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If you can believe it, three months of the MLB season have already come and gone. Nearly half the schedule is in the books, which means the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the also-rans, and you know what that means; it's about to be trade season.
The addition of the second wild card spot has convinced more teams to hold out longer in their chase for a postseason berth, but you know things are going to get crazy before long. We're still four weeks away from the deadline, but it is never too early to start looking at how the trade deadline might shape the Fantasy landscape down the stretch. Closers are always highly valued at the deadline, and this year there are a decent number of big names who could be on the move.
This is the right time to take a look ahead at the trade deadline, because there wasn't much drama in ninth innings around the league. LaTroy Hawkins is the closer in Colorado, but only while John Axford is away dealing with family issues. Jake McGee is clearly not the closer in Tampa Bay -- that would be Brad Boxberger -- while Hector Rondon seems to just as clearly not be the closer in Chicago -- he hasn't had a save opportunity since June 20.
If you're looking for short term help for saves, go snatch Hawkins and Jason Motte from Chicago, who appears to have won out despite Rondon and Pedro Strop looking like the more attractive options. If you're looking ahead and playing the long game, you'll want to keep an eye on the trade options out there.
Whether they've been mentioned in trade rumors or are just obvious based on contract/team situation, here are the closers most likely to move in the next four weeks, along with potential replacements when applicable.
Aroldis Chapman, Reds
Most-likely replacement: J.J. Hoover
This is the big fish in the class; let's hope he lands in an appropriately-sized pond. Tortured analogy aside, there is at least some reason for pessimism if you're a Chapman owner, because the Nationals reportedly had talks with the Reds about Chapman's availability earlier in the month. Chapman is better than just about any closer in baseball, but would the Nationals really move Drew Storen from the role during the kind of season he's having? More likely, we see a contender with a major hole in the back end of the bullpen -- the Blue Jays come immediately to mind -- swing a move for Chapman, which would only help his Fantasy value. If Chapman does move on, Hoover and his 1.53 ERA (2.97 FIP) should get the first look, though control problems make him something less than a sure thing.
Koji Uehara, Red Sox
Most-likely replacement: Alexi Ogando/Junichi Tazawa
Seven games under .500 is not what the Red Sox were expecting when they went out and made a big splash in free agency this offseason. Uehara hasn't been part of the problem for them, but a 40-year-old closer also isn't moving the needle for a team that isn't heading to the playoffs. Uehara isn't quite the elite option he once was at his peak, but he still limits base runners and posts decent strikeout rates, so he could be a plus Fantasy option if he lands in the right spot. As for Ogando and Tazawa, neither seems to have much of a long-term future for the Red Sox, and that might be what they are looking for. If either gets the chance, he could be a passable Fantasy option, though on a non-contender, they wouldn't be must-adds. The more interesting potential options are hard-throwers Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes. Neither has done much to impress the Red Sox this season, but they have higher ceilings than either Tazawa or Ogando, and could be very intriguing Fantasy pickups if they get the chance.
Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
Most-likely replacement: Ken Giles
The Phillies have been hesitant to move Papelbon this far, but it's hard to imagine them rolling into the offseason with Papelbon and his $13 million vesting option for 2016 still on the roster. Not when they are barely scratching the surface on their rebuild. Papelbon is, after all, a proven closer, and that still has value on the trade market. Sarcastic italics aside, the only thing keeping Papelbon from the ranks of the elite closers for Fantasy is the lack of opportunities the Phillies are granting him. Giles has the upside of an elite Fantasy closer, as his 11.7 K/9 in 79 2/3 innings dating back to last season can attest. He's got some control issues to work out, but his walk rate is down to 9.6 percent, a workable rate, given his strikeout and home run avoidance skills.
Tyler Clippard, Athletics
Most-likely replacement: Evan Scribner
Billy Beane won't hesitate to move on from a reliever if he can get anything of value for him, especially with Clippard looking so replaceable this season. His 2.78 ERA is pretty enough, but it comes attached to a 3.92 FIP that just screams regression. He also hasn't had many save opportunities in Oakland, so it's not like a change of scenery would be a bad thing for him either, if he lands somewhere he can close. However, Clippard's experience is more that of a fireman who can pitch in any situation, so he might be a candidate to move back into a setup role at the deadline. The A's don't have a young replacement waiting in the wings, and Scribner's homer issues probably limit his upside. However, he provides decent strikeout potential and potential elite WHIP to make up for the occasional long ball-fueled meltdown.
Jason Grilli, Braves
Most-likely replacement: Jim Johnson
The Braves traded Craig Kimbrel before the season, so it's hard to imagine they won't be willing to move on from Grilli if the right offer comes along. He has bounced back nicely from a subpar season a year ago, going for a 3.14 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine through 28 2/3 innings of work, and could definitely be helpful for a contender. He might actually be one of the most likely players to move this summer, because he has a very reasonable $3 million team option for next season and will likely cost a lot less in prospects than the other options. On the other hand, if you are a Grilli owner, be aware that that small salary makes him a candidate to be moved out of a closer role if he lands in the wrong spot.