When we look back on closers at the end of the season, there’s no denying that the high rate of early-season turnover will dominate the discussion. But a less discussed angle is that of the struggling closers whose respective teams stubbornly refused to shake things up. One such example is John Axford of the Brewers, who has gotten a ton of leash in 2012 but mostly failed to reward his team’s faith. Now, after seeing Axford post a 5.35 ERA and blow six of 22 save chances, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has finally turned elsewhere.
Former Angels and Mets stopper Francisco Rodriguez (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 3%, CBS 15%) is now the man in Milwaukee. K-Rod is no longer the pitcher he once was—he’s currently striking out a career low 8.4 per nine—but is still adequate enough of a reliever to string together some saves. With recent performance often a key factor in determining who gets first crack in these kinds of situations, it’s worth noting that Rodriguez brought a five-outing scoreless stretch into Tuesday’s action. K-Rod could be traded before July 31, so fair warning on that, but otherwise he’s a must-own for saves-needy owners.
Mariano Rivera (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 16%, CBS 19%) says he wants to return from major knee surgery this season. While a comeback seems unlikely, Mo is one of a very small handful of players on whom I’m not about to call B.S. Fortunately, this one is pretty cut and dry: if you don’t have room in a DL slot or on a very deep bench, don’t bother stashing Rivera. If he does come back, it’ll only be for a couple weeks in September, meaning there are almost certainly better uses of a roster spot in the meanwhile. A couple saves in September, however, can sometimes be the difference between winning a league… or not.
Jonathan Broxton has had his name come up in a lot of trade rumors recently, and on surface he seems like an ideal candidate: one-year contract, below-market salary, closing experience, reasonable proximity to prime. With the caveat that there is no such thing as a surefire trade candidate (see: Heath Bell, 2011), I still think Greg Holland (Yahoo! 9%, ESPN 1%, CBS 9%) is a worthwhile add for saves vultures. Holland has bounced in and out of this space a couple times this season, but this time he’ll be here till after the dust settles on August 1. The right-hander has not been as good this season as he was last, but he was neck-and-neck with Brox to take over closing duties when Joakim Soria went down, and since returning from an early DL stint on May 12, he’s posted a 1.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings, albeit with a too-high 1.41 WHIP. Aaron Crow could be an option too, but I think Holland gets first crack.
Matt Capps returned from the disabled list and promptly put up a clunker. Now, he’s been placed on the DL again after apparently re-injuring himself. Those who held onto Glen Perkins (Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 12%, CBS 15%) and, to a lesser extent, Jared Burton (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 5%, CBS 7%) have been rewarded. Burton’s last save came on June 25, so I can certainly understand why owners have been cutting him, but with Capps shelved again, I’d expect the Twins to go back to a closer platoon.
As expected, Steve Cishek (Yahoo! 22%, ESPN 20%, CBS 22%) claimed the Marlins’ first save chance after manager Ozzie Guillen declared a committee, logging a sweet five-outer. What wasn’t expected, though, is that the next save chance went to Mike Dunn, a strong-armed left-hander with little control or command. I’m still touting Cishek as the guy to own and hope Dunn’s save was a red herring, but in fairness to Guillen, he did say it’d be a committee, and so I can’t promise that owning Cishek will be a headache-free experience. I wouldn’t bother with Dunn, however.
Just as Holland’s prospects of closing are entirely contingent upon Broxton being dealt, the same is true of the Padres’ Luke Gregerson (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%), who will need to see his bullpen’s closer, Huston Street, dealt in order to take the reins. Street is under contract through next season, so any prospective buyers will have to be thinking long-ish term with him, but with the Padres going nowhere this season (and probably next), I think they’ll be pretty motivated to move Street and further add to their already deep farm. Gregerson has the stuff (and ballpark) to close, and if you’re handcuffing next-in-line types, he’s definitely worth consideration.
So much for Juan Carlos Oviedo (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) returning to his old post as Marlins closer. The right-hander suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament (that’s the one that can lead to Tommy John surgery), and while the severity of the injury is unknown as of now, it stands to reason his major league comeback has been delayed by at least a couple weeks, if not shelved altogether until next season. If you scooped up Oviedo last week after Guillen gushed about him, cut away.
Last week, I touted Brandon Lyon (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) as a likely successor for incumbent Astros closer and trade target Brett Myers. Shortly thereafter, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said on no uncertain terms that Lyon, too, may be dealt. Of course. This situation reminds me a lot of the Padres last season, when both Bell and Mike Adams were trade candidates; we knew whoever wasn’t dealt would almost certainly be the closer. Therein lies the rub. I still think Lyon would close over Wilton Lopez if Myers were flipped, but with there being an equally strong chance of Lyon being dealt as Myers, Lyon gets demoted from a strong handcuff to an iffy one.
Things are getting crowded in this space, so for now, let’s bid adieu to long-man extraordinaires Craig Stammen (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 5%) and Matt Belisle (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 0%, CBS 3%). The right-handers should continue to pile up innings while posting strong ratios and strikeout numbers, for those who are willing to look outside the traditional avenues for help on their pitching staffs.
Like Holland, Joaquin Benoit (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 4%, CBS 14%) has been a VP Relievers yo-yo this season on account of my hair trigger at the first sign of trouble for Jose Valverde, which has been often. But Benoit has allowed runs in a pair of outings since the break, while Papa Grande started his second half with four consecutive scoreless appearances. In the big picture, Benoit is still the vastly superior pitcher, but Valverde has somehow outlasted both Bell and Axford in clinging to his job this season. Amazing.
While we say farewell to Stammen and Belisle above, you AL-only types may want to have a look at Rangers righty Alexi Ogando (Yahoo! 32%, ESPN 5%, CBS 23%), who was enjoying a fine season before being placed on the DL in May due to a groin strain. The Rangers will likely ease the former starter back into things, but once he’s comfortable, owners can expect two- and perhaps even three- inning outings with plenty of strikeouts and strong ratios.
Giants closer Santiago Casilla is not out of the woods yet as he tries to recover from his pre-break malaise, blowing one of his three second-half save chances over the weekend. While Sergio Romo is almost definitely owned in any NL-only league worth its salt, lefty Jeremy Affeldt (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%) might also be worth a look due to Romo’s usage restrictions. Affeldt would have to compete with fellow southpaw Javier Lopez for a late-game save chance, but Lopez is basically a one- or two-batter reliever, whereas Affeldt is far more flexible. It’s a reach, for sure, but stranger things have happened.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now