Saves


Closer Updates: Astros, Halos, O's, Pirates, Rockies and White Sox

Welcome back to the wide world of closers. As always, there have been a number of changes in the closer universe this week and we’ll be sure to explore them all. With further ado, to the ninth inning and beyond!

Angels

The battle for the Halos’ closer gig continued this week, with the first full round of Dane De La Rosa vs. Ernestro Frieri. Over the last seven days, De La Rosa has allowed one run in 2.2 innings, with three walks and strikeouts. Far from dazzling, Dane did not earn any saves in that time frame. On the other hand, Frieri has not earned a save either, but has pitched somewhat better than De La Rosa over the same stretch. In 3.0 innings this week, Ernesto has given up no runs, one walk and added six strikeouts. As you read, Ernesto Frieri is on the right track to getting his job back.

Astros

The Astros closer job remains an absolute mystery. At this point, Josh Fields and Chia-Jen Lo  are battling for a baseball rarity, the elusive Houston save opportunity. After appearing for the Astros last Friday night, where he earned the loss (1.1 innings pitched, two hits, one earned run), Josh Fields has not appeared since. Conversely, Chia-Jen Lo has had a similar performance history lately. He also appeared only once in the past week, earning a loss to the Rangers (1.2 innings pitched, one hit, one earned run, two walks). Regardless of which horse you back in this race, tread carefully. Neither of these pitchers have proven themselves in the ninth inning and both could be replaced at the drop of a hat.

Orioles

On Wednesday, Baltimore allowed Tommy Hunter to earn his fourth save of the season. While the Orioles have yet to publicly announce they’ve gone closer by committee, look for Tommy Hunter to continue to have save opportunities if Jim Johnson continues to struggle. The same can be said for Francisco Rodriguez, who will be leaned upon in the ninth if Jim Johnson performance requires it. On a side note, Tommy Hunter has SP-eligibility in a number of leagues if you’re looking for a way to fill one of those spots with a reliever.

Pirates

On Tuesday, injured closer Jason Grilli threw off a slope and he ended the week with a bullpen session. Assuming all has goes well, Jason will be throwing from a full mound within the week and should return to the big leagues by September 1st. While this is not great news for Mark Melancon owners, who has been outstanding in Grilli’s stead, it is great for the Buccos bullpen. Furthermore, Melancon may still have value as a top setup guy once Grilli returns to the ninth.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt’s return from injury was both brief and not-so-sweet. After returning to the ninth inning role, Rafael left Thursday’s game with a serious elbow injury. While his immediate availability is definitely out of the question, the injury could be season-ending and impact next season if major surgery is necessary. Therefore, look for Rex Brothers to regain the closer’s role and keep it for the rest of the season. Brothers has been great on the year and will be a solid saves option for fantasy owners as the playoffs approach.

White Sox

White Sox closer Addison Reed has been scorching this August (12.1 innings pitched, 0.73 ERA, nine saves). Furthermore, Reed converted a save in six straight games this week, a feat which hasn’t been accomplished since the days of Eric Gagne. Although Chicago is not a lock for regular save chances, Reed may be an elite option for the rest of the season if the White Sox offense can put him in a position to close.

Add-Vice

As you may have noticed, Brian “Fear the Beard” Wilson returned to the mound this week for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While this advice is more speculative than anything else, Wilson may be able to scavenge the occasional save for Los Angeles as we head down the stretch. If he returns to form, consider him a top setup guy from here on out.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Angels, Astros, Mariners, Mets, Pirates, Rockies

Edior's Note: This article is the product of Luckey Helms (not the author listed above) and is his RotoAuthority debut. Luckey has been managing the @CloserNews twitter feed and will bring his expertise to us in article form from now on.

As we close out the work week, come to the close of our fantasy regular seasons (be it roto or head-to-head), it’s time for some MLB closers. In order to do so, we’ll first have to open up a can of updates...

Angels

Per Closer Updates tradition, Ernesto Frieri was removed from the closer’s gig the night last week’s column went up. Since that demotion, the Halos have given their only save opportunity to Dane De La Rosa, who converted it. In the last week, De La Rosa has pitched 2.2 innings of no run baseball, with two strikeouts, one hit, and two walks.

While Dane De La Rosa may not be America’s Next Top Closer, he seems to have the job for now. Lurking in the background is Kevin Jepsen, who has struggled slightly since Frieri’s demotion. In those three innings, Jepsen has given up two runs, while walking two and striking out four. The K/9 is nice, but those runs cannot make Mike Scioscia happy.

 Frieri has been a stand-up reliever since losing his spot and has responded with two clean innings, three strikeouts, one hit and no walks. If De La Rosa and Jepsen struggle in the short-term while Frieri keeps it up, he may have his job back very soon.

Astros

 In the last week, Houston has had two saves. One went to Josh Fields, his second on the season, and the other to Chia-Jen Lo. Fields has not pitched much better since his blown save, lowering his season ERA from 7.59 to 6.85 in 2.2 innings, by striking out three and giving up two earned runs. Lo, on the other hand, seems like the guy for the job... for now. Since being promoted to the big leagues in July, Lo has posted an impressive 0.00 ERA, an interesting 1.11 WHIP, and an underwhelming 7.11 K/9. However, he’s getting the job done better than Fields at the moment and should get Houston’s few save opportunities in the near future.

Mariners

 Seattle brings us the week’s most uncomfortable postgame clubhouse setting. On Wednesday morning, the Mariner’s interim manager stated emphatically that Danny Farquhar was his closer. That evening, Farquhar gave up his first blown save to the Devil Rays. Awkward. However, that performance seems to be just a blip on the radar. In August, he’s had a strong track record with 83% save conversion rate and a 14.12 K/9. At the moment, Farquhar seems to have a firm grip on the closer job with little internal competition from the bullpen and Tom Wilhelmsen working things out in the minors.

Mets

 All was well in the world of LaTroy Hawkins until Wednesday evening. After earning the closer’s gig in the wake of Bobby Parnell’s injury, he had converted three consecutive saves and not allowed a walk in more than a month. During Wednesday’s blown save, Hawkins took a ground ball to his groin while not wearing a protective cup. Sorry LaTroy. Lesson learned.

