MLB Trade Candidates: Closers

By Matt Johnson on Friday, July 7th 2017
MLB Trade Candidates: Closers
Photo: Iglesias, Wilson, Jim Johnson

Raisel Iglesias, Closer, Cincinnati Reds

2017 Stats:  41 2/3 IP, 15-16 save opportunities, 10.8 K/9, 1.73 ERA, 2.53 FIP

A former starting pitcher, the Reds have witnessed Iglesias blossom into one of the more underrated relievers in baseball. As a 27-year-pld, Iglesias has been money nearly every time he is called out of the bullpen. If you take out his lone blown save, when he allowed four runs and three walks in 2/3 of an inning, Iglesias' ERA drops to 0.88.

Iglesias' success as a strikeout artist has reached new levels this season. After the young closer posted a 25.5 strikeout percentage last season with an 11.6 swinging-strike percentage, those numbers elevated even further so far this season. Iglesias now strikes out 31.5 percent of the batters faced this year and raised his swinging-strike rate to 13.6 percent. He features a mid-90s fastball and pairs it with a slider-change up combo to keep hitters off balance.

On Thursday, Jon Morosi reported the Washington Nationals expressed interest in Iglesias. It certainly makes sense for a bullpen that owns a league-worst 5.20 ERA, 4.86 FIP and -0.6 Wins Above Replacement. Given Iglesias' outstanding success rate as Cincinnati's close and his skill set, he would make for an excellent option to solve the ninth inning struggles Washington continues to face.

But there are doubts about Iglesias' level of availability. He is just blossoming into a high-end closer who the team has under co tract control for several years. He is owed $3.5 million this season, $4.5 million in 2918, $5 million in 2019 and another $5 million in 2020. So the combination of his age, production, upside and cost control could drive his price to levels just below what the New York Yankees received for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman In July last season.

Whether a team is willing to give up its top prospect for Iglesias, or if he is even available, remains to be seen. But if the Reds do make him available, he would be the top reliever on the market this trade season.

Justin Wilson, Closer, Detroit Tigers

2017 Stats: 32 2/3 IP, 9-10 save opportunities, 13.22 K/9, 2.48 ERA, 2.91 FIP

The Tigers window of contention appears to have come to an end and with it will come a monumental trade deadline where the course of the franchise could change dramatically. While Wilson may not be the biggest name on the Tigers' roster that is available, he should still draw plenty of market at a time of year where every contender wants to upgrade its bullpen and some others are in need of a closer.

Wilson, 29, entered the year in a setup role for Detroit but quickly emerged as its closer after the struggles of Francisco Rodriguez. Wilson certainly earned the promotion to the ninth-inning gig after dominant work across 13 2/3 innings working the seventh and eighth innings. He registered eight holds over that span, but far more impressive was Wilson's 22/4 K/BB ratio and just four hits allowed over that span. During that time, Wilson would face 50 batters and he sent 42 of them back to the dugout having failed to do their job.

While Wilson hasn't dominated opposing batters as a closer to the magnitude he did before, his success can't be discounted. The 29-year-old converted eight-of-nine save opportunities and registered a 3.50 ERA to go with it across 18 innings pitched. The strikeouts are certainly still there with 22 whiffs across that span, in addition to a 14.6 swinging-strike percentage.

Detroit's struggles this season haven't afforded Wilson a significant number of save opportunities, but his appearances as a closer have shown he can certainly handle the role and have success. Teams in need of relief upgrades will have to keep in mind their ballpark, given 49.3 percent of the balls put in play against Wilson are a fly ball. But he does have a fairly high soft-contact rate at 20.9 percent, so he has shown he can generate some easy outs.

There is no doubt Wilson should be available this month and there will be no shortage of suitors. He would be headed for a set-up role if traded to a team like the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers or Tampa Bay Rays. But for Detroit, they should net a solid return that will further deepen its farm system as they retool and a contender will land a reliable late-inning reliever.

A.J. Ramos, Closer. Miami Marlins

2017 Stats: 31 1/3 IP, 15-16 save opportunities, 11.20 K/9, 3.16 ERA, 3.63 FIP

Miami's message this July became clear weeks ago, it is fully on board with selling every asset it can to reload the farm system and try and give this team something to get excited about for the future. The hitters are where the main attractions are found with Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, but Ramos should attract plenty of attention as well.

Miami's closer for the past two and a half seasons, the 30-year-old right has continued to hold his ground and rack up the saves. Coming off a 2016 season in which he converted 40-of-43 save opportunities and paired a 10.27 K/9 with a 2.81 ERA across 64 innings, Ramos continues to show some signs of a great closer. 

Even while command remains an issue for him, demonstrated by a 4.60 BB/9, Ramos is still pitching at a high level. He owns a strong 3.16 ERA on the year, but his numbers as of late are even greater. Since May 26, Ramos owns a 1.13 ERA, 1.78 FIP, 11.25 K/9 and has allowed just seven hits to 61 batters faced in 16 innings pitched.

It couldn't come at a better time for the Marlins who can use that hot streak to further elevate Ramos' trade value and net a better return as a result. Better yet, Ramos is arbitration eligible this offseason one last time, which will give the team that acquires him a season and a half of contract control over a high-leverage reliever.

While there would certainly be lots of interest in Ramos as a set-up man to a team's closer, he could slide in nicely to the closer's role for a few contenders. It obviously benefits Miami more to deal him to a team that views him as a closer in order to net a better return, but just adding to its farm system and cutting salaries will be a very worthwhile return for them.

