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Strike Zone

Projecting Second-Half Saves

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Today’s column will be a little different than usual. I wanted to look at each team’s closing situations with 90 games to go and trade season almost upon us. There are some notes included with the column as well, but each team section is solely a glance at the saves mix.

 

American League Closers

 

Baltimore: Zach Britton has demonstrated that last year was no fluke, as he’s remained one of baseball’s very best closers in his second year in the role. The Orioles added Andrew Miller to pitch in front of Britton last summer, giving up Eduardo Rodriguez to acquire him from Boston. There’s not going to be another Miller available next month, but a lefty setup man better than Brian Matusz wouldn’t hurt.

 

Boston: The Red Sox need another setup man if they fancy themselves contenders. Right now, it seems more likely that they’ll be sellers, which would put Koji Uehara in play. The Red Sox could give Junichi Tazawa a chance to close if the event of an Uehara trade. One long shot possibility is that Joe Kelly is in the pen at that point and is handed the ninth. My guess is that they keep Uehara; he probably wouldn’t bring very much in return because of his durability issues and his $9 million salary in 2016.

 

Chicago: The White Sox could sell Jeff Samardzija, Alexei Ramirez and others if the team continues to disappoint, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll move David Robertson in the first season of his four-year contract.

 

Cleveland: Cody Allen has overcome his early season woes with a dominant run of late. The Indians aren’t where they’d like to be in the standings, but it’s hard to see them either trading Allen or trading for someone to close ahead of him.

Detroit: As always, the Tigers are in the market for bullpen help. They don’t need to land a replacement for Joakim Soria, but given their dearth of quality prospects, it might be easier for them to take on the salary of an expensive closer, such as Jonathan Papelbon, than it would be to land a quality setup man. Both Soria and Joe Nathan are free agents this winter, making Papelbon’s $13 million salary next year less scary. Aroldis Chapman and Uehara might also be possibilities here, though it’s hard to say what they’d give up for Chapman. Really, though, what the Tigers need most is a righty and a lefty to pitch in front of Soria.

 

Houston: The Astros seem pretty well set here. Even the two of their seven relievers without sterling ERAs have strong peripherals. Closer Luke Gregerson is one of those two, with his 4.00 ERA, but if he’s going to get replaced, I think it’s more likely to be by Josh Fields than by any outside pickup. Then again, if the Astros think they see a potential bargain out there, they do have the prospects and financial flexibility to strike.

 

Kansas City: This isn’t the Greg Holland of 2013 and 2014. His velocity is down 2-3 mph, and he’s walking batters at twice the rate of last year. Still, he’s getting plenty of swings and misses anyway, and it continues to very difficult to homer off him. I’d say he remains a strong bet to get 20 saves the rest of the way. Sure, Wade Davis is the better pitcher right now, but since his role is just as important as Holland’s, there’s no reason to make a switch.

 

Los Angeles: The Angels will likely seek to add a lefty to aid the setup crew. Otherwise, they seem set in the pen.

 

Minnesota: A few months ago I thought this might be the year Glen Perkins would go. Now, though, it looks like the Twins will be buyers, not sellers. It’d take an extremely disappointing July to change that.

 

New York: The Yankees will seek to add to a pen that’s had to rely too much on Dellin Betances with Andrew Miller (forearm) on the DL. Really, they were relying on him too much while Miller was healthy. They hope to get Miller back around the All-Star break, and he could get some second-half save chances. Still, Betances will likely do most of the closing, which would provide him with a more manageable workload.

 

Oakland: While the A’s seem quite a bit better than their record, they’re almost certainly going to be sellers with the hole they’ve dug themselves in the AL West. Tyler Clippard is about as likely as anyone in the game to be traded within the next six weeks, probably to a team that would use him in a setup role. With Sean Doolittle (shoulder) ineligible to return until the end of July and iffy to make it back then, Evan Scribner could get a look in the closer’s role. At least, he’s pitched the best of the non-Clippard relievers. Edward Mujica has the experience, so if he’s pitching well enough, he’d probably be the choice in the ninth. But then if he’s really throwing that well, he’ll probably get traded in a waiver deal in August. Drew Pomeranz has great stuff from the left side and might be able to work his way into the mix. Ideally, R.J. Alvarez would be a factor, but his initial stints in the Oakland pen got ugly.

