It’s trade deadline season and, with all the moving parts, you need an article that’s going to help you keep track of who will be getting saves when all the dust is settled. Fear not, dear readers, that article is here. I’m going to be listing “closers” (read: guys who have gotten saves somewhat consistently) in order of likelihood that they get dealt. I’ll then talk through how likely they are to continue to close on their new team and who could step in to fill the void.
The three categories are pretty loosely defined. If they’re “Very Likely” to be traded, I’d be surprised if they aren’t on a new team by August. If the ‘Maybe” will be traded, I won’t really be surprised either way. If they’re “Fun, But Unlikely”, I’d actually be surprised if they got traded, but they’re fun to think about, so let’s talk about it anyway. I’ll put the list and tiers in a table up here, but be sure to read the explanation below! I’ll also briefly talk about guys who might not get traded themselves, but might lose saves by being supplanted at the end, so be sure to scroll down to catch that list, too.
|1.||Richard Rodríguez||PIT||Very Likely|
|2.||Ian Kennedy||TEX||Very Likely|
|3.||Daniel Bard||COL||Very Likely|
|4.||Yimi García||MIA||Very Likely|
|9.||Raisel Iglesias||LAA||Fun, But Unlikely|
|10.||Aroldis Chapman||NYY||Fun, But Unlikely|
Richard Rodríguez, PIT
Pittsburgh has a really solid asset in Richard Rodríguez and I imagine he is going to be on the move if they can get any kind of return for him. He still has some team control years left through arbitration and his 2.21 FIP and 2.34 xERA are stellar, so I would bet somebody is going to want to give up a decent prospect or two. Despite the dip in punchouts this year, he has the best chance of continuing to close on his new team.
David Bednar is the heir apparent, but why not Sam Howard? Howard leads Bednar in holds, nine to four, and sports a lower ERA and higher CSW. In addition, despite having somewhat similar raw numbers, Howard’s Win Probability Added (WPA) of 1.07 dwarfs Bednar’s of 0.08, which indicates that Howard has been used in higher leverage situations thus far in the season. The big thing that Bednar has in his favor is his handedness. His slightly better numbers against righties and Howard’s utter domination of lefties may force the latter into more of a specialist role, but they both deserve consideration for saves once the Pirates start selling. Howard’s six-run blowup last Friday and subsequent IL trip definitely complicate his path to saves, but if there was ever a case for throwing out an outlier game, wouldn’t it be one where he was placed on the IL just a day later?
Ian Kennedy, TEX
Ian Kennedy gave us 14 weird innings in 2020, but he’s been solid and consistent since converting to a reliever in 2019. He’s 36 years old and an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year, so the Rangers have no real reason to hang on to him. The bigger question for fantasy owners is whether he’ll hold on to his closing duties wherever he goes. Personally, I’d lean towards probably not. If he goes to Philadelphia or Toronto, maybe. Anywhere else? I think he ends up in a committee at best.
All of us in the fantasy community are hoping the Rangers anoint DeMarcus Evans as their next closer upon Kennedy’s departure. Despite his 6’5, 265 frame, he’s not a flamethrower by today’s standards, but his length allows him to get great extension and movement that makes his stuff extremely hard to deal with as a hitter and fun to watch as a viewer. For some reason, though, fantasy owners don’t make any on-field decisions (Manfred, can we review this?) and some less sexy options for that role would be Josh Sborz or Joely Rodriguez. I would advise fantasy owners to stay away in all but the most save-hungry situations if that is the case.
Daniel Bard, COL
While the overall numbers still aren’t very exciting, Daniel Bard has been an extremely effective pitcher over the past six weeks and will provide great depth to whatever bullpen he joins. Since his disastrous outing against Arizona on May 2nd, Bard has put up a 2.14 ERA with 26 Ks and 7 BBs in 21 innings, gathering seven saves and two wins in that stretch. Bard has moved towards the middle of the rubber and has said he’s adjusted his hand placement on his pitches, which has allowed him to gain more control. Despite this, I don’t know if he immediately supplants any closers. We have an extremely small sample size of Bard outside of Coors since his multi-year absence from the majors and his road numbers are considerably worse than his home ones, which just strikes me as wonky. He’s a great story, but this version of Daniel Bard just doesn’t have the track record most teams would be looking for to take over as the most important reliever on a playoff team.
The Rockies are unfortunately very thin on quality replacements if they send away Bard. Mychal Givens would be the next option, but could also be gone if Bard gets moved. Beyond that, Jordan Sheffield intrigues me, but he may or may not return from injury this year. If you get desperate for saves, you could look at Carlos Estévez, but it’s very possible that it goes poorly for you. The Rockies are not a team that gets many save opportunities and they generally don’t do a good job closing them out if they do. This is not where you’re going to win your league.
