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Charging the Mound: Very Little Closer Chaos

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Monday, August 1, 2011, at 9:35 PM
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Re: Charging

The trade deadline has come and gone, and you can read plenty of commentary on it here, here or here, among many other places, so I won't rehash that. What's more interesting to me is what didn't happen. The Yankees stood pat, despite being a virtual lock for the postseason and having no reliable starting pitching beyond C.C. Sabathia - unless you'd count on Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes in Texas or Boston. What could they possibly be up to? Other surprisingly inactive teams were the Cubs (only Kosuke Fukudome was moved, but not Aramis Ramirez (has a veto), Carlos Pena or Ryan Dempster), the Royals (Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur, Billy Butler and Joakim Soria are still on the team), the Padres (they moved Mike Adams and Ryan Ludwick but not Heath Bell) the Rangers (they got two quality relievers, but no center fielder), the Orioles (they moved Derrek Lee, but not Jeremy Guthrie), the Rays (they didn't move Johnny Damon, B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann or James Shields) and the Angels (they're two games out, but didn't make any moves).

I have to think there will be some waiver-wire deals this month as a result. In the Yankees' case, once they didn't get Ubaldo Jimenez, there wasn't as much urgency as barring a collapse, they know they'll make the postseason, so getting a player in August makes just as much sense for them. I'm just not sure what's left for them as Dempster, Guthrie and Hiroki Kuroda don't strike me as game changers in that park, the Red Sox already got Erik Bedard and the Rays might not deal Shields in the division.

The next big deadline now is August 31st for trade and then September 1st when the rosters expand. In fact, the entire month of September is kind of like the NFL's Week 17, where you have to drop stars that are sitting out for prospects who are getting the audition and scrubs who are playing out the string. Is there anyone who fits that description? Are we going to see Matthew Moore get a few big-league starts when the Rays shut down Jeremy Hellickson and sit Wade Davis? Is Stephen Strasburg going to build confidence by dominating for 3-4 starts in the majors? Are the Mariners going to go easy on Michael Pineda? Are Lorenzo Cain and Trayvon Robinson going to see regular at-bats?

Jose Bautista was running away with the home run race weeks ago when he hit No. 31, but he's stalled since. Meanwhile, Mike Stanton hit another one today and is up to 25 on the year. I think he's got a chance to catch the leaders especially with players like Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, two of the five guys ahead of him, likely to sit out some games down the stretch if and when the Yanks have the Wild Card locked up. I have a 25:1 ticket on Stanton in Vegas, so I have a particular interest in this. I also have a 100:1 ticket on Justin Upton, but with just 21 homers, there's almost no way he can make up that ground and pass 10-15 players. That would be like hitting a royal flush at the poker table - and it would pay just as much.

There are still a full two months left in the season, and a lot of strong finishes that'll alter our ideas about which players panned out and which flopped. Players like Chris Davis, Dexter Fowler, Jake Peavy, Colby Rasmus and Derrek Lee could all redeem their seasons as quickly as Aramis Ramirez, Cameron Maybin, Dan Uggla and Dustin Pedroia have redeemed theirs. (Not sure if you're aware, but Pedroia has been an absolute monster over the last month, hitting over .400 with eight homers and six steals). Anyone on your radar who might wake up down the stretch?

Finally, I have to mention Randy Moss's alleged retirement. I hope Jason Cole is right that he's only bluffing, because Moss is probably my favorite player since Lawrence Taylor retired, and most inner-circle Hall of Fame receivers have plenty left in the tank at age 34, let alone a top-five all time talent at the position. Mike Salfino did a study focused on how taller receivers age (the answer: poorly), but no older receiver Moss's size has ever had his downfield explosiveness (unless you count T.O. who didn't qualify because he's only 6-3, and T.O. was plenty good at that age). The bottom line: I'm probably in denial like those people who were still drafting Barry Sanders in 2002, but I still think there's a chance Moss plays a significant role for someone this season.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 3:34am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

I have to agree with you - the most striking aspect of the trade deadline was what didn't happen. Peter Schoenke and I talked on Sunday about how there were no newly minted closers to bid on - only guys that might be the next closer in waiting. The Rangers actively preferred the two set-up guys that they got in Uehara and Adams instead of the closers that may or may not have been on the market - not just Heath Bell, but also Andrew Bailey, Leo Nunez, Brandon League and Joakim Soria - who knows just how available they were, but it didn't sound as if anything came close on anyone but Bell. The only full-time closer to be dealt was K-Rod at the All-Star break.

