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Strike Zone

Notes: The Closer Carousel

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Zach Britton to the Yankees makes it three closers traded, all to teams that intend to use them primarily as setup men. That always seemed likely in the event of a Brad Hand trade and probably even a Britton deal, but Jeurys Familia appeared to have a better chance of remaining a closer somewhere. Unfortunately for him, three of the teams that once seemed mostly likely to trade for a closer -- the Angels, Cardinals and Giants -- find themselves meandering at .500 and uncertain about buying. As is, there are still the Phillies, Astros and Braves out there potentially in the market for ninth-inning help. Joakim Soria seems like a strong possibility for one, particularly for the NL East contenders. Kyle Barraclough, Keone Kela and Kirby Yates are also in play. Most likely, one or two more closers will change hands.

 

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American League notes

 

- With Soria’s departure seemingly imminent and Nate Jones (elbow) having suffered a setback, Jace Fry has a pretty good chance of notching saves for the White Sox. Juan Minaya is also a possibility, if he can get the walks under control. The White Sox have been using Minaya as much of a matchup guy lately; even though he hasn’t allowed a run, he’s pitched a full inning just once in eight appearances this month.

 

- Indians manager Terry Francona confirmed that Cody Allen would remain the primary closer after the Hand trade. Allen should be considered somewhat vulnerable after giving up six runs in a loss earlier this month and taking his second blown save in the first game back from the break, but it does make the most sense for the Indians to save him for the ninth and use Hand and, eventually, Andrew Miller to put out fires earlier. Hand should still be worth owning in mixed leagues, since the occasional save will come his way when the Indians are facing lefties in the ninth. He’ll probably be Cleveland’s closer next year with both Allen and Miller eligible for free agency this winter.

 

- Familia was slated to close in his Oakland debut and ended up with a two-inning win, but unlike Hand, he doesn’t rate as a top-30 fantasy RP at this point. Blake Treinen has been awfully busy with the A’s playing so well, opening up save chances for his backup, but it’s not like the A’s are going to stay this hot forever. Plus, Lou Trivino figures to get more of the chances in tie games, making him the better bet for wins in relief.

 

- With Manny Machado gone and Britton going, the Orioles should be listening to offers for Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy as well. Gausman has turned in back-to-back bad starts at a lousy time, taking his ERA back up to 4.54, but he still has considerable value, not only to the current contenders but also to teams hoping to get back into the mix next year. Bundy should be considered more of a building block, but given his injury history, who knows what shape he’ll be in when the Orioles are ready to contend again? Bundy is also struggling some, so the Orioles wouldn’t be selling high if they moved him now. They might be in position to make better deals come the offseason. That said, if either gets traded now, a boost in fantasy value would almost certainly come with the deal (the obvious exception would be if either is sent to Colorado).

 

- Britton’s departure makes Brad Brach the Orioles’ closer of the moment, but Brach is also a free agent-to-be and figures to exit before the trade deadline. Once that happens, it should be a committee led by Mychal Givens, with Miguel Castro also likely in the mix. Givens’ name has also come up in trade rumors, but it’s take a much more substantial offer to pry him away. It’s also quite possible that someone coming back in one of these deals could turn into a factor in the ninth, much like how Treinen emerged in Oakland after being acquired from the Nationals last summer.

 

- Jays president Mark Shapiro said Tuesday that Vladimir Guerrero’s next step will be Triple-A, not the majors, which would seem to be another sign that a promotion to Toronto isn’t coming this season. The Jays might have been leaning that way even before Guerrero got hurt, and once he was knocked out for five weeks by a knee injury, a 2019 debut looked like the most likely scenario. It’s a shame, but it likely is the right move for the franchise at this point. Guerrero has played in three games for New Hampshire since returning from his tendon strain, and he’s hit .406/.453/.664 in 57 games in Double-A overall this season.

 

- Fantasy leaguers can still hope for an Eloy Jimenez callup, though. The 21-year-old is hitting .351/.400/.622 with five homers in 74 at-bats since moving up to Triple-A Charlotte. He suffered an adductor strain at the beginning of the month, but he missed just two weeks and he’s gone 14-for-33 with three homers since returning. While they did get Nick Delmonico back from the DL last week, the White Sox will still have no problem finding room for Jimenez in their outfield. It’s simply a matter of whether they want to start his service time clock or not. Doing so would give the fanbase something to be excited about. I was skeptical a couple of months ago, but right now, I think there’s a decent chance that he’ll be up in early August.

