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Saves and Steals

Closer Supply and Demand

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

The All Star Break offers us a brief respite from the regular season grind. It’s the perfect time to step back, assess team needs, and prepare for the final two and a half months of the fantasy campaign. This is when your rivals are distracted by travel, football drafts, and plain old baseball fatigue. Even if you think you’re out of the running, this is a great time to salvage a respectable performance. And, if you happen to need saves, the upcoming trade deadline promises to offer up a host of new closers.

 

Today, I’m setting the normal tiers aside. They’ll return next week. For what it’s worth, they’re mostly the same as last week. Instead, let’s talk about some of the best non-closers to target. But first, we need to check in on Atlanta where Arodys Vizcaino is once again on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

 

While it’s not being talked about as a major injury, this is yet another opportunity for A.J. Minter to abscond with the ninth inning role. He’s consistently improved throughout the season. To date, his lofty 15.7 swinging strike rate has produced an unimpressive 9.84 K/9. Among qualified relievers, only 14 have induced a higher rate of swinging strikes. A sharp spike in his strikeout rate is possible. Dan Winkler is a solid handcuff in case Minter hits the skids. Beware, Vizcaino could soon return, and the Braves are also rumored to be exploring the trade market for relievers.

 

Trades require both a supply and a demand. The reliever market figures to feature plenty of both, although I would characterize it as a buyer’s market.

 

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The Buyers

 

Upwards of 15 teams could be looking to add late-inning relievers. Of those, seven or eight could conceivably replace their current closer. However, we’re likely to see half of those clubs stand pat or make only a modest addition.

 

In the National League East, a three team battle has emerged between the Phillies, Braves, and Nationals – listed in order of current standing. I think it’s safe to say nobody expected Philadelphia to enter the break with a lead. The club is currently using a committee of highly regarded relievers. An opportunity to settle matters with an established arm could be desirable. Atlanta, as noted above, is dealing with an injury to their primary guy. The Nationals are also without their preferred closer, although Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson are on hand to fill his shoes. Of these teams, I think the Braves are the most likely to add a closer. If the Phillies spend for a reliever, I expect it to be Zach Britton.

 

The NL Central is similarly clumped. The first place Cubs have improved upon perfectly acceptable closers in the past. Brandon Morrow owners have to be just slightly concerned Theo Epstein and friends will find a better relief ace. It’s a small risk. The Brewers slumped into the break in part due to a rough streak from Corey Knebel. Josh Hader is on hand, but the club obviously prefers him in a multi-inning role. Like with the Cubs, an addition seems unlikely. Starting pitching is the focus for Milwaukee. The Cardinals can’t seem to climb into the race. They’re still close enough to add a rental arm to supplement Bud Norris.

 

All the fun is in the National League where four teams are in a dogfight. The Dodgers, despite only a half-game lead over the Diamondbacks, are heavily favored. And they’re not doing anything with Kenley Jansen. Arizona could certainly use an upgrade to Brad Boxberger while Colorado should be happy enough with expensive Wade Davis. San Francisco makes for an interesting discussion. The guys they wanted to close – Mark Melancon and Hunter Strickland – didn’t cut it. Will Smith has rebounded from a couple lost seasons, and Tony Watson is having a strong season (despite recent hiccups). My guess is they may roll the dice on a rental.

 

Across the aisle in the American League, the division races are quite boring. The Red Sox want another setup man. The Indians would like Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to be healthy and effective by October. They could and probably should add supplements just in case. The Astros may not be keen to rely upon Hector Rondon. To me, they’re the most likely club to pursue a multi-year option.

 

The Sellers

 

That leaves 15 teams outside of the postseason hunt. Not all of them have assets to sell. All told, I count around 15 notable relievers who could change hands.

 

Starting again in the National League East, the Marlins figure to be a popular contact. Brad Ziegler has pitched well lately and could be had for a song. He won’t figure in anybody’s ninth inning. However, Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider may find themselves with a new home. Since they have multiple years of club control, they might even wind up with a pseudo-contender like the Angels or Athletics. There aren’t many teams for which either reliever would close. As for the Mets, Jeurys Familia is very likely to be traded. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get a better return than the Royals received for Herrera. My guess is they will not. In Miami, keep an eye on Tayron Guerrero as a potential future closer. I’d bet on Robert Gsellman or Seth Lugo in New York. Anthony Swarzak has been terrible.

 

If the Cardinals decide to close up shop – a possibility if they slump through the rest of this month – then we’re likely to see Norris hit the market. He’s currently battling a reportedly minor arm injury. His recent history of nagging injuries reduces his trade value to almost nothing. Greg Holland never got going this year, but it’s possible somebody would throw the dice on him as an August acquisition. The Pirates could listen to offers for Felipe Vazquez, but it’s unlikely they’d trade him. As recently as a month ago, the Reds were in a position where they must trade Iglesias. After heating up, the club has designs on a competitive 2019. As such, Iglesias could stay or go. Jordan Hicks is the speculative target in St. Louis. I don’t see any reason to rush for shares of Kyle Crick (Pittsburgh) or Jared Hughes (Cincinnati).

 

For most of the season, I’ve stressed my skepticism of a Brad Hand trade. I’m coming around to it – largely because Kirby Yates has turned into a better pitcher. He’s added a new pitch to combat his career-long home run issues. Hand has struggled at times this season, has a massive workload in his past, and could add a key piece to a competitive 2019 roster.

