Bull Market: Do or die time in the ‘pen as MLB trade deadline approaches

Alex Scarr

The Major League Baseball trade deadline is a little less than three weeks away, and I have just one piece of advice to teams that will be looking to sell. Do it.

I’m specifically talking to general managers around the league that are sitting bullpen assets: closers or shutdown relievers. You should be making immediate preparations to start a three-way bidding war between the Nationals, Yankees, and literally any other team that wants to pretend they’re contending.

Case in point: the haul the Yankees managed to get for both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at last year’s deadline should be proof enough.

For Chapman, New York plucked four prospects from the Chicago Cubs. Three of them have been fairly worthless. One of them was Gleyber Torres, who’s now the Yankees #1 overall prospect.

For Miller, the Yankees again got four players, this time finding Clint Frazier (NY’s #2 overall prospect) and Justus Sheffield (#6).

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It’s a fair point to suggest bullpen arms like Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman don’t come around very often. That’s true. But deals for pitchers that aren’t even close to their category come around more often than you’d think.

In July 2016, the San Francisco Giants found themselves with the worst bullpen ERA in baseball and were desperate for help. They targeted Milwaukee’s lefty Will Smith, who had posted a respectable 3.58 ERA for the Brewers up to that point.

The Giants offered Phil Bickford, a flame-throwing righthander who was their first round pick from the year before, and catcher Andrew Susac, the 46th-overall rated prospect in 2015. The trade was a veritable steal for the Brewers, who had little use for a dominant relief arm during their rebuild.

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In the winter of 2015, the Houston Astros took Ken Giles from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Vince Velasquez, who quickly turned out to be a major rotation piece for Philly, and Mark Appel, the enigmatic yet talented #1 overall pick in 2013.

With the market value for relief pitchers at the deadline set sky-high, there are more than a few GMs licking their chops as they await the inevitable overpay. Here are the obvious ones:

Brad Hand, LHP, SD. (47.0 IP / 2.30 ERA / 60 K / 13 BB)

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Hand is San Diego’s lone All-Star in a down year, and despite the fact it’s utterly embarrassing to have a reliever be the team’s only representative, Hand still deserves love. A crazy strikeout/walk ratio ought to have plenty of teams eager to add Hand to their bullpen.

  • Natural fit: Nationals
    • The Nationals have one of the worst bullpens in baseball, and they could use a dependable workhorse like Hand.
    • Look for the Padres to ask for either Erick Fedde (#2) or Austin Voth (#7), both top-tier pitching prospects.

Felipe Rivero, RHP, PIT (47.1 IP / 0.76 ERA / 55 K / 12 BB)

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  • Rivero has carved through everyone this year, and the Pirates look out of the race in the NL Central. They’ve already said they don’t want to trade franchise player Andrew McCutchen but should feel OK about moving a bullpen arm like Rivero.
  • Natural fit: Yankees
    • In a cruel twist of fate, the Yankees need bullpen help. Rivero should do nicely, but he’ll come at a price: Miguel Andujar (#9, 3B) or Tyler Wade (#11, 2B/SS) should lead the conversation.

Alex Colome, RHP, TB (40.2 IP / 3.76 ERA / 25 SV)

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  • Colome leads baseball in saves right now and the Rays could fetch a decent haul for him if they decide to be sellers. He’s been spotty of late but should remain a top-tier closer as the year wears on.
  • Natural fit: Rangers
    • The Rangers are hovering around .500 with one of baseball’s worst bullpens and a total question mark at closer. Colome will help. Rays would get Jose Trevino (#6, C) and a throwaway arm.

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