- Cuban free agents Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston held a showcase in Miami for all 30 teams on Friday. The Orioles, with the most international spending room available (~$6.7MM), are reportedly the favorites to sign Victor Victor Mesa, an outfielder who’s the No. 1-ranked int’l prospect available. It seems the team that gets him will also land his brother, a fellow outfielder, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes the two “are viewed within the industry as a package deal.” The O’s are indeed interested in the tandem, reports Kubatko, who adds that they also “really like” Gaston – a right-handed pitcher. Financially speaking, the Orioles hold a significant edge over every other team in the league when it comes to signing any of these players, but Kubatko notes that the Marlins’ proximity to Cuba could stand in Baltimore’s way. The Marlins, who have the second-most money to spend ($4.3MM), have made it known that they are trying to use location to their advantage. Further, in their push to sign the Mesas and Gaston, the Marlins set up personalized lockers with uniforms for the players, Kubatko relays. Team CEO and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter also happened to be on hand for their showcase.
- The Marlins made a trade Saturday, sending right-hander Ryan Lillie to the Reds for international bonus pool money, and there may be more such moves on the way from the Fish. Miami’s “exploring other deals” that would enable it to net more international cash, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com tweets. The Marlins entered Saturday with the second-most international money available ($4.3MM) and are known to be in the market for Cuban outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, MLB.com’s top-ranked int’l prospect.
- The Orioles – the only team with more international money to spend than the Fish – had five representatives in attendance for the showcase of Victor Victor Mesa, brother Victor Mesa Jr. (also an outfielder) and Cuban pitcher Sandy Gaston on Friday in Miami, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. Baltimore sent vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, senior advisor Joe McIlvaine, special assignment scout John Stockstill and a pair of scouts (Dean Albany and Calvin Maduro), according to Kubatko, who hears that the O’s lack of a GM/manager won’t impact their pursuit of the Mesas. The Orioles said goodbye to both GM Dan Duquette and skipper Buck Showalter earlier this week.
The Reds have acquired right-hander Ryan Lillie from the Marlins for international bonus money, per C. Trent Rosecrans of the Athletic (Twitter link). $750K of availability is going to Miami in the swap, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (via Twitter).
Lillie, 22, was a fifth round pick of the Marlins in the 2017 draft. Though he showed plus command (1.12 BB/9 for Low-A Greensboro this season) in his initial low-level taste, Lillie seems little more than organizational depth at this point: at season’s end, he didn’t rank in the top thirty for a mid-pack Marlins system in any major publication. Baseball America (subscription required) does note that he has a chance to be a back-end reliever, lauding his ’above-average’ slider, though the Marlins used him almost exclusively in a starting role.
For the Marlins, the incentive seems clear: stockpile as much international bonus pool money as possible in hopes of luring star free agent Victor Victor Mesa to Miami. The Fish, who began the day with $4.3MM in pool money, have baseball’s second-highest total in that department and figure to be key players for the 22-year-old when the time comes.
The Marlins are expected to “explore” trade offers for right-hander Dan Straily this offseason and also could be open to offers on righty Jose Urena should they receive a strong offer, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. Jackson adds that it’s “no certainty” that Straily will be tendered a contract this offseason even if no trade materializes. That’s a stark drop-off for a pitcher who was a relatively in-demand commodity prior to the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline. However, Straily struggled through an awful second half in 2017 and delivered pedestrian results in a 2018 season that was marred by a forearm injury. Dating back to the 2017 All-Star break, Straily owns a 4.69 ERA with 7.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 1.61 HR/9 and a 32.2 percent ground-ball rate in 195 1/3 innings.He earned $3.375MM in 2018 and would be due a modest raise next season via the arbitration process. Straily, 29, is controlled through 2020.
Urena, 27, notched a 3.98 ERA in 174 innings, averaging 6.7 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 0.98 HR/9 along the way. His average fastball checked in at 95.8 mph, and his 49.6 percent ground-ball rate was solidly above the league average of 43.2 percent. He’s controlled through 2021 and will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter.
