Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Report: Tommy Kahnle, Keone Kela among the top 10 closers in waiting (i.e., next in line for saves)
Hurting for saves? The closer landscape has been pretty stagnant the last few weeks, but Scott White thinks that could change with the trade deadline approaching.
When one door closes, another one opens.
Especially with regard to those who close.
We think of July as the unofficial halfway point of the season and spend the first two weeks of it hyperventilating over who did and didn't make the All-Star team, but what it really signifies for Fantasy owners is that we're just a few short weeks away from the non-waiver trade deadline (translation: the only one anyone cares about).
It's about to go down, in other words.
Changes are coming, and none will be felt more immediately than at relief pitcher, where, in terms of Fantasy value, players can go from precious to worthless at the drop of a hat.
We've had it pretty good for a while now. After some early turnover, the closer landscape has been surprisingly stagnant over the past six weeks or so. But as the contenders continue to separate themselves from the pretenders (which we could use a little more of, frankly), the appeal of a proven closer will vary greatly from one team to the next, creating opportunity for unproven ones.
So whether you're unsatisfied with your current allotment of closers or are simply looking to protect it, stashing a prospective closer might be worth your while.
Here are my top 10, in order of priority:
David Robertson figured to be an important trade chip even before the season began, and it just so happens that the contender who needs him the most, the Nationals, discussed him with the White Sox in the offseason. The biggest change since then is that the White Sox have an even more obvious closer in waiting. Nothing is guaranteed for Robertson given that he's signed through 2018, but Tommy Kahnle would instantly have top-five potential if he's allowed to step in.
These numbers are skewed, having come in only 11 appearances, but we all know what Jeurys Familia brings to the table as last year's saves champ. And because of that, he's probably not what you were looking to find in a list of prospective closers. But after looking like he might miss the rest of the season following surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder, he's now a possibility for early August, right after the Mets have presumably moved impending free agent Addison Reed. And Familia would claim the job right away -- there's no one else who can.
Keone Kela couldn't have come down with a sore shoulder at a worse time, just when the Rangers were beginning to hedge on Matt Bush as their closer. But no one else has distinguished himself since then, and Kela is on track to return immediately after the All-Star break. Bush isn't getting traded, most likely, but there's definite smoke here for a pitcher with a 1.02 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his last 17 appearances.
Also in the mix for the Rangers: Jose Leclerc
Cam Bedrosian is clearly the Angels' best reliever, but other more-than-competent options emerged when he was sidelined by a groin strain, allowing Mike Scioscia to employ him situationally since his return. Of course, those other options, including present closer (and impending free agent) Bud Norris, aren't considered long-term building blocks, so if the Angels fall out of the wild-card race as they have their division race, all bets are off.
Also in the mix for the Angels: Blake Parker
Jim Johnson is under contract beyond this year, so the Braves don't have to move him. But considering he already has six blown saves, including two in his past seven appearances, Arodys Vizcaino could leap ahead of him anyway. The numbers are a little misleading, though. Despite a 3.68 ERA, Johnson has by far the best FIP in the Braves bullpen, not to mention the best strikeout rate, so he has been unlucky and Vizcaino perhaps a little lucky. Still, blowing leads will wear down even the most pragmatic of managers.
A report surfaced last week that the Marlins were looking to move both A.J. Ramos and David Phelps, which would make Barraclough the obvious front-runner for the closer gig. Throwing strikes is an issue for him, but he was one of just eight full-time relievers with 100-plus strikeouts last year and has a 1.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings in his latest 15 appearances this year.
Even though Alex Colome has allowed 10 earned runs in his last five appearances, his job would appear to be safe because the Rays have no closer alternatives. But that's ignoring Brad Boxberger, who only recently returned from lat and forearm injuries. He has a spotty track record but did lead the AL with 41 saves in 2015 and did have a 2.37 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014. Even if Colome gets his act together, he has been rumored as a trade target for the Nationals.
Injuries have prevented Sean Doolittle from becoming the stud closer he looked like he was destined to be in 2014, and even this year, a shoulder injury sidelined him for about six weeks. But he has dominated since returning while incumbent closer Santiago Casilla has not. Of course, there's a possibility Doolittle himself is traded, but a change could happen even before then.
Also in the mix for the Athletics: Ryan Madson
The Royals have played good baseball of late and have indicated they won't be selling as a result, but a lot can change in a month's time. Kelvin Herrera is likely to walk this offseason and, despite his poor showing, is still regarded to have closer stuff. Joakim Soria is under contract for one more year (with a team option for a second), so moving him wouldn't be as high of a priority if the Royals decided to sell.
Also in the mix for the Royals: Neftali Feliz
Brad Hand looked to be a top priority for the Nationals not too long ago (I swear there are other teams who need late-inning relievers -- it's just that the hole for this one is impossible to look around), but the Padres gave him a couple turns in the closer role, with disastrous results. He has settled down since then, allowing no runs on five hits with 10 strikeouts in his past 10 appearances, and could still wind up closing for the Padres or someone else. If both he and Brandon Maurer are moved, it's pandemonium in San Diego.
Also in the mix for the Padres: Kirby Yates
Thinking long term
(These relievers may not have a great shot at saves this year, but keeper league owners shouldn't rule them out.)
The Diamondbacks wouldn't even entertain the idea of trying Archie Bradley in the closer role back when Fernando Rodney was still a punch line, but Rodney of course just had a string of 20 straight scoreless appearances snapped and has still allowed a total of five hits in his last 20 1/3 innings. Then again, he's also 40, so the Diamondbacks will have to think long and hard this offseason about whether or not they plan to transition Bradley back to a starting role.
Carl Edwards certainly won't go back to starting, a role he hasn't filled since he was in Double-A. Beginning last postseason, when he was their most trusted reliever other than Aroldis Chapman, he has emerged as a favorite to close for the Cubs someday. He could stand to throw more strikes, but his stuff is so unhittable, yielding a Craig Kimbrel-like 3.8 hits per nine innings for a second straight season, that it doesn't compromise his effectiveness. Edwards is probably third in the pecking order this season, but Wade Davis is a free agent and Koji Uehara a 42-year-old.
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