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Saves and Steals

Trade Deadline Closer Fallout

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: September 3, 2020, 2:34 am ET

The trade deadline has come and gone. With it, seven teams have shuffled their ninth inning plans. We already covered the Phillies and Red Sox last week. Philadelphia’s acquisition of Brandon Workman nudged Hector Neris out of save opportunities and brought Matt Barnes to the fore in Boston.

More recently, the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Royals, Padres, and Mariners made deals that affected closers. Former Arizona closer Archie Bradley has joined the Reds where he’ll set up for – and possibly oust - Raisel Iglesias. Those in deeper leagues shouldn’t punt their Bradley shares just yet. The Orioles dealt a couple pieces of inventory, namely Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro. Cole Sulser then lost the job on his own (de)merits. We’ll cover Baltimore’s new dynamic duo in a moment.

The Royals and Mariners fortified the Padres ailing bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal may continue to receive save opportunities with Drew Pomeranz swinging back into his fireman role. Former Seattle closer Taylor Williams will shift to the middle innings.

Check out our Rotoworld Trade Deadline Recap for more trade analysis.

Three relievers recorded a trio of saves in the last week – Kenley Jansen, Diego Castillo, and Mark Melancon. Of these, Castillo is perhaps the most surprising for a couple reasons. The Rays have passed on several opportunities to promote Castillo to higher leverage innings. I half-expected him to be skipped for Pete Fairbanks. They also didn’t make a major deadline purchase to address their crumbling relief corps, instead betting on marginal moves and their player development machine. Melancon’s week was not without blemish. He was saddled with a loss on Friday after allowing three runs (two earned).


Closer Tiers


Tier 1: The Elite (4)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

No hit watch is on! Despite allowing two earned runs on Saturday, Hader has yet to give up a hit. How were the runs earned you ask? He walked five batters in one-third of an inning.

Chapman picked up a win and a save in two scoreless, hit-less appearances. He may be headed for a suspension after throwing at Mike Brosseau’s head yesterday. There's no official news that a suspension is in the cards - just some rumblings on social media calling for Chapman's, uh, head. Consider temporarily stashing Zack Britton.

Due to a COVID scare, Hendriks is getting a much-needed break. He was the most used closer heading into the previous weekend. This could hurt his dark horse campaign for the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards.


Tier 2: Possible Top Performers (4)

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians
Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati Reds
Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros

Trade rumors were flying around Diaz. The Mets opted to hang on to their mercurial closer. He finally received his second save of the season on Friday. Then he was bit by the familiar home run bug on Sunday. His 19.29 K/9 is tops among qualified relievers. His 2.57 ERA ain’t too shabby either, although fantasy managers can’t be too happy about two saves or a 1.50 WHIP.

Hand is four innings into a reliever perfect game. In his most recent appearance, he recorded three outs while facing only two batters. Meanwhile, James Karinchak had a rough week, taking pressure off Hand in case he fumbles a couple.

The Reds called upon Iglesias and Bradley yesterday to survive a bruising loss. Iglesias, who has in the past complained about being used in non-save situations, wasn’t at his sharpest. The closer job is his to lose.

On Friday, Pressly notched a coveted two-save day. On Tuesday, he coughed up a game tying solo home run. Since muffing his first two appearances, Pressly has a luck neutral 2.45 ERA with 12.27 K/9 and 1.64 BB/9 in 11 innings.

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Tier 3: Stable Closers (5)

Trevor Rosenthal, Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox
Daniel Hudson, Washington Nationals
Mark Melancon, Atlanta Braves

Back when Kirby Yates was still the Padres closer, Pomeranz kept finding ways to snipe saves. There hasn’t been enough time to assess how they plan to use Rosenthal, Pomeranz, and Williams.

Rogers coughed up three runs in his only appearance of the week. He’s now allowed runs in three of his last four outings. The Twins best reliever, Tyler Duffey, does not appear to be anywhere near earning save opportunities. Instead, Sergio Romo and Trevor May (a potentially above average closer) are first in line should Rogers drop another.