More out of South Florida…
- President of baseball operations Michael Hill met with the media this week to discuss a number of topics (video link via MLB.com), including the team’s decision to host a showcase for Cuban prospects Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston. While the organization recognizes that this won’t necessarily give them a major advantage, it was still an easy decision. “We’re the Miami Marlins,” Hill said. “Our stadium is in Little Havana. Miami is the gateway to the Americas. It just made so much sense to everyone to host this workout. Obviously, all 30 clubs are invited to the workout so there’s no advantage that we have, but we want the most talented players in baseball to want to be a part of what we’re building. Friday, hopefully, is the start of a productive offseason for us.” Only the Orioles have more than the $4.3MM the Marlins currently have in their international bonus pool.
- Hill also discussed the team’s need for a first baseman (link via Wells Dusenbury of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel), indicating that the team will look at both internal and external options. Asked about 28-year-old slugger Peter O’Brien, who enjoyed a radical turnaround of his season following a largely unnoticed trade from the Dodgers to the Marlins, Hill called him a “very interesting player” and confirmed that he’ll be in the mix. “He took full advantage of his opportunity after being called to the big leagues,” Hill said of O’Brien, who raked at a .273/.338/.530 clip and homered four times in 74 plate appearances. Clearly, that’s not enough to make him any assurances of playing time heading into 2019, but Hill’s comments could suggest that O’Brien will stick on the 40-man roster this winter. Garrett Cooper figures to be in the mix for some at-bats at first base next season as well, assuming he’s fully recovered from this year’s season-ending wrist injury.
J.T. Realmuto’s name has been at the center of Marlins trade rumors for the better part of a year, but Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill tells Joe Frisaro of MLB.com that he plans to approach Realmuto’s camp about a potential extension this offseason. As it stands, the Marlins control him for two more seasons.
“At the appropriate time, we’ll get to his representative and see if we can do something longer-term than the two years,” Hill said. “That time hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something we definitely want to pursue.”
As a quality young player in an organization known for its habitual sell-offs and rebuilding cycles, Realmuto has been in trade speculation for a few years, but his name emerged in earnest last offseason when new Marlins ownership embarked on the most aggressive tear-down in the past half-decade. Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon were all shipped out in separate trades, leaving Realmuto as the last piece of that once-formidable offensive core standing. Understandably frustrated at the time, Realmuto reportedly requested a trade in December. When no deal materialized, his agent, CAA’s Jeff Berry, told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald in early February that Realmuto still hoped to be traded to a potential contender.
It’s unclear now whether those feelings have changed. The Marlins’ season, as virtually everyone expected, resulted in a last-place finish in the NL East. Miami’s 63 wins were the fewest in the National League and the fourth-fewest in all of baseball, trailing only the Orioles, Royals and White Sox. Outfielders Lewis Brinson and Magneuris Sierra, key prospects acquired in the trades of Yelich and Ozuna, each hit under .200 with OBPs of .240 and .222.
On the other side of the coin, the Marlins did see signs of encouragement from young pitchers Sandy Alcantara (acquired in the Ozuna deal), Pablo Lopez, Trevor Richards and Caleb Smith (before a lat tear ended Smith’s season). Starlin Castro and Derek Dietrich had solid years at the plate, while rookie Brian Anderson quietly enjoyed a terrific debut campaign (.273/.357/.400, 3.9 rWAR, 3.7 fWAR). At the very least, one can imagine Realmuto feeling more optimistic about the team’s outlook than he did a year ago when those names were largely unknown to him.
For the time being, Realmuto’s camp can likely focus on his upcoming arbitration case. The 27-year-old had a career-best season at the plate even though he missed much of the opening month due to a back injury, hitting .277/.340/.484 with 21 homers, 30 doubles and three triples while plating 74 runs. Those numbers should give him a nice platform as he seeks a raise from 2018’s modest $2.9MM salary in his second trip through the arbitration process.
In the case of Realmuto, the timing of the talks will be of particular interest. The majority of offseason extension talks tend to take place in Spring Training, once teams have concluded most of their offseason shopping and once arbitration has been completed. At that point, clubs have a better idea of their long-term payroll outlook than they would when negotiating deals early in the offseason. But if the two sides are far enough apart that an agreement isn’t deemed realistic, Realmuto would once again emerge as a fairly clear-cut trade piece. The Marlins aren’t going to compete in 2019 and likely won’t in 2020, either; if Realmuto can’t be extended, it’s only rational to maximize his trade value.