 

The Orioles are shopping Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens, none of whom is likely to step into a closer job. Britton looks to be turning a corner in his recovery and could be an elite setup man. Brach and Givens are solid seventh inning guys. Givens strikes me as the most probable ninth inning successor. The options beyond him like Paul Fry are a tad ugly for fantasy purposes.

 

I suspect Sergio Romo has more value to a noncompetitive Rays team than he does to any trade partner. Don’t be surprised if he isn’t dealt. However, now is a great time to speculate on Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado. The Blue Jays will probably trade Tyler Clippard into a middle relief role. He’ll be replaced by Roberto Osuna. Now is the time to stash Osuna – if it’s not already too late.

 

In the AL Central, the Royals are out of bullpen bullets to deal. However, the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers have late inning patches to market. If and when Fernando Rodney is traded, Trevor Hildenberger will step into the ninth inning. Hildy is a rather unique submarining righty. His best pitch is a changeup – an uncommon offering for anybody with a low release point. Fantasy owners probably want to stay away from the current backups to Joakim Soria – namely Jeanmar Gomez and Juan Minaya. However, Nate Jones is nearing the next step in his rehab. He’s playable. Joe Jimenez will jump back into the ninth inning if the Tigers can find a trade partner for Shane Greene. I worry he won’t be valued enough to spark a deal.

 

In the AL West, Blake Treinen and Blake Parker could be shopped – particularly if the Athletics and Angels fall farther out of the race. However, the A’s are talking about making additions, and the Angels rarely admit defeat. In event of a trade, Lou Trivino and Justin Anderson are the respective beneficiaries. The Rangers could deal Keone Kela, opening the door for a noisy closer committee.

 

Pitchers to Stash

 

Kirby Yates

Joe Jimenez

Andrew Miller – could oust Cody Allen

Josh Hader – could oust Corey Knebel

Jordan Hicks

Trevor Hildenberger

Nate Jones

Jose Leclerc

Justin Anderson

Robert Gsellman

Diego Castillo

Ryan Pressly

Drew Steckenrider

Tayron Guerrero

Jose Alvarado

Jared Hughes

 

Pressly is the only pitcher I didn’t specifically reference above, and he probably deserves a word or three. The 29-year-old Twin is in the midst of a breakout season. His 18.4 percent swinging strike rate is fourth best in the league, just behind Treinen (and Hector Neris!) and ahead of Edwin Diaz, Carl Edwards Jr., Sean Doolittle, Craig Kimbrel, etc. etc. Pressly gets it done with frequently used sliders and curves. A 96 mph fastball doesn’t hurt, although it’s his most hittable pitch. Minnesota may shop Pressly as he’ll draw a better return than Rodney. They may also keep him around to maybe close. We’ll see.

 

The Steals Department

 

I’ve been meaning to make sweeping changes to this section for over a month – something more closely resembling the closer tiers. Here goes. As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged via Twitter @BaseballATeam.

 

As with my closer tiers, these rankings are designed to account for future performance. It’s great that Michael Taylor has 24 steals, but he’s unlikely to double that total in the second half if he’s only playing a couple times per week. I’ve focused my attention on players I expect to run at a 20 steal per season pace.

 

Tier 1: The World Beaters

 

Billy Hamilton

Trea Turner

Dee Gordon

 

If we simulated the 2018 season 1,000 times, these three would probably all finish in the top five of steals 75 percent of the time. Nobody in the league has more bankable swipes. Presently, they’re all tied for fourth place with 22 steals.

 

Tier 2: Consistent Thieves

 

Starling Marte

Ender Inciarte

Jose Ramirez

Lorenzo Cain

Mookie Betts

 

This is a group of studs who can be consistently expected to finish with at least 20 to 30 steals. Marte and Inciarte have scorched earth this season. They’re currently ranked first and third on the leaderboard. Marte is also the most similar to the World Beaters. It is amazing Ramirez has found time to steal bases, what with all the home runs. Ditto Betts.

 

Tier 3: Still Speedy

 

Tim Anderson

Jose Altuve

Javier Baez

Andrew Benintendi

Whit Merrifield

Mike Trout

Delino DeShields

 

These are everyday players capable of reaching the 30 steal plateau in a good season. DeShields is the only one who doesn’t offer multiple categories of value. The Rangers are in the midst of a lost season so I expect him to continue playing daily. He may be reduced to a platoon role next year.

 

Tier 4: Some Flaws

 

Jose Peraza

Michael Taylor

Mallex Smith

Jean Segura

Francisco Lindor

 

Taylor and Smith would rank much higher if they played more regularly. They both have second tier speed and instincts. Lindor, unlike Ramirez, has attempted fewer steals as his home run totals increased. Peraza is a uni-dimensional runner while Segura is still good despite entering his decline phase.

 

Tier 5: Not Slow

 

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Trevor Story

Cesar Hernandez

Ozzie Albies

Ronald Acuna

Marcus Semien

 

Bradley has quietly put together some encouraging batted ball rates along with a recent hot streak. Buy low. Story probably shouldn’t run as much as he does. It’s happening though, and it isn’t an issue for fantasy owners outside of net steals formats. The Braves top prospects are probably given too much credit as base thieves. Own them for their other traits. Semien is a perennial 20/20 threat who never seems to get there.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Travis Jankowski

Tony Kemp

Rajai Davis

Jonathan Villar

 

Of this group, only Jankowski is playing regular. I don’t expect that continue all season long. The others would receive a big bump if they played more often or hit a hot streak.

Brad Johnson

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