Tommy Kahnle, Rafael Betancourt, and Justin Miller in new Colorado closer committee

July 31, 2015

Colorado Rockies — As we predicted this morning, John Axford has lost his job as Rockies closer after a string of five straight miserable appearances. Walt Weiss said that he had not yet decided who would take over, but name-checked Tommy Kahnle, Rafael Betancourt, and Justin Miller, who had six saves at AAA Albuquerque this season.

Updated hierarchy: *Kahnle | Betancourt | Miller.
* = closer-by-committee

MLB Trade Deadline Day: Joakim Soria traded. Could a Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman trade be next?

July 31, 2015

Detroit Tigers — After closer Joakim Soria was traded to the Pirates Thursday, the Detroit bullpen was left in disarray. We originally made an educated guess that Bruce Rondon would get the first shot for the Tigers, based mostly on his advanced stats, dissected in our alert sent right after the trade, and the general hype surrounding him. Then, on Thursday, manager Brad Ausmus gave Alex Wilson the initial shot, and he recorded five outs (against the likes of Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis) for his first big-league save. Wilson said after the game that it’s been his dream to close in the majors for a while now, so he wants it and the Tigers have a clear vacancy. As we posted last night, Ausmus was non-committal after the game, but did offer Wilson a lot of praise. We’ll move Wilson to the top of this very volatile committee for now; Al Alburquerque and Neftali Feliz are also lurking in the background, too.

Updated hierarchy: *Wilson | Rondon | Alburquerque.
* = closer-by-committee

Colorado Rockies — Closer John Axford is in what he calls the “ABSOLUTE WORST” stretch of his career now after blowing his fourth straight save Thursday night. He walked in the winning run, throwing just eight of his 25 pitches for strikes in a rough 9th inning. Manager Walt Weiss offered his support for Axford after the game, saying the closer has had a tough week. No kidding. Axford is on the hottest of seats, and if he’s pulled from the closer’s role (which may happen as early as Friday), we expect a committee approach, with Tommy Kahnle in line for the first crack, and Rafael Betancourt and Boone Logan other potential options.

Updated hierarchy: Axford | Kahnle | Betancourt.

Pittsburgh Pirates — Soria had the job in Detroit, but he likely won’t be unseating Mark Melancon anytime soon. Melancon has only allowed 7 runs in 47.2 innings (1.32 ERA) in what has been an excellent season to this point. His velocity is still down across the board, though, which may be causing his pedestrian K/9 numbers (6.2 Ks per 9 IP this year, versus 9.0 Ks per 9 IP in 2014). So if he tires or falters down the stretch, Soria is there to back him up.

Updated hierarchy: Melancon | Soria | Watson.

San Diego Padres — The Padres are expected to “own the last day” before the non-waiver trade deadline, which comes at 4 pm on Friday. Among the many names being discussed is closer Craig Kimbrel, who may have recorded his 30th and final save for San Diego Thursday night. The Yankees are the team most linked to Kimbrel, which would give New York a killer bullpen, but may also kill his value if he’s relegated to a set-up role behind Andrew Miller. Watch out for the Astros, too. If Kimbrel is shipped out of town, expect Joaquin Benoit to get the first crack at closing in San Diego — but Benoit might well be moving too.

Hierarchy remains: Kimbrel | Benoit | Maurer.

Cincinnati Reds — The Reds could deal Aroldis Chapman, whose contract expires after the 2016 season. The Diamondbacks have an offer on the table for Chapman, and the Yankees, Giants and Astros are also rumored to be in the mix. The Reds’ asking price is reportedly very high, so they may wind up holding onto Chapman until the offseason or next year’s deadline.

Hierarchy remains: Chapman | Hoover | Badenhop.

Oakland A’s — Former closer Sean Doolittle threw off a mound Thursday for the first time since going on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain. He threw 26 pitches in a bullpen session and said he was “pretty happy” with the movement on his pitches. Doolittle still hopes to pitch again this season.

Hierarchy remains: Mujica | Pomeranz | O’Flaherty.

St. Louis Cardinals — The Cardinals emerged victorious over the Rocks Thursday — no thanks to Seth Maness, who allowed the tying run in the sixth, or Kevin Siegrist, who allowed two runs in the eighth to put Colorado ahead before Axford coughed it up in the ninth. The newly acquired Steve Cishek pitched a clean seventh, and deserves a spot in the Cardinals hierarchy.

Updated hierarchy: Rosenthal | Siegrist | Cishek.

Washington Nationals — In a game that resembled a potential setup for Game 1 of the playoffs, Max Scherzer went seven scoreless innings for the Nationals, demoted closer Drew Storen pitched a clean eighth inning for his first hold of the season, and the newly acquired Jonathan Papelbon pitched the ninth for his first save with Washington. Expect a similar look the rest of the way for the Nats bullpen.

Hierarchy remains: Papelbon | Storen | Janssen.

New York Mets — What’s wrong with Jeurys Familia? He has been dynamite all season, but since the All-Star Break, he’s allowed 6 ER in 5.1 IP and blown two saves. He took the loss Thursday, yielding three hits, including a three-run bomb to Justin Upton. (In a roundabout way, maybe he’s showing the Mets they need to trade for Upton.) In other news, new Met Tyler Clippard picked up his first hold for New York, working a scoreless eighth inning.

Hierarchy remains: Familia | Clippard | Parnell. 

