The Trade Deadline Begins

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·11 min read
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UPDATE: This article now includes the Yimi Garcia trade.

The Trade Deadline is heating up. Already, Kendall Graveman and Yimi Garcia's saves have sunk to the abyss. Houston acquired the pair and Rafael Montero within the last two days. They’ll help set up for Ryan Pressly. Additional closers who could shift locations include Craig Kimbrel, Brad Hand, Ian Kennedy, Richard Rodriguez, Hansel Robles, Raisel Iglesias, Daniel Bard, Michael Fulmer, Joakim Soria, Cole Sulser, and Paul Fry among others with late-innings skills. Relievers figure to be a hot commodity in general – nobody has enough of them this season. Of those listed, only Kimbrel seems certain to continue closing.

Over the last week, Mark Melancon built upon his season lead by adding four saves. Edwin Diaz and Matt Barnes were the only others to finish off three saves. For the season, Melancon (31) has a comfortable lead over Liam Hendriks (25), Alex Reyes (24), and Kimbrel (23). Notably, the Padres are among the many teams in the market for a closer upgrade.

Now, shall we go to the tiers?

Closer Tiers

Tier 1: The Elite (6)

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
Liam Hendriks, Chicago White Sox
Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs
Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Edwin Diaz, New York Mets
Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

Hader and Hendriks can be considered to form a tier unto themselves. Call it the Über-Elite. Hader hasn’t actually appeared in quite some time while Hendriks continues to shine. With Kimbrel, his history of poor command and impending trade are the only reason to hold off on putting him in this ultra-talented sub-tier.

Most of the previous “Nearly Elite” tier actualized. As promised Chapman returned after continue to demonstrate a grasp on his command while hitting upper-90s velocities. He had a blip there where he was a wild and sitting on the low-end of his normal velocity range. Speaking of heat, Diaz averaged 100-mph for the first time this season on Monday. He rebounded nicely from a recent rough patch, dispatching nine of 15 batters faced via strikeout.

Barnes also pitched four times, locking down three saves and a win. All season, I’ve nervously awaited the other shoe to drop. His 2.36 BB/9 is incongruous with his career 4.03 BB/9. From 2018 through 2020, he averaged nearly 5.00 BB/9. There are still various types of regression risk besides walks. For instance, his strikeout and swinging strike rates in July are well below what he averaged from April through June. Should that continue, we’ll likely see a modest uptick in ERA and WHIP.

Tier 2: Nearly Elite (4)

Ryan Pressly, Houston Astros
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
Will Smith, Atlanta Braves

Pressly would have joined the others in the top tier but for a disappointing week. A couple home runs in non-save situations sullied his otherwise pristine ERA and WHIP. They were the first real damage he’d allowed since May 29.

Jansen too struggled, dropping from the Elite Tier in the process. The Giants handed him a rough loss last Wednesday then repeated the drubbing on Thursday. His fastball velocity in those two games was close to his lowest since late-April. He rebounded on Saturday, both in result and fastball velocity (95.6-mph). Jansen’s outcomes remain closely tied to his zip. However, free passes were to blame as well. Five of the 18 batters he faced were walked.

Iglesias was busy in what could prove to be a final audition week for the trade deadline. He worked the entire three-game Twins series, sandwiching a one-run loss with two clean saves. He also protected a four-run lead on Monday, striking out the side in the process.

The Braves are seemingly paralyzed – they’re in a position to neither buy nor sell with aggression. Smith could be stealth trade bait. You’ll notice he wasn’t listed as a trade candidate in the intro. The Braves could also stand to improve the high-leverage side of their bullpen. My guess is they’ll be open to adding relievers with club control in 2022.

Tier 3: Core Performers (5)

Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals
James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians
Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
Brad Hand, Washington Nationals
Jordan Romano, Toronto Blue Jays

FanGraphs ran an instructive article about Reyes’ untidy walk rate. I heartily concur with the premise – walks are not an automatic evil in high leverage situations. However, Reyes generally lacks the ability to control how those walks are distributed. There’s also the matter of home run rate. Reyes’ HR/9 is expected to double going forward, leading to an expectation for an over-4.00 ERA and over-1.40 WHIP. While these possible sources of meltdown hang over his head, Reyes simply cannot be ranked higher. He had another superb week – perhaps his best of the season. He allowed one walk and no hits while recording two saves in three innings.

Conversely, Hand had his worst week. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Nationals. He was dealt three stinging defeats last Wednesday, Sunday, and Monday. He also pitched Tuesday, earning his only save of the week. He won’t be available today. Hand’s collapse cost the club a chance at a 49-51 record which would have narrowly trailed the Phillies and Braves for second in a tightly fought NL East. Moreover, it may have cost Washington a chance to cash him in for a good prospect.

Romano also didn’t do himself any favors. Boston touched him up for a couple solo home runs last Wednesday, reminding Toronto that they can do better in the ninth inning. I fully expect an “upgrade” to be acquired. Whether or not that pitcher is actually better than Romano will have to be evaluated next week.

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Tier 4: Upside (8)

Ian Kennedy, Texas Rangers
Richard Rodriguez, Pittsburgh Pirates
Scott Barlow, Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Paul Sewald, Seattle Mariners
Anthony Bender, Miami Marlins
Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, Tampa Bay Rays
Jake McGee, Tyler Rogers, San Francisco Giants
Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies

If Kennedy and Rodriguez remain closers after this week, they’ll return to the third tier. For now, there is considerable risk of them falling into set up roles.

Barlow recorded a save last Wednesday, set up for Holland on Friday, then picked up a two-inning save on Monday. He also played setup man on July 20. This appears to be a firm committee at the moment.