 Hawkins stayed in, gave up a game-tying home run and hasn’t appeared since. This should not linger as a long term issue, but right now the Mets closer job is an uncertain situation and if he misses an extended period of time, look for Gonzalez Germen to get save chances over David Aarsma. On Thursday, Germen earned his first career save with a nice two-inning performance.

Pirates

 Jason Grilli has been in a throwing program, building up arm strength after what appeared to be a severe injury a few weeks ago. Although speculation that he’ll be back on the Pirates before September may be aggressive, he should be back closing for the Buccos soon. That being said, do not expect him to resume the closer role immediately. Mark Melancon has been outstanding and they’ll ease Grilli back into the job slowly.

Rockies

 It appears that Rafael Betancourt will be activated from the disabled list, after his recent bout with appendicitis, once he pitches at least one rehab inning in AAA. Depending on his initial performance, he may have more time in the minors or return to the bigs for low-pressure situations immediately. While Rex Brothers may have the stuff of a future closer, Betancourt will regain his job as soon as he returns to form.

Add-Vice

 This week’s version of things you haven’t seen before brings you the mystery of Mariano Rivera. The forty-three-year-old future hall of fame closer blew three consecutive saves for the first time in his career. If this is indicative of a slump, if even that’s possible with the likes of Mariano, David Robertson is worth a flyer. He may already be gone in your league, but look for him may snag saves and wins if Mariano’s recent issues continue.

 If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, I’ve got a scoop for you... For the latest updates on which closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Updates: Mets, Mariners, Pirates, Rockies, Angels, Astros

Closer changes seem always to happen on Saturdays, right after this column goes up. Or am I the only one that notices that? Fortunately, when changes came to the Mets and Mariners last Saturday, the full week in between has given us a chance to straighten out what's going on in those teams' bullpens. Unfortunately, every potential closing option on those teams has already been gobbled up in my daily-changes leagues. Fortunately, that means I didn't get David Aardsma for his blown saves....

Mets

Bobby Parnell has a herniated disc in his neck, and but he's eligible to come off the DL as early as August 15th. He also may have season-ending surgery. While the pitcher reportedly and understandably doesn't want the season to end like that, the Mets are likely to care more about their long-term investment in Parnell than in how many saves he can notch this year. Sure, he might be back next week (so don't release him yet), but my money is on done for the season.

Had Parnell's injury led to a DL trip before last week's article, I probably would have suggested you pick up former Seattle closer David Aardsma. Now, as a former Seattlite myself, I wish Aardsma well in his comeback attempt...but after blowing both of his save chances, I'll leave it at well-wishing and keep him off my fantasy teams.

Cue LaTroy Hawkins. Like a bad penny (or a good reliever) this guy just keeps turning up. He never seems to be a team's first choice to close, but he's usually more than capable when he does get the chance. He's owned in just 12% of Yahoo! leagues and 5% of CBS leagues, so chances are he's up for grabs. While he doesn't generate many strikeouts anymore, he does have a miniscule 1.64 BB/9. Hawkins may be closer for the rest of the week, or the rest of the year. It's well worth a waiver claim to hope for the latter.

Mariners

Sure, I managed to sneak in an update about Tom Wilhelmsen and the Mariners last Saturday, but I didn't expect him to get sent down. That might be the best place for him to sort out his struggles (as opposed to the ninth inning, with the game on the line). During his previous demotion, Wilhelmsen was allowed to be in the committee that replaced him, and he gradually took the job over. This time around is different: if you've still got him, release him.

Also different this time around is that someone has indeed stepped up and into the closer's role. That someone is Danny Farquhar. Farquhar has had an historically strange season this year, including a dazzling 13.62 K/9, a K/BB of 3.93, and a FIP of 1.89. And an ERA of 4.95. That last number is a little deceiving--it was 5.45 on August 1. Maybe the Mariner brain trust read the Fangraphs article linked above, or maybe they just saw the raw data themselves. Or maybe Farquhar's right-handedness is what gave him the edge over Oliver Perez and company. Whatever the reason, it seems clear that he's the guy to own in Seattle. With 39% Yahoo! league ownership and 30% CBS ownership, fantasy owners are getting that idea already. If you still can, pick him up fast, because every minute that goes by is a minute that one of your leaguemates could see this article and get the same idea....

Pirates

Jason Grilli remains worth holding onto, though his timetable for return is still uncertain. Grilli would like to be back in August, though Pittsburgh management isn't holding out hope for more than an early September return. Though downside exists, Grilli is a must-keep for any fantasy squad hoping for a playoff run. Actually, if you do play in a head-to-head format and Grilli's owner is out of or on the cusp of the playoffs, it might be a good idea to try trading for him now, since he'll have more value to you than his current owner. Conversely, if you're fighting for a playoff slot, the value Grill could give you if you make it to the playoffs might not be as valuable as what he could return in trade.

Mark Melancon update: he's still awesome. Keep throwing him out there until Grilli has come back and saved a couple games.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt's original timetable was about three weeks...which is what it's been since he last pitched. Manager Walt Weiss isn't sure when Betancourt will be back, as he's rebuilding strength after his emergency appendectomy. (How are baseball players even in need of this procedure? With all the doctors and trainers around them all the time, you'd think they'd catch more warning signs.)

Rex Brothers continues to close in Betancourt's absence. Like Melancon, hang onto Brothers until Betancourt proves he can save games.

Angels

I wasn't shocked when Ernesto Frieri hit his current string of futility; if anything, I'm surprised that a new closer hasn't emerged. It seems like the Angels were hoping Frieri would be the guy that emerged from the committee situation, but that hasn't happened. On August 2nd, Frieri pitched a scoreless inning, struck out the side, and got the save. That outing was one of just two times he's finished the inning in his last seven appearances, also the only times in that span in which he's managed not to give up runs. So, it's been pretty bad.

Though no one else has stepped into the role, the Angels are probably thinking more seriously about letting Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn, or Kevin Jepsen take things over. If you've stashed one of these guys, hang onto him. And if you've stashed Frieri, keep him on your bench.