Tier 4: Messy Upside (8)

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals
Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Tampa Bay Rays
Gregory Soto, Detroit Tigers
Rafael Montero, Texas Rangers
Brandon Workman, David Phelps, Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Hunter Harvey, Tanner Scott, Baltimore Orioles
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates

For now, it seems Gallegos is the Cardinals closer. Things could get messy with Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, Andrew Miller, and possibly Carlos Martinez in the picture. Gallegos has allowed no runs, no walks, and two hits in eight innings.

The Tigers finally tired of Joe Jimenez coughing up leads. Soto’s stuff has played WAY up in relief this year – he’s pumping 97.5 mph from the left side. He’s not a premium reliever by any stretch, but he could contribute a low-3.00s ERA with over a strikeout per inning. That’s better than Alex Colome in the third tier. Of course, Tigers relievers have a nasty habit of turning into pumpkins.

My dreams for Rangers reliever Jonathan Hernandez will have to wait until 2021. Texas didn’t find a buyer for Montero. There’s something curious happening with Montero’s stat line. His 10.24 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, and 2.79 ERA in 9.2 innings are desirable. However, he won’t continue to tally strikeouts with only 7.3 percent swinging strikes. There’s an obvious explanation for why he’s lacking whiffs – his fastball usage has spiked from 46.8 percent last season to 73.3 percent this year. Perhaps everything will level out if he adjusts his approach.

In his most recent appearance, Workman gave up his first home run since May 14, 2019. He hasn’t exactly shined since joining the Phillies, allowing four runs in 6.1 innings. The newest acquisition, Phelps, might shoulder into the conversation.

Everybody has their eyes on Harvey. The former prospect looks the part of a closer – assuming he can stay on the field long enough to prove his mettle. Since the start of 2015, he’s thrown a whopping 147.1 total innings. That’s five and a half seasons! I prefer Scott as the closer candidate. With a hefty ground ball rate and over a strikeout per inning, he already has the ingredients of an effective closer.

The Pirates are a lost cause. With Keone Kela out for the season, Rodriguez is the only palatable reliever left. Don’t entirely count out Chris Stratton or Nik Turley. Stratton in particular has improved his spin, swinging strike, and strikeout rates without giving up any of the above average command from his past life as a starting pitcher.


Tier 5: The Leftovers (9)

Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Jeremy Jeffress, Rowan Wick, Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Brandon Kintzler, Miami Marlins
Anthony Bass, Rafael Dolis, Toronto Blue Jays
Sam Coonrod, Tyler Rogers, Tony Watson, San Francisco Giants
Ty Buttrey, Los Angeles Angels
Junior Guerra, Kevin Ginkel, Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Yoshihisa Hirano, Seattle Mariners
Daniel Bard, Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies

I think every fantasy manager wishes the Royals would just anoint Josh Staumont. He could be a top five closer. Holland is an old friend, the kind who says they’re getting their life together only to self-sabotage right when you start to trust him. Keep an eye on the walk rate as a leading indicator of any potential slump.

The Cubs latest attempt to salvage Craig Kimbrel failed spectacularly. He’s now walked six over his last 2.1 innings. On the brighter side, he’s only allowed one hit in his last six appearances. And 16.88 K/9 would look wonderful if it wasn’t accompanied by 13.50 BB/9 and a 10.13 ERA. Jeffress doesn’t bring much to the table these days, but he’s the closer du jour for Chicago.

Coonrod, a hard-throwing ground ball pitcher with low strikeout rates, is the latest to throw his name onto the Giants closer carousel. It’s honestly unclear to me why Watson hasn’t run away with the job – he doesn’t have notable platoon splits and has plenty of experience in the late-innings. He’s pitched to a 0.82 ERA with zero saves.

