Kicking Rocks: Trading for Saves

To say that the closing situation in baseball has been a disaster this season would be a grave understatement.  Of the 30 teams this year, 18 teams have had to make changes and/or adjustments due to injury or an outright lack of success.  Some of the changes have been temporary while others have seen multiple relievers moved in and out of the role causing fantasy owners to spend far too much time playing the waiver wire in search of consistent saves.  But what happens once the dust settles and there’s almost no more turnover?  What happens when you can’t find saves on the waiver wire and you’re in need?  The trade market can be a very unforgiving place to shop.

Now some will say that with three months left in baseball there’s bound to be more change.  There are still a few unstable situations out there and jobs can still change hands.  However, we’ve seen a certain amount of stabilization recently and not everyone can afford to simply wait for the next implosion or managerial hook.  Head to head league owners may not have the same issues as it is easier to tank a single category, but roto league owners are either losing or giving away points at a rapid rate and it becomes a near impossibility to recover.  So not to lose too much ground, they are, more or less, forced into trading.

The problem with dealing for saves is two-fold.  Number one, you don’t want to pay a premium price for a guy who may, in fact, lose the job in a month’s time.  Number two, there are maybe one or two teams in your league with whom you are going to be able to trade.  While most teams start off like gangbusters on the wire, they usually end up building their team elsewhere after acquiring their save specialists.  But there are always one or two guys who have an unhealthy obsession with add/drops and are on the wire 24/7 picking up each and every reliever that may or may not find his way into a save or two.  And unfortunately, those are the guys who set the market and those market prices border on the ridiculous.

One of the biggest issues also is that these owners aren’t trading you Jonathan Papelbon or Craig Kimbrel.  Hell, they’re not even trading you Brett Myers anymore.  Your choices range from Tom Wilhelmsen to Shawn Camp to Tyler Clippard to maybe, if you’re lucky, Ryan Cook.  What kind of a price are you willing to pay for one of those guys?  Probably not a lot.  But if you want to compete, this is likely where you have to shop.  Maybe someone is willing to part with a Jim Johnson or a Joe Nathan, but then how high are you willing to go to acquire one of them.  Probably not much higher than for the aforementioned lesser closers who may be available to you.

Punting a category is rarely a recommended strategy, but you have to see what works best for you in your particular league.  In my primary league, one in which there is no more waiver wire, I lost two closers early on and have just Rafael Betancourt as my sole saves contributor.  An additional nine saves nets me just three points but obviously that’s if the teams in front of me don’t accrue any saves either.  I probably won’t lose any more ground as Betancourt’s efforts should keep me ahead of the laggards behind me in the category.  However, gaining ground seems like a longshot, at best.  I can either stay the course and leave things as is, basically punting the category, or I can trade some offensive firepower and make a run at multiple closers to help my cause.  Based on the league, though, it seems like to former is the route to take.

But that’s just my league.  You have to do what’s right for you.  If you’re in a spot where the addition of another closer is going to help you pick up points…remember, not just in saves, but in ERA and WHIP as well…you might just have to bite the bullet and pony up a little extra to acquire someone.  You’re not going to be happy about it at first, but if the results are positive, you’ll find a way to cope.  If the move doesn’t go the way you had hoped, well then that’s probably opening up some possible strategy changes for next year.  Either way, it looks like it’s going to be a struggle no matter what you decide.

Kind of makes you think about investing in one of those top-tier premium guys next year, huh?  Maybe just a little?

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

34 Responses to “Kicking Rocks: Trading for Saves”

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  1. schmoe says:

    I know this is incredibly small and unimportant, but I’d really love it if you went to one space after each period like the rest of your site (and the rest of the world). It’s just awkward to the eye to read. I hope you’ll consider it.

    Go ahead and throw rocks at me, but I wasn’t sure where else to make the point.

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  2. SteveJobs says:

    I laugh my way to the bank every year when the “don’t pay for saves” stragglers come hunting for saves this time of year after not only falling behind in saves, but also watching their ratios get repeatedly blown up looking for the next fill-in closer off the wire. I got Mike Trout for Santi Casilla right when Wilson first went down (and Trout was still struggling) in a keeper league. Yep…that team’s in first now. Drafting Papelbon and Jansen allowed me to move Casilla, and I’ll be reaping the benefits for many years.

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    • Wade8813 says:

      If you have the right closers, it can be money in the bank. Of course, having Papelbon in 2010 wasn’t quite as good – not to mention plenty of others who have imploded in far more spectacular fashion.

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  3. kellemonster says:

    So you’re saying that it sucks to overpay for saves, but that it likely is going to be a net positive to make the trade to get saves.