I have to wonder - was this lack of closers getting dealt a reflection of changing opinions on the value of closers across the league, or just a fluke this year? Is there anything we can learn from that to apply to our leagues?

The Yankees - you're right, I think that they were in on Jimenez, and once they decided that the price on him was too high, they just decided that none of the other pitchers available moved the needle for them. Remember Hiroki Kuroda took himself out of the pool, so that's one less guy that might have been better than Colon/Garcia. Apparently Jim Hendry was hanging up the phone anytime a GM mentioned someone other than Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Zambrano. Seriously, he actually took Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson and Sean Marshall off the market. So I doubt that Ryan Dempster was in play, let alone Matt Garza. Had Garza been available, I'm guessing maybe Brian Cashman would have gone after him. But after that, is Jeremy Guthrie really all that more worthy of a playoff start than what they already have? Maybe Edwin Jackson would have fit that bill, but he was gone in a heartbeat once the Cardinals put Colby Rasmus into play. I think we were just in a weird period this year - there was a lack of inventory on quality starting pitching, and a lack of need for relievers, aside from Texas.

But I don't see the August market as much better. Sure, Zambrano will pass through waivers - nobody is claiming that pig of a contract. I guess some trades will happen, because teams will flood the market with waivers, but it's going to be chock full of guys with bad contracts, and not too many guys that are, like, good.

I'm glad that you brought up the "Week 17" effect. The Nats have already announced that they're going to give Jordan Zimmermann 3-to-4 more starts before shutting him down. He came nicely from Tommy John surgery, but it's been a little more bumpy for him lately. Now that Pineda has had some bad starts, maybe the Mariners will change their tune about not shutting him down in September - that and now they're fully out of it. Could the Rockies do something similar with Jhoulys Chacin? They've punted the rest of this season by trading Ubaldo, maybe Chacin gets the kid-glove treatment. Unlike Zimmermann, though, there's no previous injury history that dictates that move.

Matt Moore - I think he'll get called up, but he might work in relief, as did both Hellickson last year and David Price before that. He just got the call to Triple-A recently enough, and of course the Rays are slower than most even after the player has dominated Double-A.

Another September move you might see is the Reds putting Aroldis Chapman in as the closer over Francisco Cordero, even with no injury. This is operating under the presumption that they don't have a run in them to catch the Brewers. Cordero is a free agent at the end of the year. He's not especially dominant, and Chapman is. Unless there's a contract issue with Cordero that would make removing him as the closer a problem with the Players Union (and even then - whatever), the Reds should absolutely make that swap so long as they're out of it and maybe even if they are still in the thick of it in the NL Central.

I'm fully aware of Pedroia's tear - he's one of the reasons why I stayed on top in Y! Friends & Family when Albert Pujols went down. I think it's more than just a coincidence that Pedroia started that run immediately after he went back for that knee exam - the Red Sox were so worried about his knee that there was some thought that he'd need surgery that would keep him out 4-to-6 weeks. Once he got the clearance that he wouldn't need surgery, it's almost as if he was unchained, left to play as hard as he wanted.

Speaking of Pujols, I'm pretty worried about his latest hand injury. Of course, he's not human, so he'll probably be fine in short order even if something significant is revealed. I won't trade him anyhow - nobody took me up on my offer to the league to sell him for $.85 on the dollar last time - seriously, I didn't even get single response, let alone a trade offer.

Final two month redeemers - I'm *still* not giving up on Adam Dunn. I know he is behind every stinking fastball - but why? Phil Hughes was pretty good tonight - and he's been pretty decent since coming back from the DL. I'd trade for Pedro Alvarez if the right opportunity came up.

I wanted to give a special mention to one of Steve Moyer's favorite guys, Jesus Guzman. He's a player that has been blocked from getting a full-time gig for the last few years, in part because he isn't necessarily a good defender, but yet has raked Triple-A pitching regularly. Now he's playing regularly, and tearing it up, with super-prospect Anthony Rizzo back in the minors. He still could get benched again if/when Rizzo gets the call in September, but I always root for guys like Guzman. While most often they become Roberto Petagine, every once in awhile they become Edgar Martinez.

