Closer Encounters: Trade Deadline Upheaval

Closer Encounters: Trade Deadline Upheaval

This article is part of our Closer Encounters series.

Major League Baseball's recent trade deadline didn't disappoint, as more than one third of teams made trades involving relief pitchers that significantly impacted bullpen roles. The Padres, Brewers, Braves, Twins, Yankees, Blue Jays and Phillies made the biggest headlines, but there were some less heralded trades that created opportunities for save speculation for a handful of teams like the Orioles, Angels, Athletics and Cubs.

The Dodgers (Chris Martin), Mets (Mychal Givens), Cardinals (Chris Stratton), Astros (Will Smith), Rays (Garrett Cleavinger) and White Sox (Jake Diekman) added to their arm barns for their respective playoff pushes, but their moves aren't likely to have much fantasy impact outside of extremely deep leagues. The Royals (Luke Weaver, Anthony Misiewicz) also made a few under-the-radar acquisitions with the future in mind.

With relievers in high demand, there were also some surprising non-trades of players who were expected to be dealt but wound up remaining with their respective clubs. Daniel Bard was often the topic of trade rumors, but he inked a two-year extension with Colorado instead, while the Rockies also held onto upcoming free-agents Alex Colome and Carlos Estevez. There may have not been much interest in Ian Kennedy, who has struggled for the Diamondbacks this season ahead of his upcoming free agency. 13-year veteran Steve Cishek stayed with Washington despite a solid season and plenty of high-leverage experience, including 133 career saves, though the Nationals recently

Major League Baseball's recent trade deadline didn't disappoint, as more than one third of teams made trades involving relief pitchers that significantly impacted bullpen roles. The Padres, Brewers, Braves, Twins, Yankees, Blue Jays and Phillies made the biggest headlines, but there were some less heralded trades that created opportunities for save speculation for a handful of teams like the Orioles, Angels, Athletics and Cubs.

The Dodgers (Chris Martin), Mets (Mychal Givens), Cardinals (Chris Stratton), Astros (Will Smith), Rays (Garrett Cleavinger) and White Sox (Jake Diekman) added to their arm barns for their respective playoff pushes, but their moves aren't likely to have much fantasy impact outside of extremely deep leagues. The Royals (Luke Weaver, Anthony Misiewicz) also made a few under-the-radar acquisitions with the future in mind.

With relievers in high demand, there were also some surprising non-trades of players who were expected to be dealt but wound up remaining with their respective clubs. Daniel Bard was often the topic of trade rumors, but he inked a two-year extension with Colorado instead, while the Rockies also held onto upcoming free-agents Alex Colome and Carlos Estevez. There may have not been much interest in Ian Kennedy, who has struggled for the Diamondbacks this season ahead of his upcoming free agency. 13-year veteran Steve Cishek stayed with Washington despite a solid season and plenty of high-leverage experience, including 133 career saves, though the Nationals recently lost Tanner Rainey (elbow) for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Detroit was likely asking too much in return for Gregory Soto, but it's surprising that Andrew Chafin and Joe Jimenez are also still with the Tigers.

Prior to writing this article, I asked Twitter which teams and/or relief pitchers you wanted me to highlight after the trade deadline. Let's dive into your requests below!

Trade Deadline Impact on Certain Closer Roles

Milwaukee Brewers - Devin Williams recently saw his 30-game scoreless streak (which dated back to May 10) come to an end, but he's the biggest beneficiary of Milwaukee trading Josh Hader to San Diego. Williams hasn't really been at the forefront of headlines since he won 2020 National League Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year honors, but the right-hander made his first All-Star team this season after a truly dominant first-half. His season to date has simply been spectacular. Through 40.2 innings, he has a 1.77 ERA (1.66 FIP), 1.04 WHIP, a strikeout rate over 40 percent and a 19.4 percent swinging strike percentage that ranks fourth among qualified relievers. He leads the league with 25 holds and has even tallied six saves thus far, though he'll likely earn many more now that he'll presumably step into the primary closer role for Milwaukee. Williams' fantasy value should skyrocket, as he has the talent to be a top five closer for the rest of the season.

