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By Michael Beller
July 17, 2016

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The weeks between the All-Star break and trade deadline is high time for save speculation. We’ve already seen Fernando Rodney swap the closer’s chair in San Diego for a setup role in Miami and Brad Ziegler lose his fantasy value after moving to Boston from Arizona. Those two were just the first of many relievers who will have new addresses by August 1. In real life, the closer who changes cities gets the attention. In the fantasy game, it’s the bullpen he left behind that gets the spotlight. With that in mind, let’s set our sights on Milwaukee.

The Brewers are 39–50, and while that’s better than most expected for them in the first weekend of the second half, they still aren’t going anywhere this season. Their closer, Jeremy Jeffress, might be. The 28-year-old is enjoying a fine debut as a closer, pitching to a 2.35 ERA, 3.41 FIP and 1.33 WHIP with 28 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. He has converted 23 of his 24 save opportunities, and while the strikeout numbers aren’t exactly what you typically look for in a late-inning reliever, Jeffress’s season has featured mostly drama-free outings. The righty has allowed just two homers and more than one baserunner in five of his 24 save chances.

Jeffress isn’t going to be the most sought-after reliever on the market over the next few weeks with the Yankees’ Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman available. At the same time, he’s not going to cost nearly as much as those two shutdown lefties, and that could make him easier to move before the deadline. If the Brewers do indeed trade him, he’ll almost certainly slot into a setup role with his new team. His primary setup man in Milwaukee, Will Smith, would be the likely replacement as the Brewers’ closer.

If Smith didn’t suffer the most bizarre injury of the spring, he may have been the Brewers closer on Opening Day. The 27-year-old lefty missed the first two months of the season after he tore his LCL in his right knee while balancing on that leg and taking off the spike on his left foot. Smith, who was slated to share closer’s duties with Jeffress, didn’t make his season debut until June 2, but he has been lights-out since then. In 17 innings, he has a 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 15 strikeouts against five walks.

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It’s possible that contenders looking for bullpen help ask the Brewers about Smith in addition to, or ahead of, Jeffress. Even the contending teams that need bullpen help wouldn’t be likely to insert either one as their closer, and they might prefer going after a lefty who happens to have a much better strikeout rate. It’s also possible the Brewers hold onto Jeffress and Smith. Both relievers are in their mid-to-late 20s and still under team control. Even though the Brewers are out of playoff contention this season, Smith and Jeffress could still be key pieces when they’re ready to make another postseason push. They could also turn out to be more valuable trade chips next year. All of that is to say that while Milwaukee GM David Stearns will have conversations about Jeffress and Smith over the next two weeks, it’s no guarantee that either ends up with a new home.

With that said, this is the time for save speculators to make their move. Jeffress is already owned in any competitive league, but Smith is widely available. Jeffress has everything to lose and nothing to gain via a trade. Smith’s value would skyrocket by virtue of the Brewers finding a trade partner for their closer. Smith has the best combination of likelihood to elevate to the closer’s role and ninth-inning skill of any setup man in the league. That should make him a prime target in all fantasy formats.

Tyler Clippard, RP, Diamondbacks

Let’s stay in the reliever department and take a look at Clippard, the new closer in Arizona. Clippard is having a fine season, racking up a 2.80 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.16 WHIP and 41 strikeouts against 11 walks in 35 1/3 innings. He has been a bit too homer-friendly, allowing five longballs, but the only way he’s not the Diamondbacks closer the rest of the season is if he, too, gets traded. Daniel Hudson could vulture a save every now and again, and is worth a look in deeper leagues, but Clippard is the guy to own here.

Ryan Dull, RP, A’s

Ryan Madson has had an up-and-down season, but he’ll certainly be a trade target over the next two weeks. If he ends up going to a contender, Dull is the odds-on-favorite to take over as the closer in Oakland. The 26-year-old rookie is having a great year, posting a 1.90 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 0.72 WHIP and 48 strikeouts against 10 non-intentional walks in 47 1/3 innings. Dull doesn’t blow hitters away with his fastball (it checks in at 91.7 mph on average), but his fastball-slider combo has been confounding for hitters. There’s a chance he’d take over as the closer even if Madson remains in Oakland, but the surest path to the ninth inning for him is for Madson to find a new home.

