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Closers: Royals, Rockies, Mets

The long-awaited trade deadline arrives this afternoon, so be sure to follow @closernews on Twitter, which will keep you posted on any deals that have ninth-inning ramifications.

In the meanwhile, we're going to do something a little bit different in this space this week, focusing first on the best setup men to target as handcuffs in anticipation of potential promotions before turning our attention back to the usual bullpen comings and goings. On with the rundown ...

Royals
Jonathan Broxton's name seems to be turning up on MLB Trade Rumors on just about a daily basis lately. There's no question that teams (Giants, Rangers, Orioles?) are interested in acquiring the right-hander, and that makes sense despite his overall slip in stuff: His surface stats are strong and is under contract only through this season.

The Royals can be cagey about making trades like this, so it's impossible to say for sure whether a deal will go through. In the meantime, I'd advise you saves trollers to snap up setup man Greg Holland. The right-hander is not flashing the kind of dominance he did only a season ago -- walks have become an issue, most notably -- but his strikeout and groundball rates are very good, resulting in a 2.92 SIERA that looks far more attractive than the 3.63 ERA.

There's no guarantee that Holland would take over the ninth inning were Brox traded, as the Royals boast a pretty deep bullpen on the back end with Aaron Crow and Tim Collins. But Holland closed in Joakim Soria's stead over the final month or so of 2011 and was considered to have at least an even-odds shot of getting the job before losing out to Broxton when Soria again went down this spring due to Tommy John surgery.

So, add Holland now. We should know by this evening whether he's a closer.

Rockies
As with Broxton, Rox closer Rafael Betancourt's name is also surfacing in the rumor mill. The right-hander enjoyed a career year in 2011 and is pitching well again this season at age 37. He's potentially under team control through 2014 at very affordable salaries, but therein lies the rub: the Rockies could just as easily keep Raf-Bet for the same reason that other teams want to acquire him. And since he's a useful and cheap Major League commodity, there's no reason for Colorado to deal him off without getting a decent return, further complicating a potential trade.

Based on their contracts, Broxton looks to me like a stronger trade candidate than Betancourt, but it would hardly shock me if the Rox -- an organization in desperate need of some change -- were to offload their closer. In that event, I like Rex Brothers to take over the ninth inning in Denver. The Rockies have invested heavily in Brothers (first-round draft pick in 2009) and fast-tracked him for life as a high-leverage reliever. With already strong strikeout rates and a whopping 14.1% swinging-strike rate, Brothers specializes in missing bats, so he certainly fits the closer profile.

Again, we're basically looking at a one-night waiting period as far as Brothers' closing prospects. So, add away, and you can hold or cut him accordingly by Wednesday morning.

Mets
The Amazin's weekly appearance in this space soldiers on (this time with a couple of updates that materially move the situation along!). For one, injured closer Frank Francisco is finally making tangible strides in his minor league rehab stint after a couple of setbacks. I have zero confidence that Frank-Frank is held together by anything more than chewing gum and Scotch tape at this point, but I suppose the Mets will do their best to return him to the mound if he's anywhere near game shape. It's not like they're trying to protect at this point of his career.

As well, interim stopper Bobby Parnell continues to struggle, getting tagged for a pair of runs Monday night. Since Francisco was lost to the DL, Parnell has posted passable but not great numbers (3.46 ERA, two blown saves), albeit in a small sample, perhaps furthering the narrative that he's not "cut out" to close. Do the Mets believe that? Maybe, but I'm banking on Francisco closing once/if he comes back.

As always, I'd advise Parnell owners to hold on till he's officially been deposed. And with Francisco's injury woes, that is far from inevitable. But I think the Mets' ideal situation is to return Francisco to closing and slide everyone else down a peg, so Parnell owners should prepare for that scenario.

Quickly
The Brewers have gone back to John Axford as their closer. He's not inspiring much confidence and is actually getting dropped in many fantasy leagues, but at least there is some hope that he can return to being a decent closer, whereas Francisco Rodriguez's has gone completely off the rails. ... Red Sox right-hander Andrew Bailey is scheduled to commence a minor league rehab stint Wednesday. He'll need at least a couple weeks to get back into Major League shape. Alfredo Aceves' owners are safe. ... The Padres and Huston Street finalized a contract extension, cementing the right-hander's place as the team's closer for the remainder of this season and beyond. Injuries are always a concern with Street, but when he's healthy, he's usually pretty good. ... Santiago Casilla's owners should hold their breath till after the deadline. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Giants acquire Broxton, Betancourt or someone else to take over the ninth.


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