Potential deals could shuffle bullpens
Incumbent closers like Sherrill, Qualls may be moved, opening up new jobs
Look at your calendar. This is an exciting time in major league baseball with all the trade talk going on, and trust me, there's a lot more out there than Roy Halladay. Of course, every rumor involving the best pitcher on the market is going to get blown out of proportion. Hey, he might be dealt, he might not, but sometimes the deals that affect fantasy baseball involve some middle reliever you didn't even know existed.
Whenever a real-life closer gets traded, it's likely to affect two teams, so obviously it's going to mean a great deal in fantasy baseball. Now, it's a bit of a fallacy that July 31 is the actual trade deadline. Moves do happen after that day; they're just quite a bit more difficult because players need to pass through waivers. It doesn't mean they can't happen in August. Remember back in August 1998, when Randy Myers and his billion-dollar contract were claimed by the Padres and subsequently traded? For the Blue Jays, he saved 28 games. As a Padre he didn't save any. I remember the impact that had on my leagues.
Myers isn't a great example, but someone took over the closer role in Toronto after he left, right? For a few weeks, Paul Quantrill and Dan Plesac split the duties, then, without warning, youngster Robert Person started getting saves. I distinctly remember this situation, because I owned Quantrill and wasn't pleased.
Anyway, there will likely be a closer or two moved at this trade deadline -- or in August -- so be prepared. Here are my thoughts on five closers who could be traded, and five others I think are safe.
Five who could be traded
George Sherrill, Orioles: He's actually done a pretty good job this season, far better than when he was rewarded with an All-Star berth last year. I don't think the recent Cla Meredith trade from San Diego has a lot to do with this, but it certainly adds to the writing on the wall as Baltimore builds depth. Sherrill is 32. Danys Baez is 31. Jim Johnson is next in line. And it's doubtful the team dealing for Sherrill will need him to close, unless it's a team like Detroit. I don't see any other contender with an obvious need. Unlike the Halladay discussions, there's no reason the Orioles would balk at dealing Sherrill within the division, like to the Yankees.
Chad Qualls, Diamondbacks: Like the Orioles, the Diamondbacks aren't going to sniff the playoffs; most older closers on awful teams are at least discussed in trade rumors at some point. Qualls, 30, is under contract through next season, so the cost to get him might be steep, but he's been one of the more consistent, reliable and durable right-handers in baseball the past five seasons. Look at the numbers! Every year he gets into more than 75 games, strikes hitters out and doesn't get lit. The Phillies had a scout looking at Qualls last weekend, and I'm sure other teams either have followed or will follow suit. With Tony Pena having already been moved to the White Sox, Jon Rauch is clearly next in line for saves if Qualls goes.
Kerry Wood, Indians: The Tribe could be on their way to 100 losses, which makes my preseason pick of them for AL Central champs look pretty ridiculous. Guess I underestimated how bad the rotation was. Thanks, Anthony Reyes and friends! Wood hasn't exactly been lights-out, either, allowing too many walks and home runs. He's got another year on his deal, and the Indians could turn things over to Chris Perez by next spring.
Matt Capps, Pirates: Who knows what the Pirates are doing, anyway? Capps isn't a special relief pitcher, and he's certainly not having a special season. The Phillies pounded him just before the All-Star break, but it only masked what had been an average first half for the right-hander. I'm not even sure Capps would fetch all that much on the market. He'd be the sixth-inning guy for the Yankees, no? Anyway, the Pirates can lose their 90 games without him, though they really don't have anyone being groomed for the role. John Grabow might be dealt as well. Walk machine Craig Hansen is awful. Joel Hanrahan would probably be next, but there's little reason to expect he'd keep the job the way his nightmare season has gone.
David Aardsma, Mariners: Well, this one might be a bit surprising to you, but consider the reasoning behind it. Aardsma is a 27-year-old journeyman having a terrific season, arguably one of the biggest surprises among closers. A smart team that realizes it's probably not going to win the AL West should float his name out there. The Mariners are grooming multiple pitchers in the minors for the closer role, including recent top picks Phillippe Aumont and Joshua Fields. Maybe Brandon Morrow will fail as a starter as well. Regardless, moving Aardsma now is really selling high, and based on his past, probably a wise move.
