Deadline closer deals: The bane of a fantasy owner’s existence

With Fourth of July weekend wrapping up and the All-Star break quickly approaching, trading season is in full swing for Major League Baseball (or at least trade rumor season is). While lots of names have been bandied about, something that’s caught my attention is how many closers seem to be on the trading block this year. Here’s a list of closers who could end up being moved by the end of the month (in rough order of likelihood):

That’s 12 closers, or nearly 40 percent of all players delivering saves for fantasy owners (and that’s not even counting setup men like John Grabow, LaTroy Hawkins, and Rafael Betancourt, among many others). I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that this is a huge number.

Who’s buying?

The problem that fantasy analysts haven’t seemed to pick up on (or if they have, it hasn’t been written about anywhere that I’ve seen) is that there are few teams actually looking to buy a closer. Check out this list of teams currently in playoff contention and their respective closers.

| Team         | Place | W  | GB  | Closer        |
| Boston       | 1     | 48 | -   | Papelbon      |
| NY Yankees   | 2     | 46 | 2.5 | Rivera        |
| Tampa Bay    | 3     | 44 | 5   | Howell        |
| Toronto      | 4     | 42 | 7.5 | Downs         |
| Detroit      | 1     | 43 | -   | Rodney        |
| Chicago Sox  | 2     | 41 | 2.5 | Jenks         |
| Minnesota    | 3     | 41 | 3   | Nathan        |
| LA Angels    | 1     | 43 | -   | Fuentes       |
| Texas        | 2     | 42 | 1   | Francisco     |
| Seattle      | 3     | 40 | 3.5 | Aardsma       |
| Philadelphia | T-1   | 39 | -   | Lidge         |
| Florida      | T-1   | 41 | -   | Nunez         |
| NY Mets      | 3     | 39 | 1   | K-Rod         |
| Atlanta      | 4     | 38 | 2   | Gonzo/Soriano |
| St. Louis    | 1     | 43 | -   | Franklin      |
| Milwaukee    | 2     | 42 | 0.5 | Hoffman       |
| Cincinnati   | 3     | 39 | 2   | Cordero       |
| Chicago Cubs | 4     | 39 | 2   | Gregg         |
| Houston      | 5     | 38 | 3   | Valverde      |
| LA Dodgers   | 1     | 50 | -   | Broxton       |
| SF Giants    | 2     | 42 | 7.5 | Wilson        |
| Colorado     | 3     | 41 | 8.5 | Street        |

Note: Standings are a couple days old, but it doesn’t change my point.

This list is littered with the names of established closers like Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera, and Francisco Rodriguez. Despite how many teams are on the list, the only ones who may be looking for a closer are Texas, Detroit, Seattle, and maybe… maybe Florida. That’s about it. The rest either have a closer, don’t have the money, talent, or willingness to acquire a big-name reliever, or would rather upgrade elsewhere.

Bad news

What this means is that, if some of the nine closers above are traded, there’s a good chance it will be into a setup role. That would be absolutely disastrous for fantasy owners. While teams usually only sport one closer, every team is open to improving the rest of their bullpen, and this year in particular, several teams are without elite setup men (like the Yanks, Angels, Dodgers, Twins, Mets and Cardinals). If, say, Huston Street gets traded to the Yankees, his fantasy value in mixed leagues is shot.

There’s already talk of the Yankees acquiring Street or Qualls, the Twins acquiring Capps, the Angels acquiring Street, and plenty of others that are being discussed internally or are being kept quiet for the time being, I’m sure.

Other possibilities

It is, however, entirely possible that little comes of all this. Let’s consider a few things. First, it’s quite probable that the sellers view their relievers as closers, while most of the buyers will view them as setup men, leading to the sellers wanting more than the buyers are willing to offer.

Second, basic economics teaches us that when the supply of a commodity is high (and it most certainly is here, especially with all the good setup men available), the price of the commodity lowers. After all, if the Rockies try asking for a ridiculous amount for Street, the Yankees (or whoever else) could simply say, “Whatever, I’ll go talk to Arizona about Qualls, Pittsburgh about Capps.” This could lower the cost of all of these closers to the point where their teams no longer deem the return acceptable.

And that’s not even considering the possibility of the endowment effect coming into play. Throw it all together, and we might only see a couple of these big names traded. Of course, this could be upset a bit if some teams ultimately decide to become buyers and not sellers (check the playoff contender list again—six closers on there overlap with the first list, lowering the supply and raising the price of all closers back up).

Suggestions for handling this tricky situation

Overall, I’d say that if you own one of these closers, it would be worthwhile to see if you can swap him out for a closer more stable in his job. Maybe offer up a two-for-two deal to conceal your true intentions, if you so desire (i.e. Matt Kemp and Huston Street for Nate McLouth and Jonathan Broxton or something like that).

A variation of this two-for-two ploy could be to ask for an unlucky starting pitcher in return (think Ricky Nolasco, Scott Baker, Randy Johnson types), actually allowing yourself to upgrade at two spots (i.e. Matt Cain and Street for Nolasco and Broxton). One more variation could be to ask for a closer with inferior skills or health concerns (think Kevin Gregg and Fernando Rodney types) and then upgrade at another position. If the other owner doesn’t have these same deadline-deal fears as you, he might jump on it.

Don’t go too crazy, though, and don’t downgrade too much at another position if that’s the route you choose—there’s no guarantee that any of these closers will actually be traded. While guys like Jenks and Wood are probably safe, I would be pretty aggressive in shopping Qualls, Street, and (to a slightly lesser extent) Capps. Just don’t make it obvious that you’re looking to deal them, as you won’t get the kind of offers you’ll be looking for.

Guys to stash

For those looking to be a step ahead of the competition, here are the respective setup men who are next-in-line for saves should any of the 12 closers from the beginning of the article be traded. A (T) means that the reliever is also a trade candidate, so a third option will also be listed (in the event both the closer and top setup man are traded). A (?) means that next-in-line is somewhat unclear and this is more of a guess. A (DL) means that the reliever is on the disabled list at the moment, so a third option will also be listed.

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  1. Kevin said...

    IMO, it’s very unlikely that the Rangers will look to add a closer, for two reasons: 1) the team is in dismal financial shape and 2) they seem perfectly content with Francisco as “the man” for the forseeable future.

    I have Hawkins in one league and Valverde in another, so I’m a little conflicted about what to root for there.

  2. Derek Carty said...

    Yeah, Kevin, I believe I noted that, of the teams who might be looking to buy a closer, none are particularly strong buyers.  Texas has financial constraints, as you mentioned, Detroit has shown an unwillingness to acquire a real closer as recently as this off-season, etc etc.

    Garrett, you’re right, Johnson would likely be next. Not sure how I mixed that up.  I’ve actually owned Johnson in leagues at different points in the year.  Good catch.

  3. Andrew said...

    Great stuff, Derek.

    A lot of these are anyone’s guess, but I think Joel Peralta is ahead of Matt Daley and Chris Perez is next in line in Cleveland.

  4. Derek Carty said...

    Yeah, Andrew, some of the situations aren’t entirely clear.  I could see Peralta or maybe even Embree being the next guy in Colorado, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with Daley (I actually have in LABR).  You may be right about Perez, but I’d rather own Betancourt.  I just don’t trust Perez yet, even if he were to win the job.  His control just isn’t good, especially for a flyball pitcher.

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