Happy 4th of July weekend to everyone out there. May it be filled with celebration, happiness, barbecues, fireworks and, of course, baseball. Nothing says Americana like grilling up some burgers and dogs while catching a ball game with friends and family. You World Cup aficionados can put your every-four-year soccer enthusiasm on hold, please.
With the halfway mark of the season having been reached and the All Star break just a week away, it’s time for one of those big State of the Closers addresses where we just hit on every team’s bullpen and clue you in on what’s happening right now and what could/should be happening down the road. We saw a big trade already go down between the Cubs and the A’s this weekend and there will be plenty more coming over the course of the next month. You can bet there will be a number of relievers changing uniforms.
So slap some mustard on that hot dog, spruce it up with a little sauerkraut and get settled in. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover here. We’ll start with the American League here and shortly afterwards, we’ll release the National League.
Baltimore Orioles – Zach Britton has really taken to the closer role since he notched his first save on May 15. Since that day, he’s earned 12 saves while posting a 1.96 ERA and a 20:5 K:BB over 23 innings. While it’s possible that Buck Showalter may prefer a right-handed closer so that he can use Britton more situational, it hardly seems like something he needs to tinker with here. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You should be confident in Britton has he has well-earned his role with the team, but just be ready to move quickly should you start hearing things about the Orioles being in the market for relief help.
Boston Red Sox – There’s no doubt that Koji Uehara is the unquestioned closer in Boston. He’s got 18 saves, a 1.40 ERA, a 0.75 WHIP and an outstanding 49:5 K:BB over 38.2 innings this season. But while he cruises through the ninth inning on most nights, Uehara does have a couple of red flags right now. First of all, there’s the injury history. The 2012 season wasn’t kind to him and between a variety of ailments which include a shoulder problem, he only threw 36 innings, which brings us to our second red flag, the innings increase from 2012 to 2013. He made 73 appearances and threw 74.1 innings, a career high for him. Between the injuries and the near 100-percent innings increase, Uehara’s shoulder could be in trouble. There was talk of it early in the season and he has been dealing with some arm fatigue recently, so it’s not like this is coming out of left field for you. If the Sox become sellers near the deadline and there’s a call for relievers, they could deal him away which would put Edward Mujica in line for some saves work.
Chicago White Sox – What a mess! The last guy to officially be named the team’s closer was Ronald Belisario who promptly tallied more blown saves opportunities than he recorded saves. Obviously his term as the closer was cut short. So that leaves them with the dreaded closer-by-committee and Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Javy Guerra are now all vying for saves chances. Putnam seems to be the most-favored right now but considering his high walk rate, he may be held back at times. The Pale Hose aren’t making the playoffs this year so they can afford to leave things as they are and see if anyone takes a step ahead of the rest. Consider it to be a fairly volatile situation.
Cleveland Indians – When manager Terry Francona removed John Axford, he opted to go with a committee approach using Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw but he also hinted that Axford could also see some work and be given the chance to re-take the job. Obviously Axford has since failed to impress and the job was wavered between Shaw and Allen over the last few weeks with Allen seeming to be the preferred choice at the moment. Should Cleveland move closer to the top in the AL Central, they could be in the market for a more proven closer, but they won’t make a move until they know they need to.
Detroit Tigers – Say what you want about Joe Nathan, but he’s got the best job security of any closer sporting a 6.16 ERA. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus just can’t seem to pull the trigger. Maybe he doesn’t want to upend the middle relief corps and choose between Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque, maybe he’s just sitting patiently and waiting for Joel Hanrahan to arrive. Whatever the case may be, it still means that Nathan has a job closing for the Tigers. Now obviously this won’t last. It can’t last. Not if the Tigers have any hope of advancing to the World Series. If none of the in-house options are doing it for them, then maybe we shop outside. We’re a little closer to more teams deciding whether they will be buyers or sellers so expect the Tigers to start getting a little more aggressive in the trade market.
Houston Astros – This has been another ugly situation for fantasy owners as it’s just been a hodge-podge for most of the first half with Chad Qualls finally settling in just a few short weeks ago. He’s recently thrown six-straight scoreless appearances, but the problem with the Astros is that he notched only one save in that span. You can’t really rely on him even as a second closer. If he’s not racking up the saves, then he better be killing with the strikeouts, something Qualls isn’t really doing. Careful though as he makes for a very nice trade chip for the Astros and if he ends up on another team, he’s looking at a job in middle relief. Should he be moved, you’ve got this collective group of Anthony Bass, Jose Veras, and Josh Fields but I think I’d rather play Russian Roulette than have to choose between these clowns.
Los Angeles Angels – Let’s face it, with Ernesto Frieri finally out of Dodge, Joe Smith owners can breathe a little easier knowing that manager Mike Scioscia isn’t going back to that well for a tenth time. Sure, Jason Grilli is now in-house, but Scioscia is one of those guys whose trust needs to be earned and it’s going to take a significant run of scoreless outings from Grilli and a whole lot of disgustingness from Smith in order for that change to be made. The rest of the crew, such as men like Kevin Jepsen, will stay on the back-burner. Could the Angels deal for an established closer? They sure could. But that’s something to be monitored, not something that should be freaking Smith owners out.
