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June 13, 2013
Buyers and Sellers
Welcome to another installment of The Bullpen Report. As a reminder, closers are rated in five tiers from best to worst. The tiers are a combination of my opinion of a pitcher’s ability, the likelihood that he will pick up saves, and his security in the job. For example, a pitcher in the third tier might have better skills than a pitcher in the second tier, but if the third-tier pitcher is new to the job or has blown a couple of saves in the last week, this factors into the ranking as well.
In addition to my weekly rankings, this week I will be taking a look at teams that might be sellers and the relievers who might be trade targets at the major-league trade deadline. For every other position on the diamond, player trades matter almost solely in -only leagues, where you run the risk of losing someone to the “other” league. If a first baseman gets moved from a National League to an American League squad, the mixed-league impact is typically negligible. Closers are the rare commodities where fantasy owners in every format are at risk if there is a trade. More often than not, a closer who gets shipped out of town at or near the deadline moves from the front of a bullpen into a set-up role.
The Marlins have said that they won’t trade either Steve Cishek or Mike Dunn. While more than a few pundits have laughed at this statement, it makes sense: Both pitchers are under team control and very affordable. If Cishek does move, he’d be a set-up man in any other uniform.
Bobby Parnell is unlikely to be going anywhere given his team-friendly, cheap contract. Frank Francisco is a trade candidate assuming full health, but that is far from guaranteed. If Francisco does move, he would likely pitch in middle relief. Even in deep formats, he’s not an option at the moment.
Speculation among Philadelphia scribes and bloggers about breaking up the Phillies is rampant and bordering on science fiction. The hard truth is that with one or two exceptions, the larger contracts on this team are going to be difficult if not impossible to move. Jonathan Papelbon fits this description. He will be due something in the neighborhood of $31 million on the rest of his contract (through 2015) at the trade deadline. The Phillies would likely have to eat a significant chunk of that money to move Paps. If he is moved, that large contract means there is a good chance he is still closing somewhere else.
Kevin Gregg is cheap, but Theo Epstein is a smart GM and would take advantage of Gregg’s closer status in trade for the right price. Carlos Marmol isn’t cheap, but still could move in a deal if the price was right and the Cubs ate some money. Both Gregg and Marmol wouldn’t close on a new team.
In terms of trade possibilities, the Brewers might be the most interesting team on the board. Francisco Rodriguez is currently closing while Jim Henderson gets a few outings in during lower pressure situations. Or maybe K-Rod hangs onto the job and Henderson stays in an eighth inning role. Either way, K-Rod has that shiny Proven CloserTM sheen a contender might find attractive in a set-up role. John Axford is another trade possibility. Despite his awful overall numbers, most of that badness came in his first four outings of the season. Since then, Axford has a 2.19 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings pitched. The Brewers signed him to a one-year, $5 million deal in the offseason to avoid arbitration, which makes Axford a likely non-tender candidate this winter. He’s one of the more likely relievers to get moved at the deadline, most likely into a set-up role.
The Padres are on the buyer/seller bubble, but if they fall out of contention, both Huston Street and Luke Gregerson would be trade candidates. We have heard this uttered about Street ever since he donned a Padres uniform, so all of this might be nothing more than media speculation. Both pitchers have to be viewed as trade risks, though, and both would likely slot into someone else’s bullpen as set-up men.
Glen Perkins is signed to a very team-friendly extension through 2015 and almost definitely isn’t going anywhere. Jared Burton is signed to a team-friendly extension through 2014 and almost definitely isn’t going anywhere either. The Twins probably won’t be contending, but they will almost definitely keep their relief core unless someone bowls them over.
Addison Reed is excellent, extremely cost-friendly and isn’t going anywhere. The arms that can or will be moved are elsewhere in the bullpen. Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton are both free agents this coming winter (Thornton has a $6 million club option that will be bought out) and will likely be on the short list for teams looking for bullpen help for the stretch run and the playoffs. I doubt either would close in another uniform, though Crain certainly has pitched well enough to deserve the opportunity.