It’d be more prudent, then, for the two sides to get a general feel of asking price and comfort zones sooner rather than later. That way, if Realmuto’s asking price is simply leagues beyond what the Marlins are comfortable offering, they’d have the ability to market him to other clubs this offseason before those teams have completed their shopping in the spring. With two seasons of club control remaining, a steady progression of improvement both on offense and defense and a still-modest salary, Realmuto would once again become one of the game’s most coveted trade assets. Miami could, of course, elect to carry Realmuto into the 2019 season even if no long-term arrangement can be reached, but doing so only shortens the amount of control an acquiring team would have over him while also welcoming the risk of injury or decline.
- It “appears highly questionable” the Marlins will tender a contract to Derek Dietrich in the offseason, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. Seeing Dietrich hit free agency early would be a surprise, considering he’s fresh off his third straight solid offensive season, capable of playing multiple positions and arbitration eligible for another two years (he’s set to earn a raise over his current salary of $2.9MM in 2019). The 29-year-old hit .265/.330/.421 (109 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 551 plate appearances this season, all while racking up significant time in left field and at first base. Dietrich has also garnered a fair amount of experience at second and third base since he debuted in 2013.
Rhys Hoskins’ move from first base to left field in 2018 didn’t exactly prove to be smooth, as the young slugger turned in one of the worst statistical seasons of any outfielder in baseball (-24 Defensive Runs Saved, -19 Outs Above Average, -11.3 Ultimate Zone Rating). Hoskins has already spoken about a desire to continue to improve, though he did admit when asked by Matt Breen of Philly.com that he’d prefer to be back at first base in an ideal world. Hoskins emphasized that he’s told both GM Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler that he’ll play wherever he’s asked but spoke about the comfort level he feels at first base as opposed to in the outfield.
In his season-end press conference, Klentak acknowledged that moving Hoskins back to first base is “something we’ve thought a lot about,” Breen writes, though clearly there are numerous moving parts in that scenario. The Phils experimented with Carlos Santana at third base in September, though he comes with his own defensive shortcomings there, and that shift would render Maikel Franco without a spot. Expected offseason pursuits of marquee free agents Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado also figure to factor into the calculus. Though there are dozens of roads the Phils could take to get there, Klentak stressed that “there is no question” that the team needs to improve its defense.
More from the division…
- With the offseason upon the Phillies, the focus in Philadelphia will shift from Kapler to Klentak, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It’ll be a pivotal winter for Klentak’s future in the organization, he notes, as there’ll be pressure to generate more success with this offseason’s group of free agents than there was with last year’s crop. Klentak himself spoke about the performance of last year’s group of free agents, noting that Jake Arrieta, Carlos Santana, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter were fairly productive on the whole — especially relative to other free-agent signings throughout the league. Without improvement, Brookover, adds, the GM could find himself on the hot seat. It’s an interesting example of the importance of sequencing over the course of a given season; in a vacuum, a 14-win improvement for the Phillies looks like a clear victory. And had the team started poorly or even found a more evenly paced route to an 80-82 finish, the narrative would likely be different. Instead, their late collapse adds sizable pressure to improve even when the year-over-year win total has already generally trended in the right direction.
- Braves assistant general manager Perry Minasian is of interest to the Mets as they continue to compile a list of GM candidates, reports Mike Puma of the New York Post, though there are not yet any firm indications that the Mets have asked permission to interview him. Puma adds that former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is a “strong possibility” to receive an interview, as has previously been suggested, though the timing remains unclear. Initial interviews will be conducted by assistant GM John Ricco and COO Jeff Wilpon, Puma notes, with Fred Wilpon unlikely to be heavily involved in the process until finalists have been selected.
- The 2019 season will have a different feel for the Marlins than the 2018 season, writes Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. Namely, while the Fish were content to let some players develop at the big league level this past season, there will be more expectations for immediate results next season. Rule 5 picks Elieser Hernandez and Brett Graves will likely spend more time in the minors now that they can be optioned, he notes, while players who struggle (as Lewis Brinson did in the Majors this past season) might be sent back down for more seasoning as the team strives to improve its results. “Obviously, we did some things this year where it wasn’t necessary you had to produce to be here,” said manager Don Mattingly. “But moving forward I have the sense that’s going to change. If you don’t produce, it’s not going to be a year where we’ll let you keep developing. At some point, you’re going to have to produce.”
