The Next-In-Lines: Closers by Mike Axisa June 15, 2011 We’re now into dump season, when closers start to lose jobs for good or get traded, movement like that. Setup guys and high-end middle relievers will suddenly become that much more fantasy relevant in the coming weeks, and we’ve already seen guys like Mark Melancon, Jordan Walden, Fernando Salas, and Sergio Santos go from sleeper to must-own. Let’s look at some closers currently on the chopping block and the guys that are next-in-line behind them… Closer: Heath Bell Next-In-Line: Mike Adams, Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson The Padres are currently 30-39 with a -23 run differential, ten losses back in the division and nine in the wildcard, so it’s very likely that Bell will be on the move at the trade deadline. The problem is that one or both of Adams and Qualls might be on the way out as well since quality relievers are always in demand and they have enough trade value to bring back a solid return (Adams in particular, since he’s under team control next year). GM Jed Hoyer has certainly shown a willingness to move relievers for help elsewhere, and we no have reason to believe that won’t continue. Gregerson could be the last Padres standing within six weeks, though he’s currently on the disabled list (oblique) and his performance isn’t nearly as stellar as it was the last two seasons. His strikeout rate has gone from double digits to just 4.16 K/9 even though he’s still get way more swings and misses than the average pitcher (12.5%). Perhaps some lost fastball velocity and increase slider velocity is the culprit, since there’s not much separation between the two pitches. San Diego could be open for business any day now, and any of the three next-in-line guys have a chance to fall into ninth inning duty in due time. Closer: Matt Capps Next-In-Line: Joe Nathan, Glen Perkins With nine wins in their last eleven games, the Twins are surging … and they’re still eleven games back of the wildcard spot. That’s not impossible, just unlikely. It feels like Capps have been on the trade block for a few years now and he’s again a prime candidate to be moved, assuming some recent wrist soreness has no lingering effect. The obvious candidate to replace him in the event of a trade is the guy Capps took over for in the first place, though Nathan was brutal earlier in the year (5.50 FIP) and is currently out with soreness in his rebuilt elbow. He’s far from a guarantee. Perkins as been a pleasant surprise in an otherwise ugly bullpen situation, posting studly peripherals (2.21 FIP) without much of a platoon split thanks in part to some newfound velocity. A Twins’ fan friend of mine said that Ron Gardenhire “seems genuinely unaware” that Jose Mijares can’t get righties out, so we can’t dismiss him as a potential Capps replacement. Closer: Francisco Rodriguez Next-In-Line: Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato The Mets are another team in the midst of a hot streak (21-16 over their last 37 games), but I think most of us expect new GM Sandy Alderson to move K-Rod if the opportunity presents itself even though his team is just four losses out of a playoff spot. The option ($17.5M salary or $3.5M buyout) is ugly but the performance isn’t (2.81 ERA, 2.93 FIP), and given the bullpen woes of several contending teams with money to spare (coughYankeescough), someone just might bite. Izzy has been a bit of a revelation as a setup man, though his 4.90 FIP does a better job of painting the picture than his 3.18 ERA. Beato looks like a rare Rule 5 Draft keeper even though he’s struggled mightily since coming off the disabled list last month (20 baserunners, 13 runs in 9.1 IP). He’s a long shot but someone worth keeping in mind if he gets back into a groove. Taylor Buchholz’s latest shoulder ailment takes him out of the closer running for the time being. Closer: Kevin Gregg Next-In-Line: Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson The Orioles aren’t in a playoff race and Gregg is just awful, with a K/BB ratio sitting dangerously close to 1.00 (1.11 to be exact) and three blown saves in his last nine chances. He might not get traded, just demoted instead. Uehara’s K/BB ratio is merely outstanding (6.17) rather than otherworldly like last year (11.0), though he has been a little homer prone (1.52 HR/9). After finishing last season as Showalter’s closer, he’s the obviously next-in-line closer. Johnson has had a dominant year (2.98 FIP, 64% grounders) in middle relief and could be more of a long-term solution. The guy Baltimore signed to close last year, Mike Gonzalez, isn’t a consideration at all.