Anyone, Detroit Tigers — The first few days in the post-Soria era will be worth watching in Detroit. So far, Alex Wilson has seemed to ascend to the ninth-inning role? But Rondon, Albuquerque and Feliz are also there, too.
2. Tommy Kahnle, Colorado Rockies — John Axford has been struggling and threw 25 pitches Thursday, so manager Walt Weiss could turn to Kahnle if the situation calls for it. Rafael Betancourt and Boone Logan are also options.
3. Joaquin Benoit/Brandon Maurer, San Diego Padres — If Craig Kimbrel is traded Friday, Benoit would be in line for the save chance. If both go, Maurer is next in line.
4. J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds — The bullpen picture in Cincinnati isn’t perfectly clear, but if Aroldis Chapman is dealt, Hoover should inherit the closer role.

Alex Wilson gets first save for post-Soria Tigers

July 30, 2015

Detroit Tigers — The first save chance of the post-Joakim Soria era in Detroit went to Alex Wilson, and the Chris Pratt lookalike delivered with five outs against the heart of the Oriole lineup. Only a week ago, Brad Ausmus was holding Wilson back from high-leverage work to save him for potential extra innings, but with his former closer heading to Pittsburgh, the manager tossed Wilson right into the fire. After the game, Wilson said “it wouldn’t be a bad thing” if he got the closer job, but we don’t think this situation is cut-and-dried just yet, and Brad Ausmus confirmed that with vague words about earning roles (although also praise for Wilson). If nothing else, Wilson might get tomorrow off, giving Bruce Rondon a shot at an audition. Still a committee, but Wilson has earned his spot at the top.

Updated hierarchy: *Wilson | Rondon | Alburquerque.
* = closer-by-committee

Bruce Rondon best bet to lead a shaky stable of Tiger relievers after Soria trade

July 30, 2015

Detroit Tigers – Joakim Soria has reportedly been dealt to the Pirates, leaving a shaky Tigers bullpen in flux. If the Tigers believe in advanced stats, they’ll give the job to Bruce Rondon, who has a nearly unfathomable 8.25 ERA and 1.75 WHIP, but has been horribly unlucky, allowing an absurd .455 BABIP. His upside is obvious: he throws smoke and has 18 Ks in 12 innings so far, which is partly why his FIP is 2.66, which is about on par with Zack Greinke. If they’re scared off by his traditional stats, though, Al Alburquerque or Alex Wilson could get a look. Wilson is Rondon’s polar opposite — a low-strikeout control wizard whose ERA (1.84) is lower than his FIP (2.92) suggests it should be — while Alburquerque is somewhere in between, averaging a strikeout an inning with middle-of-the-road ratios elsewhere. Check back to see if the Tigers announce that they’ve given the job to someone specific. So far, GM Dave Dombrowski has said that he thinks Rondon could do the job, but that it will be Brad Ausmus’s decision.

Updated hierarchy: *Rondon | Alburquerque | Wilson.
* = closer-by-committee

Pittsburgh Pirates – As good as Joakim Soria has been, he won’t displace Mark Melancon, who leads baseball with 32 saves and sports a sparkling 1.32 ERA. (And this, after battling through concerns about his velocity for the whole month of April.) Soria will join Tony Watson as set-up men in what has become one of the strongest bullpens in baseball.

Updated hierarchy: Melancon | Soria | Watson.

Arodys Vizcaino, Hector Rondon ascend to closer roles

July 30, 2015

Atlanta Braves — Although it hasn’t been finalized, there are multiple independent reports that Jim Johnson has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The void he leaves should be filled by Arodys Vizcaino. The 24-year-old has the power arm managers value in a closer, and has been named as a potential replacement for Jim Johnson ever since the Grilli injury. Behind him, veterans David Aardsma and Jason Frasor are likely to get more late-inning looks as well. We’ll keep an eye on how the first few save opportunities go for the Braves, but Vizcaino is the guy to own for now.

Updated hierarchy: Vizcaino | Frasor | Aardsma.

Chicago Cubs – A day after Joe Maddon said that he needed to “do something” with the bullpen, Hector Rondon resumed the closer’s role after he struck out two to earn his 13th save of the season in a 3-2 Cubs win. Maddon also praised Pedro Strop on Tuesday night, and with former closer Jason Motte pitching in a five-run loss on Tuesday, we’ll move Strop ahead of Motte for now.

Updated hierarchy: Rondon | Strop | Motte.

Los Angeles Dodgers — LA has apparently acquired Jim Johnson from Atlanta, along with lefty Luis Avilan, giving the Dodgers an incredibly deep bullpen. We don’t think Johnson will challenge Kenley Jansen for save opportunities, but we do slot him ahead of Pedro Baez, J.P. Howell, Juan Nicasio, recently recalled Yimi Garcia, and Avilan, all of whom have been effective in high-leverage work.

Updated hierarchy: Jansen | Johnson | Baez.

Tampa Bay Rays — The Rays are all but out of the race this year, and have been floating Brad Boxberger’s name as a potential trade piece. Last night he was used for only the third time in a game the Rays were trailing, which may have been a last-chance audition before the trade deadline. While he’s in Tampa, he’s still the closer, but if he gets moved, Jake McGee would be worthy of an immediate add (if he’s not already taken).

Hierarchy remains: Boxberger | McGee | Jepsen.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Amidst the rumors of the Diamondbacks trading for Aroldis Chapman, they called up former closer Addison Reed. Reed pitched two scoreless innings, and with his $4.9 million salary, he may be auditioning for a new job.

Hierarchy remains: Ziegler | Hudson | Hernandez.

Texas Rangers – Jake Diekman was included as a part of deal that brought Cole Hamels to Texas. Diekman may have had some sleeper value while still with the Phillies because they could sell off anybody at this point, but that is pretty much gone in Texas, where he’d have to jump several better arms to get into the late-inning mix.

Hierarchy remains: Tolleson | Kela | Scheppers.

1. J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds – Aroldis Chapman has pitched in two straight, and more importantly might be traded or held out pending a trade as rumors swirl.
2. Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays – Sanchez and Roberto Osuna will be sharing the 8th and 9th innings.