No matter what big names are moved at the trade deadline, the biggest impact for Fantasy Baseball tends to be at the relief pitcher position, where value is so tied to role that any disruption to that inevitably leads to a shakeup in value.
Simply put, some teams traded their closer away, leaving a vacancy. While it's pretty obvious that Paul Sewald and David Robertson will continue to close for their new teams (Diamondbacks and Marlins), it's less obvious who closes in their stead.
And then there are also teams that didn't acquire a closer at the deadline but did acquire another reliever who puts pressure on the incumbent closer. We begin our romp through the 10 most volatile bullpens with such a scenario. Suffice it to say Carlos Estevez picked a poor time to have a hard time.
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
Lopez got the Angels' first save following his acquisition from the White Sox on July 26. It was because Estevez needed a day off, but it nonetheless prompted speculation that Lopez could push the 2023 All-Star for the ninth-inning gig,- a claim that seemed far-fetched given Estevez's 1.98 ERA at the time. Two blown saves later, Estevez's ERA is 3.57 to go along with a 1.50 WHIP. Monday's blown save was particularly ugly -- he allowed five earned runs while recording just one out. Meanwhile, Lopez, who struggled as a fill-in closer for the White Sox earlier this year, has a 0.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 13.5 K/9 over his past 12 appearances. It's reasonable to think manager Phil Nevin is weighing his options now, though if he did make a change, left-hander Matt Moore is another possibility.
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Romano is obviously the Blue Jays closer when healthy, but as he continues to work his way back from a back issue that first cropped up in the All-Star game, the team is divided over which reliever to use instead. They swung a deadline deal for Hicks, who had been operating as the Cardinals closer, and he's indeed gotten two saves since arriving, including the latest Monday. But Swanson, Romano's setup man, has also gotten two saves during that span. Hicks set up Swanson for one of his two saves, and Swanson returned the favor Monday, working the seventh inning. Because Hicks got the most recent saves, he's probably the direction to lean here, but it's possible Romano is back before the Blue Jays truly settle on his replacement.
This one seems pretty straightforward, actually. Munoz has been hyped as a closer-in-waiting for years, with all the numbers to back it up, and in fact seemed like the Mariners' main justification for moving Paul Sewald at the deadline. Not surprisingly, he's gotten three of the team's four saves since that deal went down. The other went to Brash, who has also been mentioned as a possible closer thanks to his high strikeout rate. Of course, he has a high WHIP to match, but it's hard to argue with his 1.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 12.9 K/9 over his past 25 appearances. Because his save came when Munoz was obviously due for a day off, having worked three of the previous four, we can presume Brash is merely the backup plan.
Raley got the first two saves after the Mets dealt closer David Robertson to the Marlins, and so it seemed pretty obvious which way things were going. But at the time, it also seemed pretty obvious that Ottavino would follow Robertson out the door -- and he didn't. Raley then blew his subsequent save chance Aug. 1 and was most recently asked to work part of the seventh and eighth innings Monday. He's still the last Mets reliever with a save, for whatever that's worth, but Monday's usage suggests that he may be sharing closer duties, with Ottavino being the most likely alternative.
I didn't make much of Santos being anointed White Sox closer following Kendall Graveman's departure to the Astros because it seemed like only a matter of time before Liam Hendriks would reclaim the role. But Hendriks has since succumbed to Tommy John surgery, which leaves Santos without a rival for saves. That's a good spot for Fantasy purposes. Whether he's well suited for the role is another question -- the strikeout rate is a bit low and the hit rate a bit high -- but the White Sox seem confident in him. "When he first got here, he was kind of 'let's get him in the right situation, develop his sinker,'" pitching coach Ethan Katz said recently. "And he's kind of just flourished." The 23-year-old is on bereavement leave now, but he could be a Fantasy fixture to finish out the year.
It took presumed favorite Helsley straining his forearm for manager Oliver Marmol to settle on a singular closer, and Jordan Hicks' emergence seemed like it might be the final say on the matter. But the Cardinals have since flipped Hicks to Toronto, putting Helsley back in the driver's seat as he heads out on rehab assignment. It's true he was splitting save chances with Gallegos prior to going on the IL, and maybe Marmol resumes that arrangement, using Helsley in the higher-leverage spot regardless of the inning. But with the Cardinals firmly out of it now, the hope is he'll be a little more chill. Interestingly, left-hander Romero has gotten the team's only save since Hicks' departure.
If Hernandez's save on July 30 was what convinced the Royals they could move on from Scott Barlow, trading him to the Padres two days later, it's looking now like an all-time fakeout. All Hernandez has done since then is allow six runs, five earned, in three appearances. The former starter throws plenty hard, regularly breaking triple digits with his fastball, and it's translated to more whiffs in a relief role. At 26, he still looks like the team's future for saves, but another 26-year-old, left-hander Austin Cox, did actually get a save Friday, with Hernandez working the seventh. Cox isn't as clear of a fit to close, but if Hernandez continues to struggle, he could get more looks.
Hard-throwing Lange has held onto the closer role longer than some might have guessed at the start of the year, but he appears to be losing his grip on it now due to a long-time bugaboo: walks. His latest outing Monday was his third straight with three of them, bringing him to 7.4 BB/9 for the year. It came in the eighth inning, too, as it appears the Tigers are backing off him until he gets right. "Certainly under the circumstances, we're going to have to consider all of our options," manager A.J. Hinch said Sunday. Foley has done a fine job setting up for Lange this year, and though he doesn't have the typical swing-and-miss profile as a closer, he could be the favorite for saves in the immediate future.
Given Chapman's history as one of the all-time great closers and Smith's history of being a rather shaky one, many presumed that the former would overtake the latter soon after coming over from the Royals in a late-June trade. But over a month later, it still hasn't happened. Chapman has just one save for his new team while Smith has seven during that time, including the Rangers' only four in August. To be fair, he hasn't done anything to forfeit the role, going 21 for 23 in save chances while delivering respectable numbers across the board, but Chapman is still mowing down hitters like he did in his prime. It probably wouldn't take much of a misstep for Smith to lose his grip, so if you can afford to keep rostering Chapman, you should.
Pressly was passed over for a save chance Sunday because of soreness, though manager Dusty Baker made a point to say he's healthy. Given the right-hander's injury history, though, it's probably worth reviewing the Astros' pecking order just in case he's not as healthy as he's cracked up to be. Abreu filled in for the save Sunday and is Pressly's closest competitor talent-wise, but Neris has a 1.52 ERA and tends to work in high-leverage spots as well. Again, there's no indication that Pressly is injured, but if you're looking for an insurance policy or speculative pickup, Abreu makes for a fine choice.