The Marlins are reportedly taking an interesting strategy in their attempts to court Cuban phenom Victor Victor Mesa, according to a tweet from Joe Frisaro of MLB.com. Frisaro suggests that the organization is trying to sell Miami as “home” to the free agent. They’re also hoping that being a component of a rebuild amidst an improving minors system will be additional incentive in bringing the elder Mesa brother into the fold. As Frisaro notes, the Marlins also have one of the highest international bonus pools by which to pay him, second only to that of the Orioles (with whom the opportunity to lead a rebuild is also present).
More items from around the league…
- Cardinals reliever Bud Norris left last night’s game with hamstring tightness, and it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again during the regular season. Indeed, manager Mike Schildt indicated that to be the case yesterday, per Jennifer Langosch of MLB.com. “It seems to be a recurring issue,” Shildt lamented. “It would be surprising if he pitched again the next two days based on what he’s dealing with.” Norris served as the Cards’ closer for much of the season, accruing 28 saves to go along with a 3.59 ERA and 10.46 K/9. It’s uncertain whether he could be ready to pitch in time for a potential postseason berth, though with St. Louis on the brink of elimination as of today, that could possibly become irrelevant soon.
- Maria Torres of the LA Times writes that the performance of right-hander Felix Pena this season has put him firmly in the conversation for the Angels’ 2019 rotation. While he’ll be denied the chance at one final start this year, he’ll head into spring training in March with his eyes on a permanent role as a starter. “We like what we’ve seen and we’re encouraged that he can build upon this season and take it into 2019,” said general manager Billy Eppler. Pena capitalized on the opportunity presented to him by an avalanche of Angels pitching injuries this season, putting up a 4.18 ERA and 4.04 FIP across 17 starts for Los Angeles, racking up 85 strikeouts in 92 2/3 innings along the way. The 28-year-old was acquired from the Cubs last October after being designated for assignment.
- Cubs righty Pedro Strop is progressing in his return from a hamstring injury, Jesse Rogers of ESPN reports. He’s tested the hamstring twice off the mound recently, and while a return during the regular season has been ruled out, the Cubs will certainly be waiting with bated breath to see if one of their best relievers will be available for the NLDS. The next test for Strop will be his ability to cover first base. “I’ve been able to throw,” he said. “My arm is in shape so I don’t have to go through that. It’s going to make the process quicker. Good thing I’m able to throw…I feel it a little bit but nothing major.”
While a new breed of pitcher, one who can rack up holds, strikeouts and throw multiple innings, is beginning to emerge as an integral role on a baseball roster, becoming the “closer” is still the ultimate goal for a Major League relief pitcher. The closer gets the entrance music. The closer gets the congratulatory hug from the catcher after the third out, followed by handshakes from every teammate. Closers get paid! Most importantly, being the closer usually means that your manager trusts you above all other pitchers in that bullpen.
Give up a lead in the seventh or eighth inning and your team still has a chance to pick you up. The later in the game a players fails, the better chance that mistake will stand out to anyone watching. It will be in the headlines. Fantasy Baseball owners will want to know who is “next in line.” And for a team that has fought tooth and nail to get to the ninth inning with a lead, it can be debilitating if the last pitcher standing can’t close things out. Managers don’t have much patience for blown saves, either. There is a lot of pressure and a lot of turnover, which is why most teams won’t have the same closer in September as they did on Opening Day.
Here’s a look back at each National League team’s closer situation on Opening Day versus where they are now and where they will be as they head into the offseason. (We ran through the American League earlier this week.)
Future Outlook: The Diamondbacks opted to keep their best reliever, Bradley, in a setup role while plugging offseason acquisition Boxberger into the closer’s role. For the majority of the season, things went according to plan. That duo, along with Hirano and lefties Andrew Chafin and T.J. McFarland, were a strength on a team that led the NL West on September 1. But as the bullpen has fallen apart over the past few weeks, the team has quickly descended in the standings and fallen out of the playoff hunt.
As a result, the D-backs will head into the offseason with their closer situation somewhat up in the air. Overall, Boxberger, Bradley and Hirano have each been mostly effective and can still be counted on as valuable late-inning relievers. The D-backs will need to decide if they want add a better ninth inning option, though with numerous holes to fill as key players like A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin depart via free agency, the team could decide it has bigger needs.