 

Seattle: It’s unclear whether the Mariners will be buyers or sellers, but they probably won’t do a whole lot to the bullpen. They’ve already shed much of their depth there by using Brandon Maurer, Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone to fill holes elsewhere. That’s left them with just Carson Smith and Fernando Rodney in the saves picture. I still expect that manager Lloyd McClendon will go back to Rodney as the closer, though he’ll have very little rope. Smith seems like the better rest-of-season bet anyway.

 

Tampa Bay: This isn’t much of a closer-by-committee. I’m not sure what it is. At least, Kevin Cash isn’t choosing his closer based on matchups. Brad Boxberger earned saves on three straight days Thursday through Saturday after hardly sniffing the ninth for three weeks. The week before, Jake McGee earned three saves in four days. Then he pitched twice in a week, even though he’s remained excellent. Judging by how Cash used him in May, it seems he prefers Boxberger to close, now that Boxberger is over that little velocity drop and his triceps problem. With the Rays in the race in the AL East, they’ll probably stand pat and keep both relievers, though they could get a whole lot for McGee if they cashed him in.

 

Texas: The Rangers have had success with Shawn Tolleson in the closer’s role of late, and they’re grooming Keone Kela as their long-term closer, leaving Neftali Feliz’s future with the club up in the air. Feliz is due about $5 million in arbitration next year, so if anyone wants to take a chance on him in a trade, he should be very much available. Apart from that, I’m not sure the Rangers will do much. They’re currently in the race in the AL West, but they shouldn’t mortgage the future in an attempt to stay there. They’ll probably add a reliever, but I imagine it will be a lesser name and it might come via the waiver wire.

 

Toronto: The Jays’ lack of bullpen depth has been apparent since the offseason, and since the rest of the team is firing on all cylinders of late, it looks like ownership will grant management the budget room to add to the relief corps. Papelbon has been very popular name here. Clippard, Francisco Rodriguez, Brad Ziegler and Steve Cishek are some other names that could get bandied about. The Jays could stick with Brett Cecil in the ninth and instead build up their setup corps, but that’d seem to be the less likely scenario right now.

 

National League Closers

 

Arizona: Those thrifty, thrifty Diamondbacks. After shedding Bronson Arroyo, their second and third most expensive players are relievers: Ziegler and Addison Reed. Surely, they’d love to move Reed, who is otherwise on track to being non-tendered this winter. Ziegler, who has a 1.50 ERA in 30 innings and is currently serving as the closer, would require a nice return, and the Diamondbacks might not move him at all if they’re still in the mix in the NL West. The club holds a $5.5 million option on him for next year. If Arizona fades and Ziegler goes, the Diamondbacks would likely turn to a closer-by-committee. Enrique Burgos, who has missed the last month with shoulder tendinitis, could be the favorite for saves if he pitches well after returning. David Hernandez would also be an option. Reed would have to completely turn things around in order to become a factor again.

 

Atlanta: The Braves are hanging tough in the NL East, so it’s no longer safe to assume that Jason Grilli will be part of a July trade. The Braves certainly haven’t been shy about trading veteran relievers, and they might be willing to part with their closer even while still eyeing a postseason berth. However, it’s unlikely the return for Grilli would be tempting enough to make it happen. If the Braves do fall off in July, then both Grilli and Jim Johnson could go, leaving the team with no clear favorite for saves. Most likely, though, one of the two will stick around, and Johnson would slide right into the closer’s role if he’s kept and Grilli is moved.

 

Chicago: The Cubs’ pen has rounded back into form with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Jason Motte all throwing well of late. Plus, they have Rafael Soriano coming after the All-Star break and Neil Ramirez (shoulder) on a rehab assignment and hopefully returning soon. Martinez, who has been out since mid-April, was the one I thought would be the best of the whole bunch this year. So, the Cubs shouldn’t really have any need to bring in an expensive closer next month. I’d leave them off the list of Papelbon suitors.

 

Cincinnati: The Reds don’t want to trade Chapman, but he’s going to make $11 million-$13 million next year in his final year of arbitration and he’ll then be eligible for free agency. He’s going to want to be the highest-paid closer of all-time and rightfully so. The Reds, though, probably can’t go that far to keep him, and he’d likely have more trade value next month than he would in the offseason. If the Reds swing a deal, then J.J. Hoover would likely become the closer. Tony Cingrani hasn’t pitched well enough yet to justify the responsibility. Raisel Iglesias might be the long-term choice there, but he’s still being groomed as a starter now. 

