StrategyJuly 24, 2013

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Bottom of the 9th: Bye Bye K-Rod

By R.J. White

The first closer domino has fallen on the trade market, with the Brewers shipping closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Orioles for prospect Nick Delmonico. It was a great trade from the Brewers side, getting a cost-controlled player in Delmonico for a guy they signed to a minor-league contract in mid-April who had likely priced himself out of returning to the Brewers in 2014. It was also a good trade for the Orioles, strengthening a bullpen that lost Pedro Strop to the Cubs while providing proven closer insurance for Jim Johnson, who has been shaky this year. You know who the trade wasn’t good for? K-Rod’s fantasy owners.

With the Tigers and Red Sox interested in acquiring Rodriguez, fantasy owners were likely holding out hope that a K-Rod trade wouldn’t necessarily mean a loss of potential saves over the remainder of the season. With Rodriguez in Baltimore, he’ll be hard-pressed to anything more than a spot save or two while Johnson is performing well.

While Johnson has struggled in parts of this season, most notably in mid-May when he surrendered eight earned runs over the course of three appearances and then four more earned runs in another appearance less than a week later, he has been mostly on point since that horrific stretch, lowing his ERA from 5.25 after the four-run capper in May to 3.55 as of July 23. He’s unquestionably the closer in Baltimore, but if he has another stretch like the one in May, we should expect the Orioles to make a change and use K-Rod as a closer.

That means Rodriguez still does have value, but only as a guy with closing potential who should put up good ratios and a strikeout per inning for fantasy lineups. Depending on the league format and free-agent pool of your league, guys like that could be a dime a dozen.

in Milwaukee, Jim Henderson is expect to resume closer duties, but don’t count John Axford out either. While Axford has zero saves this season after saving 105 games from 2010 to 2012, the poor performance that resulted in his removal from the closer role at the beginning of the season has been erased over the last two-plus months. Axford has surrendered just one earned run on 18 hits and 11 walks while striking out 25 in 27 innings from May 15 on. His 1.07 WHIP over that stretch is better than his season WHIP from 2010 or 2011, his two best seasons.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see those teams that missed our on K-Rod turn their attentions to Axrod, a player whom the Brewers should feel motivated to trade for a quality prospect thanks to his salary outstripping his usefulness to a rebuilding team. The Brewers may not be done making moves, and while Henderson is the guy to own in Milwaukee, I’d probably own Axford over K-Rod at this point due to his better opportunity to pick up saves in the immediate future, whether in Milwaukee or elsewhere.

Other Notes

  • Houston’s Jose Veras is drawing considerable trade interest, according to baseball insider Jon Heyman. Like with the Brewers and K-Rod, the situation has worked out perfectly for the Astros, who made a low-risk signing when they inked Veras in the offseason and then put him in the high-profile ninth-inning role, thereby boosting his trade value when he pitched well. It seems almost a certainty he’ll be traded, and he likely wouldn’t close for whichever team acquired him, so now is the time to deal him away in fantasy leagues if you can get something close to full value.
  • Who would replace Veras in Houston’s ninth inning if a trade happens? Great question. Veras has picked up just two saves in July, and while the most recent featured no other relievers other than Veras (Jarred Cosart went eight innings for the win), the other saw Jose Cisnero pick up a hold with a scoreless eighth inning in early July. He hasn’t been fantastic, giving up six earned runs while walking six batters in 5.1 innings in July, but he looks like the best of an unappealing bunch. Plus, the Astros have consistently used him in the later innings and have also turned him into a one-inning-or-less reliever after asking him to pitch multiple innings earlier in the year. Could they be grooming the 24-year-old for a future closing role? He should be your speculative pickup in Houston if you agree that Veras is getting traded in the next week.
  • Kevin Gregg is another guy who will surely be traded to a contender looking to fortify the team’s bullpen despite his July struggles, and that will open a ninth-inning spot in Chicago. The choices should boil down to Blake Parker and Pedro Strop. Manager Dale Sveum named Strop as a closer candidate earlier this week if Gregg is traded, while Parker earned a hat tip for the role from Sveum in late June. Parker has been better of the course of the year, but Strop has looked excellent since coming to Chicago in the Scott Feldman trade, pitching 7.2 scoreless innings while allowing just three hits, walking two and striking out 10. Gregg has picked up two saves since the All-Star break, and in both, Strop was the guy setting him up in the eighth inning. That leads me to believe Strop is the guy to own here, and I’d pick him up for save speculation purposes.
  • Brad Ziegler is the closer in Arizona, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily the smartest route to go (listen to this week’s Cafe Pod for an explanation of how I think Ziegler should be used), he obviously needs to be owned in all fantasy leagues while generating saves. He could have success closing over the rest of the season, but the Diamondbacks also have multiple guys with closer abilities waiting in the wings. Of course, going by Arizona’s history, that makes this the perfect time to trade for a few more late-inning relievers and muddy up the ninth-inning picture even more (I’m only half-joking).
  • Lightning round: Mark Melancon is a must-own in all fantasy leagues with Jason Grilli on the shelf. Huston Street and/or Luke Gregerson could be traded before the deadline, and if Street is the only one of the two to be dealt, that likely leaves Gregerson in a position to pick up saves for the remainder of the year. Rafael Betancourt is out with appendicitis, but he shouldn’t miss much more time, so enjoy those Rex Brothers saves while you can. The Dodgers have been connected to some RPs on the trade block, but there’s next-to-no chance that any new additions would usurp Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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