Astros

With Jose Cisnero headed to the minors, who will close for the Astros? Helpfully, their website doesn't list a closer. Josh Fields might be the guy, since he's actually gotten a save. But he's also blown one by allowing three runs to the Red Sox. The meltdown is more recent, so maybe he's closing and maybe he isn't. If Fields isn't the guy, Chia-Jen Lo might be. He's got an intriguing minor league track record, and Houston might want to see what they've got in him. Or maybe they won't even need a closer.

Add-Vice

Farquhar is the top add this week. Without much real competition for the job, he's more or less a full closer, and one who's generating tons of strikeouts. LaTroy Hawkins follows quickly after. Though he isn't elite, he has a decent chance of closing out games for the rest of the season. You've got plenty of options if you want to get involved in the messy situations in Los Angeles or Houston. I'd make De La Rosa my first choice from among those groups, but the whole thing is up in the air.

For the latest updates on the messy situations in Houston, LA, and every ninth-inning change, check out @CloserNews on Twitter. It may be only 140 characters, but it's up-to-the-minute.



Closer Updates: Astros, Angels, Tigers, Cubs, Brewers, and Who the Heck is Jose Cisnero?

In the aftermath of a trading deadline that displaced just two closers, the same question is on everybody's mind: who the heck is Jose Cisnero?

Astros

We all know the facts: Jose Veras was traded to Detroit and into a setup role, and Cisnero has the lead (in popular opinion, at least), in a committee situation. Veras taught us that even Houston isn't so bad that their closer isn't valuable, so there's a mad scramble to pick Cisnero up—in fact, he's already owned in 12% of CBS leagues and 16% of Yahoo! leagues; expect that number to go up this weekend as weekly formats get their picks in.

What do we know about Cisnero? Well, he's right-handed and throws about 93mph. (Also, he's 6’3” tall and weighs either 185 or 230lbs but you didn't really care about that, did you?) On the season, he's pitched to a 3.40 ERA with a 3.44 FIP and a somewhat worse 4.00xFIP. He's striking out 8.72 batters per nine innings, with a 4.04 BB/9. So, he’s decent enough. If you never heard of him before this week, I don't blame you.

If Cisnero isn't exactly a household name, the other guys in the Astros' pen are really far under the radar. You know that, if this article is their chance to shine. Travis Blackley, Chia-Jen Lo, and Wesley Wright could be in the mix for saves as manager Bo Porter sorts out his options. So could anybody else, theoretically. Since the 'Stros won't be getting that many leads to protect, keep an eye on everyone's performance in low-leverage situations, since those will comprise most of Porter's chances to evaluate his staff.

Angels

A week ago, Ernesto Frieri seemed like a pretty safe closer. One who gave up more than his share of walks, to be sure, but pretty safe all things considered. After a disaster week, the Angels are rolling with a committee. It isn't time to cut Frieri yet, since, like Tom Wilhelmsen before him, he might emerge from the situation with a job if the Angels decide there just aren't more fish in the sea after all.

His biggest competition, however, does deserve to be picked up. Dane De La Rosa (just 2% owned in Yahoo! Leagues and 1% in CBS leagues) seems most likely to run with the job if given a chance. He throws over 94mph and has put up a much better FIP (2.94) than ERA (3.93) this season, while his xFIP splits the difference (3.30). He’s got an 8.23 K/9 and a 2.88K/BB. 

Watch for the Halos' other bullpen options, who could include Michael Kohn (3.00 ERA and 9.27 K/9, 94+mph fastball) and Kevin Jepsen (4.23 ERA, 9.43K/9, 95+mph fastball).

Tigers

Supposedly, the Tigers had been looking for a full-time, "proven closer." Then they saw the price tags  and now they've changed their tune about closer Joaquin Benoit. He's definitely the closer, making at least one Internet author regret not pursuing Benoit more aggressively in trades. Jose Veras is no more a threat to Benoit's job than Detroit's internal options were.

Cubs

Pedro Strop, you were this close to closing for the Cubs! Until every other team in baseball remembered that they didn't really want Kevin Gregg before the season started for the price of a minor league contract, let alone for a decent prospect. So Gregg gets to stay in the closer's seat. Hopefully, you didn't drop him prematurely. If someone else did, snatch him right up. While Gregg could be dangled for trade in August, his low salary makes him unlikely to pass through waivers, so my guess is he stays put. As for Strop...wait till next year.

Brewers

After Francisco Rodriguez was dealt to the Orioles, John Axford and Jim Henderson were supposed to be battling it out for saves. That battle doesn't seem particularly fair when one pitcher gets two save opps in the same day, but that's what Henderson got on Tuesday. He converted both saves, and has to be considered the leader in the closing competition, if not the official closer. Maybe the Brew Crew wants to keep Axford's arbitration price down, or maybe they'd just rather go with the better pitcher. Nothing appears to be official yet, so hang onto the Ax Man just in case something changes. If Henderson is unowned, pick him up. He makes a good trade target, as you might be able to get a discounted price because of the job-share situation. Another reason to own Henderson going forward is that Axford's high salary means that only teams that want him will claim him on waivers in August, making a trade potentially more likely for him than for someone like Gregg.

Add-Vice

For me, Jim Henderson is the top add, and he’s available in more leagues than I expected (owned in 63% of Yahoo! Leagues and 49% of CBS leagues). Dane de la Rosa is next for me. I know he's got an incumbent to face, unlike Jose Cisnero, but both are technically in committees. Given that, the Angels are better than the Astros by a lot, and whoever closes for them will get more opportunities to get saves. It doesn't hurt that de la Rosa seems to be a somewhat better pitcher. Don't get me wrong, though—Cisnero should definitely be owned.

 Update: Tom Wilhelmsen has been removed from the closers role again (at least for now), and the Mariners have several options to turn to, including Oliver Perez, Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, and Danny Farquhar. No pitcher emerged as a real replacement for Wilhelmsen the last time he was removed from the ninth, so none of the four are an immediate pickup outside of deep leagues in which every last save is gold.



Closer Update: Orioles, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Angels

Thank you, Trade Deadline! After a couple weeks in which the only things changing the closer landscape were happening in Arizona, we finally get a closer trade. We'll discuss the deal and its fantasy implications, as well as situations arising from injuries and further potential trades.