Sewald, who we discussed as a name stash in previous weeks, has a nasty slider and a gimmicky fly ball rate. While his breaking ball is downright untouchable at times, something feels solvable about this profile. His current stats mark him as similar in caliber to Iglesias or Karinchak. Romano is another plausible comp due to the short track record of success. Let’s confirm the Mariners don’t have an external plan for replacing Graveman before we get too aggressive with his placement.

Bender, like Sewald, will likely rank higher once the dust clears and it's certain he'll be closing for the Marlins going forward. He uses his fastball and slider in a more traditional way than Sewald which leads me to believe there's a higher floor and lower ceiling.

McGee picked up two saves to Rogers’ one save and a win. The latter performance is actually more valuable in standard leagues. Rogers worked ahead of McGee on Tuesday.

Tier 5: Mess Hall (7)

Lou Trivino, Oakland Athletics
Ranger Suarez, Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
Hansel Robles, Minnesota Twins
Joakim Soria, Arizona Diamondbacks
Heath Hembree, Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Paul Fry, Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles

As stated last week, Trivino would rank at the bottom of the third tier if I wasn’t nearly certain the A’s would acquire at least a part-time closer. The Phillies are also poised to add some flavor of closer. They prefer Suarez in a multi-inning role anyway. Philly tried to hand Neris the job, but he botched an outing last Wednesday.

The Twins would like to trade Robles, but he’s allowed 15 runs in his last 11.1 innings. A deal worth consummating seems unlikely. The DBacks might have better luck moving Soria who has been on a roll since mid-June (2.70 ERA, 10.80 K/9 in 13.1 innings). Hembree is the preferred ninth-inning guy in Cincy. They’re aggressively adding relievers and expect Lucas Sims to return soon.

The Orioles finally had a save opportunity, and it went to Dillon Tate. That doesn’t mean he’s ahead of Fry or Sulser in the formal pecking order. Tate, a typical hard-throwing middle reliever, could emerge as the preferred closer if Sulser and Fry are traded.

Injured

Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics (out for season)
Julian Merryweather, Toronto Blue Jays (oblique)
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers (neck strain)
Tejay Antone, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Lucas Sims, Cincinnati Reds (elbow)
Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins (finger)

Deposed

Anthony Bass, Miami Marlins
Alex Colome, Minnesota Twins
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners
Cesar Valdez, Baltimore Orioles
Stefan Crichton, Arizona Diamondbacks
Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies
Kendall Graveman, Houston Astros (via trade)
Yimi Garcia, Houston Astros (via trade)

Steals Department

Weekly Leaderboard

Bryce Harper, 4 SB (12 SB total)
Gleyber Torres, 4 SB (10 SB)
Starling Marte, 3 SB (22 SB)
Greg Allen, 3 SB (5 SB)
Raimel Tapia, 3 SB (18 SB)

Marte was traded today for Athletics southpaw Jesus Luzardo. It’s a seemingly huge trade for both clubs. Marte is in the midst of a career-best season at the plate backed by above average plate discipline for the first time in his career. His .405 OBP is classic Athletics and ensures he can make the most of his speed on the bases.

Harper’s outburst included a three-swipe game against the Braves. All four steals were at the expense of Stephen Vogt. Torres also exploited one team, the Red Sox, although it was a mix of Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki who did the backstopping. Over the last month, Torres is hitting a robust .288/.377/.470 backed by his typical exit velocities and other peripherals. He may not scrape a 40-homer pace as he did in 2019, but it does seem like he’s once again a valuable real and fantasy world commodity.

Tapia’s extreme ground ball profile, mild exit velocities, and dependency on Coors Field eat into his fantasy value. Still, a .278 average with health run production and 18 steals will play in most formats, even if it comes saddled with only five home runs.

Allen’s had an incredible sprint as the Yankees center fielder, compiling a .296/.444/.481 batting line and five steals in just 36 plate appearances. Nothing in the profile suggests a breakout. He remains a passive hitter with weak contact. The Yankees won’t ride him for much longer though he could catch an opportunity with a second division club.

Speed Spotlight

Last’s weeks profile covered Daulton Varsho who proceeded to spank a .412/.500/1.59 week with a pair of doubles and three home runs. Of course, this is a Speed Spotlight so his zero stolen bases make this a sort of unintended victory (it was noted Varsho had better power outcomes in his future).

This time around, the spotlight is on Jace Peterson. He’s currently on the COVID-list. It’s unconfirmed if he had a positive test or merely interacted with someone who has (i.e., Christian Yelich). For most players, recovery has ranged from two days to two weeks. Prior to landing on the shelf, Peterson was finally showing an understanding of how to use his promising plate discipline to extract better outcomes. Adjustments have unlocked a healthier launch angle and career best maximum exit velocity. His average exit velocity remains roughly league average.

Peterson’s strengths as a ballplayer remain his flexibility and acumen. While only a 64th percentile runner per Statcast’s sprint speed metric, Peterson is adept at picking his spots. Since 2017, he’s 28-for-32 on the bases in 791 plate appearances. Although that implies just over 20 steals per full season, that could understate his potential impact. His 16.8 percent walk rate is one of the highest in the league among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Those ahead of him are big name sluggers. Even with some regression baked in, he now projects to reach base at a .345 OBP clip.

He’s also hitting for better power. As noted, he’s always had league average pop. In the past, it was wasted on ground balls. Now he’s getting more lift without selling out in such a way that it affects in other outcomes. In fact, he’s cut down on his swinging strike rate this season. Assuming a smooth recovery from COVID, Peterson is poised to resume his role batting sixth in the lineup.