Atlanta Braves | Braves Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Arodys Vizcaino
September 2018: Arodys Vizcaino
Future Outlook: Vizcaino was entrenched as the Braves’ closer to start the season, and he’s seemingly back in as the Braves prepare for their first playoff series since 2013. A.J. Minter proved to be a capable fill-in during both of Vizcaino’s disabled list stints. For a time, he even appeared to be more of a co-closer with a healthy Vizcaino on the roster, presenting a very formidable righty-lefty combination in the late innings.
With a solid group of relievers, including Minter, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle and Dan Winkler, all under contract for next season and the chance that one or two of their enticing young prospects could help out of the ’pen, the Braves appear to be in good shape in 2019. They could be tempted, however, to bring back free agent Craig Kimbrel, who had 186 saves, four All-Star appearances and won the NL Rookie of the Year award during a five-year stint with the team from 2010-2014.
Chicago Cubs | Cubs Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brandon Morrow
September 2018: Committee — Jesse Chavez, Jorge De La Rosa, Steve Cishek, etc.
Future Outlook: The offseason signing of Morrow came with significant risk due to his long history of injuries and a heavy postseason workload (14 appearances) with the Dodgers in 2017. And while the Cubs did their best not to overuse him—he made back-to-back appearances just six times and pitched on three consecutive days only once—his season ended in mid-July due to a bone bruise in his elbow and biceps inflammation.
Pedro Strop was up to the task as the fill-in closer—he had a 1.77 ERA and 11 saves in 13 chances after Morrow went on the disabled list—but a strained hamstring ended his regular season on September 13. He could return for the playoffs. In the meantime, the Cubs have been mixing and matching in the late innings, at times relying on journeymen like Chavez and De La Rosa as they try to hold off the Brewers in the NL Central race.
Morrow and Strop will be back in the picture in 2018—Strop’s $6.25MM club option will almost certainly be exercised—as will setup men Carl Edwards Jr. and Cishek. Finding a left-hander who can close, if necessary, might be on the team’s agenda. Zach Britton could be a target if that’s the case.
Cincinnati Reds | Reds Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Raisel Iglesias
September 2018: Raisel Iglesias
Future Outlook: Iglesias has had three consecutive good seasons out of the bullpen with 63 saves in 71 opportunities. The Reds, however, have been in last place with less than 70 wins in each of those years, making Iglesias’ contributions less significant.
If the Reds are confident that they can be a much better team in 2019, it makes perfect sense to hold on to the 28-year-old right-hander—he’s under team control through 2021—and make him available via trade only if they fall out of contention during the season. Since he’s been able to stay healthy as a relief pitcher—not to mention that there is no clear “next in line” closer in the organization—they’re be better off leaving things as they are rather than experimenting with a move back to the rotation. The ninth inning should belong to Iglesias again come Opening Day 2019.
Colorado Rockies | Rockies Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Wade Davis
September 2018: Wade Davis
Future Outlook: Despite a few rough patches along the way, the 33-year-old Davis has 42 saves for the first-place Rockies and has been on a roll when it counts the most. In his last 17 appearances, he’s 10-for-10 in save chances with 23 strikeouts in 17 innings and only one earned run allowed.
Davis is still guaranteed $36MM over the next two seasons—he’ll also get another $14MM in 2021 if he finishes 30 games in 2020—so his mid-season struggles and continued decrease in fastball velocity (95.9 MPH in ’15; 94.9 MPH in ’16, 94.3 MPH in ’17; 93.8 MPH in ’18) are a concern. He has done enough to hold on to the closing job for 2019, but it would be a good idea to have a backup plan in place. Adam Ottavino, the team’s most valuable reliever with a 2.47 ERA, six saves and 33 holds, will be a free agent after the season. Re-signing him or replacing him with a top free agent will be difficult considering that Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw, both disappointments thus far, signed $27MM contracts last offseason. They could rely heavily on Seunghwan Oh, who recently had his $2.5MM option vest for 2019 and has been very good since being acquired from Toronto in July.
