As it turns out, the MLB trade deadline was much ado about nothing, at least in the world of the Bottom of the 9th. Heath Bell remains with the Padres as the closer, while Mike Adams was dealt to a new team, but not to close. Koji Uehara looked like the best reliever in Baltimore all year (and it wasn’t even close); now, he may be third in line for saves with his new team.
Other trade candidates from the closer ranks included Drew Storen, Andrew Bailey, Brandon League, Huston Street, Leo Nunez, Kyle Farnsworth, Jason Isringhausen and Kevin Gregg, but none of them found themselves cleaning out their respective lockers over trade deadline weekend.
That basically means I don’t have nearly the amount of “new” analysis in this edition of the Bottom of the 9th as I could have had. Good thing it’s a free article, right? Let’s examine the three most likely teams to experience closer change between now and the end of the season.
This was one team in on literally every reliever over the last week of July. They were reportedly putting together packages for Lee Smith and Dennis Eckersley before they swung trades with Baltimore and San Diego to land the best pitcher on both teams. Sorry, Mat Latos fans, it’s true. The Rangers paid a hefty price to bolster the bullpen, but they’re much better equipped to fight their East Coast rivals come October.
Of course, they’ll likely want to try one of their shiny, new toys in the closer role before the playoffs, especially if Neftali Feliz stops wishing you a Merry Christmas. He’s blown two of his last four save opportunities, raising his ERA from 2.89 on July 25 to 3.64 on August 6. The owner of a 71:18 K:BB ratio over 69.1 innings last season, Feliz has walked 20 batters in 42 innings while only recording 29 strikeouts this year. The Rangers can’t afford to be too patient with him.
With Adams in tow at least one more year, it would only make sense to shift Feliz to the starting rotation at the beginning of next season. If he struggles over the next few weeks, Feliz could find himself out of the Bottom of the 9th for good. Adams has more value than Uehara at this point, but both deserved to be owned, just in case.
Toronto Blue Jays
As has been the case all year with the Blue Jays, there’s no question a change gon’ come, but when, and with whom? Jon Rauch is back in the closing role, and though he’s recorded saves in three of his last four apperances, he’s only managed one scoreless outing in his last five games. His ERA is up to 4.53 and rising, and he’s allowed three long balls in his most recent five-game stretch.
As always, Frank Francisco is the man to own should Rauch be stripped of closing duties. He hasn’t exactly been lighting the league on fire this year either, with just 10 of 14 save chances successfully converted, but he has been very good as a setup man since losing the job in mid-July. However, he’s a free agent at the end of the year, as is Rauch. I seriously doubt the Blue Jays want to endure either headache again.
However, it does make sense for the Blue Jays to give Casey Janssen a chance as the team’s closer while they play out the rest of the season. Almost 30, Janssen has one more year of arbitration before he’s due to hit free agency, and the team could build quite a bit of trade value for him should he excel as the Blue Jays closer. In 33.2 innings this year, Janssen has a 2.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 31 Ks and nine BBs. Compared to Franraucho, he’s positively Eck-ian. AL-only owners should already have Janssen on their team, and dynasty leaguers should feel free to grab him now in case he winds up the closer in 2012. You never know.
New York Mets
The Mets did the smart thing (hey, who knew?) when they dealt Francisco Rodriguez well in advance of the trading deadline. Relief options were plentiful at the end of June, but few teams were able to work out trades for market relievers. The Mets, obviously, didn’t have that problem.
In the wake of the trade, they turned to veteran and 293-save man Jason Isringhausen to close. Izzy responded by rattling off five consecutive saves and a win in six appearances heading into August. This month has not been kind to the man on a quest for 300 saves, as he allowed five runs in two appearances (both losses and one a blown save) at the beginning of the month. The Mets have nothing to lose by keeping him in the role for now, but once he hits the magic number, they need to seriously consider turning to the presumed future at the position.
Bobby Parnell sure hasn’t been making it easy for the Mets to put him in the ninth, though. Five of his last 10 appearances in July featured at least one earned run credited to the fire-baller, with his ERA rising from 3.15 to 3.86 over the course of the month. He is, however, under team control through 2015, while Isringhausen could call it a career at the end of the season. No time like the present to get your feet wet in the Bottom of the 9th; once Izzy has a 300 on his resume, expect Parnell to get the call, and not from Andy Samberg.