Orioles
The receivers in the Francisco Rodriguez for prospect deal, the O's have shored up their bullpen and replaced their closer. No, they haven't replaced Jim Johnson, who will continue getting the saves for the O's. Though Johnson isn't a stellar reliever, and he's taken more lumps this season than in the past, he'll hold onto the job as long as he's capable. K-Rod owners, can't be pleased by this arrangement, though the silver lining is that he probably will get the first crack at the job if Johnson gets injured or does manage to blow the job.

Brewers
More fantasy opportunity is to be had here, as Jim Henderson and John Axford are presumed to be sharing the closing duties (for now). While either one might emerge as closer in the coming weeks, both are worth picking up immediately. (Or feeling a bit triumphant about if you've been holding them all this time.)  While Henderson has been great throughout the season, Axford has been pretty stellar in the 18 innings he's pitched since May and could retake the job easily enough. Actually, August has been his only truly bad month of the season.

The bad news for owners of these two pitchers is that either or both may be traded by the giving-it-all-up Brewers in the next couple weeks, and neither is any more likely to close in another location than K-Rod was.

Pirates
Baseball's favorite upstart team (likemost of my fantasy squads) was dealt a huge blow when Jason Grilli left a game in pain and went on the DL. The Pirates are optimistic: their initial forecast is that he'll only be out for seven to ten days. They're also realistic: this is only the initial word, and shouldn't be taken for final knowledge on the extent of Grilli's forearm injury. Fantasy owners will have to wait and see, but he's clearly a pitcher to hang onto in all formats that involve saves, DL slots or not.

Mark Melancon will be sliding right into the closer's role. He's been nearly as goo as Grilli while setting up, so there's no reason not to pick him up for however long he'll be closing. Even if Grilli is out for an extended period of time, don't expect them to make a trade for a ninth inning this easy to fill. 

Rockies
Rafael Betancourt has hit the DL again, leaving owners unsurprised. If you hung onto Rex Brothers assuming that Betancourt wouldn't stay healthy all season, good choice. If not...try picking Brothers up. Of course, getting your appendix removed isn't the most predictable of injuries, so don't feel bad if you didn't see this one coming. The good news for owners is that Betancourt's appendix won't hurt him long-term, affect his delivery, or lead to cascading injuries, or any other of the typical baseball-injury problems that can lengthen the typical stay on the DL. He isn't expected to miss more than three weeks, which is plenty long enough to pick Brothers up for, but certainly not long enough to consider dropping Betancourt. There is currently no reason to think that Betancourt won't get his job back upon his return.

Diamondbacks
Brad Ziegler has been getting the job done in the desert, but for how long remains to be seen. With a low strikeout rate and the sort of sidearm delivery that leaves him relatively vulnerable to lefties, Ziegler doesn't seem like "closer material." That doesn't mean he can't hold onto the job for the rest of the season (three-run leads aren't that hard to protect), just that he's less likely than others. If he's still available, pick him up and hope for the best.

J.J. Putz will probably get the first crack at the job if Ziegler falters. As bad as Heath Bell has been, I wouldn't expect him to be retaking the ninth anytime soon. In previous years (when Putz was too good to replace) David Hernandez was looked at as a top future closing candidate...now that the D-Backs have a need at closer, Hernandez hasn't been particularly good. Cruel timing...

Angels
Ernesto Frieri endured a brutal outing on Tuesday, but came back for Wednesday's save. What do we learn? Well, pretty much what we already knew: when Frieri is bad, he's really bad. There's no indication that his job is in trouble (seeing as he came back the very next day), but his owners may be leery of him after that. If you need saves, Frieri might come at an affordable price.

Trade Watch
Jose Veras of the Astros is drawing trade interest--consider him more than likely to get dealt at this point. Don't consider him likely to close after a trade. The Tigers are presumed to be still looking for relievers, whether or not their additions close depends on...well, I don't know what it will really depend on, since Joaquin Benoit is better than most relievers on the market. Maybe on how many saves the New Guy has this season, or how hard he throws? Kevin Gregg could be on the move, as could Henderson or Axford. I bet the Padres would deal Huston Street or Luke Gregerson, but there don't seem to be any rumors about the Mariners trying to deal Tom Wilhelmsen.

Add-Vice 
If Brad Ziegler is unowned, he's the top pickup prospect. Possession is 9/10's of the law in closerland. Melancon is a strong, immediate add, given his excellence and the uncertainty of Grilli's timetable. Brothers isn't far behind, since three weeks of a closer is pretty valuable. Henderson and Axford should both be picked up, with Henderson prioritized just above the Ax-Man.

As always, keep up with MLBTradeRumors.com and @CloserNews on Twitter for all the latest information on closers around baseball.



Closer Updates: 14 Saves

Sometimes I get an idea for a column before I even set out to research it. (Yes, I do research.) Usually, this works out fine, just like it did in college. So today, when I set out to find hidden gems of the relief world via Fangraphs.com's Steamer projection system, I expected to find a small cadre of pitchers that could be projected for more saves than most over the final two-and-a-half months of the season. (Why can't the All-Star break just be in the middle?)

That's not what I found. In fact, I discovered that the opposite was true: pretty much everyone is predicted to get about 14 more saves over the course of the season. Obviously, this isn't what will happen, but it speaks to the unpredictability of saves and the pitchers who earn them. Not only was there low variation, but the number itself seems pretty conservative--the system isn't willing to assume that any closer or team will have particularly good luck getting save opps. Some pitchers will have that good luck--just as Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli had in the first half--but it's impossible to know which ones will.

The saves category is the One Main Reason why we bother with closers, and the only reason to take them over the best of the overall relief pitching market, but if there's no way to tell who might get the most saves for the rest of the season, then the only thing to do is try to get the best 14 saves you can...or the cheapest.

There is a caveat: Steamer may not know much about Kevin Gregg's or Joaquin Benoit's job security,* but we do and we can price them accordingly.

*Actually, Steamer seems to, as neither pitcher is projected to accumulate many more saves. The point remains that you are free to use your baseball knowledge and common sense to weed out any pitchers unlikely to get a full complement of saves for the rest of the season.

The Best 14 Saves

Notice that this is not a list of the best 14 closers--simply your high-end trade targets. If you need saves but also want to shore up your rate stats, these are the guys to go for. Teams in Roto leagues with high IP totals may be most interested in these players, and most able to pay for them with high-level starters.

