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Saves and Steals

The Closer Market

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

When you write a once weekly column about closers, the very best thing that can happen is a Tuesday night trade stuffed full of fantasy implications. In this case, the deal that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York for Tyler Clippard and prospects was fantasy Armageddon. Perhaps that's hyperbole. However, the two best fantasy assets in the deal – Robertson and Kahnle – just lost most of their allure in non-holds leagues.


Robertson is now set to share seventh and eighth inning duties with Dellin Betances. Kahnle may get a few of those opportunities too, but we're likely to see him in the sixth inning. All three of them, along with Chad Green and Adam Warren, may be used as multi-inning relievers.


The winner of this trade is Anthony Swarzak. Kahnle was the presumed heir to Robertson. Now all those owners who stashed Kahnle are left with naught but tears. Swarzak need only outperform Clippard to become a card carrying closer. We'll discuss that situation in more detail below.


In case you missed last week, I switched up the format in celebration of the All Star Break. Typically, my closer tiers are a type of power ranking – I'm trying to evaluate who will be the best relievers going forward rather than just sort guys by current saves and ERA. That's exactly what I did last week in the All Star Update. It was a chance for you to pat yourselves on the back for a heroic pick of Brandon Kintzler (fifth ranked) or Fernando Rodney (somehow 10th best).


Since our last standard column two weeks ago, Alex Colome leads baseball with six saves. Kenley Jansen checks in at second place with five saves. Three others have locked down four games apiece. Greg Holland still leads the league with 30 saves.


On the base paths, Rajai Davis won the race with seven steals over the last two weeks. Billy Hamilton's six swipes rank second with Tommy Pham and Mallex Smith tied at four steals. Hamilton (39 steals) has reclaimed the season lead from still injured Trea Turner. Speaking of injuries, Cameron Maybin is sidelined four to six weeks with a MCL strain.


I've also mixed up the tiers to kick off the second half. Huzzah!


Tier 1: The Gods (2)


Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox


As mentioned Jansen has been rolling right along. Kimbrel blew a save on Saturday via a Matt Holliday solo home run. The Yankees eventually won in the 16th inning.


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Tier 2: The Elite (5)


Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Cleveland Indians

Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies

Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays

Wade Davis, Chicago Cubs


Chapman has been busy, pitching four of the last five days. On Friday, he was handed a loss. He allowed two runs (one earned) without recording an out. Since then, he's fired three scoreless frames. He certainly has plenty of support if he needs another stint on the disabled list.


Allen was seemingly back in favor before failing to protect a 1-1 tie last night. Now who's to say which of these elite relievers will get the next opportunity. The Indians have only handed out three in all of July – one to Miller and two (including Monday night) to Allen.


Davis managed to squeak out a save on Monday despite allowing three hits, two walks, and two runs. He has struggled with command since late June. The Cubs bullpen is plenty deep, leading me to believe the club won't look for late inning reinforcements.


Right before the All Star Break, Holland was handed his first loss of the season via a solo home run. The Rockies have called on him to work the last two days. He recorded two saves and five strikeouts.


Osuna blew the save last night while working for a third day in a row. The Blue Jays eventually lost in extra innings. Despite the miscue, Osuna is in the midst of an excellent season.


Tier 3: The Core Performers (8)


Addison Reed, New York Mets

Ken Giles, Houston Astros

Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers

Edwin Diaz, Seattle Mariners

Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates

Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds

Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays

Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles


Trade talks for Reed appear to be picking up. And like with Robertson, he may be dealt out of his closer chair. He's only pitched once since the All Star Break – a non-save situation.


Giles allowed a run on Sunday, but he hung around to finish off the save. He's having a fine season, but the stacked Astros bullpen ensures that he's one short slump from working the middle innings. The Astros have had a quick hook in recent seasons, including with Giles. For all my words of warning, consider him a top 10 closer going forward.


Knebel reminds me of the old version of Kimbrel – the one who struck everybody out but also had some issues with walks. Hits are rare against Knebel, but he'll work his way into trouble from time to time. He saved two games against the Phillies this week.