 

Colorado: John Axford has been exceptional as the Rockies’ third closer of the year, amassing a 1.31 ERA while converting all 12 of his save chances. With the Rockies going nowhere anyway, Axford is a trade candidate, though there might be enough skepticism regarding his success that he wouldn’t bring back a significant return. Rafael Betancourt and LaTroy Hawkins would be the candidates to take over if Axford is moved. It’d just come down to who is pitching better at the time.

 

Los Angeles: Though the Dodgers pen has been plenty strong, the team might bring in a high-profile setup man for Kenley Jansen. Even Papelbon has been mentioned as a possibility. Jansen should be locked into the closer’s role regardless.

 

Miami: It’s anyone’s guess what the Marlins will do. They have a seller’s record, but with Jose Fernandez coming back and no one else in the NL East stepping up, they can’t be ruled out as contenders. Still, even if they do want to stay in the race, they might trade Steve Cishek, who could become a victim of his early success. Cishek is already making $6.65 million and has two years of arbitration left, so even with a rather strong second half, he’ll be a non-tender possibility. A.J. Ramos has been outstanding in the closer’s role and the Marlins have other young relievers, so Cishek’s chances of returning in 2016 seem slim. My guess is that he’ll be traded, but probably not to a team that would use him as a closer.

 

Milwaukee: The Brewers re-upped Francisco Rodriguez to a pretty affordable two-year contract in February, so while they can trade him, there’s no sense of urgency for them to do so. He’s making just $3.5 million this year, so he’d fit into any team’s current budget. Next year, he’ll earn $7.5 million ($2 million of which is deferred), and his deal includes a $6 million option with a $2 million buyout for 2017. If Rodriguez goes, Jeremy Jeffress might get the first crack at his job. Corey Knebel could be the long-term closer, but there’s no need to rush him into the role just. Jonathan Broxton has a closer’s salary, but he’s at least as likely to get released as he is to get any second-half saves.

 

New York: Jeurys Familia has looked like the answer in the closer’s role for the Mets. Even if something goes wrong there, they’ll still have Bobby Parnell and hopefully Jenrry Mejia available as fallbacks.

 

Philadelphia: Papelbon would seem to be a goner, and there’s little question that Ken Giles will step into his role. Giles started off the year looking worse than his ERA suggested, but his velocity has picked up and he’s been very good of late. The other pitchers expected to be bright lights in the Philadelphia pen, Jake Diekman and Justin De Fratus, have both been disappointments.

 

Pittsburgh: The Pirates are all set in the eighth and ninth. Mark Melancon’s velocity, down significantly in April, has bounced almost all of the way back to where it was last year, and he’s looking like an elite closer again as a result.

 

St. Louis: After giving the Cardinals some reason for doubt last year, Trevor Rosenthal has been lights out this year. Also nice is that Kevin Siegrist has proven to be a legitimate fallback in the role.

 

San Diego: Joaquin Benoit hasn’t gotten any play in trade rumors yet, but I wonder if that might change. The Padres are still in the race, if not quite where they’d like to be, and Benoit remains an asset to them in the eighth. Still, he can be replaced by Maurer and Kevin Quackenbush if the Padres decide to make a move. It does seem safe to say that Craig Kimbrel isn’t going anywhere.

 

San Francisco: Santiago Casilla is getting the job done in the ninth. The Giants’ setup crew hasn’t been as effective as expected, but it doesn’t really seem as though anyone needs to be replaced. Hunter Strickland’s performance says his callup has helped a lot.

 

Washington: The Nationals are satisfied with Drew Storen in the closer’s role, but with Aaron Barrett and Blake Treinen failing to step up, they will be in the market for setup help. They’ve already made one nice move there, bringing in David Carpenter. A reunion with Clippard seems quite possible. I really doubt they’d mess with Storen’s confidence again by bringing in someone to pitch the ninth.

 

American League Notes

 

- Joey Gallo started six of the Rangers’ seven games last week and went 2-for-23 with a homer and a 13/3 K/BB ratio. He didn’t look helpless in the process, but with his average down to .222, it’s become less likely that he’ll stick once Adrian Beltre returns. Fortunately for Gallo owners and unfortunately for the Rangers, Beltre is still having problems with his thumb and he might not be his usual self when he’s activated, though he is still fighting to get back on the field.

