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Kirby Yates
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Saves and Steals

The Trade Deadline Approaches

by Brad Johnson
Updated On: July 24, 2019, 4:40 pm ET

The One True Trade Deadline is one week away. For the first time, teams must complete ALL their reliever shopping with two months left in the season. The next seven days are going to be busy. Let’s quickly recap the market.

Closers on the block: Will Smith, Kirby Yates, Ken Giles, Alex Colome, Shane Greene, Ian Kennedy, Mychal Givens, Sergio Romo

Could be shopped: Felipe Vazquez, Edwin Diaz, Raisel Iglesias, Hansel Robles, Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Roenis Elias, Chris Martin/Jose Leclerc

That’s eight teams worth of closers likely to be traded plus another eight who could conceivably be sent packing. The conclusion? Almost nobody is safe! Our lovely closer tiers might need to be completely redrafted post-deadline.

In addition to the guys on the market, several contenders are thought to be buying closers – namely the Phillies, Braves, Twins, Red Sox, and Rays. Add the Yankees, Indians, Brewers, and Astros to the list. Aroldis Chapman, Brad Hand, and Roberto Osuna have struggled lately, although not so much as to cause panic. The Brewers would still like more depth so Josh Hader can be used flexibly. And don’t forget the Dodgers. They need late-inning relievers too even if Kenley Jansen has a firm hand on the ninth inning.

With trade talk out of the way, shall we go to the tiers?

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Tier 1: The Upper Elite (2)

Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres

Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers

Prior to last Wednesday, every run allowed by Hader was via a homer. A couple unearned runs on three hits ruined that fun stat, although it’s still true for earned runs. In any case, 16.62 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9 will yield elite results even with 1.70 HR/9.


Tier 2: The Lower Elite (10)

Felipe Vazquez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees

Roberto Osuna, Houston Astros

Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers

Will Smith, San Francisco Giants

Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Diaz, New York Mets

Brad Hand, Cleveland Indians

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Craig Kimbrel, Chicago Cubs

Chapman is back on velocity watch almost a year to the date of his struggles last season. His fastball sat at a mere 96.3 mph – quite slow for Chapman. Since the start of July, he’s posted a 9.53 ERA with 12.71 K/9 and 11.12 BB/9. Granted, this is a sample of 5.2 innings. Still, the Yankees have twice demoted him from closer duties in past seasons due to similar slumps. It’s time to pick up Zack Britton as a handcuff.

Osuna is also in the midst of a 5.2 inning slump. Unlike Chapman, his 11.12 K/9 and 3.18 BB/9 mark this as a fluke. Despite a 6.35 ERA over the span, he hasn’t allowed more than one run in an outing. Ryan Pressly is dealing with a sore knee.

Earlier in the year, I warned readers that Hand’s success depended on an unreal (as in, it wasn’t real) ability to avoid home runs. Sure enough, he’s regressed to a normal 1.06 HR/9. Over the last month, he’s allowed 4.05 HR/9 along with a 9.00 ERA. Don’t fret too much. His 19.13 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9 over the span indicate that, like Osuna, Hand will be fine.

Kimbrel has battled a few walks, but he’s otherwise looked like his normal self. In fact, the walks were always a part of his game.

Tier 3: Core Performers (6)

Liam Hendriks, Oakland Athletics

Luke Jackson, Atlanta Braves

Shane Greene, Detroit Tigers

Hansel Robles, Los Angeles Angels

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati Reds

Jackson has gotten away with some ugly outings lately. It could be enough to convince the Braves leadership of a need to acquire Yates, Giles, or another Proven Closer. In my opinion, they have greater need for setup relievers. Playing in the second-tier market for guys like Colome or Greene makes more sense to me.

Robles continues to post positive outcomes (2.70 ERA) despite middling peripherals (4.22 xFIP). So long as he continues to prevent home runs – a trait he’s never shown in the past – he’s a viable closer. Now is a great time to sell high in fantasy leagues. Your stashed shares of Ty Buttrey may yet yield fruit.

In the 10-day span ending July 22, Martinez was called upon seven times. Unsurprisingly, he pitched poorly, allowing an 8.10 ERA in the process. There is resounding evidence that Martinez pitches much better with rest. Andrew Miller nabbed a few save opportunities on days when Martinez rested. Giovanny Gallegos could (and probably should) enter the ninth inning conversation.

Iglesias is cursed with the same slump we’re seeing in Osuna and Hand. His 11.12 K/9 and 3.97 BB/9 are par for the course, but he’s been stung for home runs lately. In the last month, he has a 9.53 ERA with 3.97 HR/9. Lorenzen picked up a two-inning save on Saturday.

Tier 4: Mess Hall (8)

Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals

Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins

Alex Colome, Chicago White Sox

Hector Neris, Philadelphia Phillies

Greg Holland, Arizona Diamondbacks

Emilio Pagan, Oliver Drake, Diego Castillo, Tampa Bay Rays

Chris Martin, Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers

Wade Davis, Scott Oberg, Colorado Rockies

Kennedy and Rogers limped through the week. Kennedy didn’t help his trade value by allowing a couple runs in 3.1 innings. Rogers likely cemented the Twins upcoming acquisition of a closer by coughing up four runs in five frames.

Colome is likely to lose his job in the next week as few contenders would consider him a closer. While he’s induced tidy results including a 2.33 ERA, he’s needed an unlikely .153 BABIP to pull it off. His 4.70 xFIP suggests there some pain ahead for whoever acquires him. And don’t think prospective buyers are unaware!

The Rays patchwork bullpen has let them down of late. The club has copious depth in the upper minors – more than enough to hire themselves a steadier closer rather than continue suffering the vagaries of a committee.

Leclerc has pitched relatively well lately – perhaps enough for the Rangers to showcase him in late-inning appearances over the next week.

Brad Johnson

You can read more from Brad Johnson on NBC Sports Edge, FanGraphs, and RotoFanatic. Find him on Patreon and Twitter @BaseballATeam.