Pitching Planner: Trade market scrambles turbulent closer picture

Friday July 15th, 2011

As if finding a reliable solution for saves isn't hard enough, the Mets and Brewers decided to cloud it further with the Francisco Rodriguez deal minutes after the All-Star Game. It is a painful reminder for his owners -- and a fair warning for others: You have to pay attention to the trade market if your player, particularly if your closer is on the block.

Heed the warning, Heath Bell owners. K-Rod owners will be quick to remind you how they got stuck holding the bag.

Now, both the Mets and Brewers figure to have closer timeshares in the coming weeks, as K-Rod teams with and takes a cut out of John Axford, and Jason Isringhausen, Bobby Parnell and perhaps Pedro Beato pick up the slack in New York.

Now, NL-only owners are left without a full-time elite stopper in K-Rod. Mixed league owners -- we're referring more to head-to-head points leagues than Rotisserie here -- might as well cut him. He just cannot take a big enough share of the save chances from an Axford who was performing like a top-10 option at the position.

Picking up Izzy, Parnell or Beato just doesn't fill the gap.

The time to own Mike Adams is now. His ownership is up to a season-high 30 percent. He figures to be the huge beneficiary if Bell is dealt in the coming weeks, if not days.

Here are some of the other top fantasy pitchers on the market:

RP Heath Bell, Padres -- It is unlikely he finds a real home as a closer, unless he heads to a team like the Cardinals. That could really make him a stud for fantasy owners. The Padres just don't win games like the Cardinals do. Adams has been a gem for leagues that use true middle relievers, but he could be adding save chances to his dossier.

SP Francisco Liriano, Twins -- He hasn't been very good this season, but he can jump back into fantasy prominence if he winds up with an elite contender. Kevin Slowey (shoulder) should be ready to return from the DL soon, or the Twins can go to the well on prospect Kyle Gibson. Either can pitch better for fantasy owners than Liriano has thus far this season.

SP Edwin Jackson, White Sox -- The White Sox are running with a six-man rotation amid the surprising breakthrough of Phil Humber this season. Jackson is squarely on the block, and we already saw the dividends he can pay after a deadline deal. Jackson is a streaky pitcher and an intriguing fantasy option when he is going well and in the right situation.

SP Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles -- He has been a steady veteran for a consistent non-contender. It would be interesting to see him pitching for an offensive juggernaut like the Rangers or someone. The Orioles have pitching prospects to fall back on down in Triple-A, and Brian Matusz and Zach Britton should certainly be expected to fill any gap(s) a traded pitcher would leave in Baltimore.

RP Kevin Gregg, Orioles -- He closes games for one of the first teams out of the pennant race this season. It is unlikely he winds up a closer elsewhere, save for the St. Louis case again, but it could be a good time to take fliers on Koji Uehara, Alfredo Simon and Jim Johnson. All have good numbers and have had experience saving games for the O's in the past.

RP Matt Capps, Twins -- Joe Nathan has turned his season around and the Twins could punt on Capps, perhaps. Nathan would obviously be a big part of the reason they would deal Capps, of course, but, again, outside of St. Louis, Capps would merely be a setup man.

The names won't end here in the talks, but it should be mentioned that pitchers -- particularly starters -- are the commodities everyone wants and most are reluctant to part with. It doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to the smoke.

Ask your jilted NL-only K-Rod owner.

Here are this week's two-start pitcher options:

For the second half of the season, instead of focusing our attention to the pitchers with the favorable and unfavorable matchups, we will shift focus to player acquisition over lineup advice. The pool of contenders during a fantasy baseball season whittles down after the break, so with fewer supremely attentive owners competing for players, you're chances of locking up the better waiver options improves.

1. RP Bobby Parnell, NYM

He is the premium 100 mph arm the Mets would like take the reins in their hunt for a long-term closer. Izzy might get the chances as an audition before the trade deadline, but Parnell and Beato are more likely to be around come August and beyond.

2. SP Barry Zito, SF

The Giants may be getting Jonathan Sanchez (elbow) back soon, so Zito might be making himself somewhat intriguing for a contender. He also is a rare pitcher who could be dealt after Aug. 1 because of his awful contract. Zito has been awesome since his DL return. He is useful in all formats when the matchup is right.

3. SP Paul Maholm, PIT4. SP Jeff Karstens, PIT

We have had a healthy distaste for Pirates pitchers, but we should excuse ourselves for scaring you off Maholm and Karstens. If you didn't get scared, congrats. Karstens looks especially legit, and the Pirates just might stick in the race another month or so. Maholm is hot right now and worth a look when matchups are right.

5. SP Vance Worley, PHI

As if the Phillies needed any luck out of a fallback starter, Worley has pitched like a Phillies and fantasy ace. That's some company he is in, too. You absolutely have to pick him up because of the contender he pitches for -- and he has some residual RP eligibility in head-to-head formats, too.

Usually, cut pitchers are justifiably sent to the trash heap and forgotten. There are actually some opportunities for fantasy owners to exploit here, though.

1. SP Zach Britton, Orioles

He should beat Matusz back to the majors. Both should have decent value when they return, though.

2. SP Edinson Volquez, Reds

Maybe the Reds will consider dealing him? He is working on his command down in the minors, but the arm and talent are still too intriguing to completely give up on. Watch him in deeper formats for a return, or a trade.

3. SP Dillon Gee, Mets

The Mets have gotten away with pretty good returns out of their spare-parts rotation. The likely deal of Carlos Beltran will be overcome by the likely return of Jose Reyes and David Wright in the coming weeks. Gee can be decent in a two-start week with the right matchups.

4. SP Brett Anderson, A's

Well, Tommy John elbow reconstruction has finally claimed him. It was just a matter of time. Yet another Verducci Effect victim.

5. SP Charlie Furbush, Tigers

He should be much better in the second half in his return from the minors after he stretches out a bit. This is a decent arm, and the Tigers are a contender that can get him wins.

Honorable mention: SP Kyle McClellan, Cardinals, is going to get hot again. Mark our words. You're going to like him down the stretch, especially if your league still allows you to slot him as an RP in two-start weeks.

Eric Mack helps you plan your pitching staff every Friday at SI.com. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide — from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Grant Wahl, Andy Staples and more — delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.