With a team payroll of about $26 million, if you guessed there were no expensive relievers on this team, you guessed correctly. Jose Veras is probably viewed as a fungible asset by the club, and could get flipped in the right deadline deal. Everyone else in the pen is young, cheap, and not moving.
Another potential seller, another bullpen with a great deal of cost control and young options. Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps, and Yoervis Medina would all be terrific additions for a contender, but they are not going anywhere.
All three of these teams had hefty payrolls and lofty expectations entering 2013. While this doesn’t mean that it is impossible that these teams could change course and become sellers, the lengths of contracts and dollars allotted on each team’s respective payrolls make a wholesale selloff highly unlikely. I’m sure the Dodgers would love to unload Brandon League’s three year, $22.5 million albatross of a contract, but finding a taker would be a tall order. Ryan Madson would be the most likely Angels reliever to get moved, but he has been hurt all year and there is a distinct possibility he might not be back at all in 2013. Casey Janssen could get moved. His contract is relatively affordable, but the Jays could sell a contender on the idea that Janssen isn’t as cost-prohibitive as, say, Jonathan Paplebon in trade and get a fairly decent return. There is a $4 million option that might keep the Jays from moving Janssen at all.
And now, on to the rankings.
Tier 1 – Money in the Bank
Soriano isn’t quite providing the lights-out performance that he did in 2012, but he is once again quietly getting the job done in DC.
Tier 2 – Solid and Reliable
Reed moves down mostly due to a five-run implosion in Seattle last week. Papelbon moves down because he has been mediocre of late; he doesn’t move down further because he has no real risk of losing the job unless he immolates. Johnson moves up yet another tier this week; his struggles of 2-3 weeks ago are in the rearview mirror. Jansen joins the ranks of closers in the second tier. This may seem aggressive, but Brandon League has been terrible and Jansen handled ninth-inning duties more than capably in 2012.
Tier 3 – Yeah…You’re…Good
Balfour’s save on Tuesday night is a prime example of why I don’t move him higher, even though he hasn’t blown a save since 2012. Balfour looked pedestrian and was rescued by an up-against-the-wall catch by Seth Smith. Heath Bell has looked more ordinary of late, so he moves down a notch. Jose Veras has been solid when called upon; the Hector Ambriz “threat” is a memory for now.
Tier 4 Uninspiring Choices
Cishek picked up a couple of saves last week and is probably the frontrunner once again in Miami. Brothers and Gregerson move out of the injury replacement group they were in last week. Gregerson was removed from a save situation early yesterday and might find himself part of a committee. Brothers has been terrific and would be higher if he wasn’t just a temp. Rodney moves back out of the closers in trouble due to a couple of solid outings (despite another weak one lumped in there as well). Valverde’s implosion yesterday would put him on the bubble on most clubs. However, the Tigers don’t have a lot of options, so Valverde stays in the uninspiring choices camp.
Tier 5 – On the Bubble
The Indians still haven’t seen a save opportunity since Chris Perez went on the DL. The assumption remains that Pestano would get the call.
Speaking of assumptions, it seemed obvious that Henderson would come back to the closer role upon his return from the DL. However, Rodriguez has been capable and the Brewers decided that he “deserved” a shot at 300 saves. K-Rod sits at 298 saves. This likely means that K-Rod is the closer for now and Henderson is the set up. Watch this situation carefully. It is possible that Rodriguez might still usurp the job and Henderson might wind up setting up the veteran.
On the $ Values
Dollar values in the charts below represent my 2012 dollar valuations for 5x5 “-only” Rotisserie-style formats using 2013 player statistics. These values use a Standings Gain Points (or SGP) model that is similar to the SGP model used in Baseball Prospectus’ Player Forecast Manager.
Closer Earnings to Date (through games of Tuesday, June 11, 2013)
Top Reliever Earnings, Non-Closers (through games of Tuesday, June 11, 2013)