- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Things change every day in major league bullpens. One day your fantasy closer is dominating, the next he's nursing a sore arm or third in line for saves. Eric Karabell breaks down all the happenings in major league bullpens in the latest Relief Efforts.
The trade deadline has come and gone, and the one position most affected was closer. Eric Gagne and Octavio Dotel were traded to teams that intend to use their skills in a setup role, while other closers like Chad Cordero, Al Reyes and David Weathers remain with the teams they were on before. Fantasy owners can now safely drop Jon Rauch, Dan Wheeler and ... well, who is next in line in Cincy, anyway? What's Rawly Eastwick up to these days?
There are only two months remaining in the regular season, and my recommendation for fantasy owners is to take a look at the categories in which movement is most obvious. Saves and steals tend to be those categories, but check out your standings to see. Recently, in quite a few of my leagues a closer was dealt and no saves came back, meaning a team dealt that stat to a team that needed it, and just got more. Saves are not difficult to move up in. Most situations are clear, and pitchers tend to get the stat in bunches.
Anyway, there are a few situations that remain up for grabs, and others I could still see changing soon, as teams start to think about next season.
Texas Rangers: C.J. Wilson got the first save in the post-Eric Gagne era, but look at who the lefty faced, and it makes sense. First he fanned Grady Sizemore (lefty). Then Jason Michaels pinch hit for Kenny Lofton (lefty) and struck out. That was in the eighth inning. Why bring in right-hander Joaquin Benoit with Victor Martinez (switch-hitter, but in his career he's better from the left side) and Travis Hafner (lefty) due up? Wilson stayed in and went five up, five down for the third save of his career. If you want to know what this situation looks like, take a look at Baltimore. Same thing. These guys will likely split the saves depending on who the other team sends up to the plate. For that reason, I doubt either is going to make a major impact in fantasy. Akinori Otsuka is probably not coming back anytime soon. Next season, I'd bet the Rangers hit the free agent market.
Baltimore Orioles: Jamie Walker is your token lefty, while Chad Bradford is the right-hander. What an odd team. Chris Ray closed all season long, and managed 16 saves in the first half of the season, plus a few weeks. Since then, in a span of about 10 days, Walker earned four saves and Bradford another. The Birds are on fire, having won 12 of their past 16 games. It's not because of the bullpen, or Miguel Tejada, it's probably due to an easy schedule (White Sox, Oakland, Tampa Bay for 10 games). It certainly looks like Walker is getting more chances than Bradford, and maybe the same breakdown of lefty-righty saves happen in Texas. I think Ray will return to the team sooner than Otsuka, for what it's worth, but not in the next few weeks. So, I guess Walker is the guy to own, but I wouldn't get too excited about him in fantasy.
Colorado Rockies: Manny Corpas allowed one measly run in July. He walked one measly hitter, and struck out 15 batters in 11 1/3 strong innings. It certainly looks like he can handle the closer role on this team. He's been terrific at Coors Field this season (2.03 ERA). I see nothing wrong here. Oh wait, now I do. Brian Fuentes remains on the team. I know you don't think it's fair that Fuentes could regain the job when he returns, after missing a month, but life isn't fair. Didn't your mom ever tell you that? Fuentes is a good closer. Remember, on June 21, his ERA was 1.89, and he had 20 saves in 22 chances. He was among the league leaders in saves. His WHIP was less than 1.00. Then something happened, and he blew four saves in a row, losing each and every game. Was it unlucky? I have to think so. The Rockies might opt to have Fuentes set up Corpas when the lefty returns, possibly in a week, but I really doubt it. Fuentes is an All-Star closer who had a bad week. Be prepared for this change in fantasy.
Oakland Athletics: This situation could literally change in the team's next win, whenever that will be. Huston Street, assuming health and reasonable performance, is going to be the closer. It's a lock. Alan Embree is old and despite the fact he's done a nice job in the role, he is not seen as a closer. He's a 37-year-old setup man. The problem is, Street hasn't pitched well since returning from his DL stint, and he's still experiencing elbow soreness. Those could be big problems, but I still think Street is closing soon. Just don't cut Embree yet.
San Francisco Giants: This situation doesn't get talked about much, because Brad Hennessey has done a nice job as the closer, but is he really viewed as the guy for next year? The Giants realize that this year is pretty much over, and it's time to start thinking about the 2008 closer. Hennessey has done nice work, but he's hardly a dominant strikeout guy, and his future could be in the rotation. Randy Messenger was acquired in the Armando Benitez deal, and he's got decent stats, but also doesn't profile as a closer. You know who does look like he could be the next Papelbon or Gagne? How about Matt Cain? He strikes hitters out. He has allowed a .220 batting average to hitters leading off innings. He's equally tough on lefties as right-handed hitters. All right, it's just a thought. Certainly he's a better option to close than Tim Lincecum. Look for the Giants to stick with Hennessey for the rest of the season, but Messenger and Jonathan Sanchez, who profiles as a future starter as well, could get a save or two.
Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox: These are the teams that acquired hard-throwing closers on the mend on trade deadline day, but I think both Octavio Dotel and Eric Gagne are merely setup men now. Bob Wickman is safe as a closer, for now. There is literally no chance Jonathan Papelbon moves into the rotation the rest of this season. I'd rather have Gagne than Dotel in fantasy, because I think he'll provide better stats, and I trust him more. Plus, Gagne should supplant Hideki Okajima as the eighth-inning guy. In Atlanta, I think Rafael Soriano and Dotel will be interchangeable in that inning. By the way, there is a chance Gagne could pick up some stray saves, as Papelbon gets eased through the final two months in preparation for the playoffs. You might remember last season Papelbon entered August with a 0.50 ERA. He wasn't bad in August, but he blew three saves, and the last time he pitched all year was Sept. 1. The Red Sox can avoid that this season. On one hand I'm saying Gagne stands in line for saves, but then again, Okajima's last save came more than two months ago.
Eric: The Cards held on to Isringhausen for two reasons: I believe the first reason is the team still believes it's in the hunt for a playoff spot. The second reason is Izzy didn't want to waive his no-trade clause unless the team acquiring him renegotiated his deal. The Cardinals do have an option on Isringhausen for next season. Anyway, I agree that the Cards are still in the race, only six games back of the Brewers and five behind the Cubs. I think Pineiro is going to be a starting pitcher for this team. They certainly need some help there, as the Mike Maroth experiment really hasn't worked out. If Isringhausen gets hurt or leaves, wouldn't Ryan Franklin be next in line for saves? This guy, who I watched over and over again in Philadelphia and couldn't believe how average he was, has a 1.33 ERA. Did you know that ranks Franklin No. 4 in all of baseball for relief pitchers (minimum 40 innings), behind only Okajima, J.J. Putz and Rafael Betancourt? Franklin is having a terrific season. The other option for saves, I think, is 22-year-old right-hander Chris Perez, who had 27 saves at Double-A Springfield and recently was promoted to the next level. He also had 62 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings. For now Izzy is the guy, and probably for next season as well.
Eric Karabell discusses the fantasy relief landscape after a busy MLB trade deadline.