 

- Brian Goodwin is the kind of player the Royals should be looking to acquire, though it’s unfortunate the team surrendered an interesting relief prospect for him rather than just getting him in the Kelvin Herrera deal last month. The 27-year-old Goodwin was rendered obsolete in D.C., but he’s shown a decent bat in his time in the majors, hitting .250/.318/.467 in a part-time role. One can envision him improving some with consistent playing time, which won’t be an issue in Kansas City. Unfortunately, defensive metrics rate him as a liability in the outfield. He’s had some injury issues, and he’s not as fast now as he was when he was a top-100 prospect five years ago. He still figures to be a nice asset in AL-only leagues the rest of the way.

 

- Ervin Santana is making his season debut Wednesday after missing four months with a finger injury, but it still doesn’t sound like he’s particularly close to 100 percent. Usually a consistent 91-94 mph guy, he’s reportedly struggled to touch 90 mph on the guy during his rehab assignment. He’s not someone who can be counted on as an asset down the stretch.

 

- The Rangers made an unexpected move Tuesday, demoting Delino DeShields to Triple-A while keeping Willie Calhoun on the roster. DeShields had been brutal at the plate for two months, hitting .170/.271/.215 in his last 58 games, but as a plus defender and excellent baserunner, he’s still far and away the Rangers’ best option in center field. I’m guessing this is just a 10-day thing to try to get his confidence back. Rule 5 pick Carlos Tocci will start in center for now, but DeShields could still have some mixed-league value down the stretch. I like Calhoun in deeper mixed leagues as long as he’s starting. It’s not guaranteed to last, but I have my fingers crossed.

 

National League notes

 

- The Padres immediately turned to Yates in the closer’s role with Hand gone, but Yates might be the next to go. The 31-year-old journeyman has avoided the home run ball and turned in a remarkable year, amassing a 1.40 ERA and a 50/11 K/BB in 38 2/3 innings. He had an even better strikeout rate last year, fanning 88 in 56 2/3 innings, but he gave up 12 homers then, leaving him with a 3.97 ERA. In all, he had allowed 31 homers in 154 1/3 innings big-league innings coming into 2018. The Padres don’t have to trade Yates; he still has two more years of arbitration eligibility and since he won’t have time to rack up too many saves, he shouldn’t be all that expensive next year. Still, they might as well take advantage of the opportunity if someone makes a strong offer. Most likely, Yates finishes the season as a setup man for some contender. That would leave Craig Stammen, who is also a trade candidate, and Phil Maton as possibilities for the Padres in the ninth. Maton would be nice to have stashed in leagues.

 

- San Diego and Francisco Mejia doesn’t seem like an ideal match. Austin Hedges will most likely always be quite limited offensively, but he’s so exceptional on defense that he more than makes up for it. The Padres have a need at third, but the Indians tried that with Mejia last year and he showed no aptitude for the position. Mejia was splitting time between catcher and outfield in Triple-A this year, and it seems like he might be playable in left. Still, the Padres aren’t lacking for options out there. Plus, they already have one of the better prospects, Josh Naylor, playing out of position there because the Eric Hosmer signing blocked off first base. The Padres say they’re committed to Mejia as a catcher, which seems like the best plan for now. Spinning him to another team for a quality young starter is something that could work out best for everyone.

 

- The Dodgers brought in Machado as a shortstop, but with Justin Turner going down with a strained groin, Machado moved to third base on Monday. I suspect the Dodgers are better off with Machado at third and Chris Taylor at short than with Machado at short and Taylor in the outfield, though I’m not positive. Machado at third means Turner at first or second once he returns, with Cody Bellinger moving to the outfield. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the playing time works out if everyone is healthy. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig both have better numbers against righties than Matt Kemp, if only slightly in Puig’s case, and they’re superior defenders as well. It seems crazy to bet against Kemp at this point, but he’s vulnerable to losing a lot of playing time if Turner and Puig can stay off the DL down the stretch.

 

- And that’s why I don’t really have any expectations for Alex Verdugo, who was called up in Turner’s place on Monday. Puig (oblique) is expected back in a few days, so most of the available outfield at-bats will go away. I’m fond of Verdugo and would recommend him in mixed leagues if he were playing regularly for some club, but it’s not at all likely to happen with the Dodgers this year.

 

- In return for Familia, the Mets got a reliever who cleared waivers last November and a third baseman with six homers in 373 at-bats. Sure, that makes the return sound worse than it is, but it certainly wasn’t Francisco Mejia. Bobby Wahl has always possessed a big fastball, and he’s made a surprisingly strong return from thoracic outlet surgery this year, posting a 2.27 ERA and a 65/17 K/BB ratio in 39 2/3 innings for Triple-A Nashville. In a best-case scenario, he’ll be a candidate for saves at some point. The third baseman, William Toffey, was a fourth-round pick last year and has a strong glove and some on-base skills. He’s already 23 and the power probably isn’t coming, so he has a tough path to becoming a regular.