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets

Back in April, no one expected that Conforto would eventually be back in the minors at any point this season. He hit .365/.442/.676 that month, and looked on the path to stardom. He hit just .150/.214/.307 in May and June, however, and got sent to Triple A Las Vegas in the last week of June. He’s doing exactly what you’d want from a player who belongs in the majors but has to figure some things out in the minors, slashing .344/.420/.623 with three homers and four doubles in 16 games at Las Vegas. He should be back with the Mets before long, and will be relevant in all fantasy leagues.

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David Peralta, OF, Diamondbacks

Peralta, who has missed a month with a back injury, is on a rehab assignment and getting close to returning to the Diamdonbacks. If all goes well, the team expects him to get back in the lineup at the end of the week. He has been a disappointment this year, but hit .312/.371/.522 with 17 homers last season, and should be owned in all leagues.

Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals

Grichuk homered in his first game after the All-Star break, and is 3-for-8 in two games in the second half. Since coming back from the minors, Grichuk is hitting .400 (12-for-30) with three homers, three doubles and six RBI. Grichuk was a popular breakout pick during draft season, but struggled mightily before his demotion to the minors. Like Conforto, there’s a ton of talent here that makes him well worth another shot in all fantasy formats.

Alex Bregman, SS, Astros

Bregman is blocked at short by Carlos Correa, and Luis Valbuena had himself a solid first half at third base. The Astros still won’t have any choice but to call up Bregman in the near future. The 22-year-old elite prospect is hitting .347/.385/.735 with five homers, four doubles and 14 RBI in 49 plate appearances with Triple A Fresno. He dominated at Double A Corpus Christi, slashing .297/.415/.559 with 14 homers and 16 doubles. The Astros finished the first half with a flourish, and are still right in the thick of the AL West race. Bregman can only help, and the fantasy community should take notice.

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Jose Berrios, SP, Twins

Berrios has to be close to getting his second shot in the majors. The 22-year-old has been excellent at Triple A Rochester this season, amassing a 2.59 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 85 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings. He notched his first complete game of the season two turns ago, allowing one run on four hits while striking out seven in the performance. The Twins need to see some more of him in the majors this season, and that’s likely on the horizon.

Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox

Anderson is enjoying a solid rookie season, hitting .288/.299/.462 with four homers, nine doubles and three steals in 136 plate appearances. The middle number in that slash line is an issue, and something that could limit Anderson’s upside going forward. The 23-year-old has 41 strikeouts and just two walks, but is still finding a way to generate enough fantasy value to be relevant in all formats.

Matt Moore, SP, Rays

Moore, who hit a serious rough patch for a six-week stretch in May and June, has been great over his last seven starts, totaling a 2.51 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 35 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings. Six of those seven starts have been of the quality variety, and Moore hasn’t surrendered more than two runs in any of those trips to the mound. His strikeouts are down from the level they were at in April, but he has been far more effective, and that’s a trade he’ll take 10 times out of 10. Moore has shown us enough, especially knowing his potential, to make him a worthy add in all fantasy formats.

Nate Jones, RP, White Sox

Kyle Barraclough, RP, Marlins

Tyler Thornburg, RP, Brewers

David Phelps, RP, Marlins

Jake Diekman, RP, Rangers

Hunter Strickland, RP, Giants

Brad Brach, RP, Orioles

Kelvin Herrera, RP, Royals

This is the latest group of non-closing relievers with rates and strikeout totals that are strong enough to carry fantasy value without picking up any saves. Jones and Thornburg could both be in line to get saves should their teams deal their current closers, but all eight listed above are worth your time.

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