An Early Look at Top 5 Midseason Bullpen Trade Deadline Candidates
While it’s not always easy to predict during the preseason which teams will be buyers and which will be sellers at midseason, I think most of us can make a pretty good guess.
And if those teams we think will be sellers have any players of value, we can assume that those are the names that will be linked to all those fun pre-deadline trade rumors. It doesn't mean that a contending team, however, would be willing to trade from an area of strength to upgrade its team in another area.
For many teams that are playing well, they typically don’t need to go out and acquire a big bat or a No. 1 starter in July. Sometimes, all they need is some bench help or a late-inning reliever to strengthen their bullpen.
Several teams acquired relief help last July, including the Cincinnati Reds (Jonathan Broxton), Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Qualls), St. Louis Cardinals (Edward Mujica) and Los Angeles Dodgers (Brandon League).
Here are five relievers, currently penciled in as their team’s closer or setup man, who could be available if their team falls out of contention or has enough bullpen depth to make a move.
Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
Despite their 93-loss season, it’s not that far-fetched to think that the Boston Red Sox could be in the playoff race in late July. They likely have enough holes, however, that they could shop a potential closer to another contender in order to upgrade at another position or even add some more talent to the farm.
Andrew Bailey, who missed most of his first season in Boston with a thumb injury, was an elite closer with the Oakland A’s from 2009 to 2011, saving 75 games with a 2.07 ERA, 2.5 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9.
In Boston, Bailey’s now second in line behind new closer Joel Hanrahan in a deep bullpen that also features several pitchers capable of stepping into his setup role, including Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa and even Daniel Bard, if he can bounce back in 2013.
If the Detroit Tigers still haven’t decided on a closer in a couple of months, they could be a fit for the 28-year-old right-hander.
Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
No one really thinks the Colorado Rockies will be anywhere near the playoff race by midseason, which should make for some interesting trade talk involving star players Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.
It’s more realistic, though, to think they will shop one of their late-inning relievers. Closer Rafael Betancourt could be a good fit for teams looking for a two-month rental to bolster their bullpen.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old, who had 31 saves, a 2.81 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 8.9 K/9 in 2013, will make $4.25 million in the last year of a deal that also includes a mutual option for 2014.
A team like the Atlanta Braves, that already has an elite closer in Craig Kimbrel but isn't necessarily deep throughout the rest of the ‘pen, could probably use a right-hander like Betancourt to team with Jonny Venters and Jordan Walden to bridge the gap to the ninth inning.
Betancourt held right-handed hitters to a .563 OPS in 2013, which could help the Braves down the stretch against the division rival Washington Nationals, who have tough right-handed hitters Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond to deal with.
Luke Gregerson, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres would probably rather trade closer Huston Street, who is due $14 million over the next two seasons, if they fall out of contention. But many teams will ask about Luke Gregerson, one of the most reliable setup men in the league and one of the toughest against right-handed hitters (.578 OPS, 5 BB, 42 K in 2012).
Any acquiring team also gets the 28-year-old Gregerson for 2014, his last season before becoming a free agent.
So the situation could be very similar to when the team traded top setup man Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers at the 2011 deadline. The price was two pretty good starting pitching prospects for one full season and two months of one of the better eighth-inning relievers in the league.
The price could also be high for Gregerson, although a team like the Pirates could have the pieces to pull off a deal if they’re in position to claim a playoff spot down the stretch.
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs
Nearly traded to the Los Angeles Angels this offseason, Carlos Marmol is certain to have interest again during the season if he can carry over his second-half success from 2012 (1.52 ERA, 29.2 IP, 17 BB, 39 K, 12-for-13 in save opportunities).
The Chicago Cubs signed Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa to not only set up for the 30-year-old Marmol, but also to take over as the closer if Marmol was traded or if he struggled.
If Ryan Madson has a few more setbacks in his return from Tommy John surgery, maybe the Angels will be the team that comes calling again.
Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians
Like Bailey, Chris Perez also fits into the category of a reliever who can be traded because he can fill the closer's role on a contender and because the Cleveland Indians have so much depth behind him and could probably afford to shop him.
Vinnie Pestano is the closer-in-waiting, while the Indians have plenty of good eighth-inning setup candidates to step in for Pestano, including Joe Smith, Cody Allen and lefty Nick Hagadone.
If the Indians cannot find any consistency in their rotation, as was the case in 2012, they could look to deal their biggest trade chip in Perez, who has 75 saves and two All-Star selections over the past two seasons, to a team with an extra starter to spare.
Now what if one of the three AL East teams whose closer had a breakout season in 2012, the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, take a step back in that area? Any one of them has the starting pitching depth to pull off a deal for an established closer like Perez, so that could be a fit.
The 27-year-old makes $7.3 million in 2013 and will get one more raise in arbitration before the 2014 season, which is why they won’t get full value for him. But the AL East should be up for grabs this season, and having Perez in the ninth inning could make a big difference.