The Brewers added Taylor Rogers in the Hader deal, a reliever the Padres recently removed from their closer role prior to the trade due to his 8.03 ERA and 1.78 WHIP since June 28. Rogers ranks second in the league with 28 saves, but he's also tied for the league lead with seven blown saves, and his recent form suggests he may slot into a secondary role with Milwaukee behind Williams. However, those in deeper leagues may wish to hold onto the southpaw, who has been excellent over the course of his career. A handful of saves over the rest of the season is not out of the question for Rogers, but he's probably a drop in 12 team leagues or less.

The Brewers also acquired Matt Bush from the Rangers and Trevor Rosenthal from the Giants for depth. Rosenthal has yet to make his 2022 debut after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery last year as well as a subsequent surgery to repair a torn hip labrum. Milwaukee is targeting a return in late August for Rosenthal, who boasts 132 career saves despite not pitching since the abbreviated 2020 campaign.  Both he and Bush will join Rogers, Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee as part of the high-leverage bridge to Williams. Despite Hader's absence, this is a deep and experienced bullpen that can be effective during the playoffs, even after Milwaukee sacrificed quality for quantity.

Minnesota Twins - Minnesota was the only American League Central team who significantly improved their roster and playoff chances at the trade deadline. Not only did the Twins boost their starting rotation with Tyler Mahle, they added to a bullpen that ranks 16th by ERA (3.95) by acquiring Jorge Lopez and Michael Fulmer. Minnesota only recorded two saves as a team in 22 July games, but their need for a closer was clear. Emilio Pagan was ineffective in the role, while outstanding rookie Jhoan Duran is better served in the highest leverage spots despite going 6-for-6 in save chances thus far. Lopez logged a save in his Twins debut on August 3 and now has 20 in 24 chances this season along with impressive ratios.

Though the cost to acquire him from Baltimore was four pitching prospects, Lopez is under team control through the 2024 season and figures to be the Twins' primary closer for the foreseeable future. Duran is still worth rostering in deeper leagues for ratio support, strikeouts and the occasional ancillary save, but he can be dropped in shallow leagues.

Fulmer was a short-term acquisition since he's a free-agent at the end of this year, but the former starter has been impressive since shifting to a full-time relief role. Consider his career 2.77 ERA as a reliever compared to 4.12 as a starting pitcher. Although he's sporting a career-worst 11.6 percent walk rate, Fulmer is among the league's leaders in the holds category with 19 and has only allowed one home run all season. He's a quality high leverage-addition for the Twins and will slot in alongside Duran and Griffin Jax.

Baltimore Orioles - On the other side of the Jorge Lopez trade, Baltimore likely thought their fourth-ranked bullpen by ERA (3.04) could remain competitive despite the deal. Shortly after the trade, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde informed Nathan Ruiz of The Baltimore Sun of his intention to utilize a matchups-based approach in the ninth inning:

Felix Bautista, Cionel Perez and Dillon Tate have all been outstanding for Baltimore this season, but Hyde later intimated that Bautista is the head of his closer committee:

Bautista is the primary pickup from Baltimore and it's likely he's already rostered in deeper leagues due to his fantastic season thus far. The 27-year-old rookie has 60 strikeouts in 44.2 innings (12.1 K/9) with an 0.87 WHIP, three saves and 13 holds through 47 appearances. His 14.9 percent swinging strike percentage is currently higher than Jordan Romano, Tanner Houck, Camilo Doval and Clay Holmes. Even if he doesn't get all the saves for Baltimore, the fact the Orioles are more competitive means 8-to-12 saves are not out of the question rest of season.

The implication that Perez could see save chances against left-handed parts of the batting order is interesting since he's been slightly more effective against right-handed hitters (.209 BAA, .610 OPS) this season than lefties (.255 BAA, .619 OPS). Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Tate is the most experienced Baltimore reliever with 156 career innings. If Bautista shows any signs of struggle — he's allowed a home run in two of his last three appearances — Tate is probably next in line for the primary save share.

Los Angeles Angels - The Angels made perhaps the most surprising trade on the relief market front when they sent Raisel Iglesias to Atlanta merely nine months after signing him to a four-year contract. 38-year-old veteran Jesse Chavez was part of the return for the Angels, who went from having one of the most clear-cut closing situations to one of uncertainty. Lefty Jose Quijada earned the Angels' first save sans Iglesias, but Chavez, Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup are candidates to close as well. Chavez is the most experienced option by far with over 1,000 big league innings to his name, but he only has eight career saves. He's more likely to work in a multi-inning relief role between the fifth and eighth innings. Tepera is coming off the best season of his career between the Cubs and White Sox last year. With Archie Bradley (elbow) out until late-August, Tepera's 13 career saves lead the way among the team's healthy relievers. Loup is a southpaw who has strong platoon splits against same-handed hitters, but he seems unlikely to join the mix for saves.