Five who are probably safe
Huston Street, Rockies: New manager Jim Tracy has guided this bunch to the NL wild-card lead. If the Rockies stunk, I'm convinced Street would be a Yankee or Angel by now. Winning all these games has probably hurt the Rockies' rebuilding program, but you do what you can for a playoff run. The Rockies have to know they're not going to make another World Series with Manny Corpas closing.
J.P. Howell, Rays: This team seems to collect right-handed relief pitchers, having brought in Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen unnecessarily, and it's possible another move will be made next week. I don't think Howell has done anything to lose the closer role, though. I say he keeps the job.
Ryan Franklin, Cardinals: The NL Central leaders might bring in some reinforcements, but All-Star Franklin has been so good this season, with crazy low peripherals. He won't be losing his job to a newcomer.
Frank Francisco, Rangers: He's got pneumonia, but it appears he should be back after the weekend. What happens first: Francisco lands on the DL later this season for the fourth time, or C.J. Wilson catches Francisco in saves? Either way, the Rangers have two closers, and the hierarchy is set, so I doubt someone like Street would be acquired to replace them.
Mike MacDougal, Nationals: He's not being dealt because I'd guess any team good enough to contend would scout him and realize he's just not very good. And there's no reason for the Nationals to deal for someone to close out their two ninth-inning leads per month.
Top 60 RelieversNote: The top 60 relievers are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.
1. Joe Nathan, MIN (1)
2. Mariano Rivera, NYY (2)
3. Jonathan Papelbon, BOS (3)
4. Brian Fuentes, LAA (5)
5. Jonathan Broxton, LAD (4)
6. Francisco Rodriguez, NYM (6)
7. Joakim Soria, KC (9)
8. Heath Bell, SD (8)
9. Huston Street, COL (10)
10. Francisco Cordero, CIN (11)
11. Rafael Soriano, ATL (12)
12. Bobby Jenks, CHW (7)
13. Trevor Hoffman, MIL (13)
14. Ryan Franklin, STL (14)
15. Jose Valverde, HOU (15)
16. Kevin Gregg, CHC (16)
17. David Aardsma, SEA (17)
18. J.P. Howell, TB (21)
19. Andrew Bailey, OAK (18)
20. Brian Wilson, SF (19)
21. Chad Qualls, ARI (20)
22. Brad Lidge, PHI (22)
23. Kerry Wood, CLE (23)
24. George Sherrill, BAL (25)
25. Scott Downs, TOR (27)
26. Matt Capps, PIT (28)
27. Mike MacDougal, WAS (26)
28. Fernando Rodney, DET (29)
29. C.J. Wilson, TEX (36)
30. Leo Nunez, FLA (31)
31. Frank Francisco, TEX (24)
32. Dan Meyer, FLA (30)
33. Dan Wheeler, TB (33)
34. Phil Hughes, NYY (43)
35. John Grabow, PIT (34)
36. Jason Frasor, TOR (35)
37. Ryan Madson, PHI (37)
38. Mike Gonzalez, ATL (32)
39. LaTroy Hawkins, HOU (40)
40. Michael Wuertz, OAK (NA)
41. Carlos Marmol, CHC (44)
42. Brad Ziegler, OAK (38)
43. Brandon Lyon, DET (NA)
44. Takashi Saito, BOS (45)
45. Jon Rauch, ARI (55)
46. Kyle Farnsworth, KC (41)
47. Jim Johnson, BAL (53)
48. Chris Perez, CLE (47)
49. Matt Lindstrom, FLA (NA)
50. Jason Motte, STL (50)
51. Jeremy Affeldt, SF (51)
52. Hideki Okajima, BOS (52)
53. Manny Corpas, COL (NA)
54. Ramon Troncoso, LAD (54)
55. Kiko Calero, FLA (NA)
56. Todd Coffey, MIL (59)
57. Alfredo Aceves, NYY (57)
58. Matt Guerrier, MIN (NA)
59. Peter Moylan, ATL (NA)
60. Mitch Stetter, MIL (60)
• C.J. Wilson, Rangers: Even though Francisco's recent trip to the DL has nothing to do with his arm or his leg, I do think it's reasonable to wonder if it's always going to be something with him. Plus, while the right-hander is eligible to come off the DL as soon as this weekend, can't pneumonia linger for a while? Wilson should be owned in deeper leagues. Stranger things than his picking up 20 saves this year happen every season. I moved him up the rankings as one of the top non-closers who should get chances.