    By definition, if a trade is a net positive for you, it is not overpaying. What you are complaining about is that the trade partner is not giving you any “consumer surplus” for the product you are purchasing.

    It’s almost like there is an invisible hand in place that makes sure that the market is efficient…

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    • Steve Balboni says:

      No one likes being told to stop whining, especially when it’s the premise of their feature column.

      Also, the economic model of exchange is just a model, not real life. The model is ceteris paribus, but nusquam paribus.

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  4. SteveJobs says:

    And Schmoe…you are wrong. 2 spaces after a period is proper…I don’t care what typographers think.

    PS – did you seriously take the time to actually bitch about that? Wow. I would hate to have your life.

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  5. AJP says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    In 2 leagues I’m in we use both saves and holds; I usually end up punting saves because of the reasons mentioned above, but also for whatever reason holds just aren’t as valued despite the fact their nearly identical stats. Because of this I load up on cheap hold guys and the very least it usually gives me a .500 in those stats.

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    • Steve Balboni says:

      Our fantasy grammar league has a 24 space limit, so you’re forced to pick between 12 periods, 24 periods or some ugly mixture of period/space. I traded excess spaces and a semi-colon for an exclamation-question mark.

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  6. Mike M says:

    I’m in a standard 5-category league, and I traded away Vogelsong for Papelbon straight up. I hope I did the right thing in the end.

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  7. Matt K says:

    saves league (no holds), and having drafted Papelbon, Frank Francisco, and Marmol as my closers, I’m hurting. I’m thinking about just forgeting saves for the year instead of trying to grab any more, and focusing only on SP for my pitching poitns.

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  8. DD says:

    Or, you can try to plan ahead – draft high end relievers not yet in the closers role (especially if your league counts hold) and reap the benefits. I drafted Kimbrel and Santos to close, then also drafted Clippard and Jansen, and got Wilhelmsen on waivers. I was able to package Kimbrel and Beltran (selling high in my estimation, those power #s will drop) and got Trout, even after he started this hot streak. Plan ahead and you will be rewarded. I’d rather be the guy with 5 closers, getting trade offers, than the guy with Marmol or some other closer not helping my ratios.

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    • DD says:

      Also got Soriano on waivers, foregoing after Robertson was picked up. Lucked out with the injury but knew he’d still get save opps.

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  9. Zigs says:

    Interesting column. I seemed to be on the other side trying to get the appropriate value for the closers I have/ had. Closers value compared to other players is a very gray area.

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  10. supershredder says:

    You guys know there is a third option to handling closers, right? As you mentioned, one can draft upper tier guys (Kimbrel or Mariano) or just punt the category. Or you can do what I do every year and target lower ranked (less expensive) closers with solid ratios and peripherals like Jim Johnson, Jason Motte, and Joe Nathan and look like a genius.

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  11. Pandora says:

    I traded T. Hudson/C. Ross for Hanrahan and a throwaway in a 14 team roto. I have Frieri/Wilhelmsen/Grilli/Holland/A. Miller in a save/hols (separate cats) league. My trash talking rival (been on me from day one) called it a sucky trade. Offense is a bit hard to come by but I also have Kemp/Moreland/Werth stashed on the DL plus Myers poised for a recall. I’m in 8th place for saves. I still think it was a good move because I can stream starters on the wire (and just grabbed Cashner/Morales) and Ross will lose PT once Ellsbury/Crawford return. Opinions?

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    • schmoe's bestest pal & fellow pedant says:

      Can you not use so many slashes? Each one stings the eyes like thousands of needles…

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  12. Just wait for another closer to lose his job. It always happens.

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  13. Bob says:

    I’m on the opposite side of kicking rocks. I always have decent closers and people want them but don’t want to pay for them. Jim Johnson for Ivan Nova? Try again.

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  14. John says:

    I just turned Casilla and Addison Reed into Cliff Lee.

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  15. Nick says:

    Could be worse, I have a guy trying to pry Giancarlo Stanton from me by offering Chapman.

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  16. Mr Wizard says:

    If you do your homework pre-draft you can determine who you think will be decent closers to speculate on at a decent price. By decent price I mean something that will not hurt you too badly you if you lose him to injury or predict their production incorrectly. Even the tried and true get hurt so unless your league is using k/9 vs SO then not worth the bigger bucks to spend on old reliables who can get hurt like Mariano did this year. If you get one or two cheap, then great. If not, you should know who the best set up guys are that are capable of closing should the opportunity arise. Guys like KJ from the Dodgers comes to mind. They don’t usually blow up and are nice to have to throw into your lineup for era and whip and the best ones have decent K’s even on lessor innings than starters. If they do blow up they cost you very little as most owners undervalue them.

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