Addressing questionable closer situations
Huston Street has already been traded. Which closer is next? And just who's handling the ninth inning in Tampa Bay and Chicago anyway? Scott White examines some sticky closer situations
If you're keeping tabs on either of those situations, you may not know which way is up anymore.
And those are just the most questionable in what's becoming a sticky closer landscape as the trade deadline approaches. Huston Street was the first domino to fall, moving Joe Smith back to a setup role and Joaquin Benoit back to Fantasy relevance ... for now.
So I thought I'd take this opportunity, before everything blows up, to recap where things stand with the bullpens in question.
We'll begin with those pesky Rays and their pesky manager with the pesky glasses ...
Rays: Just when McGee appears to have locked up the role, recording each of the team's last five saves, manager Joe Maddon goes and does something like he did Sunday, bringing in Balfour to pitch the ninth after using McGee in the eighth. It almost backfired, too. Rookie Kirby Yates had to bail out Balfour with two runners on base. So what gives? Well, as Al Melchior pointed out on Monday's Fantasy Baseball Today, the Twins had the middle of the order coming up in the eighth, so Maddon actually used McGee in the higher-leverage situation. It's a sabermetrician's dream, but a Fantasy owner's nightmare. Traditional baseball logic says it won't last, that Maddon will eventually settle on one guy for the ninth inning for the good of his own blood pressure (again, look what happened Sunday), but Maddon has never been one to follow traditional baseball logic. At worst, McGee figures to get 80 percent of the Rays' save chances, and his peripherals are good enough to make him must-own.
White Sox: Zach Putnam pitched a perfect ninth inning for his second save Friday and followed it up with another save Saturday. But he pitched only one-third of an inning in that one, bailing out Jake Petricka, who had put two runners on with the White Sox leading by just one run. Manager Robin Ventura wouldn't commit to Putnam as his closer after the game, saying "unfortunately, I don't have a guy that you're just going to leave out there, saying that's your closer," but Petricka has had several lapses lately and Ronald Belisario has already bombed in the role. Matt Lindstrom is probably still a month from returning from ankle surgery and wouldn't be an improvement over Putnam, who has a 2.41 ERA and 1.13 WHIP on the year.
Padres: Joaquin Benoit is the closer for now, and for as long as it lasts, you want him in Fantasy. He has remained one of the game's top setup men with a 1.99 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings this season and did fine during his stint as Tigers closer last year, compiling a 1.96 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his final 37 appearances. And because the Padres are a low-scoring team, a high percentage of their wins yield save opportunities. But if they were willing to move Street, little would stop them from moving Benoit as well. Dale Thayer has filled in at closer in the past, recording seven saves in 2012, and has a 2.09 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings on the year. Kevin Quackenbush is another potential replacement if the Padres prefer to groom a long-term option.
Cubs: Hector Rondon's ERA has ballooned from 1.52 to 3.93 since the start of June, but because nobody on the Cubs has recorded a save since July 1 (though Rondon did blow one July 11), no one can say for sure how committed they are to him. I still say the job ultimately goes to Neil Ramirez. He has a 1.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings on the year and the pedigree to stick in the role.
Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon has been adequate this year, but unless the Phillies hold out hope of contending next year, they have every reason to shop him. Ken Giles, with a 0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings in 14 appearances, has become a worthy speculative pickup in deeper Rotisserie leagues.
Rangers: With a 2.59 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings on the year, Joakim Soria has been far more effective in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery than his 16 saves would have you believe, which is a shame since a contender would most likely move him to a setup role. The Rangers don't have an obvious replacement, but Neftali Feliz, the closer from their glory years, is back in the majors. He's still recovering from his own Tommy John surgery, though.
Marlins: The Marlins, like the Rangers, don't have a clear replacement at closer if Steve Cishek goes. A.J. Ramos looked like a closer in waiting at the start of the year, but his control lapses would likely discourage the Marlins from handing him the job outright. Chances are he, Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn would form a committee of sorts, preventing all three from making a significant impact in mixed leagues.
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