David Robertson, Closer, Chicago White Sox

2017 Stats: 30 IP, 12-13 save opportunities, 13.20 K/9, 3.00 ERA, 3.05 FIP

Robertson is the closer everyone has expected to be dealt since spring training. Chicago is in a rebuild and as with all teams transitioning towards the future, has no need for a closer. While Robertson remains with Chicago for now, it's a sure bet he is moved in the coming weeks and lands in a contender's bullpen.

It certainly has been a productive season for the 32-year-old. Robertson has demonstrated improvements in several key areas. Robertson's 13.2 K/9 is the second-highest mark of his career, just behind his 13.5 K/9 rate in 2011. But Robertson has been even better than that this year, demonstrated by a 28.3 K-BB percentage that is also the second-highest mark of his career.

Robertson, who heavily features a curveball that he uses 42.6 percent of the time, is making plenty of opponents miss. He owns a 36.7 strikeout percentage on the season and holds a new career-high in his swinging-strike rate at 16.3 percent, nearly four percentage points higher than his SwStrk% last year (12.4).

With a .262 batting average on balls in play and 3.10 xFIP, Robertson's numbers provide plenty of reason to buy into his hot start to the year and not expect significant regression. The only 'negative' for him this year is a career-worst 1.2 HR/9, the first time in his career he has averaged a home run per inning, but that could be tied to the tremendous jump in home runs across the majors this season and the reported 'juiced' baseballs.

Compared to the others closers on the market, Robertson is on the expensive side financially. Owed more than $6 million the remainder of this season and due $13 million in 2018, whatever team acquires Robertson will have to pay for Robertson at a top-three positional rate. It could force the White Sox to either take a significantly lesser prospect in return or eat some of the money owed to Robertson.

It's not a question of if Robertson is traded, but when. Given the variety of options available, Chicago won't be the lone seller with a closer available and thus may not see as significant of a return as hoped. But one of the top farm systems in all of baseball, should receive even more help when the deadline rolls around.

Jim Johnson, Closer. Atlanta Braves

2017 Stats: 37 2/3 IP, 19-26 save opportunities, 11.47 K/9, 3.58 ERA, 2.34 FIP

Atlanta knew coming into this season that it would be a transition year before the team really takes off in 2018 and beyond. It built some of its rotation and bullpen on the idea of trading away veteran arms come July to further enhance its minor-league depth with intriguing bats and arms.

While plans haven't gone as hoped with the likes of Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, things have gone quite well with the team's decision to stick Johnson into the closer's role from the start of the year until the day a trade agreement comes.

The 34-year-old righty's numbers this year are outstanding, especially for his age. Across 36 2/3 innings pitched, Johnson owns a 48/12 K/BB ratio and has allowed just 30 hits against 156 batters faced. While his fastball isn't overwhelming, he uses it 66 percent of the time, Johnson is missing more bats than ever. He owns a 10.6 swinging-strike rate on the year, a vast improvement to his 7.7 percent swinging-strike rate in 2016.

When Johnson isn't striking batters out, more times than not they are hitting balls on the ground or popups in the infield. He holds a 51.6 groundball percentage on the season, meanwhile 14.8 percent of balls in play are infield fly balls. It's certainly notable given infield fly balls are an out over 99 percent of the time, almost as automatic as a strikeout, and Johnson's rate is more than double his 6.7 percent infield fly ball rate across his career and seven times the number he registered last season.

Johnson is a closer now, but will either be shifted into a middle-relief role or serve as a set-up man if he is traded. Johnson is owed $5 million next season and given his age, Atlanta will likely net a small prospect and unloading Johnson's salary in exchange for his services.

Addison Reed, Closer, New York Mets

2017 Stats: 41 2/3 IP, 14-16 save opportunities, 9.07 K/9, 2.59 ERA, 3.06 FIP

The Mets have twice called upon Addison Reed this season in their time of need to fill in at closer. On each occasion, the 28-year-old surpassed the grandest expectations New York set for him. While the team certainly hoped they would be in contention this season, a plethora of injuries to the lineup, rotation and bullpen then paired with struggles of others, have them far outside the window and likely sellers at the deadline.

Reed's road to becoming one of the top closers on the trade market is certainly one of redemption. A failed stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks where he spent a season and a half with 106 2/3 innings pitched and an era over 4.20. So the Diamondbacks cut bait and Reed quickly wound up with New York, where things changed dramatically.

Since Reed joined the Mets in September 2015, his numbers resemble that of a top reliever. Across 134 2/3 innings pitched, Reed owns a 2.07 ERA, 2.40 FIP and 6.52 K/BB ratio. His numbers put him up there with some of the best non-closers in the game over that span and perfectly explain why New York had no trouble sliding the reigns over to him when Jeurys Familia received a 15-game suspension to begin the year, then later in the 2017 season underwent surgery to address a blood clot in his shoulder.

You need guys like Reed to be money in high-leverage situations and he has done that.  Across 17 2/3 innings in high-leverage spots this season, Reed has limited opponents to a .211/.286/.417 slash line and a .284 wOBA, per FanGraphs. That jumps off the page and will immediately attract teams to Reed as someone they can trust no matter the inning when they need outs immediately in tight spots.

He has converted 14-of-16 save opportunities this season, but more importantly is his success as of late that leaves New York smiling. Just as the trade rumors heat up and teams start to really identify the back end of their bullpen as a major need, Reed has stepped into the spotlight. From the start of June to now, he owns a 1.29 ERA and 2.15 FIP with 13 hits allowed in 14 innings. With that, opposing teams seem further numbers that show Reed can be a very reliable arm in the late innings and someone worth giving up a prospect for.

Reed will become a free agent at the end of the season, so whatever teams offer New York for his services will deduct value for a half-season rental. Reed will also join a long list of late-inning relief pitchers on the trade market, so teams will have other options if they don't like New York's asking price. But for a farm system that badly needs depth, trading Reed will help that.

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