Bradley is a free-agent after this season, so I wouldn't put it past the Angels to use him in the ninth inning once he's healthy sometime during the final month. Keep him on your radar in a few weeks as more news breaks regarding his recovery. Tepera is already signed through next season, so I think he's the favorite for saves over these next few weeks. This would keep Quijada and Jimmy Herget's arbitration costs down as they approach their respective windows.

Philadelphia Phillies - I discussed Philadelphia's seemingly annual need for a bullpen upgrade in my relief market primer prior to the trade deadline, and they followed through by acquiring David Robertson from the Cubs. Since mid-June, interim manager Rob Thomson has been employing a closer committee between Seranthony Dominguez, Brad Hand and occasionally Corey Knebel, who was the team's primary closer for two-and-a-half months before he hit a rough patch and was subsequently demoted to a lower-leverage role. After securing the Phillies' most recent save on August 3, Robertson figures to head the committee along with Dominguez if not take over the closer role fully. The 37-year-old has been outstanding this season, with a 31.5 percent strikeout rate, 1.02 WHIP and 15 saves in 20 chances. He rejoins Philadelphia, the team he pitched 6.2 innings for in 2019 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, Dominguez has five wins and six saves as the Phillies' highest-leverage reliever as measured by gmLI (1.68) and WPA (1.85). I'll forecast a 75/25 save split between Robertson and Dominguez moving forward, which will allow Dominguez the flexibility to work in a more high-leverage role against the toughest lineup pockets in the late innings.

Chicago Cubs - The departure of Robertson, Mychal Givens (Mets) and Scott Effross (Yankees) probably has manager David Ross looking around the clubhouse like the John Travolta gif. Rowan Wick remains the most likely beneficiary for saves, with four on the season in addition to five holds. He served as the Cubs' closer earlier this year when Robertson missed time on the COVID-IL. Unfortunately, Wick may do fantasy managers more harm than good, as his 10 percent walk rate and 1.73 WHIP are likely to make things interesting if he were to see save chances again. Working in Wick's favor is the inexperience of his bullpen mates. Erich Uelmen, Brandon Hughes and Kervin Castro have 51 innings combined at the big league level, while Michael Rucker and Steven Brault do not inspire much confidence. Unless you're absolutely desperate for saves, this is a bullpen to avoid rest of season.

Oakland Athletics - Zach Jackson and A.J. Puk have earned one save apiece since Lou Trivino was sent to the Yankees as part of the Frankie Montas trade. Jackson, who leads the American League with 23 holds, was actually in line for both save chances, but he served up a solo home run to Mickey Moniak in the bottom of the ninth inning on Thursday to cut the A's lead to one. Puk then entered the game and held on for the final out and his third save this season. Puk is in excellent form, allowing just one earned run (0.71 ERA) with three saves and seven holds since July 1. The southpaw has an impressive 0.71 WHIP and 14:4 K:BB over 12.2 innings since that date. However, Jackson has been nearly as good in that span, posting a 1.46 ERA and 0.89 WHIP while fanning 17 over 12.1 innings. It appears both will factor in for saves down the stretch, perhaps with a slight lean in Jackson's favor, while Dany Jimenez attempts to join this potential three-headed closer committee after missing six weeks with a strained shoulder. Jimenez struck out the side in his first outing back on August 4.

Miami Marlins - The one relief pitcher trade prediction that I actually got right was Miami shipping Anthony Bass to Toronto. Zach Pop was also included in the deal, which created a temporary void in the mid-to-late innings for Miami. Fortunately, one of Miami's reinforcements recently returned in Anthony Bender, while another, Cole Sulser (lat), has struck out six over 2.1 innings thus far on his minor-league rehab assignment. Veteran Dylan Floro has been incredible over the last month-and-a-half with a 1.06 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 15:3 K:BB ratio over 17 innings since June 18. Not to mention Tanner Scott, who has held down Miami's closer role since June. Scott's command was wild last month, but he may have been asked to do too much:

Miami's bullpen will grow even more crowded once Sulser returns, but if there's anything we've learned from Don Mattingly in recent years, it's that he likes to stick with one closer. Keep a close eye on Scott's performances over his next few appearances. If the walks persist, Mattingly may have no choice but to turn the closer role over to Floro or Bender, the latter of whom served as the team's Opening Day closer earlier this year. If Scott rebounds over the next week or so, I expect him to hold the job for Miami. At least those who wish to speculate on saves have several options to choose from here. I'll be scooping up Bender and Sulser where I can in the leagues where I need saves.