With Bradley out of the picture in Arizona, it’s anyone’s guess who will walk away with the most save opportunities. Here’s how I’ve approached it. Although Kevin Ginkel has struggled this year, he’s the only one likely to post desirable statistics for fantasy purposes. Guerra, Crichton, and Hector Rondon simply don’t bring much to the table. When he’s on, Ginkel has over 10.00K/9. His stuff has actually ticked up two mph this year, but he isn’t commanded it as well as last season. He might be moving in the right direction – only one run in his last 7.1 innings.

Hirano, a splitter specialist, is a placeholder as the Mariners run out the 2020 clock.


Injured or Ill

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
Kyle Crick, Pittsburgh Pirates
Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros (out for season)
Wade Davis, Colorado Rockies
Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies
Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers
Oliver Drake, Tampa Bay Rays
Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres (out for season)
Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
Jalen Beeks, Tampa Bay Rays (out for season)
Keone Kela, Pittsburgh Pirates (out for season)

Kela’s return bid was short-lived. After saying he’d be back late last week, it was revealed he hadn’t healed enough to resume throwing. He’s now out for the season.



Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels
Jairo Diaz, Colorado Rockies
Trevor Gott, San Francisco Giants
Zack Britton, New York Yankees (Chapman returned)
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Taylor Williams, San Diego Padres (traded by Mariners)
Archie Bradley, Cincinnati Reds (traded by DBacks)
Joe Jimenez, Detroit Tigers
Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles

Four closers lost jobs in the last week – two through no fault of their own and two entirely by their own hands.


The Steals Department


The trade deadline had less of an effect on the stolen base market. The Marlins added Starling Marte which should help his stolen base totals, but they subtracted Jonathan Villar in the process. Villar’s lineup role in Toronto is uncertain. He hit third yesterday but could easily fall below sixth if he doesn’t start performing soon.

More under the radar, the Royals acquisition of Edward Olivares could open up some playing time down the stretch. He wasn’t able to crack the Padres stacked lineup. Presently, the Royals have assigned him to alternate camp. They’re still using Bubba Starling for some mysterious reason.

Of immediate impact is Tigers prospect Derek Hill. An injury to JaCoby Jones and the trade of Cameron Maybin have created a need for outfield help. Hill has speed and non-trivial power, but there’s a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. The profile should be familiar to Tigers fans and also bears similarities to former prospects like Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips.

We’ll continue to use the same technique for targeting steals. Certain teams, namely the Mariners, Padres, Marlins, and Rangers run frequently. Others such as the Angles, DBacks, Dodgers, Mariners, and Braves are ineffectual at managing the running game. Notably, the Padres picked up Austin Nola from the Mariners so they might be exploitable now too. Seattle projects to continue struggling with runners.

The league leading (at stolen bases) Mariners are set to host the Rangers for a four-game series this weekend. Dylan Moore is expected to return from the injured list any day now. He leads the team with six steals. J.P. Crawford, Tim Lopes, Sam Haggerty, Shed Long, and Jake Fraley remain widely available to fantasy managers. They all offer only one or two categories.

On the Texas side of the equation, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and a slumping Shin-Soo Choo account for most of the swiping. Falefa has useful catcher eligibility while Choo could easily heat up at any moment. Scott Heineman is getting regular action and already has three steals in 48 plate appearances. Nick Solak has a well-rounded profile at the plate and should be rostered in most formats. Elvis Andrus is recently back from the injured list. Leody Taveras, a raw 21-year-old prospect with 20-steal speed, has taken up residence at the bottom of the lineup. The Rangers host the stolen base prone Angels after the Mariners series.

The Padres have uncertainty in their upcoming schedule. They’re set to face the Athletics who are currently sidelined with a COVID exposure. Additionally, of the once plentifully available Padres, only Jurickson Profar is still on waivers.

After a series with the Rays, the Marlins will get to pick on the Braves early next week. Jon Berti, as ever, is the stolen base prize. Miguel Rojas has shown an increased willingness to run – and increased athleticism in general – this season. Marte is an excellent addition too if your league is still swinging trades.

Brad Johnson

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