 

- With Familia gone, the Mets are looking at Robert Gsellman as the favorite for saves, with Seth Lugo also in the mix. Manager Mickey Callaway will probably keep both involved since they can each be used for two innings at a time. Anthony Swarzak would get a shot if he could string together some good outings -- one imagines the Mets would like nothing more to help him build some value so that he can be traded in August -- but he’s been a mess all year.

 

- Yoenis Cespedes saying he has calcification in his ankles seems like a pretty big deal, not just for this year but as something that could shape the rest of his career. Whether or not he opts for surgery, he seems like a long shot to be of much use in fantasy leagues the rest of the way. If Cespedes is shut down, it becomes more likely that Jay Bruce, currently on the DL with a hip injury, will have some value in August and September. It also makes it more likely that either Dominic Smith or Peter Alonso will get an extended audition at first base. I’m not sure who the Mets should pick, but I’d like to see one of the two up and playing regularly. Alonso would probably be the better fantasy option of the two.

 

- The Mets decided not to wait to trade Asdrubal Cabrera before calling up Jeff McNeil on Tuesday. The 26-year-old McNeil earned his shot by hitting .368/.427/.600 in 31 games after his promotion to Las Vegas. His 1.027 OPS there was a match for his 1.029 mark in 57 games at Double-A Binghamton. He’ll see time at third base for now, but he figures to be the team’s second baseman if Cabrera is traded, as seems very likely. Mixed leaguers in need of a middle-infield boost could do worse than taking a shot. I wouldn’t expect him to do much running, but he can hit for average and some power.

 

- Before getting a reprieve in the form of a Kolten Wong DL stint, Jose Martinez was the surprising odd-man out in Cardinals interim manager Mike Shildt’s more defensive-minded scheme. While Martinez has more than demonstrated that his 2017 breakthrough was no fluke, his glove at first base is truly atrocious. I thought we might see the Cardinals stash him in right field; he’d be bad there, too, but at least he’d be involved in fewer plays. Shildt, though, took him out of the lineup entirely, at least until Jedd Gyorko got sick and Wong went down. Martinez is useable again in mixed leagues right now, but owners should look for an alternative for when Wong gets back. The Cardinals might prefer at this point to extract value from Martinez by trading him to an AL team, but none of the AL contenders are looking for a DH.

 

- Shildt has also made curious calls to bat Yadier Molina second and Paul DeJong third in the Cardinals lineup. Molina is hitting well since the move, so it’s not hurting anything yet, but he isn’t an OBP guy and while he’s a smart baserunner, he’s still quite difficult to score when he’s on base. DeJong third seems like the bigger problem; he’s hit just .218/.250/.273 in 14 games since returning from a fractured hand, which suggests he’s something short of 100 percent. Hopefully he gets better the further removed he is from the injury, but I wouldn’t want him hitting in the top half of the order right now.

 

- In better news for the Cardinals, Daniel Poncedeleon pitched seven no-hit innings in his major league debut Monday against the Reds. Poncedeleon has always put up nice minor league numbers, but he wasn’t thought of as much of a prospect even before the life-threatening injury he suffered when he was struck in the head by a line drive last May. What he did against the Reds was awesome, but it didn’t stop the Cardinals from sending him right back to Triple-A. Poncedeleon has a nice changeup, but his stuff is average overall and his command is below average. In the minors, he always managed to give up fewer hits than one would expect. He’d need that to carry over to have a shot at an extended major league career. He certainly put himself in the mix for more starts with the Cardinals with his showing, but the team isn’t lacking options.

 

- The Braves probably aren’t getting Arodys Vizcaino (shoulder) back before September, leaving them with A.J. Minter and Dan Winkler in the ninth unless they pick up a closer. Minter is the clear favorite for saves with Winkler struggling some of late. Most likely, the Braves will acquire a reliever; I’m guessing they land Soria, but Brach, Shane Greene, Brad Ziegler, Sergio Romo and Yates are some other possibilities. Some of those guys would supersede Minter -- Soria almost certainly would -- while others would likely be setup guys.

 

- The Marlins held off on promoting Magneuris Sierra after Lewis Brinson got hurt, but the move came Tuesday after Garrett Cooper (wrist) returned to the disabled list. There’s still no timetable for Brinson’s return, so Sierra should see plenty of time in center for the short-term, and, if he does well, he could stick around as a left fielder with Derek Dietrich looking like a trade candidate. Sierra, who was picked up in the Marcell Ozuna trade with the Cardinals, got off to a brutal start and was hitting a disappointing .260/.287/.341 for Triple-A New Orleans. However, he was at a more respectable .287/.315/.414 with seven steals since the beginning of June. His fantasy value should be limited to NL-only leagues.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.