominant hot streaks.
Sliding east, the Rays got Jose Alvarado back from personal leave only to see him instantly hit the injured list with an oblique strain. This can be an extremely difficult injury for pitchers – and baseball players in general. Recovery can take anywhere from weeks to months – it’s highly individualized. At his best, Alvarado is still stuck in a job share. As such, it’s acceptable to move on from him if you don’t have space on your fantasy IL. Teammate Diego Castillo is expected back in short order. Emilio Pagan may continue to handle most save opportunities once Castillo returns. Don’t overlook Colin Poche – we’ll touch on him more below.
And now, let’s explore the trade market.
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Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
I’ve listed the prospective buyers roughly in order of expected urgency. The Twins are almost guaranteed to add at least one closer. The Red Sox supposedly aren’t willing to exceed the next level of luxury tax, and thus can only really add league minimum salaries.
Minnesota has held a steady lead in the AL Central, although they’ve lately seen the Indians riding up the standings. Their bullpen by committee hasn’t burned them yet, but that doesn’t make it wise to double down on a sub-par unit. The Twins farm system has sufficient depth to shed a few mid-tier prospects – perhaps to a team like the Giants who could send a lefty and a righty. Relief is the weakest part of their roster so expect them to be heavily involved in all the big names – Will Smith, Kirby Yates, Felipe Vazquez, Ken Giles, and Edwin Diaz to name a few.
After a busy offseason, Philadelphia will be keen to chase the top names too. They’re not an organization that admits defeat just because Plans A through G haven’t worked. They constructed a dream bullpen over the winter only to see nearly the entire thing land on the injured list. While Hector Neris has performed admirably, the rest of the unit has failed to deliver results. This is a team that could acquire multiple relievers including a top closer to bump Neris off his perch. Their best trade chips for these purposes are probably future useful relievers. As such, they’ll need to find very specific matches. Unfortunately for them, that pushes them more towards solutions like Alex Colome and Shane Greene than the cream of the crop.
The Braves certainly have room to improve upon their overperforming bullpen, but I don’t sense any urgency to preemptively solve the problem. A couple noisy late-inning losses in mid-July could change the calculus. Elsewhere in the NL East, the Nationals have surged back into second place and the playoff picture. Closer Sean Doolittle is practically alone. The club could add above or below him to reinforce the relief corps. They have plenty of minor league firepower. Failure to make a move would be a baffling mistake.
The Rays are always hunting for bargains. They have a history of finding players nobody even knew were available. Perhaps Jose Leclerc? The Indians are, somehow, even stingier than the Rays. They’ll need to improve multiple facets of their club if they hope to catch the Twins and make noise in the postseason. The bullpen is the easiest of those to resolve.
Other teams that could factor in as buyers include the Yankees, Astros, Cubs, and Brewers. Neither New York nor Houston needs a quality reliever, but they’re very likely to explore cost effective bullpen reinforcements if only to block their rivals from finding affordable solutions. The Cubs seemingly made their big bet with Craig Kimbrel, although we shouldn’t entirely rule out trade market acquisitions. They’re a good fit for a lefty like Smith or Tony Watson. The Brewers will focus their attention on starting pitching – an interest which can shift to bolstering the bullpen if the market for starters is too rich for their liking. I foresee potential middle relief options like Greene and Colome as likelier than a front-line addition.
St. Louis Cardinals
Los Angeles Angels
San Diego Padres
These six franchises aren’t yet drawing dead. The next couple weeks will decide whether they’re buyers or sellers. The entire NL Central is wide open. Even the last place Reds are only 4.5 games back of the division lead. The Cardinals and Pirates are seemingly better-positioned to stick in the race. I fully expect to see Pittsburgh retool by trading expiring or expensive contracts for more affordable, long-term assets. This doesn’t mean they’re throwing in the towel. While there are distant rumbles of trade rumors involving Vazquez, I think it’s highly unlikely he’ll be moved.
The Cardinals have a strong case to actually buy relievers. Nearly their entire club has underperformed which makes it all the more surprising they’re just two games back in the division. Some timely rebounds could quickly put them in the market for a more battle tested closer than Carlos Martinez.
As with the Pirates, I expect to see the Padres retool without throwing in the towel. That could include selling Yates while his value is at a high. Alternatively, if they’re serious about hopping into the Wild Card race, they should seek to add to Yates. None of their existing relievers have laid claim to a future role. If they hope to contend next season, they may need Yates.
The Angels have never shown much willingness to throw in the towel – even when the situation is bleak. Mike Trout’s club isn’t likely to add relievers, but they could enter the seller’s side of the market with interesting, affordable assets like Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, and Cam Bedrosian.
The Rockies are another club who chases destiny with little to no regard for pragmatism. As their bullpen is the weakest aspect of a very flawed roster, it’s the most obvious place to hunt for solutions. Of course, nobody ever knows what a pitcher will do upon landing at Coors Field. Arizona is more likely to shift course to seller, but they have nothing to offer besides a slumpy Greg Holland.
San Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals
This group is oriented by most-to-least likely to sell. We’ve been waiting on the Giants selloff since the start of last offseason. They took a risk by holding all four of their veteran relievers, one that appears to have paid off. They’re all healthy and performing well. They have every reason to sell, sell, sell.
When the Blue Jays discarded Roberto Osuna for Ken Giles, this was the best case scenario. Aside from a minor injury blip, Giles has rebuilt his trade value and could allow Toronto to salvage something from a miserable situation.
Chicago and Detroit have a decent closer with a reasonable backup waiting in the wings. For years, the Tigers have tried to find a trade for Greene. He’s not well-regarded around the league. They may finally accept a low-quality prospect in return. For the record, that’s an appropriate trade. Same goes for Colome, although there’s a little more to like about his cutter-heavy repertoire.
The Royals have rehabilitated Ian Kennedy enough to escape a very small portion of his contract. Or perhaps get a low-quality prospect. Finding both salary relief and a prospect is unlikely. The Orioles and Marlins could market Mychal Givens and Sergio Romo respectively, but I see little reason for them to dump those players. There’s almost no chance they’ll receive a meaningful return. While I’ll never count Jerry Dipoto out of a trade market, he doesn’t have much to offer on the reliever front. He’ll be busier elsewhere.