The fantasy danger of closers on losing teams

Scott Pianowski
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 11: Catcher Stephen Vogt #21 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates with closing pitcher Will Smith #13 after a win against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on June 11, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Will Smith (right) figures to be shopped when baseball's trading season kicks in (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

There were a modest five saves on the Wednesday slate, with Will Smith and Shane Greene getting two of them. Those are names you know by heart, established closers who are succeeding despite lousy teams.

Smith (2.03 ERA, 16 saves) is the only thing the Giants have for the All-Star game (their best offensive player is Pablo Sandoval, who barely plays); Greene (1.00 ERA, 20 saves) deserves a nod too, perhaps with Matthew Boyd tagging along.

But how long will Smith and Greene be toiling with their mediocre clubs? How close are we to trading season? Will freshly minted closers be coming soon?

The Tigers sounded the alarm this week, saying they’re open for business. Boyd would be attractive but he’s also cheaply controlled for several years. Someone would have to blow the Tigers away.

Greene is an easier guy for the Tigers to move. He had a 5.12 ERA last year, for crying out loud, and this year’s show is partially smoke and mirrors — his FIP is 3.33. That .182 BABIP is screaming for a correction. He’s already at his age-30 season. If Greene were to be traded, it’s likely the new team wouldn’t use him in the ninth inning.

Smith is probably more interesting to teams, as he’s capable of getting both righty and lefty batters out. And his outstanding 2019 season is very similar to what he posted last year. FIP says his ERA should be around two. He’s bumped his strikeouts up a speck, cut down on the walks.

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Maybe Smith would close for a new team, maybe not. It’s possible his fantasy trade value is at a peak right now.

Tony Watson and Sam Dyson are possible closing candidates if and when Smith gets dealt. Both are having reliable seasons; the San Francisco bullpen has been crisp in the late innings. Of course, Watson and Dyson could be shopped in trade, too.

Erratic Joe Jimenez is the biggest non-closing name in the Detroit bullpen. He’s getting plenty of whiffs — 39 in 27.1 innings — but too often, he doesn’t know where the ball is going (14 walks). He’s also allowed six home runs.

Shake those hands while you can, gamers. Farewell hugs might be coming soon.

Is Luke Jackson on shaky ground?

Luke Jackson has been steady and reliable in Atlanta all year, but it’s not a good time to hit a slump. Jackson’s ERA has risen modestly in the last two weeks, and now A.J. Minter is back to complicate things.

Jackson blew a weekend save at Miami, victimized by Martin Prado’s RBI double. And he allowed a ninth-inning homer to Josh Bell on Wednesday; it wasn’t a save situation, but closers generally work a tie game at home in the top of the ninth. The Braves could laugh at both of these hiccups, given that they won both games. Jackson now has a 3.27 ERA. 1.21 WHIP, and 49 strikeouts in 33 innings — not lawnmower numbers, but solid enough.

Minter pitched an earlier inning, walking two batters but escaping. His seasonal stats are not for unprotected eyes — 9.00 ERA, 2.23 WHIP — but maybe he fixed something during his minor-league stint. Here’s what Minter posted in 10.2 innings for Triple-A Gwinnett: 9 H, 3 R, 2 HR, 2 BB, 15 K.

I’m not going to panic with my Jackson shares. He can’t have a long leash, but I suspect he at least has some leash. I also view a potential reliever trade as more of a threat than Minter. But we at least have to consider that Minter has returned, and the club wants to give him late-inning leverage work.

Ramon Laureano and category juice

Ramon Laureano has forced his way into our lives this year, mostly with his outstanding defense. But his offensive production is also begging for attention.

Laureano single-handedly beat Tampa Bay on Wednesday, homering and stealing two bases. He drove in five runs in all. He’s up to nine homers and eight steals for the year; that’s just about a 20-20 pace. Category juice always goes down easy.

A .260 average is playable in today’s game, and the A’s seem willing to live with Laureano’s hacking (70 strikeouts, just 13 walks). If you’re not in an OBP format, don’t let that .307 OBP sway you. His defense will keep him on the field, and his power and speed should keep him fantasy relevant.

There’s still time to board the bandwagon. The 24 year old outfielder is unclaimed in about three-quarters of Yahoo leagues.

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