The wait for Craig Kimbrel is nearly over. The righty is expected to join the Cubs on Thursday or Friday. Will he provide the elite production to which we’ve grown accustomed? That remains to be seen. Reports have Kimbrel sitting around 95 mph. He also has a long history of command issues during Spring Training and early in the season. His abbreviated stint in the minors to prepare for 2019 all but ensures there will be some shaky outings. In fact, it would be surprising if he doesn’t experience some hiccups leading into the All Star Break.
If you don’t already own Kimbrel, I suggest keeping a close eye on him. If he struggles as expected, there could be an opportunity to buy low.
The timing of this column can prove tricky at times. We recently lost the visual pleasure of watching Jordan Hicks fire wickedly tumbling 102 mph heaters for the next 12 to 18 months. He underwent Tommy John surgery today. While John Gant has mostly served as the backup to Hicks, former starter Carlos Martinez was named the closer in Hicks’ absence. Martinez has thrown 15 innings this season while showcasing a high ground ball rate. His 8.40 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9 leave something to be desired, although there’s a good chance he’ll improve as he further adapts to life as a reliever. It’s probably too late to grab Martinez in your leagues, although you might have an opportunity to stash Gant. Just in case.
The Yankees are firing on all cylinders. They’ve provided Aroldis Chapman with plenty of save opportunities lately including four in the last week. Felipe Vazquez (3) was the only other closer to save more than two games. Kirby Yates still leads the league with 26 total saves. Chapman (23) and Kenley Jansen (23) are tied for second.
And now, shall we go to the tiers?
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Tier 1: The Upper Elite (4)
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
We already touched upon Chapman who was the only pitcher in this tier to throw more than once in the last week. Yates was saddled with his first blown save, allowing three runs (one earned) to the Pirates on Sunday.
Tier 2: The Lower Elite (6)
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros
Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Will Smith, San Francisco Giants
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
Smith trade rumors are beginning to heat up. The latest team credibly connected to him is the Twins who could definitely stand to add starting pitching (Madison Bumgarner) and multiple relievers in their quest to win the AL Central. Minnesota has a few notable and expendable prospects like Nick Gordon who could be used to land a nice haul.
Hand had the most eventful week in this tier. He pitched five times over a six-day period. He’ll almost certainly rest today. On Tuesday, he coughed up five runs capped by a Hunter Dozier grand slam. Cleveland will have to try to play matchup games tonight, using Adam Cimber against righties or Oliver Perez versus lefties. A large chunk of their bullpen should be unavailable.
Tier 3: Core Performers (7)
Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks
As we hoped, Giles quickly returned from a minor bout of elbow soreness. Along with Smith, he figures to be one of the top relievers on the trade market. Bargain hunting teams might instead inquire about Colome or Holland. The Diamondbacks are only a couple games back of the second Wild Card slot so they might not be eager to sell.
Tier 4: Mess Hall (9)
Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals
Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves
Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
Emilio Pagan, Tampa Bay Rays
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Pedro Strop, Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals
Shawn Kelley, Texas Rangers
Hendriks was probably on his way to ousting Blake Treinen even without an injury opening the door. Hendriks has a tidy 1.45 ERA with 11.01 K/9 and 3.53 BB/9. He’s experienced extreme good fortune with regard to preventing home runs. However, he’s also seen his velocity increase to a career-best 95.6 mph so it’s possible he’s improved. ERA estimators still expect around a 4.00 ERA. With his high strikeout rate, that’s good enough to supply some fantasy value.
The Rays anticipate Jose Alvarado’s return in the coming days. However, he may slowly work back into his old high leverage role. He’ll now be sharing saves with Pagan who continues to post exceptional numbers. His 1.23 ERA is complemented by 11.05 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9. He would rate higher if I thought he’d get more than half the save opportunities. Alas…
The Twins bullpen committee was put on full display last Saturday. Rogers blew a conventional save. May picked things up and earned a win in the process. Blake Parker recorded his 10th save.
For those who are curious, I plan to rank Kimbrel adjacent to Iglesias. We’ll probably get a chance to see him in action before I have to officially lock it in.
If you’ve been waiting on Jose Leclerc’s triumphant return, I have some bad news. While Kelley has stumbled in recent weeks, it appears Chris Martin has leapfrogged Leclerc in the pecking order. In any case, this is trending towards disaster territory.
Tier 5: The Forgotten (4)
Mychal Givens, Baltimore Orioles
Sergio Romo, Miami Marlins
Workman is the latest Red Sox reliever to join the closer committee. Barnes has struggled badly over the last month, opening the door for anybody to step through and lay claim to the top chair of the committee. The preferred reliever predictably faces the heart of the order whenever they happen to come up in the late innings. This is not a place to go for saves.
Elias has earned four saves in the last two weeks, but it’s Adams who is on an upwards trend. The righty has a 95-mph heater, a high ground ball rate, 15.24 K/9 and 4.35 BB/9 in 20.2 innings. His 3.05 ERA appears to be in line with his peripherals.
Brandon Morrow, Chicago Cubs (elbow)
Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers (partial UCL tear – out for season)
Hunter Strickland, Seattle Mariners (lat)
Arodys Vizcaino, Seattle Mariners (shoulder inflammation – out for season)
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies (flexor strain)
Jose Alvarado, Tampa Bay Rays (family emergency)
Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics (strained rotator cuff)
Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays (shoulder impingement)
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals (torn UCL, out for season)
Treinen’s injury could require anything from a couple weeks to the rest of the season. Shoulder soreness is a finicky business. He’s looked injured for a while now so I can’t help but wonder if he’s been working through discomfort. Castillo is expected to rest two weeks with right shoulder impingement, another tricky injury to alleviate.
Cody Allen, Los Angeles Angels
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves
Anthony Swarzak, Atlanta Braves (deposed with Mariners)
Ryan Brasier, Boston Red Sox
Chris Martin, Texas Rangers
Steve Cishek, Chicago Cubs
Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
While I anticipated Barnes joining this list, I thought perhaps he might swap places with Brasier. It wasn’t meant to be.