We can’t all be happy. Just ask the Closer-Formerly-Known-as Drew Storen about whether he thought Tuesday’s trade, which brought Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies to the Nationals, was an overwhelming seal of approval of the job he did in the ninth inning.
Those holding Storen bailed on him as quickly as Mortimer and Randolph Duke realized their fortune was about to collapse in front of their very eyes. Once news of Papelbon’s latest address came to light, Storen owners were crying, “Sale! Sale! Sale!,” as the Nats completed a full-on Billy Ray Valentine and Louis Winthorp on their investment. Such is life at the trade deadline, where a formal stalwart can become a resident on the waiver wire street to nowhere, just as a player can go being owned by just his parents and spouse can emerge as the surprisingly tasty Blue Plate Special.
It’s at this point when we change the menu to feature your choice of Ken Giles and/or Edward Mujica, as both are excellent recommendations if your palate is longing for a heaping helping of closer. With both Papelbon and Tyler Clippard gone to play meaningful games in September, the spotlight shines on a pair of middle-inning grunts who will now get the fans swaying to their theme music when they enter to close shop.
Long regarded as the heir apparent to Papelbon, the future arrived for Giles on Tuesday, when he recorded his first save of the season. Owned in just 11 percent of polled leagues on Tuesday, his fan base has more than tripled to his current 37 percent, and while I’m aware I have stepped way beyond my usual 20 percent or below qualification in this column, Giles is being thrown in only as an example of just how the trade deadline can turn a waiver wire wimp into a full-blooded macho man, whose Tinder profile keeps pinging into the midnight hour.
Giles brings the caliber of pain you want out of your closer; his gas gets pumped consistently in the 97 mph range with a hard slider that strikes out batters at a 10.88 K/9 rate. He’s delivering whiffs at a 27.3 percent pace, although his 1.34 WHIP rate could use some improvement. As a whole, Giles is a strong must-get. The Phillies may not present him with many save opportunities, yet the way they’ve played since the All-Star break could lead to the type of stretch that could make Giles an interesting buy come next March.
Mujica is the opposite of Giles: he’s well-traveled, having pitched for five teams over his career. At 31, Mujica has the journeyman background down cold, although he did have his Cool Kids moment in 2013, when he recorded 37 of his 49 career saves with the NL champion Cardinals. Never regarded as a hard thrower, Mujica still puts down batters with a fastball that barely clocks above 90, along with a split-finger fastball and slider. He also will toss in the Three Cs (changeup, cutter and curve) when the situation really requires it.
So, yes, you can become one of the nearly 89 percent of owners who have yet to latch on to a closer who throws five pitches. For now, don’t let Mujica’s 4.13 ERA and career 6.35 K/9 scare you. He’s in a better pitcher’s park than Giles, while also showing more control. He’s the man for the A’s right now, no matter how optimistic anyone in that organization feels about if/when Sean Doolittle returns from the DL (answers: he won’t this year/see you when Baseball Prospectus comes out). With the club 11 games out of the wild card on Wednesday, we can safely assume that we’ve found at least one thing Giles and Mujica have in common: an abundance of under the radar saves over the last two months of the season.
The building that is MLB is going to need a lot of new windows between now and Friday’s trade deadline, so before Cole Hamels and David Price blow it up, let’s get out of here and view the damage while looking in the waiver wire bin:
Preston Tucker, OF, Astros: He’s sitting right at my threshold of consideration, yet I’m stoked over his emergence since I profiled him in early May. Four of his last six hits entering Wednesday were for extra bases, including three homers, and while the lefty-hitting Tucker remains something of an extreme platoon option (.188/.224/.219 slash line against southpaws), he’ll be a fixture in the Astros’ lineup versus righties, as he wears them out at a .925 OPS clip. DFS players will be wise to take note that Tucker hits .287 with an .864 OPS at home compared to .242 and .720 outside of H-Town. With no timetable set for George Springer’s return, Tucker’s lefty power stick will be a constant in manager A.J. Hinch’s lineup.
Jung Ho Kang, 2B/3B, Pirates: He’s a key reason why the Bucs have steamed closer to the Cardinals in the NL Central despite the loss of Josh Harrison. After faltering with a .221 batting average in June, Kang has hit tracers all over the field to the tune of a .355 average with a .430 OBP and an OPS of .980. The power is beginning to show signs of a breakout, as Kang swatted his seventh homer of the season on Wednesday. Owned in just under 17 percent of polled leagues two weeks ago, his surge has led to a 35 percent ownership. His versatility allows for almost all rosters to liberally move him around.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins: The bat is catching up to his glove. Realmuto has hit .302 since June 1, with four homers and 19 RBI, bringing his average up to a respectable .257. Realmuto remains allergic to walks (.285 OBP), yet for deeper league owners in need of a reliable backstop with upside, then Realmuto, owned in 16 percent of polled leagues, deserves consideration for your roster. It’s unlikely that he’ll become a slugger, but Realmuto should finish the season with 10-12 homers, a total many owners would be quite cool with.
Tyler Saladino, SS/3B, White Sox: While he has yet to do so in his first 16 games with the Pale Hose, Saladino is a low-risk play for owners in need of steals. Saladino swiped 25 bags in 52 Triple-A games before being called up and should be good for double-digit swipes should he remain in the lineup. Never regarded as a power source, Saladino has hit a pair of homers, yet you shouldn’t get too giddy. His BB:K ratios are acceptable for middle infield standards. Owned in just nine percent of polled leagues, Saladino gets my approval when it comes to finding speed on the cheap without compromising other categories.
Fernando Rodriguez, P, Athletics: As Triple H says, “there’s always a Plan B,” which is what Rodriguez is if Mujica falter’s as the A’s closer. Like Mujica, Rodriguez is also a nomad. Unlike Mujica, Rodriguez can blow away hitters, as his 11.40 K/9 attests. Consider Rodriguez (owned in five percent of polled leagues) a nifty consolation prize for those who missed out on Mujica. Hey, if it can happen to Miss America (kids, Vanessa Williams was….oh, look it up. I promise you won’t be disappointed if you really started to look), then it can certainly happen here if Rodriguez rises from runner-up status.
Kevin Gausman, P, Orioles: Monday may (??) have been the turning point for Gausman, who pitched 7.2 shutout innings against the Braves. The O’s kept him in the bullpen for much of the season before throwing him back into the rotation. While his two previous outings were regretful, Gausman’s performance on Monday reminded us just how talented his right arm can be. Owned in ten percent of polled leagues, Gausman represents an interesting buy for prospectors who, like me, are willing to buy into the belief that Gausman can be a big difference-maker in the O’s bid to return to the postseason.