Yimi García, MIA
The Marlins are 7-13 in June and have fallen to 10 games below .500 and last in the NL East. Even though they have a +17 run differential, the competition in the division and continued injury problems with Edward Cabrera and Sixto Sánchez makes it hard to believe the Marlins would try and tool up and make a run this year rather than trying to get their young guns healthy and look towards next year. Yimi García should be one of the easier pieces to move, given that he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season and, after pitching lights out in 2020, has continued to be effective in a higher leverage role in 2021. His Statcast page isn’t nearly as pretty as last year, but his CSW is higher, his fastball’s faster, and he’s gotten results. I doubt he goes to a team looking to acquire him to be the guy, but he could be a solid acquisition for several teams looking to contend.
Just like with the Rangers, we have the fun, young, electric option that fantasy owners like me would love to see and the safer, veteran options. Anthony Bender is the electric option here. Bender is a great story and really came out of nowhere in Spring Training, forcing his way onto the roster. He’s a pure power sinker/slider guy who can hit 98 and sports a 42.8 percent CSW on his slider. I’d love to see what he can do in the ninth, but veterans like Dylan Floro and Anthony Bass will likely get looks ahead of him. Floro would be fine and you should pick him up if Garcia gets traded, but I’ll be rooting for Bender.
Michael Fulmer, DET
As a reliever, Michael Fulmer has relied more on his sinker/slider combination and has put up a line of 25.1 IP, 2.84 ERA, 33 K, 6 BB compared to an ERA of nearly five as a starter. Despite his opposite-handedness, Fulmer handles left-handed batters pretty well and that is probably to keep him in a middle innings role in a contending bullpen despite a small sample size of Fulmer as a reliever. There’s little to no chance that he continues to close if he gets moved, but, seeing that he has another year of arbitration eligibility, the Tigers may elect to keep him and see what he can do for them next year after spending a full offseason preparing for a bullpen role.
We’ve already gotten a decent look at what Detroit’s bullpen situation would look like without Fulmer. In his most recent two-week IL stint in early June, José Cisnero got both of the team’s saves, but Gregory Soto earned three saves in April when Fulmer was still in the rotation. We can probably expect to see Cisnero and Soto split save chances in the second half. This isn’t ideal for fantasy owners, but both could provide 5-7 saves with decent ratios in the second half, which at least makes them rosterable.
Hansel Robles MIN
Even as I write this, I’m still a bit shocked at how bad the Twins have turned out this year. What I thought would be an elite offense has turned out to be mediocre and what I thought would be a solid pitching staff has turned out to be one of the worst in the league backed up by a bottom-10 defense by UZR, even with the presence of defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons. As surprised as I am, the Twins probably should be sellers at the deadline and they have a few guys who could fetch them some kind of return. I could see any of Hansel Robles, Taylor Rogers, or Tyler Duffey on the move for the right price. Given that Robles is a UFA after this year and that Rogers and Duffey still have one more year of arbitration, however, Robles is by far the most likely to move.
In terms of replacements, it obviously depends on who is left, but I’d honestly be surprised if Rogers isn’t still around. If he’s gone, it’s likely a mixture of several guys in the back of the bullpen including Duffey, Alex Colomé, and perhaps even Jorge Alcala. If only Robles moves and Rogers stays, Rogers is likely a top-15 closer the rest of the way. If they both move, I don’t know if I’d want to roster anyone else from that bullpen until we get a better sense of their role.
Kendall Graveman, SEA
Before his stint on the COVID-IL, Kendall Graveman was lights out and a sure bet to change teams given the price he’d be able to fetch for the Mariners. His recent slump and the Mariners’ eight wins in nine games make things a little harder to predict. Given that they were willing to basically give away Sam Delaplane, a high-upside reliever prospect who recently underwent Tommy John surgery, I imagine they’d be willing to take a guy or two on a cheap contract and some cash for Graveman even if he isn’t at his peak value. However, the Mariners may decide to just stand pat and see if they can sneak into the playoffs if they can’t get much for him. Rafael Montero could also be on the move here, but with an ERA over 5 and six blown saves, it’s unclear if any teams would actually be interested.
If Graveman moves and Montero stays put, the latter probably continues to get most of the save chances just because that’s how baseball works sometimes. I’d be more interested if they gave the ninth inning to somebody else, but there’s no stand-out candidate to take over given the setback in Andrés Muñoz’s recovery. The Mariners also have Ken Giles waiting in the wings for 2022, so they may take a hands-off approach and just go with the hot hand to close out the season. There’s nobody in particular they’re trying to develop and nobody they’d like to ‘try out’. It could end up being a big old committee of guys who shouldn’t be on fantasy rosters.
Brad Hand, WSH
The Nationals have won nine of their past eleven games at the time I’m writing this article and recently got Max Scherzer back from injury, so this may very well move into the ‘Unlikely’ category shortly, but there’s still a chance the Nats sell at the deadline and move Brad Hand along with a slew of other veterans. His $10.5M contract, which is largely deferred, is a big roadblock, and a hangup in a larger deal for the aforementioned Scherzer could kill any deal for Hand or teammate Daniel Hudson as well. Still, Hand is a guy who has closing experience and playoff experience and has dominated lefties in his career. A guy like that generally can find a spot on a playoff team if the Nationals are willing to let him go.