A relatively simple sorting by 2013 xFIP gives us these top closers:

Greg Holland (1.37)
Jason Grilli (2.08)
Craig Kimbrel (2.14)
Kenley Jansen (2.24)
Glen Perkins (2.25)
Koji Uehara (2.35)
Aroldis Chapman (2.57)
Joaquin Benoit (2.64)

If strikeouts are your main concern, worry not: each of these pitchers has a K/9 of 11.74 or better. Of the group, Benoit is by far the most worrisome, as the Tigers remain a prime candidate to deal for an outside closer. Why they aren't satisfied by Benoit is beyond me. The production from him should be great, so if the trade deadline passes, pounce on him. Or, if you need a big risk, go for it early and expect his cost to be low. Uehara also poses some threat to be removed from the role, as he wasn't the first (or second, or third) choice for the job. The latest trade chatter suggests that Perkins will not be traded, so he looks like a risk worth taking.

Obviously, no closer is a sure bet for anything (except, basically Mariano Rivera), but this Squad of Seven is poised to pitch extremely well in the second half. Once you've got that, all you can do is hope that the saves fall into place.

If you don't like Benoit, but still want this list to round out to seven, feel free to add Fernando Rodney. Seriously, he's next on the list with his 2.91 xFIP, and his K/9 is 12.50. Go figure.

Worth noting: when I sort the Steamer projections by end-of-season FIP, Bobby Parnell and Sergio Romo  insert themselves into this list. Neither has the strikeout rate to match the Seven above, but both have more job security than Benoit. Parnell's low current save total could make him a good bargain play, which helpfully brings us to....

Bargain Bin Saves

Just as the list above wasn't necessarily the "best" closers, and certainly not the ones with the highest save totals, this list isn't the worst, or those with the lowest. It's simply the closers whom you should expect to be able to pay a little less for. In head-to-head formats, these might be the best closers to target; similarly, if you need saves in a Roto league, but don't have the luxury of shedding all your starting pitchers (or base stealers, or home run hitters, or whatever) to get them.

Fernando Rodney was a surprise mention above, but he makes it here because of his intense struggles early in the season, not to mention the impossible expectations he could never have lived up to. His ERA sits at 3.79, and his FIP at 3.11, but his 2.91 xFIP suggests better things are still to come. Having weathered problems that would have gotten most pitchers demoted, Rodney has a lot of job security now that he's pitching well. It doesn't hurt that the Rays are in a pennant race.

Steve Cishek has spent the season dealing with trade rumors, but the Marlins want a top prospect for him, which isn't going to happen. The Fish won't win a lot of games, but Cishek could still get his 14 saves. Trade rumors, a bad team, a low save total, and the fact that he isn't even an elite reliever should keep his price pretty low.

Bobby Parnell is only projected by Steamer for four more saves over the course of the season, but his low profile and high job security make him a good trade candidate.

Casey Janssen has kept a pretty low profile too, after returning from injury and sparring with Sergio Santos in Spring Training. Playing north of the border probably doesn't help.

Jim Johnson might be leading the league in saves, but that's probably all the more reason for his owners to want to trade him. He's had more rough patches than most closers, and he's really not an elite pitcher--but he isn't bad and Buck Showalter hasn't shown any sign of wanting to replace him in the role.

Warning: Stay Away

Even at a good price, I don't advise these powder kegs:

Rafael Soriano (6.53 K/9, 4.07 xFIP)
Tom Wilhelmsen (6.80 K/9, 4.49 xFIP, tenuous job security)
Huston Street (5.34 K/9, 4.65 xFIP, 6.95 FIP)

Just say no. And if you happen to own them, deal them for pennies on the dollar if you have to.

As always, follow @CloserNews on Twitter for all the latest information on closers and relievers around MLB and keep up with MLBTradeRumors.com as the trading deadline approaches.



Closer Updates: Riding the Trade Winds

Rumors continue to swirl around baseball this time of year, and no position receives more attention than relief pitchers. Why? Even the best are expendable on a bad team, and even pitchers of marginal greatness are assets on contenders. Everyone who spent the last two decades watching playoff baseball knows how important strong bullpens are for the October teams. For fantasy owners, this can be a mix of good and bad news. How your team fares is all about how prepared you are for the upcoming month. After all, a fantasy team doesn't need to be on the top of the standings to need more saves...or on the bottom to profit from trading away relievers.

Mid-season trades can create quite a lot of upheaval, often leaving two teams with new closers. Whenever a closer is traded away (except for other closers, hypothetically) a new one is created to fill the void he left and everyone scrambles to the waiver wire to get him. Better yet, stay on top of the rumors and try owning a new closer before he gets the job. The downside of this is that the best trade candidates don't usually have great backups.

The other trade fallout happens on the team that acquires the new closer: either that team's old closer is deposed (bad news for his owners), or the new pitcher is suddenly the setup man (bad news for his owners. Most often, good teams have an established closer by this point in the season, and they're looking to use bad teams' stoppers to shore up their 'pen. Yes, you should trade away any closers at risk for this situation.

At-Risk Closers

Keep in mind that trade rumors can change quickly and that not all of these closers will get dealt into setup situations. Why do you think we link to MLB Trade Rumors right at the top of the page? Here are just a few of the storylines circulating as I write this: Steve Cishek and Mike Dunn are drawing interest for the Marlins, who don't want to deal themthe Yankees are pushing to deal Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughesthe Mets probably want to keep Bobby Parnell and are releasing setup man Brandon Lyonthe Phillies would rather buy than sell Jonathan Papelbon; and all the Brewers' relievers are drawing interest. So, seriously, refresh MLBTR all day long and a couple times during the night just in case, because all these could have changed by the time you read this.

Steve Cishek and his setup man Mike Dunn could get dealt, but odds are they won't both be traded away. And since Cishek is under team control until 2017, the lowly Marlins could rationally think of him a piece on future good teams. He's one that I'd take a risk and trade for at low cost. His value won't be that high, as the Marlins don't do much winning, but it's looking pretty unlikely that he gets traded away. That's good, because he wouldn't be closing anywhere else (except maybe Detroit).

Jose Veras is a pretty good reliever. Not amazing, so if he gets traded, don't expect him to take over the ninth inning reins. In head-to-head leagues, I'd trade him away, but hold onto him in Roto-style. Wesley Wright might get the save opps if Veras is dealt, but there's no need to pick him up until that happens. Frankly, it'd probably be an open audition anyway.

Francisco Rodriguez has had a resurgent closing experience with Milwaukee. As a guy with playoff-tested moxie and at least some leftover brand name, I'll make the bold prediction that he gets traded to Detroit and closes for them. He's on the fringe of being good enough (in reality and appearance) to close on other contending teams in the event of a trade, so I'd hold on him. If he is traded, expect Jim Henderson to get his closing gig back.

Like Rodriguez, Glen Perkins has a good chance of beating out incumbent closers for the ninth inning. He's even less likely to be traded in the first place, so hold him if you got him. Your risk is relatively low if you trade for him, but it isn't nonexistent.

It almost seem taken for granted that Kevin Gregg will be dealt, and that Blake Parker, James Russell or Pedro Strop will take over the ninth. Maybe, maybe not. Gregg might close for the Tigers, but I don't think any other contender will let him close unless someone gets injured. If you can get any return for him trade him away, in head-to-head formats, and probably in Roto too.

Bobby Parnell's trade rumors might say he's staying now, but the Mets don't have any real need for a competent closer, and you have to think they'd move him for a decent prospect. Parnell doesn't have the raw saves totals or the history of closing to push other closers out of a job; for that reason I'd trade him away.

The Mariners don't look likely to find a partner willing to overpay for Tom Wilhelmsen, so he may stay with the club and close for the rest of the year. Or he might continue his periodic implosions. If you find a fellow owner willing to value him like Seattle does, trade him away. Most of us, however, will just have to hold on. If he's dealt or demoted...we'll, we've examined this mess before.

With the Blue Jays presumably expecting to have a better 2014 than this year, they probably don't want to deal Casey Janssen. If the tea leaves swirl in a new direction, I still wouldn't be worried, as Janssen is good enough to continue closing for several contenders. Unless he starts getting connected with teams like the Yankees and Rangers who have well-established closers, I would hold, or even trade for him. If he is dealt, perhaps final All-Star balloter Steve Delabar would take over.

Jonathan Papelbon seems less and less likely to get dealt in real life. I suggest you trade for him while the rumors are still lingering, and he's still got a low saves total, and the stigma of his blown saves is still recent. On the off chance that he's dealt, Antonio Bastardo is a good pitcher to own.

Greg Holland hasn't seen his name come up in the rumors, but the Royals are always in danger of seeing their season fall apart. You can safely hold him for now, but keep an eye on the news. Kansas City actually has several capable relievers, so it's hard to know who to pick up.

Potential Buyers

Everyone knows the Tigers are buyers. Joaquin Benoit may be on the final All-Star ballot, but that might not be enough to convince the team that he's their stopper. Obviously, keep Benoit around, but be ready for him to be replaced before the first of August.

With the struggles that Jim Johnson has had, I wonder if the Orioles will be in the relief market this month. There hasn't been much noise about that, but maybe they're just playing it quietly. Johnson would probably have to struggle after a trade is made to lose his job, but he's used a lot of a long leash this season.

The Red Sox may have two of the best Japanese relievers in the world in Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, and an ex-closer in Andrew Bailey, but that might not stop them from loading on more arms for the pennant race. If they add someone with more closing clout than Uehara, don't expect them to hesitate to make (another) change.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again (all month long, probably), but the best way to come out of the trade crucible ahead is to keep up with the rumors on MLBTR and to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.



Closer Update: Red Sox, Mariners, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Indians

It's been a rough road for a lot of teams in the ninth inning this season, to the point where several are sorting out their closer position like it's Spring Training. Other teams appear poised for good news, with three closers coming back from injury, starting yesterday. All of this is, of course, a mixture of trouble and great news for fantasy owners, depending on who's on your team and what your waiver priority happens to be.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey is still out, but the Sox will not be turning to Junichi Tazawa this time. Instead, Koji Uehara has become their fourth closer of the season. The move is sort of supposed to be temporary, and it probably does depend a lot on how Bailey is able to do. If he reverts to his April form, he could very well be pitching in the ninth again. If he doesn't, Uehara might well be one of the best closers going forward.

Mariners

This situation has been a hideous mess. Stay away. Tom Wilhelmsen hasn't been usable lately, while Carter Capps has been even worse, allowing 10 runs in his last four appearances. Oliver Perez has pitched well, but has only gotten one save since Wilhelmsen was removed from the role. Charlie Furbush looked like he had some promise, but he's scuffled in his last couple chances. With Perez and Furbush being lefties, it's possible Seattle doesn't want to save them for closing anyway. So, who's closing for the Mariners? Maybe Yoervis Medina, who got a save last week, and has pitched more or less decently on the year. He's a pickup if you're desperate, but supposedly Wilhelmsen is being eased back into the job. We'll see. Hopefully, we'll see other teams in our fantasy league dealing with the situation.

Tigers

For now, Joaquin Benoit looks to be the one to own in Detroit. He's a good pitcher, and he's having a good season, so the Tigers' reluctance to let him close is a little odd. Don't be similarly reluctant, because he'll be valuable unless and until the Tigers swing a trade, promote Bruce Rondon, or successfully pass Jose Valverde through waivers, sort him out in AAA, and bring him back up. Yeah, a trade is probably all that should worry Benoit owners. 

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon has spent the last week frustrating Phillies fans and frightening fantasy owners, but you really shouldn't be worried. Why am I unworried about a guy who's blown four of his last six save chances? Because he's Jonathan Papelbon, of course. Recent struggles aside, the guy has a 2.05 ERA, an 0.88 WHIP, a 27:5 strikeout to walk ratio and the twin comforts of a huge contract and the longest track record of relief success this side of Mariano Rivera. Now is a great time to make an offer for him if you need saves. On the off chance that he is removed from the role, injured, or traded, the Phils could look to lefty Antonio Bastardo for saves.