Los Angeles Dodgers | Dodgers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Kenley Jansen
September 2018: Kenley Jansen
Future Outlook: Jansen allowed six earned runs with two blown saves and a loss in his first seven appearances of 2018. He missed 13 days in August due to an irregular heart beat that will likely require offseason surgery. Upon his return, he allowed seven earned runs with two losses and a blown save over four appearances. And yet, the 30-year-old right-hander has 37 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA for a Dodgers team that is fighting for a playoff spot as we head into the last weekend of the regular season.
Jansen’s occasional struggles on the mound and health concerns only magnified the team’s inability to replace Morrow, who was their primary setup man and bullpen workhorse last post-season. Setup relievers seem likely to be an area of focus this winter, and the Dodgers will be keeping their fingers crossed that Jansen comes back strong in what will be year three of a five-year, $80MM contract.
Miami Marlins | Marlins Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brad Ziegler
September 2018: Co-Closers — Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley
Future Outlook: It’s not clear why the rebuilding Marlins stuck with the veteran Ziegler through a rocky two-month stint as the closer to begin the season. Even though he had just one blown save in 10 chances when he was removed from the role, he had an ERA near 8.00 and Kyle Barraclough, next in line, had a 1.48 ERA. If they had any reluctance to turn it over to Barraclough, he showed why that might’ve been the case by losing the job two months later.
After locking down all seven save chances while allowing just one hit over 12 scoreless innings in June, Barraclough fell apart in July. Over his next 13 appearances, he blew four saves and allowed 14 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings before the Marlins decided on a closer-by-committee approach in early August. Steckenrider and Conley lead the team with four and two saves, respectively, since Barraclough was removed from the closer’s role. Both pitchers have an ERA over 5.00 in the second half, however, so it’s very likely that the team will look to find a more reliable option during the offseason.
Milwaukee Brewers | Brewers Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Corey Knebel
September 2018: Committee — Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress, Josh Hader
Future Outlook: Knebel suffered a hamstring injury during his third appearance of the season, forcing him to the disabled list for a month. By the time he returned, Hader and Jeffress had each established that they were more than capable of picking up the slack if Knebel could not return to his 2017 form. And this did prove to be the case. The 26-year-old Knebel, sharing the closer’s role with Hader and Jeffress, had a 5.08 ERA through August 31st. September has been a different story, however, as Knebel has allowed just four hits and three walks over 13 1/3 scoreless innings with 26 strikeouts. Regardless of how things go in the playoffs, the Brewers appear set with the same trio of late-inning relievers heading into 2019.
New York Mets | Mets Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Jeurys Familia
September 2018: Committee — Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Anthony Swarzak
Future Outlook: The return of Familia, who missed time in 2017 due to a 15-game suspension and a three-and-a-half month-stint on the disabled list, was supposed to help propel the Mets back into playoff contention. While things have not gone swimmingly for the Mets, Familia’s comeback has actually gone quite well. He posted a 2.88 ERA with 17 saves for the Mets, was traded to Oakland in July and should be headed for a decent payday in free agency this offseason.
The Mets, coincidentally, will likely be in the market for a closer, although it’s not known whether they or Familia would be open to a reunion. Gsellman has held his own as the primary closer, saving eight of nine games since Familia’s departure, but probably isn’t the long-term answer. Lugo has been terrific out of the ’pen, although his best role could be as a multi-inning setup man for whoever the team’s next closer will be.
Philadelphia Phillies | Phillies Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Hector Neris
September 2018: Committee – Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter, etc.
Future Outlook: Neris was 8-for-10 in save chances with three losses and an ERA over 5.00 in mid-May when manager Gabe Kapler declared that he would no longer have a set closer. It didn’t take long for rookie Seranthony Dominguez to emerge as the most significant part of the group, pitching 14 2/3 scoreless innings with only two hits allowed, no walks and 16 strikeouts to begin his MLB career. He would falter as the season progressed, though, leaving Kapler to rely more on veterans Hunter and Pat Neshek down the stretch.
Considering that Dominguez was a starting pitching prospect with no experience in the upper minors prior to the 2018 season, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he can take a big leap forward and solidify the closer’s job for a full season. But with expectations for the Phillies likely to be in the high-to-extremely-high range, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Phillies pursue a more established free agent to close out games.
