Closers at the Trade Deadline: Who Could Be On The Move?

by Dave De Wit

The trade deadline is coming! While trades can screw with the values of hitters and starting pitchers — based on park factors and switches from the NL to the AL and vice versa – the major changes happen at the closer position. Current closers can get traded and become pedestrian set-up men like Jonathan Broxton and Brett Myers last year. Or a team could upgrade at the closer position via trade, leaving their previous closer to go back to the 8th inning role, losing all of his value.

As we make our way through July, the question becomes: Which closers are in danger of losing saves because of trades?

First we need to look at which teams are buyers and sellers who also have the necessary closing situation. We are looking for buyers with a questionable or “unproven” closer and sellers with solid 9th inning guys who have proven they can close out games. Since there is still a whole month of baseball to be played before the trade deadline, we will shy away from the teams that are on the bubble and focus on sure-fire buyers and sellers.

On the Block
Houston Astros – Jose Veras
There are no sure things during the trade deadline, but the Astros trading Jose Veras may be as close to a sure thing as there is.  Veras, 32, is the third highest paid player on the team and has a $3.25 million option for next season that will almost certainly not be picked up by Houston, so they might as well trade him for whatever they can get. If Veras were to be dealt, Jose Cisnero is looking like the next closer for the Astros. Cisnero’s fastball has been sitting between 94-96 mph since mid-May and he has recently been eased into higher leverage situations.

Chicago Cubs – Kevin Gregg
Out of nowhere, Gregg has dusted off his glasses and pitched better than he ever has in his career. While there are not many teams clamoring for a 35-year-old reclamation project, his sub-2.00 ERA and impressive strikeout and walk skills have to be somewhat appealing to teams looking for bullpen depth. You have to think the Cubs would trade this guy for Baltic Avenue at this point, since anything they get would be more valuable than Gregg himself—he’s as good as gone. Look for rookie Blake Parker, the newly-acquired Pedro Strop, or potentially Carlos Villanueva to step into the closer role when (or if) Gregg is out of Chicago.

Milwaukee Brewers – Francisco Rodriguez
When former closer Jim Henderson returned from his injury, the Brewers gave him a save opportunity right away and you could almost hear them kicking themselves. In Henderson’s absence, K-Rod had done a marvelous job and had re-established himself as a valuable closer who could earn some return at the trade deadline. The day after Henderson’s save, the Brewers turned right back to Rodriguez and gave him another save chance this past Wednesday. It looks like Rodriguez will be the team’s closer as an attempt to show him off to other teams around the league with the intention of dealing him. If they can trade him, expect Henderson to have his job back in August.

Miami Marlins – Steve Cishek
Obviously the Marlins like to sell, sell, sell (except for tickets, they can’t seem to sell those). So there’s no question they would field any and all offers on Cishek. Despite a lull early in the season where it looked as though he would never have a save opportunity for the rest of his life, Cishek has gone a perfect 10 for 10 on save chances since June 8. He would likely become a 7th or 8th inning guy for whatever team would trade for him, so if you can get anything for him in a trade—do it soon. Depending on how many Marlins relievers get thrown overboard, it’s anybody’s guess as to who gets the closer job in Miami if Cishek is dealt.

Cleveland Indians – Chris Perez
Even though Cleveland is at the top of the AL Central, they could still sell a closer. Between Perez’s injury and his nefarious off-the-field activities, the Indians may finally be ready to ship this guy out of town. Vinnie Pestano, who became the closer during Perez’s injury in June, had his ups and downs but on the whole he performed well, closed out wins and was given strong votes of confidence by manager Terry Francona. Cleveland has had a fabulous bullpen this year and could easily absorb the loss of Perez and remain contenders. If they would move Perez, Pestano would be the closer going forward.

Looking for an Upgrade
Detroit Tigers – Joaquin Benoit
There is no questioning Benoit’s skills, he’s been a top-notch reliever all year, however the Tigers have been hesitant to hand him the closing job until recently. Whether it’s because they don’t like Benoit pitching on back-to-back days (a concern mentioned earlier this year by manager Jim Leyland) or if it’s is historical home run issues or if they just like using Benoit in his flexible set-up role where he can pitch multiple innings if needed, the Tigers are clearly hesitant to commit to him as their closer considering they were quick to bring back Jose Valverde in April, rather than anointing Benoit.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Heath Bell/J.J. Putz
The D-Backs have a mess at the back of their bullpen. The always fragile J.J. Putz has finally broken down again after two miraculously healthy seasons and, after taking seven weeks off to rest and rehab his elbow, he was apparently brought back too quickly and needs to build up his arm strength by pitching earlier in games. Arizona named Heath Bell the closer again, barely a week removed from his horrendous stretch of five straight games with a home run allowed. David Hernandez, annual elite set-up man, has been even worse than Bell lately, giving the Diamondbacks no clear reliever to close for them in the second half. Meanwhile, they still find themselves atop the AL West. A capable closer will no doubt be at the top of their list of trade targets.

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