- With the Padres facing some tough decisions about 40-man roster placements in advance of December’s Rule 5 draft, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune breaks down the current players on the roster and the several minor league candidates to see who is likeliest to make the eventual 40-man slate. Quite a bit of this conjecture is up in the air, of course, as Acee notes that “there is almost no player the Padres wouldn’t at least consider in trade offerings,” so even the Major League roster could look quite different by the time the Rule 5 draft rolls around.
Oct. 10: The Padres released Torres after he unsurprisingly cleared waivers earlier this morning, MLBTR has learned.
Oct. 4: The Padres have designated left-hander Jose Torres for assignment, as per MLB.com’s official transactions listing. Torres’ roster status had to be addressed once his 100-game suspension under the MLB/MLBPA joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy was up at season’s end.
Torres didn’t pitch in 2018 after he was charged with multiple criminal offenses during the offseason, stemming from a domestic disturbance incident where Torres was accused of pointing a gun at a woman with whom he was involved in a domestic relationship. Torres’ charges included assault with a deadly weapon, intimidation, and criminal damage, as well as a charge for possession of marijuana. He reportedly plead guilty to those charges in March. The Padres placed Torres on their restricted list in February, and Major League Baseball issued Torres with the 100-game suspension in June.
Torres, 25, made his big league debut in 2016 and then posted a 4.21 ERA, 8.3 K/9, and 3.94 K/BB rate over 68 1/3 innings in 2017. With the Padres facing a 40-man roster crunch this winter as some of their best prospects become eligible for the Rule 5 draft, it isn’t surprising that Torres would be DFA’d rather than restored to the 40-man. Torres could be outrighted to the minors if isn’t claimed or acquired during his 10-day DFA period, or it’s possible the Padres could simply release him altogether given the severity of his off-the-field situation.
We’ll use this post to track the day’s minor moves from around the game …
- The Blue Jays have outrighted infielder/outfielder Jon Berti after he cleared waivers, per the MLB.com transactions page. Added to the roster quite late in the season after eight years as a minor-leaguer, Berti never figured to hold a 40-man spot throughout the winter. The 28-year-old, a former 18th-round draft pick, did rap four base hits in 15 plate appearances during his brief debut showing in the bigs. In his 316 Double-A plate appearances this year, he slashed a productive .314/.399/.498.
- Likewise, southpaw Jose Torres was outrighted by the Padres after being designated for assignment recently. The circumstances are rather different in his case, as his 40-man status had to be addressed after he was reinstated by the league following a 100-game ban relating to domestic violence charges. Torres, who did not appear at any level this year, will remain under control of the San Diego organization, though his future as a professional baseball player certainly appears to be in question.
The Padres are slated to make at least two modifications to manager Andy Green’s coaching staff in the offseason, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Hitting coach Matt Stairs and infield coach Josh Johnson will not return to their posts.
Stairs, a long-time MLB slugger, joined the Friars after serving in the same capacity with the Phillies in 2017. He lost that job when the Philadelphia organization made broader changes to its field staff. Prior to that point, Stairs had served mostly as a broadcaster after wrapping up his playing career in 2011.
As for Johnson, not to be confused with the former starting pitcher of the same name, he too will be bumped from the mix after just one season. The former third-round draft pick never made it to the majors as a player. His only prior coaching experience came in one season as the skipper of the Nationals’ Gulf Coast League affiliate.
Despite these changes, it does not appear that the San Diego organization will be embarking on a full hiring search. Rather, per the report, the club intends to promote existing personnel to fill the openings.
Quite a few players will hit the open market this fall, and they’ll do so by way of varying mechanisms. The end of the regular season triggered a recent wave of free agents, consisting of a certain subset of players — namely, those who were outrighted from 40-man rosters during the season and accepted minor-league assignments at that time despite having the right to elect free agency. Players in that situation are entitled instead to hit the open market at season’s end, if they were not added back to the 40-man roster in the meantime.
As conveyed by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, who also covers quite a few other minor moves, these players have now elected free agency:
Cardinals: LHP Tyler Lyons
Marlins: OF JB Shuck
Padres: OF Matt Szczur
Phillies: INF Trevor Plouffe
White Sox: RHP Tyler Danish
St. Louis Cardinals incumbent third baseman Jedd Gyorko’s power has diminished each of the last three seasons and it may be time to find a replacement, opines Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It promises to be an important subject for the organization over the offseason.
Gyorko has provided valuable versatility for the Cards, seeing time at all four infield positions the last three years. His OBP has risen each year in St. Louis (.306 to .341 to .346), but his power output has gone the other way (.253 ISO to .200 to .154). On the whole, Gyorko’s proven a good gamble since his somewhat-surprising acquisition from the Padres in 2015 – and though he’s not known as a defensive stalwart, defensive metrics are less certain, crediting Gyorko with 24 DRS and 4.9 UZR at third base since 2016. Contractually, he’s guaranteed one more season at $13MM before a team option in 2020.
