Last Friday, I wrote about four of the most obvious closer sleepers. If I’m looking for the lowest hanging fruit, my eyes are on the Diamondbacks, Twins, White Sox, and Angels. That leaves us with plenty of other low hanging fruit. You’ll just need to overlook some minor blemishes.
In case you need justification to bargain hunt for closers, here’s my cold take on the subject:
Paying full price for saves can make it challenging to build a dominant roster. Closers are among the most inconsistent of baseball assets. Not only do they have the injury and performance risks typically associated with pitchers, but they also have to remain the best reliever on their particular team. A guy like Hector Neris could stay exactly the same – i.e. acceptable but not exceptional – and lose his job.
Last season, 23 relievers had the closer role and then lost it. That’s excluding the handful of players who had the job, lost the job, and later recovered the job. In 2016, 25 closers were booted from the ninth. Only 21 got the ax in 2015. The good news is that many of those guys – like Tyler Clippard – were always meant to be temporary solutions. A handful of struggling teams often account for over half of the demoted closers.
Three teams appear poised to trade their current closer. NFBC ADPs will be noted in parentheses.
We might as well start with the Rays. They’re the most confusing team to handicap at this point on the calendar. Yes, we know they’ll probably trade Alex Colome (117) somewhere – likely to fill a setup role. It will be an open competition as to who fills his shoes – possibly a free agent like Seung-hwan Oh (503) or Tony Watson (655).
Existing options include Andrew Kittredge (673), Ryne Stanek (685), Austin Pruitt (667), and Nathan Eovaldi (578). Clearly, they’re not on anybody’s radar – and for good reason. Kittredge performed well in 2017. In 20 innings, he posted a sub-2.00 ERA even though his 4.20 FIP and 4.25 xFIP were less impressive. Stanek sits 98 to 99 mph with his fastball. He also served up some insane contact splits including just 3.7 percent soft contact and 44.4 percent hard contact. Pruitt is probably a swingman. Eovaldi is returning from Tommy John surgery.
The Royals bullpen could quickly devolve into the same unpredictable mess if they trade both Kelvin Herrera (208) and Brandon Maurer (550). Herrera is definitely the more likely of the two to inspire a decent return. He struggled a bit with home runs early last season. It reads as a fluke to me. Most of his peripherals were consistent with previous years. Acquiring teams probably prefer to view him as a setup man.
If Kansas City does trade Herrera, Maurer is the only option with closer credentials. The former Padre is incredibly frustrating for fantasy owners – kind of like a Kevin Gregg on annoyobolic roids. He has the stuff of a ninth inning guy, but there’s always something wrong. In 2016, he allowed a near-40 percent hard contact rate – something that only happens to terrible pitchers. Last season, he rebounded to cough up below 30 percent hard contact. However, a 26.2 percent line drive rate led to .361 BABIP. His outings could be classified as either very good or disasterpiece so at least he contains his meltdowns rather than spreading the pain. That’s cold comfort to fantasy owners.
The Marlins situation is a tad different. Brad Ziegler (412) is already a placeholder and doesn’t necessarily need to be traded to lose the ninth inning. Kyle Barraclough (315) was a popular sleeper to take the job last year. He’s in the exact same position now – he’s even going several rounds before the Marlins actual closer. Drew Steckenrider (368) is the other potential choice. He’s also gone before Ziegler.
Command is the shortcoming of both relievers. That’s a tad ironic since Ziegler – a command and control guy – is ahead of them on the depth chart. Barraclough regressed in a bad way last year, dropping about 1 mph on his fastball along with losses to his ground ball, strikeout, and swinging strike rates. He continued to walk over 5.00 BB/9. It’s possible for Barraclough to get away with a high walk rate (see Corey Knebel), but it leaves him with very little margin for error.
Steckenrider had a Knebel-like 14.02 K/9 and 4.67 BB/9 in 34.2 innings. My concern with him is that he leans very heavily on his fastball. It’s a good pitch – somewhere in the plus to double-plus range. Unfortunately, his slider and changeup are below average offerings. Without that offspeed weapon, I worry he’ll be quickly overexposed as the closer.
As I did last Friday, let’s end by taking a quick peek at a bonus bullpen that doesn’t quite fit the bucket. The Red Sox fully expect to contend in 2018, yet it’s not hard to see the fissures upon which the roster may crack. If they find themselves drowning as June turns to July, Craig Kimbrel (45) could be shopped. He’s entering the final season of his current contract after a breakout 2017.
Boston has a few options to back fill for Kimbrel like Joe Kelly (651), Matt Barnes (662), and Tyler Thornburg (recovering from 2016 surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome). My favorite is Carson Smith (597). The righty has missed most of the last two seasons for the usual reason pitchers miss two seasons (i.e. a popped UCL). When he returned late in 2017, he appeared to have his typical command and velocity. Smith combines a bowling ball sinker with a frequently used slider. It’s kind of like if you combined Brad Lidge with Alex Claudio.
Remember, even relievers with a long track record of health have over a 25 percent chance to spend some time on the disabled list. Smith doesn’t necessarily need Kimbrel to be traded to earn a couple saves.
You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam