The saves market has been ridiculously volatile in 2012, with over half of MLB's 30 teams already turning to Plan B (or C, or D) in their bullpens. Perhaps the most remarkable fact about this unprecedented level of closer turnover is that trade season hasn't yet begun.
The MLB non-waiver trade deadline won't arrive until 4 pm ET on Tuesday, July 31, and it's a safe bet that several relievers are going to be shipped to new cities, resulting in additional mayhem. Our objective today is to identify the closers most likely to move, while also flagging pitchers in line to inherit the ninth inning following a trade. Please note that this is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all closers who might be dealt. Instead, it's just a list of several pitchers who, from our present vantage point, seem like strong trade candidates.
If you're chasing saves in a competitive league, you can't very well wait until real-life changes occur before taking action. That approach will likely mean you're a week late on every new closer. So we speculate. That's where the fun is in this game, though also most of the pain.
There's no guarantee that any of these players will have new homes in August, but they seem among the most likely to relocate ...
Brett Myers – His name has been attached to trade rumors for months, as he's a high-salaried vet on a team that should look to acquire young, cost-controlled talent. Myers has been terrific in relief this season, allowing just two runs over 12.2 innings and converting nine saves in 10 chances. No team will be eager to take on his full salary (plus 2013 buyout/option), but there's no denying the fact that he's pitched well, and can clearly help a contender. If he's dealt, Wilton Lopez would be the favorite to close (though we can never completely rule out Brandon Lyon, the reliever who refuses to go away). Lopez has pitched exceptionally well this season over 19 appearances, delivering a 1.69 ERA and 0.66 WHIP, with 16 Ks and no walks.
Jonathan Broxton – Cash out, Royals. Broxton has been better than anyone could have reasonably expected, coming off elbow surgery. He's still a couple ticks off his 2008-09 velocity, but the man is throwing plenty hard (95.5 mph average fastball), he's saved eight games in nine opportunities, and he hasn't allowed a run since April 23. (He's also registered just two Ks in the month of May, but let's try to focus on the no-runs-allowed thing). Broxton signed a one-year make-good deal with KC, and he's already returned a profit. But with Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares in the pen, this sub-.500 team doesn't need a brand-name closer.
Huston Street – And while we're on the subject of losing teams that have no need at all for vanity closers, let's look at the Pads. They've got minor league legend Dale Thayer manning the ninth right now, while Street recovers from a lat strain. Injuries have been a constant worry with Street, sure, but his current issue is believed to be a short-term problem. No surgery required. Street was pitching extremely well before hitting the DL, converting every save chance, striking out 13 batters in 9.2 innings, and posting terrific ratios (0.93 ERA, 0.52 WHIP). As soon as he returns, he'll be a nice trade chip for San Diego.
Brian Fuentes – The left-handed chucker recently overtook right-handed chucker Grant Balfour for closing responsibilities in Oakland. Either vet should be available for the right price. If the A's are forced to make yet another ninth inning switch, and they don't go back to Balfour, then keep an eye on 24-year-old Ryan Cook. Few relievers in baseball have pitched better over the first six weeks. Cook has allowed just four hits and no runs over 17.2 frames, striking out 17. Preseason sleeper Fautino De Los Santos is currently scuffling at Triple-A Sacramento (7.36 ERA), so he's no threat.
Brandon League – His name popped up in rumors repeatedly during the offseason — the Angels were said to be interested, as were the Dodgers — and it's not as if the conditions that made League an obvious trade candidate have changed. The M's don't have the look of a team that will be buying vets at the deadline. The trouble with Seattle's 'pen is that it's tough to identify a clear closer understudy. Set-up man Tom Wilhelmsen pitched well in the early weeks, but he's given up runs in each of his last four appearances. Steve Delabar has a much better year-to-date stat line (0.84 WHIP, 21 Ks, 3 BB), and he's allowed just one hit in six appearances this month. Meanwhile, the Mariners have Stephen Pryor stashed at Tacoma, recently promoted from Double-A Jackson, looking suspiciously like a future closer.
