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Last week's swap between the Padres and Marlins that sent Fernando Rodney packing for South Florida was not only a signal of more trades to come. It will likely be the first of several closer situations that will change in the weeks ahead. Rodney's arrival in Miami didn't cost A.J. Ramos his job, but it did open up an opportunity for Brandon Maurer to assume the closer's role in San Diego.
Many, including myself, presumed that Ryan Buchter would get the first shot at closing for the Padres in the post-Rodney era. Though Maurer has been manager Andy Green's choice in the ninth inning so far, there is plenty of time for him to falter, and for Buchter to swoop in. The Padres are one of seven teams with closer situations that could soon be in flux, but their situation is far from the most volatile.
I've ranked those scenarios from the most likely to change to the least likely. In leagues where saves are scarce, these are the situations that have the best chances of producing new sources of saves.
Having secured four of the Twins' last five saves, it's safe to say that Brandon Kintzler is now the team's closer. We should give him his due; since recording his first save on June 8, Kintzler has not blown a save and has allowed two earned runs in nine innings. He has issued only one walk despite not working in the zone much, and he doesn't get chases outside the strike zone like he used to.
Meanwhile, Trevor May has returned from the disabled list, and if his back issues are behind him, he could be a reliable fallback option for the Twins if Kintzler starts getting clobbered. May was dominant earlier this season, holding opponents to a .563 OPS through his first 17 appearances, before struggling badly in the weeks leading up to his DL stint. Though May is flyball-prone, he offers a combination of elite strikeout potential and superb control not often found among relievers not already in a closer role.
Tony Cingrani has settled in as the Reds' closer after a rocky beginning, having blown four of his first nine chances after becoming the team's ninth-inning man. Since then, he has gone 4 for 4 in save opportunities while allowing one run over 11 2/3 innings. Cingrani may merely be luckier rather than better, as he has struck out only three batters over this most recent stretch, while posting an 8 percent whiff rate.
Since returning from the DL late last month, Raisel Iglesias has been used mostly in late-inning situations, and he has been effective for the most part. The only concern is his 57 percent strikes-thrown rate over his 7 1/3 innings as a reliever. It seems apparent that Iglesias is being groomed for a high-leverage role, and Cingrani profiles as a reliever who could melt down at any time.
Arodys Vizcaino has not one, but two probable paths to losing his job. He is one of the Braves' more obvious trade chips, and if he doesn't leave town altogether, he could bow out as the team's closer by virtue of his performance. In his 14 appearances over the last month, Vizcaino has blown only one save, but he has walked as many batters (13) as he has struck out. It's not as if he hasn't suffered any damage as a result of those walks, as Vizcaino has yielded seven runs (five earned) over those 11 1/3 innings.
Jim Johnson is the Braves' primary option in the eighth inning, but he, too, could be traded before the deadline. Since his late June recall, Mauricio Cabrera has emerged as another setup arm, and though he has had control issues in his last two appearances, he could get a second-half trial as the Braves' closer. The 22-year-old averages more than 100 mph on his fastball, and with some mechanical adjustments, he could find enough consistency to be a reliable saves source down the stretch.
It's no secret that Huston Street has yet to hit his stride since his activation from the DL just over a month ago. Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times that Street is struggling to find his release point since returning from his oblique injury, and if his struggles continue, recently-activated Joe Smith will not be an alternative to close.
That would leave Cam Bedrosian as the most likely reliever to succeed Street if he cannot make significant improvements on the 8.31 ERA and 6-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio he has compiled since coming off the DL. He isn't quite the strikeout threat that May is, but Bedrosian has made notable improvements in his control and could be solid as the Angels' closer.
Mark Melancon is having another fine year as the Pirates' closer, but since he is due to become a free agent after this season, he could be dangled on the trade market. The Pirates have won five straight games and raised their record over .500, but with another losing skid, they could have an incentive to trade Melancon to a contender.
Tony Watson is the team's long-standing setup man, but if the Pirates go into rebuild mode, he would be a candidate to get dealt as well. Even with Watson around, perhaps manager Clint Hurdle would go with Neftali Feliz, who is quietly having a strong comeback season. After all, it was Feliz who got the save on Monday against the Cardinals when Melancon was unavailable. There's a lot to like about Feliz as a closer-in-waiting: closing experience, the ability to hit 100 on the radar and vastly improved control.
Maurer has pitched well lately ... well enough to get the first crack at saves now that Rodney is gone. While Maurer has been downright dominant over his last nine appearances, with ten strikeouts, no walks and one run allowed, he had been shaky for two-plus months before that. Through June 13, opponents were slugging .500 against Maurer and he walked 18 batters in 31 innings.
Buchter may be the victim of bad timing, having had a five-run implosion the night before the Rodney trade. He has generally been steady, having allowed runs in only four of his 39 appearances. Like Maurer, Buchter has had some control issues, but he also has 52 strikeouts in 36 innings. He is the obvious replacement, should Maurer have an extended slump.
Sam Dyson has succeeded as the Rangers' closer, even though he's a merely average strikeout pitcher, because he is very good at getting grounders and pitching with control. That has been less the case lately, as Dyson has induced grounders at a 44 percent rate and walked four batters over the last 11 innings. While Dyson has racked up 10 saves in 11 chances over that stretch, he has also posted a 4.91 ERA.
If Dyson starts to blow saves with greater frequency, both Jake Diekman and Matt Bush are viable replacements. Both have strikeout rates in excess of one per inning with decent control, but Diekman's more extended track record likely gives him the edge.