- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Look at who comprises your bullpen in your fantasy leagues. Feel good about who you have? Think you're safe for saves the rest of the season? The major league trade deadline is coming up next week, and some of those guys you've relied on for weeks or even months won't be helping you much after all the moves are made. The problem is, you don't know who yet, but be prepared to make alternate plans.
Well, we know one of the guys, probably. Jon Rauch was traded to the Diamondbacks on Monday night, and you can read Jason Grey's spin on the move. I agree with what Grey wrote, that Rauch is simply Brandon Lyon insurance, which means Rauch might not get any more saves. He is currently ranked No. 10 among all relief pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater, so obviously accumulating holds instead of saves is a big loss to fantasy owners. I think Joel Hanrahan should close for the Nationals, based on the stuff he possesses, but I'm not the manager. My guess is Luis Ayala, due to seniority, will be involved as well. Hanrahan, by the way, is a major strikeout pitcher, and worth owning regardless; the only relief pitcher in baseball with more strikeouts is Carlos Marmol.
So the Rauch move should only exacerbate how quickly things change when it comes to the trade deadline, and what it might mean to your fantasy team. The bullpen on one of my important teams consists of Joe Nathan, Todd Jones and Rauch. The latter suddenly has little value, and who knows how long Jones holds on to his job. I can pick up Damaso Marte, but how long will he be closing?
With the trade deadline coming up in the middle of the week, I find it wise in weekly leagues to pick up potential closers before moves happen. For example, I fully expect the Pirates to move Marte to the Yankees to become the top set-up man for Mariano Rivera. It shouldn't take much, you know. Every team needs a closer, even 100-loss squads, but the Pirates could give others a chance. Why not sign John Grabow in fantasy today, just in case? If Marte stays, you can always dump him.
Anyway, here are other pitchers I expect to be affected by the events up to and surrounding the trade deadline. I don't know which team will get Huston Street, and I fully expect he'll be a closer when he's dealt, so he's not mentioned. But what does he leave behind?
Brad Ziegler, Athletics: Conventional wisdom would place Santiago Casilla at the top of the list for Oakland saves, but what about the rookie sidearmer Ziegler? He has not allowed a run all season, setting the AL record for scoreless frames to begin a career, and he has permitted only four hits in 10 2/3 innings all July. Alan Embree will probably be moved as well, but even if he isn't, the A's should see if they have a future closer candidate. Joey Devine, if he had been healthy recently, would be in the mix as well, but for now I predict Ziegler is about to get an opportunity. Even if he doesn't, isn't he worth owning anyway? No runs! All year!
Jim Johnson, Orioles: Similarly, the other team in the nation's capital region could be moving its closer. George Sherrill has had a fine season, an All-Star campaign if you will, but to the Orioles, he's not really a part of a rebuilding agenda. Johnson is a 25-year-old right-hander in his first full major league season, and he's not a prototypical closer at all. Like teammate Chad Bradford, he doesn't throw hard, and doesn't get many strikeouts. The wild Dennis Sarfate would seem a better choice long term, but he generally has command issues. Fernando Cabrera isn't any safer. If Sherrill is moved, I'd think Johnson, the team's top reliever, could just step in and close.
John Grabow, Pirates: I theorized when Matt Capps went down, likely for the season, that Damaso Marte wouldn't be traded, because the Pirates so badly want to finish .500. Look at that bullpen, how can it afford to deal its best reliever? Well, apparently it can, as recent reports say that nearly half of baseball is interested in Marte. Not that all closers need to be right-handed, hard throwers, but if Pittsburgh went with Marte, why not Grabow? Maybe he's the next George Sherrill, eh? He's a lefty who gets everyone out, he's not really a kid (he's 29), and who expects it? Honestly, who else is going to close, Tyler Yates? Romulo Sanchez got a token mention when Capps went down, then he got demoted. I really think it's Grabow, and nobody is talking about him.
Manny Corpas, Rockies: The final one of the four set-up men I see ending up with saves if their closers are dealt, Corpas is the one the Rockies talk about, not Taylor Buchholz. It doesn't matter who has better numbers at all. Corpas has closing experience, and in fairness, he has pitched very well while nobody was paying attention. You see, that's the thing, when Jose Valverde gives up a touchdown in an inning like he did on Sunday, everyone notices. That's not the case with middle relievers. Corpas had an ERA well over 6.00 on June 1, but since then he's been pretty good, walking one and fanning 18 in his past 18 appearances. For the record, I think the Rockies are still in the NL West race, and because everyone and their plumber expects Brian Fuentes to be traded, that's precisely why he will not be. That kind of makes Fuentes a decent buy-low option, eh?
As for other relief pitchers who could get moved and end up closers, I really don't see many. Who's going to let Cla Meredith or Will Ohman close? I mean, there are 30 major league teams, and how many of them have closer situations that not only need immediate upgrading, but the team agrees with that notion and would make a deal to get help? A bunch of these guys might get dealt, but it's not likely to affect save situations.