Matt Capps – It almost seems like we have to include Capps on a list like this, what with the Twins playing sub-.300 baseball. But it's also not clear that any potential trade partner would have Capps' name near the top of its shopping list. So let's just wait and see. Glen Perkins is the handcuff, with Jared Burton chasing. Capps has actually pitched well in his five innings this month, pulling out of his late-April nosedive. Thus, he's improved his position slightly on the list below ...
Job Security Index
30. Miami — Edward Mujica? Steve Cishek? Please, no more Heath Bell
29. NY Mets — Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell
28. Washington — Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard
27. NY Yankees — Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Boone Logan
26. Chicago White Sox — Addison Reed, Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton
25. LA Angels — Scott Downs, Ernesto Frieri, Jordan Walden
24. Toronto — Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor
23. Chicago Cubs — Rafael Dolis, James Russell, Michael Bowden
22. Oakland — Brian Fuentes, Ryan Cook, Grant Balfour
21. Boston — Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales
20. San Diego — Dale Thayer, Andrew Cashner, Luke Gregerson
19. Arizona — JJ Putz, David Hernandez
18. Cincinnati — Sean Marshall, Aroldis Chapman
17. Minnesota — Matt Capps, Glen Perkins
16. Tampa Bay — Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta
15. Kansas City — Jonathan Broxton, Aaron Crow, Greg Holland
14. LA Dodgers — Kenley Jansen, Josh Lindblom
13. San Francisco — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo
12. Cleveland — Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, Nick Hagadone
11. Houston — Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon
10. Baltimore — Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop
9. Texas — Joe Nathan, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando
8. Detroit — Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit
7. St. Louis — Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs
6. Colorado — Rafael Betancourt, Matt Belisle
5. Seattle — Brandon League, Steve Delabar, Tom Wilhelmsen
4. Milwaukee — John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez
3. Pittsburgh — Joel Hanrahan, Juan Cruz, Jason Grilli
2. Atlanta — Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters
1. Philadelphia — Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo, Chad Qualls
• Yankees reliever David Robertson is dealing with an oblique issue, and will reportedly have an MRI on Tuesday. Rafael Soriano pitched a clean inning on Monday, earning his second save of the post-Mo era. He would appear to be the NYY reliever to own, if you can only own one.
• Kansas City reinstated Greg Holland from the DL over the weekend, and he's struck out four batters in two subsequent appearances. He's got some work to do, however, if he's going reclaim his old spot in the Royals' bullpen hierarchy. Broxton, Crow, Herrera & Co. have pitched well.
• Jesse Crain is expected to come off the DL on Tuesday, after tossing a pair of scoreless innings at Triple-A Charlotte over the weekend. In related news, the marketing department at Charlotte is going to have to come up with a new sales pitch, because "CRAIN SCHEDULED TO PITCH TONIGHT" is no longer in play.
• The Cardinals recalled Eduardo Sanchez from Triple-A Memphis, following the release of JC Romero. It seemed a little weird that Sanchez didn't crack the opening day roster in St. Louis, as he had a terrific spring (8.0 IP, 0 R, 14 Ks) and he was excellent last season, in his 26 major league appearances (30.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 35 Ks).
• Jordan Walden hasn't allowed a hit in any of his last four appearances, and he's picked up a pair of holds. It wouldn't be much of a shock if he reclaimed the closing gig at some point, although the Angels have no shortage of respectable options. Scott Downs is a machine — he still hasn't allowed a run this season — and Ernesto Frieri is striking out everyone who dares to face him (27 Ks in 16.0 IP).
• How long can the leash possibly be for JJ Putz? He allowed five hits and four runs (all earned) in his last appearance, and he's been scored upon in four of his last seven outings. David Hernandez, stay ready. Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson apparently believes that Putz's issues are all about location, not quality-of-stuff or velocity. No matter what the specific malfunction is, Arizona can't very well keep handing him save chances if he can't get right.
• Sean Burnett picked up a save for the Nats on Monday, relieving Henry Rodriguez after the 25-year-old had walked the bases loaded. Following the game, Rodriguez received a vote of confidence from Washington manager Davey Johnson ... but usually those votes mean something like ,"Dude, you've got exactly one more chance. Don't screw up."
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