As for Randy Moss - I don't know. Until I know what happened in Minnesota and, more importantly, Tennessee, I can't answer whether his retirement is for real or not. What happened last year? Why did he completely fall off the map and not even get on the field with Tennessee? It had to be more than a personality conflict with Jeff Fisher, right? Maybe there's something physical going on that prevented him from playing his best? Even this article by Jason Cole - Moss isn't quoted here, and much of the speculation is drawn from what appears to be his (Cole's) suppositions about Moss's motivations. I have to say that it's a pretty thin case. Moss might not be talking, Fisher might not be talking, but really, what do we have to go on?

I'll say this much - even with a team full of wide receiver talent, I'd like my Bengals to take a chance on Moss. For all that was said about Terrell Owens, that gamble worked - Owens was great before he got hurt. Of course, there's no way that he'd sign with the Bengals now, but I can dream.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 2:18pm
Subject: Re: Charging

Forget about the trade deadline, hardly any closers lost their jobs this year period. There was Ryan Franklin, Fernando Rodney, Jonathan Broxton, Frank Francisco and Joe Nathan, but the last three were clearly not healthy, and the first two were total garbage. Everyone who had the job for the first month kept it from Jordan Walden to Brandon League to Joel Hanrahan to Kevin Gregg to Leo Nunez. Neftali Feliz, Soria and Carlos Marmol have been awfully sketchy at times, but still have their jobs. I'm not sure if this is just a fluke, or whether it has to do with the tougher scoring environment, but you simply could not easily add saves through the waiver wire this year.

Moore might work in relief like Hellickson, but remember Hellickson started when Jeff Niemann went down, and the Rays might shut down Hellickson early this year and/or make a waiver wire deal. Plus, as patient as the Rays are, Moore is probably a different level prospect. It's almost like David Price's scouting pedigree with Hellickson's minor league success. I wonder if they won't change their tune to get a look at him in major league games as a starter with an eye on June 2012.

I'd love to see Chapman get the closer role. Do you realize he's given up just one walk and *zero* hits with 15 K in his last 9.2 IP? In other words, he's just recorded a top-five game score in major-league history over his last eight outings.

As for Moss, the Eagles apparently offered to sign him after he retired, so we'll have to see. The one thing of which Cole's article reminded me was the controversy about Moss's "lull you to sleep" style of play which has been interpreted as taking plays off, in part because of some things Moss has said in the past. I think that might have had something to do with the bizarre year and even career he's had. What makes me worry that Moss is in fact done, though, is that the Pats dealt him. Brad Childress is dumb enough to misread Moss, and Jeff Fisher's lost credibility given the disastrous way he handled Vince Young (he wouldn't even start Young when the Titans were 0-6, and when Bud Adams forced him to, Young played great). But if Belichick sours on you in a season where the Pats needed a deep threat, that carries a lot of weight.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, August 4, 2011 3:04am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

This lack of turnover has to make every marginal save a little bit more value. Whenever you can get a guy that picks up 3-to-4 saves due to injury, that's a pretty big deal. Sometimes you even get lucky and that guy can give you more than that - like David Hernandez did for his owners by logging nine saves when J.J. Putz was out.

In the past we've been able to rely on the notion that saves will come into the league - typically a third or more of the closer's jobs will change hands. I'm glad that we've had a year that doesn't necessarily fit that rubric, though - anytime our assumptions get challenged, or a "rule" gets broken, it forces us to react quicker, and think more about what's going on in the game.

I've been following what Chapman has been doing pretty closely. It's one of the few positives from the Reds over the last two months. Just don't let him pitch against the Cardinals - that hasn't gone all that well. But I still don't know if the Reds aren't better off in the long run converting Chapman back to starting. It's really hard to find an elite starter, not nearly as hard to find good relievers, at least in the short-term. And we so many elite relievers burn out quickly, perhaps because they are max-effort guys, that I'd rather take the chance on extending Chapman and getting him to learn how to pace himself. I think that the potential payoff is worth it.

How earnest was the Eagles' offer for Moss? Do you think that they really wanted him, or perhaps they were trying to get a little leverage to get DeSean Jackson to end his holdout? It's probably real interest, but I'm cynical enough to think that these sorts of ploys still happen. Speaking of the Eagles, I'll ask you the same question I asked you on the air Monday about Matt Forte and Marion Barber - how much does Ronnie Brown threaten LeSean McCoy's draft value? I think that it might be a slightly bigger deal, if for no other reason than that the Eagles haven't always trusted McCoy to be their goal line back to begin with.

But the Belichick angle is bothersome. I usually don't care for vouching, but all too often he's been right about when to get rid of a guy. How often has he missed the mark and gotten rid of someone too soon? I'd bet such instances are very infrequent.