Now that Arizona has made its move, the Dodgers, Brewers and Cardinals are the only teams I can find that might trade for closing help, but I think they are more likely to close from within. By the way, for the Diamondbacks I think Max Scherzer is being groomed to take the rotation spot of Micah Owings/Yusmeiro Petit. I predict Lyon keeps the job. Jonathan Broxton is the closer for the Dodgers, no questions asked. Salomon Torres isn't safe in Milwaukee, and I could see Oakland's Street going there. Ryan Franklin or Jason Isringhausen, or both, are probably good enough for Tony La Russa in St. Louis.
Now, let's get back on to our normal Relief Efforts routine, and to the rest of the ample fantasy news coming from major league bullpens.
Jose Valverde, Astros: The guy leads the NL in saves, so how can you get him cheap? He got plastered the other day for six earned runs, and his owners couldn't have been pleased. The thing is, I saw it happen, and it wasn't all that bad. Jason Bay homered, tying the game, and then Valverde seemed rattled. Adam LaRoche hit an opposite field homer that didn't look like much and the final two runs came when Tim Byrdak gave up a three-run inside-the-park homer to Freddy Sanchez with Valverde's men on base. It happens. His ERA is 4.86. He also had not allowed a run since June 28. What are the Astros going to do, replace him with Doug Brocail? That happens only if he's injured, which I doubt. This is a 40-save guy, and the Astros, by virtue of the strange and possibly counterproductive Randy Wolf trade, clearly believe they are contenders. Two weeks ago, by the way, I listed Masa Kobayashi as the buy-low guy, and a few days later he became a closer, so that's why he's not discussed here. I think he keeps that job the rest of the way.
Kerry Wood/Carlos Marmol, Cubs: I'm going to name them both, how about that? Even if Wood does not go on the DL, I think people value him a bit too much. He's still just a closer, albeit a successful one who is piling on the strikeouts, and while I don't see this blister thing lingering forever, it's still 50/50 a DL stint is pending. Plus, I think there is a good chance Wood tires as the season goes on. Marmol just hasn't looked good for more than a month. He never should have been awarded an All-Star spot. I mean, Cole Hamels sat at home, but Marmol, with a 7.36 ERA in June and 11.37 in July, made it? I don't expect Wood nor Marmol to duplicate their monster first halves. This isn't meant to imply Bob Howry is on his way to getting saves, just that Lou Piniella's team might have more in common with the Brewers and Cardinals when it comes to bullpens than people think.
Grant Balfour, Rays: Yeah, I still don't trust Troy Percival, and while Dan Wheeler does have good numbers, including a WHIP on the good side of 1.00, Balfour has pitched better. He hasn't allowed a home run, Wheeler has permitted six. There's also J.P. Howell, no longer a two-inning long man, but he's also not pitching in the eighth inning of games. Balfour earned a four-out save against the Blue Jays after the break, and has allowed 10 hits in 24 1/3 innings since he came up. I'd own him whether he gets saves or not, but I think he has a good chance to leap Wheeler if/when Percival gets hurt again. Forget about Al Reyes getting chances.
David Weathers, Reds: I don't think Francisco Cordero, who has had some rough moments during the past week, is in danger of losing his job, but Weathers has slowly turned his season around, and has reached the holds leaderboard. Weathers tossed a scoreless inning on four of five days after the All-Star break, and are you aware his ERA is 2.19 since June 1? I expect Weathers to be on a new team before August, and one would assume it will be a contender that expects him to pile on the holds. With Jared Burton hurt, the Reds have also turned to Mike Lincoln for key innings, and he could replace Weathers as the eighth-inning guy when a trade comes.
Yes, now I do believe Francisco Rodriguez will end up with the single-season save record, simply because the Angels don't score enough runs to cost him save opportunities. K-Rod is already at 41, on pace for 66. Feel free to cut Takashi Saito, as the 38-year-old pitcher might need Tommy John surgery, and he might also opt to retire instead. Jonathan Broxton is safe as the closer. The Billy Wagner saga probably isn't done yet, but let's try to recap it briefly. His pitching shoulder hurt. Then he strikes out the side on Sunday. MRI scheduled for Monday. Feels good on the plane, MRI cancelled. MRI back on for Tuesday. It shows spasms. Wagner is fine, though he was not available Tuesday when four Mets pitchers relieved Johan Santana and the Phillies scored six runs in the ninth. That's just a harbinger if Wagner does go on the DL. It doesn't really affect Jonathan Papelbon at all, but I do like Justin Masterson potentially setting him up. Masterson could be a nice option for holds down the stretch. Joel Zumaya makes the top 40 rankings, but he's still walking too many hitters. I don't think Todd Jones loses his closing job this season, but Zumaya is a major strikeout guy, and he will get better. Interesting that Eric Gagne pitched the seventh inning on Monday with a 3-2 lead, and David Riske the eighth. Not that Salomon Torres will lose his job to a current teammate. And finally, because we discuss all things relief here, Jimmy Gobble allowed 10 runs to the Tigers in the eighth inning recently, the first time since 1948 any relief pitcher permitted double digit runs in an inning. Sadly, after taking one for the team, Gobble was placed on the DL the next day. Coincidence?
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com fantasy. You can e-mail him here.
Eric Karabell highlights which current closers could be dealt, and discusses the pitchers next in line to assume those duties.