We haven’t quite reached trade season — that doesn’t really start until after the draft — but we are officially in the part of the year in which teams start exploring possible matches. Everyone has a basic idea of whether or not they’re contenders, and it’s now that the make their plans for the next two months. Bullpen help probably isn’t as big of a priority for the Red Sox as finding another starter or another left fielder, but I’d expect them to make some sort of move to address this area by August.
Carson Smith’s injury was clearly a huge blow, even with the rest of the unit performing well to this point. There’s no guarantee that Koji Uehara and/or Junichi Tazawa will make it through the year pitching at a high level, while Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree have never shown the ability to make it through a full season at a high level. There are always a million relievers available at the deadline, but here’s a preliminary look at five potential targets from likely sellers.
We’ll get the boring names out of the way, as these are the most likely ones to be acquired. Salas isn’t someone that is going to replace Smith all by himself, but he’s quietly been one of the better relief arms since joining the Angels in 2014. In that time, he’s consistently put up FIPs and DRAs around 3.00, the kind of consistency that is tough to find in this role. He fits the Uehara/Tazawa mold of reliever in that he limits walks. He hasn’t walked more than 2.1 batter per nine innings since 2012, though it is also worth noting his zone rate is way down this year. He had shown legitimate strikeout ability in 2014 and 2015, too, but that is trending in the wrong direction in 2016, likely a result of that tumbling zone rate. Either way, he’d be a cheap get, as he’s a free agent at the end of the year, and he’d be a nice guy to place in the empty tier between Uehara/Tazawa and Matt Barnes/Heath Hembree. Salas is a free agent at the end of the season.
Not only do we have another Fernando here, we have a pitcher who fits the same mold in that he’s not quite back-end good, but he’s better than the other middle relievers on the roster. Or, he’s more proven at least. Like Salas, he’s been quietly good for the last couple of years. Unlike Salas, Rodriguez doesn’t limit walks at a near-elite rate, but he does have better raw strikeout stuff. Relying heavily on a mid-90’s fastball, he strikes out roughly a batter per inning. The A’s and Billy Beane are obviously a strange team, so you never know who’s going to be on the block. If someone like Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks or Sean Doolittle were to be made available, that’d obviously be more attractive. It would also cost significantly more, though. Rodriguez is under control through the 2017 season, and would be worth trying to acquire for a cheap price.
The Phillies have been surprisingly competitive this season, and currently find themselves a game above .500. It’s still expected that they fall out of contention and become sellers, though, and their effective bullpen is a perfect place for them to sell from. Hernandez will likely be the best arm to be put up for sale from Philadelphia. He started the year as the team’s closer, but a horrid start took him out of that role in short order. Since then, however, he’s been one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He’s currently using his dynamic fastball/slider combination to strike out over 12 batters per nine innings while also posting a career-best 44 percent ground ball rate. One would expect his numbers to fall with a move to the American League, but the impending free agent should be a relatively cheap trade target and has the potential to make a huge impact.
Now we get to the two more expensive candidates on the list. Jeffress became the closer-by-default in Milwaukee after Will Smith got hurt. If you remember, Smith was one of my favorite targets at this time last year, and I’d still love to have him. Jeffress is more likely to be made available, though, and he could be an intriguing target. His high-90’s sinker has been incredibly effective this year, and his 60 percent ground ball rate would be an intriguing weapon to have with runners on base. He typically puts up solid strikeout numbers, too, but they are way down this season. However, none of his plate discipline numbers jump out as an issue, so one would expect those strikeouts to come back at some point. The fact that he’s held the closer role all year combined with him being under control through 2019 could make Jeffress’ price higher than he’s worth. His talent is at least worth checking in on, though.
This is my pie-in-the-sky, never-gonna-happen target for the list. The Braves are obviously going to be sellers — seriously, if you don’t follow the National League go check out their team — but I don’t think they’ll make their best young reliever available. Of course, the first thing I said after Wade Miley was sent to Seattle was that there was no way Smith would be coming back, so. Vizcaino, meanwhile, is one of my very favorite relievers in the game, and he’s being wasted on an atrocious Braves roster. He uses a high-90’s fastball and a filthy curveball to strike out 13 batters per nine innings, and he’s gotten his walks way down to three per nine.
On top of that, he’s managed to induce ground balls 60 percent of the time this season, something that likely won’t continue but is encouraging all the same. All together, 266 pitchers have thrown at least 20 innings. Eight have a better DRA and nine have a better cFIP. At only 25, he’s as intriguing of a young reliever as there is in baseball. Like Jeffress, his cost could certainly be prohibitive. However, Smith’s uncertain status in 2017 combined with the impending free agency of Uehara and Tazawa leaves the back of Bsoton’s bullpen a question mark next year. Vizcaino wouldn’t just shore up the unit this year, but he’d fill a hole moving forward as well.