• Phil Hughes, Yankees: Hey, this could have been Joba Chamberlain! The Yankees are making it clear Hughes will be kept in the set-up role the rest of the season, though one should rarely trust manager speak. Things can change. For now, though, Hughes has become a valuable fantasy pickup even without any threat of saves. As a reliever, he has a 0.84 ERA with five walks and 27 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings. Enjoy this. It's like owning Carlos Marmol a year ago.
• Matt Lindstrom, Marlins: When the Florida closer hit the DL with a sore elbow in late June, things didn't look good for a quick return. Now Lindstrom is throwing successful bullpen sessions and nearing time for a rehab assignment, so apparently the elbow is doing fine. I'm still skeptical about Lindstrom; he wasn't having a particularly good season and we have to wonder how long the elbow can hold up. However, he's probably heading back to the closer role soon upon his return, pushing Dan Meyer and Leo Nunez to their normal set-up roles. Deeper leagues should stash Lindstrom away.
• Bobby Jenks, White Sox: Just a bit of a bad stretch for a guy who has numerous reasons to look over his shoulder, but I don't think that's the problem. Jenks nearly blew the save Monday when he loaded the bases with a hit and two walks, but he struck out the side and held on. On Tuesday, he did blow the save, allowing a bases-loaded walk to Pat Burrell and a sacrifice fly. Jenks has now allowed runs in four of his past five appearances, and he nearly made it all five. I dropped him quite a bit in the rankings, because for all we know he's hiding injury, but let's not assume anyone's taking his job soon.
• Joel Zumaya, Tigers: He wasn't pitching very well to start with, so I'm not sure why so many fantasy owners were picking him up. Sure, Fernando Rodney seems built to lose the closer role, and he might still, but it won't be to Zumaya, who's on the DL and might be done for the season with a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder. It's always something, eh? At this point, it's reasonable to presume this guy will never stay healthy enough and/or perform well enough to save 30 games in a season. Keep an eye on Brandon Lyon, who, after a brutal start to the season, has his ERA down in the mid-3s, if and when Rodney coughs up the job.
• Randy Choate, Rays: His last save came June 29, and now that Howell has solidified the closer role, this other lefty has been used far more as a situational guy. For the season he's been in 29 games, but thrown only 15 2/3 innings. In a recent stretch, he entered four consecutive games to face exactly one hitter, and he allowed a hit each time. Choate isn't owned in standard leagues anyway, but he's not worth it in deeper ones, either.
Comings, goings and random news
• Michael Wuertz saved Monday's improbable 14-13 win for the Athletics, and the team's announcers made it seem like Andrew Bailey was not available to pitch that night because he had thrown 29 pitches the day before. Ah, if it was only that simple. Now comes word Bailey, possibly the top rookie this season in fantasy, needed an injection in his left knee. Both Wuertz and Bailey pitched Tuesday, so maybe it's nothing. Then again, the knee issue could become something. Either way, it sure looks like Wuertz is next in line over Brad Ziegler.
• The Astros are definitely in the NL Central race, so you can forget about Jose Valverde and probably LaTroy Hawkins being discussed in trade talks, but keep an eye on Chad Paronto, called up from Triple-A Round Rock this week when Chris Sampson hit the DL. Paronto is no kid at age 33, but he was a closer in the minors this season and was thriving, with an ERA well below 2. He could become the Astros' main set-up guy.
• No, I don't have any concerns about Scott Downs after that blown save Tuesday.
• As expected, the Cubs signed B.J. Ryan to a minor league deal, then sent him to the minors to get some work in before joining the big club, probably in August. Ryan might not have much left in the tank; however, the Cubs don't figure to use him in a high-leverage role in the late innings, but it gives them the option to use Sean Marshall, the lone lefty in the bullpen currently, in other roles.
• Speaking of lefties, one who could find his way into save chances is Hong-Chih Kuo of the Dodgers. A few months ago it wasn't assured that Kuo, who has had his throwing elbow operated on more than once, would pitch again. Now he's on a rehab assignment and could, in theory, become the top set-up man soon for Jonathan Broxton, who we can all see is not pitching the way he did the first three months. Anyway, keep an eye on Kuo. If he pitches well it could also mean the Dodgers wouldn't target a lefty reliever (someone like Baltimore's Sherrill) in trade.
Eric Karabell is a senior fantasy writer for ESPN.com. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He twice has been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Karabell by e-mailing him here.