The Hot Seat

The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and rumors are heating up across Major League Baseball. While there are all sorts of theories being tossed around as to who will be dealt where, there’s one potential trade that could open a window of opportunity for a very unlikely fantasy asset who is virtually unowned in any format.

Blake Parker (Ownership rates: Yahoo 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 1%)

12.1 IP, 2.19 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 0.89 WHIP, 10.95 K/9, 3.65 BB/9

With Kevin Gregg having an unexpected career renaissance as the closer for the Cubs, he has emerged as one of the most-rumored players to be on the move before the deadline. Despite his success this year, it is unlikely that a team would have to give up too much to acquire him, partially because he would most likely find himself in a setup role if traded to a contender.

Teams don’t usually have to pay much for a short-term rental of a 35-year-old journeyman reliever, even if he’s having a great season like Gregg is. Still, the Cubs aren’t playing for this year, and they’d likely be satisfied to get even a fringy prospect in return, considering that they signed Gregg to a minor league deal with no expectations.

So, with the likelihood of Gregg’s departure explained, it’s time to examine the remaining pieces in the Cubs bullpen.

The only lefty reliever on the 25-man roster, James Russell, is the subject of trade rumors himself, and even if he isn’t dealt, I’m not sold on the idea that manager Dale Sveum would want to use the only lefty in his bullpen as his full-time closer. Also, Russell has struggled mightily against right-handers this year, with a .403 opponents’ on-base percentage, compared to a .212 mark against lefties.

Carlos Villanueva has bounced back and forth between the ‘pen and the rotation this year, and with the likelihood of the team moving Matt Garza, Scott Feldman or both, I would be surprised if Villanueva doesn’t have a rotation spot again soon.

Other than that, the Cubs have rookie Hector Rondon and journeyman Shawn Camp, each of whom has posted an uninspiring 6.23 ERA on the season. Then there’s recent acquisition Henry Rodriguez, who owns a career walk rate of 6.03 BB/9 that actually has spiked to an astounding 7.29 this year.

That leaves Parker, a 28-year-old rookie who has been toiling in the minors for the Cubs since 2007, with the only exception being a six-inning cup of coffee with the big-league club last year. Sounds exciting, right? No, it’s not terribly exciting, but in my estimation, Parker is the most likely option to take over the closer’s job if Gregg is dealt.

It is important to note that Parker’s long road to the majors wasn’t entirely due to a lack of performance, as the righty has dealt with arm injuries throughout his career, including an elbow ailment last season that limited him to 23.2 total innings. Parker has his own problems with issuing free passes, with a career minor-league walk rate of 4.3 BB/9, but he still has plenty to offer as a potential closer in fantasy leagues.

Parker isn’t a flamethrower, with a fastball sitting in the 91-93 mph range paired with a slow, sweeping slider which is probably his best pitch. He also has added a splitter this year, replacing the change-up he used to mix in, and Sveum credits the development of the splitter as a contributing factor to Parker’s newfound success at the major-league level.

Also of note are Sveum’s other comments in that article, in which he suggests he might give Parker a chance at the job if Gregg is dealt and praises Parker’s ability to pitch effectively on back-to-back days, a crucial attribute for a full-time closer. Finally, Parker has plenty of experience closing games, with 66 career minor-league saves, including seven in Triple-A earlier this year.

If Gregg is traded, the Cubs bullpen is admittedly a crapshoot, but the way I see it, Parker makes the most sense to fill the closer’s role, even if it’s only by process of elimination. Since he is virtually unowned and has just one extra-inning save, he should be available on the cheap if you jump on him right now.

Three weeks from now, you might have a new closer on your roster, and at worst, you lost a few FAAB dollars on the gamble. I’d advise making a play for Parker in deep mixed and NL-only leagues.

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