Pittsburgh Pirates | Pirates Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Felipe Vazquez
September 2018: Felipe Vazquez
Future Outlook: Vazquez signed a $22MM contract extension in the offseason and changed his name in April. By the end of May, Vazquez had an ERA near 5.00 and four blown saves. There wasn’t the normal negative buzz that surrounds most closers after blowing a save or two, though. He had only allowed an earned run in four of 24 appearances and the Pirates were playing much better than expected. He was also dealing with forearm discomfort and, of course, was one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball in 2017. He earned that long leash. Over his last 44 appearances, the 27-year-old lefty has a 1.77 ERA and 26 saves in 27 chances. Yep– still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.
With three games to go, Vazquez is two appearances shy of reaching at least 70 games for the third consecutive season. He pitched both ends of a double-header twice in 2018 and pitched three consecutive days on three occasions, including two days after experiencing the forearm pain. The acquisition of Keone Kela and the emergence of Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez as reliable setup men should help ease Vazquez’s workload in 2019.
San Diego Padres | Padres Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Brad Hand
September 2018: Kirby Yates
Future Outlook: While Hand’s offseason contract extension removed any sense of urgency that the Padres had to trade him, it also made him a much more valuable trade chip. After saving 24 games and posting a 3.05 ERA with 13.2 K/9 in 41 appearances, Hand was traded to the Indians for catcher Francisco Mejia, one of the top prospects in baseball. Yates stepped into the closer’s role, although there was a decent chance that it would be a short stint with 12 days to go until the non-waiver trade deadline and several contending teams potentially interested in acquiring him. The 31-year-old stayed put, though, giving him an extended opportunity to prove himself as an MLB closer. He’s passed the test with flying colors, saving 10 games in 11 chances—he has 12 saves overall—while continuing to strike out more than 12 batters per nine innings.
The Padres, who currently have 95 losses, aren’t likely to build a legitimate playoff contender during the offseason. However, they’re far enough into their rebuild that they’ll want to go into 2019 with a team that can at least be .500. In that case, holding on to Yates would be smart, although general manager A.J. Preller will surely be willing to pull the trigger on a deal if a team meets his asking price.
San Francisco Giants | Giants Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Hunter Strickland
September 2018: Will Smith
Future Outlook: With Mark Melancon on the disabled list to begin the season, the Giants turned to Strickland as their closer. For the most part, he did a fine job, but his days as a closer swiftly came to an end, at least for the near future, on June 18th. Strickland entered the game with a two-run lead over the Marlins, an ERA just over 2.00 and 13 saves in 16 chances. After allowing three earned runs in the eventual 5-4 loss, he punched a door in frustration and fractured his hand. Upon returning in mid-August, Smith had 10 saves and a strong grasp on the closer’s gig.
Smith will likely be the front-runner to keep the job in ’19 with Melancon also firmly in the mix given his experience and his sizable contract (four years, $62MM). He’s not quite back to his pre-injury form, but Melancon has a 3.08 ERA in 40 appearances.
St. Louis Cardinals | Cardinals Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Committee — Dominic Leone, Tyler Lyons, Bud Norris
September 2018: Carlos Martinez
Future Outlook: The committee was supposed to be temporary while Greg Holland, who signed a one-year contract in late March, worked his way back into shape with a Minor League stint. Holland, though, was brought to the Majors before he was ready and never looked right with the Cardinals. He walked four in his St. Louis debut and never quite recovered. Norris, as he did in 2017 with the Angels, quickly separated himself from the other closer options and proved to be a steady force in the ninth inning with 28 saves and a sub-3.00 ERA through August. The 33-year-old ran out of gas, though, forcing the team to use a temporary committee in early September. Martinez, who returned from a disabled list stint to pitch out of the bullpen in late August, has emerged as the team’s primary closer as they fight for a Wild Card spot.
It’s highly unlikely that Martinez, the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter, will remain in the bullpen beyond this season. Barring any injury concerns, he’s just too good as a starting pitcher. Rookie Jordan Hicks, who has dazzled with his 100+ MPH sinking fastball, is a good bet to be the team’s closer at some point. It’s just not certain that the Cardinals will trust him enough at the beginning of the 2019 campaign, which could put them in the market for a stop-gap closer this offseason.
Washington Nationals | Nationals Depth Chart
Opening Day 2018: Sean Doolittle
September 2018: Sean Doolittle
Future Outlook: Doolittle was the Nationals’ closer on Opening Day, an NL All-Star selection in July, and he’s the Nationals’ closer as we enter the last weekend of the regular season. You’d figure things went pretty well for the Nats in 2018. But you’d be wrong.