Toronto Blue Jays - This is the second straight year Toronto has made not-so-splashy but important trades to improve its bullpen. I briefly covered the Bass and Pop acquisitions above. Bass has been phenomenal in 2022 and immediately slots into a setup role alongside Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza as the bridge to closer Jordan Romano. Pop is a solid, albeit unspectacular, middle-relief arm that can eat innings behind starters Yusei Kikuchi or Ross Stripling (hip), who tend not to go deep into games.

Another trade that could potentially pay off huge for Toronto is the acquisition of Mitch White from the Dodgers. White was recently optioned to Triple-A Buffalo but is expected to start this weekend with Stripling on the shelf. He has the chance to stick on the big-league club in a piggyback role once Stripling returns, or the Blue Jays could even go with a six-man rotation to keep their top starters fresh for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Romano has been in top form since early June and is not in jeopardy of losing the closer role in Toronto.

San Diego Padres - I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Josh Hader in this article, but I don't necessarily think there's anything to discuss. He'll be San Diego's closer through next season.

Other Closer Situations Worth Monitoring

Texas Rangers - Those who rostered Brett Martin quickly found out how relief roles can change in the blink of an eye. After securing three saves in four days in early July, Martin has allowed eight earned runs and three homers over his last five appearances. He's obviously no longer in the mix for saves, especially with how Jonathan Hernandez has been performing for the Rangers. Hernandez earned his second save of the season Thursday night, striking out Tim Anderson and Luis Robert in a perfect ninth inning to preserve a one-run win for Texas. He generated seven whiffs on 12 pitches in the contest, with three coming on his upper-90's sinker.

Joe Barlow (blister) should rejoin the mix for saves over the coming week or so, but performance will dictate who gets the majority of save chances over the rest of the season. Don't forget that Barlow was removed from the closer role prior to his injury after struggling in early July. Matt Moore is a dark-horse option for saves for those in deeper formats. He appears to be next in line at the moment as Hernandez's setup man, but that may be short-lived once Barlow returns. Jose Leclerc also returned from Tommy John surgery this season, but his appearances usually go beyond one inning and have mainly come in middle relief. Hernandez and Barlow are the two Rangers to roster for those speculating on saves the rest of this season. 

Pittsburgh Pirates - David Bednar was recently placed on the 15-day injured list with lower back inflammation. He had three rough outings in July, so the time off will give him an opportunity to recalibrate for a return in mid-to-late August. In Bednar's absence, Wil Crowe stands to benefit from more high-leverage opportunities. The 27-year-old righty leads Pittsburgh with 14 holds and has already tallied three saves on the season. Rookie Yerry De Los Santos has stumbled lately after logging back-to-back saves for the Pirates to close out the month of June. De Los Santos has allowed seven runs (five earned) over his last seven appearances and has seen his ERA rise from 2.65 to 3.86 during that span. He'll likely try to work through his struggles in a setup role until Bednar returns, while Crowe's short-term value increases for the next couple of weeks.

New York Yankees - Clay Holmes had a 7.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and two blown saves in July and has allowed eight walks over his last eight appearances (7.2 innings). Perhaps he's just hitting a wall after pitching 45.2 innings in 45 games thus far? It's not like he's been terrible, but his latest results at least warrant a mention of Aroldis Chapman, who has pitched four straight scoreless outings for New York. Since the All-Star break, he's struck out eight with only one walk through 5.1 innings, though he's been pitching the sixth and seventh innings in lower-leverage situations. However, I wouldn't count out the possibility of Aaron Boone giving Chapman another shot as the Yankees' closer now that he has some scoreless momentum on his side. Boone could also turn to Lou Trivino or Scott Effross for saves. Both were recently acquired by the Yankees to bolster the team's bullpen depth.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Rufe
Ryan manages the MLB Closer Grid and authors 'Closer Encounters'. He also contributes to the MLB draft kit and has been helping RotoWire subscribers through our 'Ask An Expert' feature since 2014. He's an NFBC enthusiast.
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