Diaz has been busy since the break. He locked down one-inning saves on four straight days before resting on Tuesday.


Rivero will rest Wednesday after working the last two days. Since the break, he's picked up a win and two saves in 3.1 scoreless innings. His ERA will creep upwards at some point, but he should remain one of the best closers.


Despite the second most saves in the league, Colome is a brief cold streak away from losing the ninth inning. He's been fortunate to record saves on days he allows runs. Since late May, he has a 6.38 ERA with 7.85 K/9 and 4.91 BB/9. Tommy Hunter has been the best reliever in that bullpen.


Tuesday night, the Orioles called upon Britton to pitch the ninth inning – of a 12-1 ballgame. Brach earned the save on Monday. Britton's return to closer duties should come any day now. He's pitched six times since returning from the disabled list in early July. They're proceeding carefully. Both Britton and Brach are on the trade block too.


Tier 4: Steady... Steady... (6)


Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City Royals

Justin Wilson, Detroit Tigers

A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins

Brandon Kintzler, Minnesota Twins

Jim Johnson, Atlanta Braves

Fernando Rodney, Arizona Diamondbacks


Herrera, long assumed to be one of the top closers on the trade market, will be staying put this summer. His season has been marred by seven home runs allowed in 35.2 innings. However, he hasn't allowed a long ball since June 8. Nor has he ever been especially homer prone in the past. If somebody is selling based on the 4.29 ERA, go ahead and buy.


The Tigers long history of terrible relievers has led me to be overly pessimistic with regards to Wilson. However, after trading J.D. Martinez, it's seemingly only a matter of time before Wilson is sent packing to a contender.


Ramos is approaching the deadline having allowed runs in three of his last four appearances, including a three-run loss on Saturday. Of all the high leverage relievers on the block, Ramos is the one who most concerns me. Since he relies on his changeup and breaking ball, a new battery mate could lead to some ugly outings. Besides, nobody will acquire him to close. Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps are next in line – both are also trade candidates.


The Twins need reliever reinforcements if they want to continue contending. However, they're hesitant to trade actual building blocks – and with good reason. Any relievers they do acquire will likely slot in before Kintzler on the depth chart. Think somebody like Pat Neshek. Kintzler hasn't allowed a run since mid-June.


Johnson's peripherals (2.34 FIP) are better than his 4.02 ERA. A few disastrous outings have stained his best season on the mound. He's managed 11.16 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9. The strikeout rate is a career best by leaps and bounds. The Braves are on the fringes of contention. Expect Johnson to stay put.


Entering the break, Rodney allowed five runs in his last 1.1 innings (three outings). Sounds like typical Rodney. He hasn't pitched since July 7. Be oh so careful.


Tier 5: Questions/Fluid (6)


Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson, Washington Nationals

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

Alex Claudio, Texas Rangers

Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Clippard, Chicago White Sox

Bud Norris, Los Angeles Angels

Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres


In their first outing with the Nationals, Madson pitched the eighth inning with Doolittle handling the ninth. Although Doolittle is indeed the better pitcher, he also has recurring shoulder issues. Madson is good enough to close. Doolittle may benefit from a more flexible role. He did allow a run too. This figures to be a fluid situation.


After Oh, blew yet another save – this time on Friday via a three-run home run – manager Mike Matheny announced it was time to see more of Rosenthal. Since then, the righty has picked up... one hold. Rosenthal is having a solid rebound season even though his 3.72 ERA is far worse than his 2.14 FIP. He's fumbled a few opportunities to wrest the ninth inning from Oh, hence why I've ranked him here.


Claudio has recorded the Rangers two most recent saves. Is he the closer? Not officially. Claudio's profile is reminiscent of Kintzler or Sam Dyson. He combines a big 70.6 percent ground ball rate with 6.10 K/9 and 1.85 BB/9. He seems to be up for the job. Matt Bush and Jose Leclerc may yet emerge with the closer role.