A stress reaction in Doolittle’s foot forced him out of the All-Star game and out of action for a majority of the second half. When he returned in September, the Nats were out of the playoff chase. Five different relievers, including Kelvin Herrera, picked up saves while Doolittle was out. Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Shawn Kelley were all traded, and Herrera suffered a season-ending foot injury in late August.
Doolittle will be back in 2019—his $6MM club option will surely be exercised—and should jump right back into the ninth-inning role unless the Nats make a bold acquisition for another closer. In all likelihood, they’ll bring in another veteran setup man to help out a group that includes Koda Glover and Justin Miller. Greg Holland is one possibility. He has been a pleasant surprise since signing with the team in early August (0.89 ERA in 23 appearances) .
Sunday’s game could be the final home contest of Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto’s tenure with the team, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald observes. Spencer’s the latest to note that the Fish will likely trade Realmuto in the offseason if they’re unable to extend him, as they’re rebuilding and he’s only under control through 2020. Asked about the potential of Sunday being his last Marlins home game, the 27-year-old Realmuto said: “You never know what’s going to happen, so I don’t try to think too much about that. We’ll see if that ends up being the case.” Thanks to both the state of the Miami franchise and Realmuto’s standing as an elite catcher, he has frequented trade rumors dating back to last season. Barring an extension, Realmuto will once again be popular on MLBTR’s pages during the winter, especially considering he has been the majors’ best catcher and the Marlins’ main bright spot this year. Not only has Realmuto slashed a stellar .284/.348/.498 with 21 home runs in 516 plate appearances, but he has also offered tremendous defense.
More on a couple other MLB teams:
- As part of an outfield that features Bryce Harper, Juan Soto and Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor has seen his playing time diminish, Elliott Smith of MLB.com points out. Taylor has only started four times since Aug. 24 and taken a mere seven PAs this month, per Smith. One reason Taylor has been on the bench lately is his lack of production, as the 27-year-old has followed up a strong 2017 by hitting a meager .224/.286/.355 with six home runs in 376 PAs. But Taylor’s “working with [hitting coach] Kevin [Long] to change his swing a little bit and hopefully he comes into Spring Training with a different swing — putting the ball in play a little bit more,” according to manager Dave Martinez. Putting the ball in play has been a struggle for Taylor, who has logged unappealing strikeout and contact rates of 29.8 percent and 71.1 percent, respectively. Taylor’s an asset on the bases and in the field, though, and he also comes with two more years of arbitration control. He could be an offseason trade chip for the Nationals, then, Smith writes. Taylor has considered the possibility, saying: “It’s hard this late in the season not to think about it, and with the way things have been going lately, it looks like other people are thinking about it.” Regardless, Taylor’s focused on “continuing to work and get better every day.” His situation will be an interesting one to monitor over the winter, given that the Nationals will have at least three other high-profile outfield options (Soto, Eaton and Victor Robles) even if they don’t re-sign Harper.
- With the Rangers searching for a new manager, Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram goes through potential replacements for the fired Jeff Banister. One thing’s clear, Wilson writes: Rangers great Michael Young won’t get the job, even though he’d be president/general manager Jon Daniels’ “dream hire.” The soon-to-be 42-year-old Young is content in his current role as a special assistant to Daniels, Wilson suggests.
- Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre reacted to Banister’s ouster Friday, saying (via T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com) the dugout shakeup won’t play a role in whether he’ll continue his career in 2019. And Beltre, a pending free agent who will turn 40 next April, seems prepared to go through another lean year with Texas. The Rangers’ non-contender status isn’t “ideal,” Beltre admitted, but he noted: “I’m here for whatever they want me to do, that’s the bottom line. I think I’m old enough to understand everything that’s going on, and I’m old enough to understand that over the last couple of years, the clubhouse is getting younger and younger, and there’s been a different situation where – yes, we’re probably not going to be competing with the Astros and those guys, we’re going to be developing players.” Beltre’s words jibe with his actions from this past summer’s trade deadline, when he elected against pushing for a trade to a better team. Assuming he re-signs with the Rangers in 2019, the future Hall of Famer will play his ninth season with the club.