Kansas City Royals -- Probably the easiest tam to write up as it’s all Greg Holland all of the time and there’s nothing about him that makes you unhappy as a fantasy owner. The numbers are fantastic, from ERA to strikeout rate to ground ball rate. Across the board, the guy is consistently awesome. His job security id phenomenal, the Royals aren’t trading him at all and he’s always going to see a decent amount of save opportunities. If you own him, you hold him. Hold him tight. He’s going to be a huge asset for years to come still.
Minnesota Twins – Glen Perkins is one of the few lefty closers out there who has both the talent and the job security to put your paranoid fears behind you. All of his numbers, from a 3.31 ERA (1.92 FIP) to his 11.72 K/9 to a 2.06 SIERA (strikeout independent ERA) point towards him not only keeping the job, but excelling at it as well. Even if the Twins decide to sell off a few parts, it seems unlikely that Perkins would be one of them unless they got an offer they couldn’t refuse.
New York Yankees – While there may have been a few concerns early on in the year, David Robertson has really taken ownership of the job. It’s not an easy thing to do, taking the baton from a legend like Mariano Rivera, but Robertson, after a brief stint on the DL, is killing it with 20 saves, a 2.73 ERA (1.90 FIP), a 16.38 K/9 and a 51.9-percent ground ball rate. Shawn Kelley did an admirable job filling in for him while he was down, but there was never any question regarding Robertson taking the job back. Whther the Yankees end up buyers or sellers (most likely buyers, obviously), Robertson’s job is secure.
Oakland A’s – It sure took a while, but manager Bob Melvin finally settled on a closer in lefty Sean Doolittle after the disastrous run by Jim Johnson and the horrible committee approach that followed. He’s earned 12 saves since falling into the mix and has put up a 2.83 ERA (1.29 FIP) with an absolutely insane 60:2 K:BB over just 41.1 innings. He’s run into a hiccup every now and then, but nothing that any other reliever doesn’t go through from time to time. He’s been the most stable arm in that pen this season, so there doesn’t seem to be much concern of a change moving forward.
Seattle Mariners – For the first time in a long time, the Mariners are very much in the thick of things and their bullpen, which ranks eighth in the majors in WAR, has very much been a major part of it. Fernando Rodney, who all too often gets left for dead in fantasy drafts, has been a huge boost to the Mariners with 24 saves and a 2.13 ERA over 33.1 innings. While his K/9 has taken a slight hit from last year’s 11.07 to this year’s 10.26, he’s actually posting a much improved 3.45 K/BB thanks to a seriously reduced walk rate. He also hasn’t been giving up the home runs like he used to. Because the Mariners are very much in the race still and most of the signs point to them being continued buyers on the trade market, there hasn’t been much talk of dealing Rodney at all. And with the way he’s performed, there’s certainly been no talk about bringing in someone from the outside. Continue to feel confident with Rodney as one of your closers moving forward.
Tampa Bay Rays – Not that the closer’s job has been the root of the Rays’ problems this season, but they probably wish they still had Rodney right about now. Going back to the Grant Balfour well has been a disaster for them and they are currently stuck in one of Joe Maddon’s patented committees. That means your guess as to who is going to get the save chance each night is about as good as mine. Everything Maddon does with his bullpen at this point is situational and the circumstances dictate the closer of the night more than anything else. While the team has names like Juan Oviedo and Joel Peralta on staff, Maddon seems to have settled in on a lefty-righty partnership of Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger. He still insists that Balfour remains in the mix, but it seems to be the other two, as of late, who are getting most of the work. The Rays aren’t in the market for anyone right now and are sure to be happy with this group moving forward this season. Perhaps they’ll jump into the free agent market next year, but this season is probably a throw-away for them at this point.
Texas Rangers – While he, along with the entire Texas team, has had a few stumbling blocks along the way, Joakim Soria has been a first-rate option for the Rangers this season. He’s notched 15 saves thus far and has a 2.93 ERA (0.72 FIP) with a 39:5 K:BB over 27.1 innings. However, while his job security has been rock-solid to date, things might be getting turned upside down for the 30-year-old ninth inning specialist. The recent call-up of Neftali Feliz, a potential alternative to Soria in the ninth, has fueled speculation that when the Rangers ultimately admit to being sellers on the market this season, Soria will be one of the first to go. The team apparently feels good about Feliz’ recovery from Tommy John surgery and seem willing to turn the job over to him should they find a buyer for Soria. Now the only question left is where will Soria end up if he does go on the trading block? He certainly has the ability to continue closing out games for someone, but if a top team already locked in with a closer wants to bolster their bullpen that much, then they’ll invest in Soria to fill any gap left in the seventh or eighth inning. Bummer for fantasy owners though who could be losing a huge asset in the second half.
Toronto Blue Jays – Once Casey Janssen came off the disabled list in late-April, the Jays haven’t looked back with regard to their closing situation. Sergio Santos held his own for a little while but was ultimately done in by his own injuries and once they hit him hard enough to slow him down, Janssen was ready. He’s only thrown 19 innings this season, but he’s nailed down 13 saves and done it with an impressive 0.95 ERA and a 13:1 K:BB. Obviously the strikeout rate is on the lower end of what you’d like to have, but as long as he gets the primary job done of locking in saves and keeping runs off the board, we can work around the minimal Ks.
We’ll be right back with the National League as well as a full updated look at the Closer Grid. Stay tuned.