Indians

Chris Perez returned Thursday and should be taking over closer duties right away. Vinnie Pestano owners ought to wait a bit before dropping the fill-in closer, just in case Perez hits a snag.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is supposed to return from the DL today. The plan is for Betancourt to jump right into the closer's role, but owners of Rex Brothers will want to hang on to the hard-throwing setup man for a few appearances, to make sure Betancourt really is healthy and ready to close.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell claims that he's figured things out and fixed his homer issues, but it may be too little, too late for Bell and his owners. J.J Putz is ready to return from the DL today. Reportedly, he'll be closing right away, which isn't a surprise, given how poorly Bell has pitched of late. Bell got Thursday night's save, and the latest from manager Kirk Gibson is that he "isn't sure" how he'll be using Putz when he returns. For now, hang onto Bell in case Putz continues his pre-injury struggles or is reinjured.

Add-Vice

If Putz, Betancourt, or Chris Perez are unowned, pick any of them up right away. The next choice is between Joaquin Benoit and Koji Uehara. Both are good pitchers on good teams, the only question is which one will hold the job longer. Very tough to say, as Boston and Detroit have both been unpredictable with their bullpen choices. The very desperate could pick up Tom Wilhelmsen or Yoervis Medina. Antonio Bastardo is a top-notch reliever who will help your rate stats if you want insurance for Papelbon.

As always, follow @CloserNews on Twitter for up-to-the-minute information on closers around the Major Leagues.



Closer Updates: Committees, Injury Returns, Strugglers, and the Early Trading Block

Jason Grilli might have blown his first save, but that doesn't mean he's in hot water. Arguably the season's best closer so far, he won't be making it into any of this week's categories of concern--not even as a trade target, with the Pirates nestled into the second NL Wild Card. Grilli's owners may be lucky, but below are four categories of closers worth worrying about.

Committees

The pernicious closer-by-committee might be favored in sabermetric circles, but it never gets much love from the mainstream media. Why? Because of those of us who play fantasy baseball, I bet. We might have been part of the "sabermetric revolution" at its beginning, but there's nothing we hate more as a group than the closer-by-committee. All those saves going to waste, spread out across three or four fantasy teams....

Brewers

Last week, Jim Henderson made it back to the Majors from the DL, but he didn't slide right back into his old role. Instead, Francisco Rodriguez was allowed to chase the 300-saves milestone. Well, K-Rod is still chasing it, stuck as he is on number 299. Not that Rodriguez hasn't pitched well, but it'd be nice to get this situation down to a single closer. More than likely, Henderson reclaims the job after K-Rod finally gets that big save, but there's no way to be sure. Keep running both pitchers out there for now, as neither will hurt your ratios in the eighth or ninth innings, despite Henderson's eighth inning blown save.

Tigers

Jose Valverde didn't have to fall very far to fall out of favor in the Motor City. The good news is that none of us spent a high draft pick on him. Other than that, it looks like manager Jim Leyland will play whatever matchups suit him, at least until he gets so tired of reporters' questions that he just names Bruce Rondon closer out of frustration. The committee cast has changed a bit since the beginning of the season, with Rondon and Al Alburquerque in AAA, and Octavio Dotel on the 60-Day DL. Expect Valverde to continue getting a few saves, while Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Phil Coke share the job with him. Benoit is the group's early leader and a good choice for a pickup, the Tigers seem likely to have a closer high on their spring shopping list. In fact, it wouldn't be a shock to see them swing deals for more than one reliever before the deadline.

Mariners

This is easily the ugliest of the committee situations. Tom Wilhelmsen is no longer the team's closer, though they seem to hold out hope that he'll sort out his struggles. In the meantime, he's already blown a save as a committee member. Other possibilities for saves include Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, and Oliver Perez. (Yes, the Oliver Perez who was once a promising lefty strikeout pitcher who completely imploded, signed a big contract with the Mets, imploded again, and threw a temper tantrum about going to the bullpen.) None is a great option, though Capps is likely to get the most save opps going forward, thanks to his right-handedness, though he coughed up a pair of runs without recording any outs in yesterday's brutal loss to the Angels. Any pitcher who does emerge from this quagmire with a closing gig is a decent investment, because the Mariners aren't in the position to seek outside help in relief. In fact, they're probably just frustrated that Wilhelmsen couldn't stay good long enough to get traded.

Injury Returns

It's never exactly clear what will happen when a closer returns from the DL. Sometimes the replacement keeps the job, sometimes the old guy takes it right back, sometimes the old closer is eased back into his role, and sometimes a committee develops. The plan for the teams below seems to be to reinstate the old closer, but you never quite know for sure.

Indians

I bet you never thought you'd be excited for Chris Perez to come take his job back from Vinnie Pestano. The Indians have scuffled hard since Perez's injury, though Pestano finally recorded his second save of the year. Perez won't be coming back immediately, following a terrible rehab appearance and flawed mechanics. If he gets his delivery sorted out quickly, he'll be back in the ninth just as quickly. If he happened to get dropped in your league, snatch him back up.

Rockies

Rafael Betancourt is inching his way back to the Majors and is scheduled to face hitters today. If everything goes well, he could be back relatively soon. It's far too early to drop Rex Brothers, but don't expect him to keep Betancourt from getting his job back when he does return. And it's advisable to hang onto Brothers after that, though, as he's pitched to a great ERA and Betancourt isn't exactly the healthiest closer in the ninth.

Diamondbacks

Heath Bell has been surprisingly good for Arizona. Not, you know, great, but better than we expected. The homers have given him trouble, and his job could be in danger if J.J. Putz comes back. And Putz might just be back soon, as he began his rehab assignment yesterday--a lot earlier than was initially expected. While he may take a little while in the minors, he could also be back in the Diamondbacks' closer role quickly. He was dropped in many leagues, but I'd advise picking him back up if you've got the room to stash him.

Strugglers

A couple of the early season's best closers have hit some serious rough patches and owners should monitor their situations.

Red Sox

Andrew Bailey has pitched horrifically in his last few outings, to the tune of an 11.25 ERA in his last four appearances. Manager John Farrell says that Bailey has "some work to do," but "for the time being...is definitely our closer." Well, doesn't he sound excited to keep Bailey in the ninth, and admits that he would consider other options, "at least temporarily." Bailey is clearly on a short leash, so Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara might be good choices for anyone speculating on saves. Update: Bailey has used up his short leash and is out as closer for now. Pick up Tazaway or Uehara.

Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon is the sort of name you don't expect to have to write very often in a column like this, but he's blown two saves over the course of three days. They're just his first two blown saves of the year, but keep an eye on him. Fortunately for Papelbon and his owners, he should have a long leash given his contract and track record. Though the Phillies appear not to be contending this year, they say they aren't considering dealing Papelbon or their other expensive players.

Early Trading Block

Major League teams aren't likely to be making trades for almost another month, but fantasy owners need to be quicker with the trade trigger. After all, when a closer is traded into a setup job in the real world, his fantasy trade value pretty much hits zero. Any closer on a non-contending team is a good candidate to get traded away, though teams with 2014 ambitions are more likely to hang on to their relievers if they're young and inexpensive. Right now, two closers are generating the most trade buzz.

Marlins

Shockingly, the Fish aren't contending this year for anything but worst team in baseball. They might even beat the Astros for that one. Steve Cishek has been pretty good for them as their closer, but a team playing under .300 doesn't need a good closer. Expect Cishek to get dealt to a contender. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to close for any of them. If you've got him, it would be a good idea to deal him early, even for a mediocre return.

Twins

Glen Perkins is a little more complicated than Cishek, as there are contending teams for which he might close. Like the Tigers. The Red Sox could hypothetically be interested in his ninth-inning services too, but if he is dealt, he's most likely going to set up. He should command more than Cishek on the trade market, but he's also a good one to deal. 

Dont' forget to check out @CloserNews on Twitter for all up-to-the-minute updates on closers around baseball.



Closer Updates: Brewers, Dodgers, Mariners, Tigers, Padres

Ninth inning drama is great for baseball. It makes things exciting, gives every team hope, and makes heroes out of future Hall of Famers and lifelong benchwarmers alike. It can make middle relievers into household names, bartenders into millionaires...and it can take all that away. Closing is fickle work, and things may have held steady last week, when we went off-format to talk about the year's top perfomers, but things are back to their heart-wrenching normal. There's a reason Rolaids sponsors the Fireman of the Year Award....

Brewers

Apparently, this is Sparta. Though closer Jim Henderson who, as his owners may remember, was filthy-dominant before his injury, is back from the DL, he's going to be seeing time in other innings for a while. This is a pretty normal thing, as teams like to see what their closers look like and let them shake off any remaining rust before handing them the ball with the game on the line. What isn't normal, though, is the team's reasoning for the decision to leave Francisco Rodriguez in the closer's role for the time being: K-Rod is just two saves from 300. (I told you this was Sparta.) Loving round-numbered milestones as we apparently do, the Brew Crew will let Rodriguez try to get to this one. Though they're being a bit coy with the details, it looks like Henderson will have an opportunity to get his job back after that, but we'll see. To be fair, K-Rod has pitched well enough. 

For now, owners should hang onto both pitchers, while we see how things shake out.

Dodgers

"Finally!" shouted everyone in the world not named Don Mattingly. Seriously, even Brandon League would have pulled himself from the closer's role before now. True, the Dodgers had plenty riding on using League as closer, but the latest meltdown was more than they could handle. After a while it does become pretty tough to justify using a guy with an ERA more than a point higher than his K/9 in the ninth inning while Kenley Jansen rattles around in the eighth. Anyways, though Jansen was already owned in most leagues, his ownership should jump to near 100%, because he could immediately be a top closer. No guarantees: I still suspect that Los Angeles knows worrisome things about his long-term health status, but that's just a guess. If he stays healthy, he should rack up saves, and he will rack up strikeouts.

Mariners

Ever have your boss tell you to come into her office and "talk about your role" at work? Yeah, that's what poor Tom Wilhelmsen is in for, according to manager Eric Wedge. I can't say what the result of that will be, but the former bartender has exchanged a strict menu of strikeouts for a open bar of runs scored. While the M's don't have a lot of other options in their bullpen, if Wilhelmsen keeps pitching like he has been, other pitchers won't have to be any good to be a lot better than him. I'm thinking my window for trading him has passed, but I'd still give it a shot. His ERA is still a respectable 3.77, so you may get something useful from an owner desperate for saves. If Wilhelmsen is tossed from the role, keep an eye on Carter Capps, who's struck out 34 batters in 28 IP this season.

Tigers

Before the season, everyone knew the Tigers weren't interested in re-signing Jose Valverde to close. And then nobody else seemed up to the job and nobody else wanted Valverde. It was a marriage of necessity; unsurprisingly, it's on the rocks at the moment. The closer's only blown three saves (he's had 12 chances), but he isn't striking people out (6.26 K/9), he's walking people (3.52 BB/9), and his xFIP is 5.01. In his latest blown save, Valverde didn't even start the inning--that honor went to Drew Smyly, to take advantage of the lefty-lefty matchup. The trouble is, you don't need to play matchups like that when you trust your closer. Though Detroit doesn't look ready to ditch Valverde for Smyly or anyone else, it's clear that the honeymoon period is over. If they do make a change, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a committee develop involving Smyly, Joaquin Benoit, and the rest of the pre-season's suspects.

Padres

Luke Gregerson just blew a save opportunity, but it looks like he and Dale Thayer will continue to see most of the opportunities in the current closer committee situation. That may not be for much longer, however, as Huston Street is rehabbing and may be just a couple appearances from a return to the Majors. As the replacements haven't really set the world on fire, I expect the Padres to get Street back into his role as soon as is viable. Of course, Street isn't the healthiest closer on the block, so I wouldn't drop Gregerson or Thayer until Street actually pitches a ninth inning.

Add-Vice

As I write just about every week, Jansen is a great add. Now he's an actual closer, so those in even the shallowest leagues should be picking him up, even if it means dropping a mid-level closer to get him. If you're a Wilhelmsen or Valverde owner--or if you're in so much need for saves that you could use some longshot speculative saves--try picking up Carter Capps or Drew Smyly. Also, don't forget about Rex Brothers or Vinnie Pestano as they fill in for Rafael Betancourt and Chris Perez, respectively.





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