With the July 31 trade deadline comes player movement, and with player movement comes role changes. And the one role most pertinent to Fantasy owners is who pitches the ninth inning for each club. It's almost the sole basis for a relief pitcher's value. Those who do get saves matter. Those who don't, don't.
With that in mind, I give you my list of middle relievers with the best chance of becoming closers by season's end, whether because of a trade or something else. If saves are nowhere to be found on your league's waiver wire, you might even want to stash some of these pitchers ahead of time.
Jake McGee, Rays: Some might argue he's already the closer in Tampa Bay. Manager Joe Maddon wouldn't be one of them. I'm guessing if you forced him to pick one pitcher to work the ninth inning the rest of the way and his head didn't explode in response, he'd pick McGee, seeing as he's given him four of the team's last seven save opportunities. Closer committees rarely last more than a few weeks at a time, and McGee doesn't have the stiffest competition for the role. His ascension would be as impactful in Fantasy as Sean Doolittle's.
Jeurys Familia, Mets: Before blowing a save in a shaky 1 1/3 innings Monday, Jenrry Mejia hadn't allowed an earned run in six appearances, which some analysts have made out to be some sort of accomplishment. To me, it just underscores how unreliable he's been. His lack of experience in the bullpen, much less the closer role, will eventually force the Mets to turn to other options, and they should find better consistency in Familia, who has a 2.18 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 42 appearances.
Sergio Romo, Giants: I know it's not an especially popular or inspired pick, but I can't help but think Romo has a chance of reclaiming the role in San Francisco at some point. He's been ultra reliable over his career, compiling a 2.46 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings since the start of the 2010 season, and while Casilla has been fairly reliable himself, if his pitch-to-contact approach leads to an unlucky blown save just when Romo is showing signs of coming around, I don't know that the Giants would hesitate to switch back. It'll take the perfect storm, sure, but that's true in pretty much all of these cases.
Joaquin Benoit, Padres: The Padres' general managing quintumvirate (or whatever it is) has already said it doesn't intend to part with its late-inning relievers at the trade deadline. Josh Byrnes would never stand for that! Of course, maybe that's why he's gone now. Look, the Padres can say whatever they want, but a good enough offer changes everything. Assuming they get one for Huston Street and not Benoit himself, you should expect Benoit to step in with similar production given that he thrived as Tigers closer last season and owns a 1.23 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings on the year.
Neil Ramirez, Cubs: By now, we're over Hector Rondon, right? Even after resting his elbow for 10 days in early June, he's struggled to the point that his ERA (3.62) and WHIP (1.30) are no longer even suitable for the role. Meanwhile, Ramirez has a 1.19 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings on the year and filled in nicely when Rondon was sidelined. I don't know what the Cubs are waiting for. Maybe just the next save opportunity. Theirs don't come along every day, you know.
Brad Ziegler, Diamondbacks: Ziegler lovers of the world unite in their opposition of Addison Reed, who simply can't be trusted to finish with an ERA below 3.80 with all the home runs he gives up. But at the same time, he has as many blown saves this year (four) as Craig Kimbrel, and an old-school manager like Kirk Gibson probably cares more about that than anything else. Ziegler's funky delivery makes him a versatile pitcher for middle relief, but he fared well enough in the role last year that he would surely get the first look if disaster strikes.
Jason Grilli, Angels: Is Grilli a better bet to close for the Angels rest of season than current closer Joe Smith? Yes, but it has more to do with Mike Scioscia's preference to keep Smith in middle relief than anything Grilli has to offer. I think the most likely scenario is the Angels bringing in another closer. Perhaps Huston Street?
Rex Brothers, Rockies: Adam Ottavino effectively took himself out of the running with a 10.80 ERA in June, but Brothers himself hasn't exactly righted the ship. Even with a 1.86 ERA in his last 13 appearances, he still has a 4.50 ERA and 1.44 WHIP on the year. Still, LaTroy Hawkins won't get by on smoke and mirrors forever, and even if he does, the now last-place Rockies don't have much incentive to hold on to the 41-year-old at the trade deadline.