If Hand is gone, Hudson is almost certainly gone as well, so the second half closing duties would likely fall to Tanner Rainey first. As you can see from his numbers thus far, he would be a very risky play for fantasy owners. Yes, his slider has the potential to be one of the best pitches in the majors, but he also struggles mightily with walks. His appearance on Sunday, June 20th, however (the last one before the publication of this article) was arguably his strongest of the year, though, so maybe he’s got a big second-half run in him.
Fun, But Unlikely
Raisel Iglesias, LAA
More likely to move than Chapman, but still fairly unlikely, Raisel Iglesias could net a decent return for the Angels if they decide to move him despite his middling surface numbers. He’s had some home run problems, but all his other underlying numbers are fantastic. His 21.2% swinging-strike rate is not only the highest of his career, but also paces all major league relievers. His 2.83 xERA hints at an overall decent ability to suppress hard contact and makes his career-high 29.2% HR/FB ratio look even more ridiculous. It may not look like it, but Iglesias is in the middle of a career year and could be on the move if another team values him accordingly. Mike Mayers would likely be the next man up if Iglesias is moved. Mayers has some very fantasy-friendly strikeout numbers, but also allows some hard contact, making him kind of a feast-or-famine type of guy. In his 34 appearances so far this year, he hasn’t given up a run in 26 of them, but he’s given up three or more runs on four separate occasions. Yes, 13 out of the 17 runs he’s allowed this year (76%) have come from just 4 appearances. That would be pretty frustrating for me to own, especially in an H2H league.
Aroldis Chapman, NYY
Wait, there’s no way they trade Aroldis Chapman, right? Right?!? Probably not, but there’s some logic to the idea. The AL East is a really tough division this year. The Yankees are going to have to beat out two teams out of the Red Sox, Rays, Athletics, Astros, and Cleveland to secure a spot in the field. They’re currently four games out of the wild card, but have the worst run differential out of that group, which is looking stronger every day (e.g. Rays adding Wander Franco). They’re certainly still within striking range, but we can look back to July 25th, 2016, and see that the Yankees were three games over .500 and five games back from the second wild card the last time they traded Chapman, so their current position of four games over .500 and four games back of a wild card spot hardly precludes them from looking for suitors. They would need a substantial return for him, however, in addition to financial relief. Chapman earns $18M next year, which considerably limits how many teams would be able to even entertain an offer for Chapman, but teams like the Dodgers or Padres wouldn’t be deterred by the money and could still throw a top-100 prospect at the Yankees (for reference, the Cubs sent the 24th rated prospect in baseball at the time, Gleyber Torres, to New York for a half-season rental). Would the Yankees really be able to resist if they were able to shed the salary for 2022 AND get a top-100 prospect? Well, yes, they probably could, but there’s a solid argument to be made that they shouldn’t. They would even still have a solid closer on the books in Zack Britton. It would likely be the shock of the trade deadline if the Yankees decide to pull the trigger, but what an exciting trade it would be.
In Danger of Losing Saves
I also wanted to also take a moment to talk about players who are getting saves on contending teams right now but might be supplanted in the second half. I’m going to list four guys in order of how likely I think they are to get supplanted:
Jordan Romano’s best life is as a fireman. Limiting him to the 9th is limiting his value, but the Blue Jays’ bullpen simply doesn’t have any other options right now. It’s a tough division and a tough year to make the playoffs in the AL (The Indians are currently on pace to miss the playoffs with 91 wins), so the only options for Toronto are to tool up or play for next year and I don’t see them giving up on a team with arguably the best offense in the majors. I’d expect them to bring in a starter and a closer to try and help out their offense a bit more.
Héctor Neris has been just hanging around as the Phillies’ closer for a few years now and it’s time to say that he’s not going to grow into the closer the Phillies need him to be. He’s not a bad pitcher by any stretch, but since the start of 2020, he’s logged eight blown saves compared to 15 successful conversions. In what is likely to be a very tight NL East race, the Phillies will need all the help they can get, and taking the pressure off of Neris seems like a plausible step, especially considering he’s a UFA after this year.
The Giants have been very good on each side of the ball so far this year, but when you’re competing against the Dodgers and Padres, you have to hold yourself to a different standard. Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers have been fairly effective overall sharing the closer’s role, but they could be even more effective if McGee was allowed to go into an 8th inning role and Rogers could be a fireman focusing on lefty-heavy areas of the lineup, which he dominates. The biggest question here is how much the Giants will be willing to give up and if it can compete with what their competition will give up.
Mark Melancon leads the league in saves and the Padres have the second-best bullpen ERA in the league. It would be almost unheard of for a team like that to look for upgrades in their bullpen, but the Padres have shown that they aren’t messing around this year. If we do see a crazy blockbuster trade for Aroldis Chapman or Raisel Iglesias, it’s going to involve the Padres.
Let’s sit back, cross our fingers, and hope for a crazy trade deadline.
Photos by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire and Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)