It's getting close to time. This will be up June 22, meaning the non-waiver trade deadline is 39 days away. We get excited about the idea of megadeals, where a tanking team sends its last four quasi-stars to some contender in exchange for a bevy of prospects.
More or less, it never happens. I'll go ahead right now and say that the hot, fun talk of a Johnny Cueto-Aroldis Chapman package deal won't happen. Maybe both get traded — though history would make you believe only one will move, at most — but in one package? It won't be happening.
Even the Julys that feature a lot of trades inevitably feel disappointing. No, Cueto, Chapman, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gomez and a bevy of Red Sox will not all be moving, and just from that perspective, the deadline can be a letdown — Rockies fans want a big return for Tulo; A's fans for their guys; Phillies fans for their guys.
The bright side, at least from the perspective of this column of mine every Monday, is that the guys who do move tend to be the relievers. Last year, Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria, Huston Street, Jason Frasor, Jason Grilli and Ernesto Frieri all moved. In 2013 it was slower, but Marc Rzepcsynki, Jesse Crain, Jose Veras and Francisco Rodriguez switched teams. 2012? Jonathan Broxton, Craig Breslow, Edward Mujica, Brandon League. Some of those guys aren't closers now, and some of them might as well be anonymous, but at the times of their trades, each team thought it was adding a difference-maker.
This year? Yes, it is possible Chapman, Papelbon, Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard will all get moved to fancy new climes. It's also possible the biggest movers will be middle relievers, and Will Smith, Evan Scribner and maybe Joaquin Benoit move. Either way, though, we know relievers will change places. It's what they do.
So let's take a (quick, because this is a lot of guessing) look at the teams who might be shopping for closers:
Blue Jays: Toronto is in fourth place in the AL East, though the top four teams are so tightly packed that the Blue Jays could be in first by Wednesday or Thursday. As it is, they're 37-34 and right in the thick of things. That's on the back of a legendary offense, as the Toronto pitching staff has been ... well, bad. Brett Cecil, ostensibly the current closer, has given up 10 earned runs in 7.2 June innings; he won't have the job much longer, if he even does have it as of this column going live. The best bet to get the next saves for Toronto is probably Roberto Osuna. Chance they'll deal for a reliever: 9/10
Cubs: Chicago doesn't seem to be trying to tie itself down to a single capital-C closer, as evidenced by the wishy-washy way Joe Maddon has employed Hector Rondon of late and the team's signing of Rafael Soriano. Part of that might be, though, that the team hasn't really had a big-name closer to employ this season; it's not like Maddon was shy about using Soriano or Fernando Rodney in stereotypically closer-y ways in years past. With some big names out there (and the Cubs supposedly No. 1 on Papelbon's list), Maddon might prove to be more flexibly inflexible about his usage. Chance they'll deal for a reliever: 7/10
Astros: As the Astros' surprise contention continues — buoyed by the fact that only the Rangers seem able to even kind of keep pace, and they're doing it without any pitchers you've ever heard of — they're going to have to start looking at where they can help themselves. Carlos Correa is up, meaning the middle infield is un-upgradeable. The rest of the offense is basically the same, locked in one way or another. The team is certainly going to be seeking a starter or two — you can only rely on Roberto Hernandez so many times before tears — but starters are harder to find than relievers, and teams will often patch over a struggling starting rotation by bolstering the guys that pitcher after. Chance they'll deal for a reliever: 5/10
Tigers: More on the current pitching of Joakim Soria below, but the shorthand is: he's struggled recently. The team's other primary relievers — Al Alburquerque, Joba Chamberlain, Blaine Hardy — have been largely fine, but there's no one there that really shapes up as a closer for a team that needs everything working at peak performance in what is suddenly a strong AL Central. Chance they'll deal for a reliever: 5/10
Cardinals: This seemed slightly more plausible a few days ago, when the health of Trevor Rosenthal was more of a mystery. He pitched Saturday, though, for the first time in a week, striking out one and walking one in one inning. Now, it looks like Rosenthal is more likely to be fine. Still, with Jordan Walden hurt and not a lot of huge names in that St. Louis bullpen, the team might look for insurance. Chance they'll deal for a reliever: 4/10
There are others, of course. Maybe the Yankees get bad news on Andrew Miller and want a replacement. Maybe the Twins want to back up Glen Perkins with someone who has heard of a strikeout before. Maybe Mark Melancon's early season struggles recur. But the above teams appear to be the ones most in need of help.
On to the week's closer rankings:
|1||Kenley Jansen||LAD||3||Long as he's healthy and hasn't walked anyone, he's holding this No. 1 slot.|
|3||Aroldis Chapman||CIN||2||I have a dude with nine strikeouts in his last three innings ranked third. There's some good relievers, y'all.|
|5||David Robertson||CWS||6||It's pretty clear he's a step below the super-elite closers, but it's not a big step.|
|6||Craig Kimbrel||SDP||5||It just isn't the same Craig Kimbrel we've seen in the past.|
|8||Trevor Rosenthal||SLC||7||It made sense to add Kevin Siegrist a week ago. It makes sense to dump him now.|
|11||Mark Melancon||PIT||17||He still isn't striking many guys out, but man, he's been incredible since his early struggles.|
|13||Jonathan Papelbon||PHI||15||Put him in the Toronto bullpen today and I'd have him top seven or so.|
|14||Koji Uehara||BOS||14||Eh. It's harder and harder to hold on to that "Boston is actually good" viewpoint, so Uehara isn't getting the most usage.|
|15||Greg Holland||KAN||9||The strikeouts are down and the walks are up compared to his baseline. And Wade Davis looms.|
|16||Joakim Soria||DET||10||April/May: 21.1 IP, 2 HR allowed, 1.27 ERA. June: 5.2 IP, 4 HR allowed, 8.44 ERA. Something's going to have to give.|
|19||Shawn Tolleson||TEX||22||He's been lights out as the Texas closer, though the outings have been less encouraging of late.|
|20||Tyler Clippard||OAK||25||Since Sean Doolittle's news got worse, Clippard's performance has really improved. Job security?|
|21||Wade Davis||KAN||26||If you were starting a franchise, Davis would be the fifth or sixth reliever off the board. But that's not what we're doing.|
|23||John Axford||COL||20||He tripled his season runs allowed by giving up two Wednesday. Still, his ERA is 1.31.|
|26||Bobby Parnell||NYM||NR||As long as Jeurys Familia is hurt, Parnell will be the beneficiary.|
|27||Hector Rondon||CHC||30||For now, the team is still running him out there as a closer. We'll see if it holds.|
|29||Carson Smith||SEA||NR||One more week with him as the team's primary closer, with no Fernando Rodney intrusion, and Smith will start climbing the frnks.|
|30||Jeurys Familia||NYM||16||He's on the shelf right now with groin tightness, but it isn't expected to linger.|