Finding a player that complements Gyorko’s skill set may be the judicious solution in the short term. The Cardinals front office is said to be “on the edge of giddy” about three third base prospects in their system who could be ready by 2020: Elehuris Montero, Nolan Gorman, and Malcom Nunez.
Gorman was listed as the Cardinals 6th ranked prospect by Baseball America, but the 20-year-old Montero will likely reach the big leagues before Gorman or Cuban-born Nunez, who is only seventeen years old. Montero tore through the Midwest League in 2018, hitting .322/.381/.529. After 24 games in High-A with the Palm Beach Cardinals, the 19-year-old could reach AA sooner rather than later.
For next season, Gyorko’s role is not likely to change a whole lot – save for possibly in volume. Matt Carpenter started 74 games at third this year, but the Cardinals seem to prefer him on the right side. Top catching prospect Carson Kelly could be an option in short stints, as he played the position in 2013. He hit .269/.378/.395 in AAA and is ostensibly blocked behind the plate by Yadier Molina – but that feels more like a plan D than a plan A.
This year’s free agent class does provide a few palatable options. Bringing home World Series hero David Freese for a season would be a fun retro choice. Mike Moustakas’ name has been thrown out there as a potential stopgap solution as well. Then there are the big names – Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado. It’s unclear if the Cardinals are ready to commit the years and dollars to snag one of the elites, but regardless of the path they choose – they have options.
Check out the 2018-19 MLB Free Agent Tracker for a full list of upcoming free agents.
On paper, Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer had a trying 2018 in the first season of an eight-year, $144MM contract, though he did impress the team with his leadership, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune details. As for Hosmer’s production – he hit a below-average .253/.322/.398 in 677 plate appearances – the 28-year-old remarked: “I know I’m going to go back and be the player I know I can be. This isn’t the impression I wanted to make the first year, but there’s nothing I can say to make it any better. Just, I’ll be ready to go next year.” Hosmer added that not having to deal with the free-agent process this winter and knowing he’ll be a Padre for the long haul will help him “have a clear mind this offseason.” And the executive who signed Hosmer, general manager A.J. Preller, suggested that the ex-Royal may have been pressing in his first year of a big contract, adding: “We have a lot of faith we’re going to look up next year and it’s going to be an All-Star caliber season for him. Just because of the type of person he is. That’s what gave us the comfort in signing him and a lot of comfort going forward he’s going to be that guy.”
- Hosmer’s on-base percentage was just above the National League mean of .318, but the Padres as a whole struggled in that department, posting a league-worst .297 mark. The Padres have now recorded the majors’ lowest OBP five times in a row, AJ Cassavell of MLB.com notes, and that’s a trend they’d obviously like to break. “It starts with getting guys who’ve shown a history of being on base,” Preller said. “From a talent and personnel standpoint we’ll continue to look at changing the mix a little bit. … And then from a messaging standpoint we’ll continue to hammer it home every possible way for guys to understand: Getting on base is probably the most important thing in the game.”
Padres general manager A.J. Preller spoke to reporters (including Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune and AJ Cassavell of MLB.com) today, prior to his team’s final game of what ended up as a 66-96 campaign. Here are some of the most pertinent items of Preller’s chat, in regards to what his front office has ahead for the coming offseason…
- The Padres have yet to post a winning record in Preller’s four full years as GM, and haven’t had a winning season of any sort since 2010. After another year of rebuilding and focusing on young talent, however, Preller believes the team can take a step forward competition-wise in 2019. “[We’re] starting to climb out of this point where it’s a development mindset, where we’re at the bottom part of the standings….From our standpoint next year we’re going to look to start to compete. You’ve got to get over .500 to do that,” Preller said.
- After last winter’s surprising signing of Eric Hosmer, San Diego could again pursue some of the bigger-name free agents in this year’s market, or (as they did at the trade deadline) look to acquire controllable starting pitching. “I think we start with: Never say no to anything,” Preller said. “It’s not like anything is off-limits. We’re open to every possibility, every situation.” In regards to potential trades, the GM noted that “In the last 12 months, any established players that have been put on the trade market, we’ve been part of those discussions. We’ve had other teams reaching out to us, wanting to tap into some of the resources we have in our system. I think that’ll be no different this offseason. We’ll evaluate the guys we have in our system, versus what we’re able to.”
