Deadline closer deals: The bane of a fantasy owner’s existenceby Derek Carty
July 06, 2009
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):
- Chad Qualls
- Huston Street
- Matt Capps
- George Sherrill
- Jose Valverde
- Heath Bell
- Bobby Jenks
- Joakim Soria
- Mike Gonzalez
- Rafael Soriano
- Kerry Wood
- Scott Downs
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Tony Pena
- Manny Corpas (DL)/Matt Daley
- John Grabow(T)/Jesse Chavez(?)/Joel Hanrahan(?)
- Jim Johnson/Danys Baez(T)
- LaTroy Hawkins(T)/Chris Sampson(?)
- Cla Meredith(T/?)/Edward Mujica(?)/Mike Adams(?)
- Matt Thornton
- Juan Cruz(T)/Jamey Wright/Robinson Tejeda(?)
- Mike Gonzalez/Rafael Soriano (whoever isn't traded)
- Rafael Betancourt(DL/T)/Chris Perez
- Jason Frasor(T)/Brandon League(?)/B.J. Ryan(?)
Derek Carty, 23, has also been published by NBC's Rotoworld, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, and USA Today. This season, he'll be contributing to FanDuel and will be linking to all of his work at DerekCarty.com. In his three years competing in expert leagues, he has won 2 titles with 4 top three finishes, including a LABR NL title in 2009, making him the youngest person to ever win a major expert league title. Derek is a proud graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and is a firm believer in the importance of combining stats and scouting. He welcomes questions via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.
<< Return to Article