The MLB trade deadline is July 30th this year, and between now and then the closer landscape will undergo a sizable shift. Teams no longer contending for the postseason will be looking to offload their closers to teams still in the race. This both creates a hole to be filled by the team trading away their closer but also takes a closer out of the pool for the team acquiring a new reliever. This hierarchy shift will also affect what pitchers will be useful in leagues that count holds. The teams planning on selling aggressively appear to be clear, even with a few borderline cases that may go one way or the other. Here are the closers I’m most confident will be traded, and some potential stash or replacement options if they are traded.
The Cubs have already clearly conceded their intentions to sell at the deadline with the Joc Pederson trade. Kimbrel might be their most valuable trade chip given his dominance and the possibility of his acquiring team having rights to his services for the 2023 season. He’s likely to find himself on the move come July 30th. His two potential replacements, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin could also conceivably find themselves on the move. Tepera is a free agent at the end of 2021 and Chafin has a mutual option for 2022. If Tepera and Chafin each stay with Chicago, I would look for Tepera to get the majority of save opportunities given his status as the eighth-inning reliever and being right-handed. If Tepera is moved but Chafin is not, then Chafin seems like the next in line. If both are traded, the situation will likely be some sort of committee. Rex Brothers could be next line as a veteran pitching high leverage innings currently, but he’s left-handed and could be used earlier in games. Daniel Winkler has a 2.32 ERA but concerning 13.1% walk rate, and Dillon Maples has similar walk issues. In summary, the chain of command goes from Ryan Tepera to Andrew Chafin to Rex Brothers, and if Tepera and Chafin join Kimbrel on the trade market, the situation will be one to avoid.
Rodriguez has had a solid 2021 season thus far, posting a 2.65 ERA. His 4.72 xFIP and 22.1% strikeout rate portend to regression in the future, but he may not even be a member of the Pirates when that regression comes. Rodriguez has been rumored as a trade target for a few weeks now, and the Pirates may be wise to sell high on the 31-year-old reliever. Earlier in the season Kyle Crick looked like the heir apparent but his walk rate ballooned 17.8% and the Pirates designated him for assignment earlier this week. Chris Stratton and David Bednar represent the likely replacements if Rodriguez is traded. Bednar has the best numbers in the Pirates’ bullpen, has pitched the eighth inning, and averages almost 97 MPH on the fastball. Stratton has posted a sub-3 ERA and would be the more veteran option. Between the two, Bednar is much more attractive for fantasy purposes and would be the pitcher to stash.
Arizona’s closer situation had been one of the worst in baseball all year, but Soria has taken a hold on the job in recent weeks. The Diamondbacks also have been in more competitive games as their team gets healthier and they get to an easier portion of their schedule. Soria’s stay as the Diamondbacks’ closer might not be for long, however. The last place club is likely to explore trade options for Soria given his expiring contract. If Soria were to be traded, the situation would likely resemble what it was a month ago. Noe Ramirez has been pitching the highest leverage innings aside from Soria upon his arrival to Arizona and has performed relatively well. Joe Mantiply has also assumed a setup role, but he’s left-handed and likely to stay in a setup role after Soria is traded. The rest of Arizona’s bullpen has not performed well, making Ramirez the logical fit as the next man up if Soria is traded. Given the Diamondbacks’ record and Ramirez’s last of a track record, he would likely only be useful in the deepest of leagues.
The Rockies’ closer always carries some considerable risk given their home ballpark, but Daniel Bard has managed to deliver mostly acceptable results to this point in the season. He isn’t a lock to be dealt at the trade deadline given the Colorado Rockies’ lack of urgency to get trades done but given his status as a veteran reliever under team control through 2022, he is a likely player to be traded. In the case he is traded, Mychal Givens or Carlos Estevez would be the most obvious candidates to step into the closer’s role. Estevez has not been particularly effective this season, posting a 5.04 ERA. His K-BB% is around league average at 14.5% and his 3.99 SIERA is not quite as bad as his ERA, but he doesn’t have true closer skills. He has established himself as the Rockies’ eighth-inning reliever and has a fastball averaging almost 97 MPH, two strong indicators of who a manager will select to be a closer. As for Givens, his 3.16 ERA is much better than Estevez but his 4.05 SIERA is almost the same. He also has more recent closing experience from 2019 with the Orioles. If I had to guess who would get the first opportunity to fill the Rockies’ closer role after a Daniel Bard trade, I would go with Mychal Givens. Regardless of who is selected, the Rockies’ lack of winning and the nature of Coors field heavily caps the closer’s ceiling.
Garcia may not even need to be traded for this closing situation to change. Since the beginning of June Garcia has pitched to 7.11 ERA and 4.89 SIERA. His fly ball tendencies (only a 38.1% ground ball rate) and poor strikeout rate (18% K%) have made him susceptible to home runs and long innings. Miami would be within reason to pull the plug on Garcia anytime now, but they also have an incentive to let him close leading up to the trade deadline to possibly salvage some of his trade value. Regardless of how Garcia loses the closer job in Miami, the Marlins could choose from Anthony Bass, John Curtiss, Dylan Floro, Richard Bleier, and Anthony Bender as the replacement. Bass was Mattingly’s original choice to be the closer and could go back to him after Garcia. Bender is has performed the best out of anyone in the Marlins’ bullpen but has the least experience. Floro, Bleier, and Curtiss all have major league experience and have been pitched competently in their current roles, but they lack the traditional velocity, strikeout rate, or pedigree to be a clear fit in the ninth inning. This trio and Bass also run the risk of joining Garcia on the trade market. While my expectation is Anthony Bass would be the successor if Yimi Garcia were to be traded, Bender is the pitcher I would be most willing to stash due to the upside he’s presented in a non-closing role.
Kennedy has been one of the more surprisingly solid closer options so far in 2021, but that likely won’t last the entire season. The Rangers are currently in last place and Kennedy is headed towards free agency at the end of 2021, making him a clear trade candidate. The issue arises when trying to figure out who would take over if Kennedy is traded. In June, Kennedy was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Texas did not establish a clear backup option to Kennedy. Joely Rodriguez and Josh Sborz are the two other relievers on the current roster with a save. Rodriguez has a ghastly 6.04 ERA but a solid 2.99 xFIP. His mix of ground balls (67.9% groundball rate) with an average 23.5% strikeout rate makes him an interesting pitcher with positive regression likely in his future. Sborz has shown a fastball that sits over 96 MPH and a strikeout rate of 29.5% this year but has been bitten by a 12.1% walk rate. He is an interesting longer-term potential closer if he can improve his command and consistency, but he is unlikely to immediately step into the closer role after Kennedy is traded. Veteran Spencer Patton is my pick to succeed Kennedy after posting very impress