- While San Diego could dip into its vaunted prospect depth to swing a trade or two this offseason, it would seemingly be surprising if the club dealt any of its top blue-chippers for the sake of immediate improvement. As Preller noted, his goal is to build a long-term contender: “Every decision we make is built toward a plan. What we’re not going to do is short-circuit that. The last few years, we’re building, really, to get away from the mindset of being average.”
- The Padres have approximately $51.4MM in guaranteed salaries committed to the 2019 payroll, with Preller saying “I feel like we’re going to have some financial flexibility because a lot of the players are younger players. We understand we’re at that point from a plan standpoint where we’re going to have to supplement from the outside – be it the free agent or trade route. We’ll look to do that in the next few months.”
- The bulk of next year’s payroll expenditures are due to the salaries of Hosmer and Wil Myers, and Cassavell thinks it possible that the Padres could try to move Myers due to the former first baseman’s position crunch. Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe have earned more playing time in the corner outfield spots in 2019, leaving Myers perhaps at third base (where he struggled defensively, albeit in a small sample size) or maybe in a super-utility role at both corner infield and outfield spots. Of course, Cassavell also believes that Reyes or Renfroe could be traded to address the crowed corner outfield situation, and obviously either of those two younger players would be easier to deal given that Myers is owed at least $64MM through the 2022 season.
- Preller said that the team hadn’t yet decided on Myers’ role for next season, though Myers will be informed early so he can properly prepare heading into Spring Training. For his part, Myers believes that “with an offseason, I will absolutely be able to play third base.”
- Freddy Galvis could also be a factor at third base, as Preller expressed an interest in re-signing the veteran. Galvis hit .248/.299/.380 over 656 PA while appearing in all 162 games, appearing as a shortstop in all but five of those contests. Galvis hasn’t played the hot corner since 2014, but he’d have to shift into a utility role if he returns to San Diego, as the team plans to give more infield time to its top young players next year.
The Pirates will be faced with a decision on Jung Ho Kang’s 2019 option this offseason, but GM Neal Huntington tells Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic that Kang’s performance in this weekend series won’t have an impact on the outcome (subscription required). “Truth be told, there’s not going to be a whole lot of value in the evaluation process of a one-game or a one-plus-game look,” said Huntington. Biertempfel notes, though, that the late promotion could earn a bit of good will with Kang’s camp in the event that the team elects to buy out his $5.5MM option and try to bring him back into the fold for a few million less than that. There’s been no indication one way or another as to how the Pirates plan on proceeding, though the very fact that he was brought up to the Majors at all indicates that they’re not totally closed off to the possibility of continuing the relationship in spite of Kang’s legal troubles over the past few seasons.
Here’s more from the National League…
- Padres right-hander Brett Kennedy underwent knee surgery that will sideline him for the first six weeks of the offseason, tweets AJ Cassavell of MLB.com. However, Kennedy is still expected to be able to have a largely normal offseason program, and the operation isn’t expected to impact his availability for the 2019 campaign. Kennedy, 24, didn’t impress in six starts with the Friars this season, working to a 6.75 ERA in 26 2/3 innings. However, the 2015 11th-rounder fired off 89 1/3 innings of 2.72 ERA ball with 8.1 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 and a 52.6 percent ground-ball rate in an extremely hitter-friendly setting with the Padres’ El Paso affiliate in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. He posted solid numbers at Double-A in 2017 and at Class-A Advanced in 2016, and with multiple minor league options remaining beyond 2018, he’ll have ample opportunity to cement himself as part of the San Diego pitching staff in come capacity over the next few seasons.
- The Giants’ search for a new general manager and/or president of baseball operations isn’t expected to be a quick one, tweets Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. The process could take several weeks as Giants leadership interviews a wide range of candidates with varying backgrounds. Notably, Schulman adds that the Giants aren’t set on hiring any one specific type of executive (e.g. analytically inclined, traditional scouting background, etc.) and seem to be embarking on this process with an open-minded approach.
- With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, Derrick Gould of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes the uncertain future of Adam Wainwright, who may have made his final start yesterday for the only MLB team he’s ever known. Wainwright’s a free agent at season’s end, and while he spent most of the season sidelined by elbow soreness, he’s rebounded in September to pitch admirably for St. Louis. His 4.84 ERA across his past four starts may not look pretty, but his 3.20 FIP and stunning 6.25 K/BB ratio points to a much more effective pitcher than the version of Wainwright the world had seen across the rest of the past three seasons. Teammate Yadier Molina, for what it’s worth, doesn’t seem to think it’s the last time the two will be batterymates, saying he’s “confident” about that. “It may have been,” Wainwright himself said. “It doesn’t feel like it is. For whatever reason. I haven’t had those emotions. The way I’m feeling now, if that is my last start here it would be kind of hard to walk away knowing the way I’m feeling right now.”
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.
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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) .