At the start of the season, Nate Jones was the heir apparent to Robertson. Then it was Kahnle. Now that all three of them are no longer available, Swarzak is the best reliever in the White Sox bullpen. He's posted a 2.45 ERA with 9.82 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9. Clippard may get a brief trial in the ninth inning as the Sox look to re-trade him prior to the deadline.


In five innings since returning from the disabled list, Norris has picked up three saves and seven strikeouts while allowing one run. Much to my surprise, he's seemingly picked up right where he left off.


Maurer has a long history of underperforming his peripherals. It's been no different this season. He's posted an ugly 5.30 ERA despite a strong 2.84 FIP. Most the damage has come during a few terrible outings. He hasn't allowed a run since late June.


Tier 6: These Guys... (3)


Sam Dyson, San Francisco Giants

Santiago Casilla, Oakland Athletics

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies


Since joining the Giants on June 11, Dyson has looked like his old self. He's posted a luck neutral 2.93 ERA with 7.63 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, and a 64.4 percent ground ball rate. He's even worked multiple innings without issue. It's probably unjust to include him in the sixth tier. All the terrible closers have suddenly vanished.


Casilla was tagged for a loss on Tuesday. He has rock hard job security now that Blake Treinen is the primary setup man. Don't be surprised if he's dealt to a team like the Twins.


Most years, a 3.29 ERA, 9.66 K/9, and 2.85 BB/9 does not qualify one to rank as the worst closer in baseball. Despite holding the Phillies closer job for most of the season, he's still chasing his tenth save.






Jeurys Familia, New York Mets (blood clot)

Koda Glover, Washington Nationals (lower back stiffness)

Mark Melancon, San Francisco Giants (right elbow)


Glover is on the 60-day disabled list now, although that was purely a procedural move.


The Deposed


Jeanmar Gomez, Philadelphia Phillies

Blake Treinen, Washington Nationals

Ryan Madson, Oakland Athletics

Joaquin Benoit, Philadelphia Phillies

Francisco Rodriguez, Detroit Tigers

Neftali Feliz, Milwaukee Brewers

Derek Law, San Francisco Giants

Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates

Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

Cam Bedrosian, Los Angeles Angels

Matt Bush, Texas Rangers

Seung-Hwan Oh, St. Louis Cardinals

David Robertson, New York Yankees


The Rangers bullpen remains in flux. I'm not entirely certain Bush has actually lost his job. I may be quickly undoing this listing. The same is true of Oh. Matheny said Rosenthal was next in line for saves, but he hasn't actually handed him a ninth inning lead yet.


Robertson was “deposed” via trade to the best bullpen in baseball. Tough break.


Nobody was deposed in Washington. That's my official ruling. The closer's chair was utterly vacant.




The Steals Department


This week, we're looking to pick upon the Blue Jays, Braves, Astros, and White Sox. First, to Toronto where Russell Martin and Miguel Montero combine to form a perfect situation for stolen bases. The Red Sox, Indians, and Athletics are next up on the schedule. Boston has plenty of base thieves, but most of them are unavailable. Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin could be worth a try in very deep formats. In Cleveland, the obvious target is Bradley Zimmer. He has 10 steals in 182 plate appearances. Among the Athletics, grab Rajai Davis and Marcus Semien.


The Astros are set to face the Orioles and Phillies. Both Brian McCann and Evan Gattis have struggled with the running game. Forget about steals from the Orioles. Maybe consider Joey Rickard in those same leagues where Marrero and Lin make sense. The Phillies have a couple guys with plus speed, including Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, and Odubel Herrera.


Against the Braves, target Julio Teheran and Jaime Garcia. They pitch on Friday and Saturday against the Dodgers. If you have access to Chris Taylor, dust him off for a couple starts. Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez are great options against Garcia. Even if they don't steal, they'll probably provide some thump.


Kevan Smith is terrible at holding runners. He's gunned down just one of 31 attempts. Target Smith and Mike Pelfrey. His next start is on Saturday against the Royals. Try to sneak a share of Whit Merrifield for the weekend.

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on NBC Sports Edge, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.