StrategyAugust 1, 2013

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Bottom of the 9th: Post-Deadline Closer Fallout

By R.J. White

The main trading deadline has come and gone for Major League Baseball, and with it comes some alterations in the makeup of certain teams’ bullpens. In both cases where a closer changed hands, the acquiring team is likely to use its new impact arm not in a closing role, but as a setup man. We’ll look at the effect trades have had on all bullpens involved, as well as other closer-altering trades that could happen in August, in this week’s Bottom of the 9th.

First, Francisco Rodriguez was dealt to the Orioles to strengthen the bullpen behind Jim Johnson. Since we discussed this last week, we’ll only point out that it’s indeed been Jim Henderson who has slid back into the closing role in Milwaukee. Henderson has picked up four saves post-trade, including both saves in Tuesday’s doubleheader. John Axford has struggled mightily over the past week, so it’s possible he could clear waivers with his $5 million salary and three years of arbitration looming. It’s also possible a team still looking for bullpen help could look past his recent struggles and see a guy with a strikeout rate over 9.0 K/9 who had looked great from mid-May through this recent poor stretch at the end of July.

More recently, Jose Veras was shipped to the Tigers, where he’ll begin his career with his new team as a setup man behind Joaquin Benoit, who has been fantastic this season. Veras loses most of his fantasy value with the loss of potential saves, but with how effective he’s been this season, he could certainly still help ratios and strikeouts in leagues that don’t feature holds as a category. In Houston, a committee is expected to be used at closer, with Jose Ciserno having the best chance to take hold of the ninth inning moving forward.

Keep an eye on Chia-Jen Lo, who made his major-league debut Wednesday by pitching a scoreless eighth inning in front of Cisnero, albeit in a 11-0 blowout. Lo owns a 2.11 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 142:53 K:BB ratio over 128 minor-league innings. His fastball stayed in the 94-96 mph range in his debut, and while he gave up two hits, one was on an infield single that Lo himself deflected. With all the other options in the Houston bullpen proving unpalatable, it wouldn’t be surprising to see this rookie quickly emerge as a manager favorite.

One trade that didn’t happen was Cubs closer Kevin Gregg being shipped away to a team looking to fortify its bullpen. This can largely be attributed to how poorly he’s performed in recent weeks after a quality start to the season. It seems likely he’ll clear waivers in August, so secondary Cubs options like Pedro Strop and James Russell aren’t necessarily shut out from earning regular saves if a contender decides Gregg represents an upgrade in the middle or late innings despite his recent poor stretch. If you’re a Gregg owner, you should be playing up the fact that he didn’t get dealt in July as reason enough for a saves-needy team to trade you an upgrade somewhere else.

Other trade notes: Joe Nathan, who was surprisingly floated as being on the trading block last weekend, remains a Ranger, so Joakim Soria can be removed from serious saves consideration in fantasy leagues. Boston didn’t add any serious threats to Koji Uehara in the ninth inning, and he can safely be considered a top-10 closer moving forward. The Marlins held fast to their plan not to trade their relievers, so Steve Cishek remains a safe closer in fantasy leagues. And the Phillies unsurprisingly didn’t find a deal they liked involving Jonathan Papelbon.

In non-trade news, Ernesto Frieri has hit a rocky patch that has Angels manager Mike Scioscia contemplating a move to a closer-by-committee. Frieri’s ERA has jumped from from 2.76 to 4.20 over his last four appearances, which included two losses and two blown saves. His extreme flyball tendencies always make him a HR risk, and indeed he’s given up three homers over this recent poor stretch. However, I think now is the perfect time to buy Frieri in fantasy trades for three reasons. First, his trade value is obviously lower than it has been all season, and teams may be able to acquire him for cents on the dollar. Second, he still owns an elite strikeout rate (13.2 K/9) that makes his walk rate and home run rate easier to stomach.

But most of all, none of the other relievers in the Angels bullpen are exactly giving Scioscia any reason to have faith in them as a closer. Here are the July ERAs for the three main alternatives to Frieri: 6.04 ERA in 13.1 IP (Dane De La Rosa), 5.40 ERA in 10.0 IP (Michael Kohn) and 4.50 ERA in 8.0 IP along with 14 hits (Kevin Jepsen). If Frieri is used in low-leverage situations, I imagine it won’t be for very long, as none of those three guys appear to be on the cusp of running away with the closer job. Put some trade feelers out to see if you can acquire Frieri on the cheap. I’d certainly take him over Kevin Gregg moving forward, even though on the surface Gregg appears to be locked into a closing role while Frieri looks like he’s lost his ninth-inning job.

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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