 

- The Indians’ Cody Anderson was impressive with his fastball in his major league debut Sunday against the Rays, throwing 92-96 mph with very good command. The knock on Anderson as a prospect has been his lack of a strikeout breaking ball, and true to the scouting report, he showed nothing of the sort versus Tampa Bay. His changeup is decent, so if he continues to spot the fastball so well, he’ll help the Indians. I don’t think he’ll be an asset in mixed leagues, not with Cleveland’s poor defense behind him.

 

- Rusney Castillo isn’t even playing for the Red Sox now, having taken a backseat to Brock Holt and Alejandro De Aza. A demotion to Triple-A should come very shortly.

 

- Scott Copeland’s horrendous outing Sunday against the Orioles could put Daniel Norris back into Toronto’s rotation this weekend. It’s not worth getting excited about in mixed leagues; Norris still lacks control and can’t work deep into games. But he’s probably Toronto’s best option at this point. If the Jays still don’t think Norris is ready, then either Randy Wolf or Felix Doubront would get the call. Yeah, that Randy Wolf.

 

- Andrew Romine homered Sunday with Nick Castellanos on the bench for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Dixon Machado was making his first start at third base for Triple-A Toledo. It’s looking like Castellanos might find himself optioned out if he doesn’t start hitting very soon. Castellanos has improved defensively this year, but it’s come with an ugly .217/.267/.328 line. The internal candidates to replace him don’t project to do much better, but it’s starting to look like the Tigers would have little to lose by trying something different. I’m really surprised; I expected good things from Castellanos this year.

 

National League Notes

 

- That the Diamondbacks gave away 2014 first-round pick Touki Toussaint to the Braves for a backup second baseman in Phil Gosselin and salary relief in the form of Bronson Arroyo’s contract was extremely disappointing. Obviously, Toussaint is far from becoming a star, and given the nature of pitching prospects, the odds are against him ever getting there. Still, he has a great deal of upside, and if he were suddenly made a free agent today, he would have commanded $18 million-$20 million, maybe considerably more. It’s hard to fathom that the Diamondbacks couldn’t have done better than Gosselin had they shopped him around, and that they even felt the need to trade him for salary relief is shameful. They just signed a billion-dollar TV deal for crying out loud.

 

- Doug Fister averaged 88 mph with his sinking fastball last year. This year, he was at 86 mph before going down with a flexor tendon strain. In his return from the DL on Thursday, he came in at 85 mph while giving up five runs in 5 1/3 innings. The hope was that he’d be stronger after his break. Instead, he was weaker. Maybe he’ll get it back, but things seem pretty bleak right now.

 

- I mentioned last week that I wanted to watch Mat Latos’ start against the Yankees closely after he returned from the disabled list the previous Saturday showing his best stuff since 2013. As it turned out, Latos wasn’t quite as strong on four days’ rest that he was in his previous start, but he did hold on to most of the velocity spike. It was enough to suggest that Latos might be useful in mixed leagues going forward. However, since his lone start this week comes against the Cardinals, he’s not a particularly good play. He’ll be more interesting when he gets two starts next week.

 

- Matt Cain was strong in his rehab start Saturday. Jake Peavy made what was expected to be his final rehab start Sunday. Suddenly, the Giants’ rotation is very, very crowded. Complicating the team’s decisions is that Ryan Vogelsong has the best ERA of any of the starters over the last month (3.34). It still seems likely that Vogelsong heads to the pen for a bit. It’s hard to believe Chris Heston would. My guess: Tim Hudson gets stashed on the 15-day disabled list in order to recharge his batteries. As for the returnees, I think Cain comes back stronger than Peavy. He could be a big factor in mixed leagues.

 

- The major league debut of Atlanta’s Matt Wisler couldn’t have gone much better; he beat the Mets by allowing one run over eight innings. Wisler wasn’t so successful in Triple-A -- he had a 4.29 ERA in 12 starts for Gwinnett this year and a 5.01 ERA for El Paso in the Padres’ chain last year -- but the stuff is certainly there for him to be an immediate success in the majors. Wisler throws 91-95 mph consistently with a plus slider and an average change. The mediocre track record makes him sort of a scary proposition in mixed leagues, but I like the idea of riding him until there’s reason not to.  

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.