It is the time of year when mock drafts for the upcoming football season are in full swing.
Especially with all the volatility at the running back position, a common draft technique in the late rounds is to acquire the top reserve behind a starter you rostered earlier. That way, if the job passes from starter to reserve due to injury or ineffectiveness, the prepared fantasy owner won’t lose the team’s rushing yardage and touchdowns.
As most probably know, this process is called handcuffing.
Though less common, the approach can also be deployed in fantasy baseball. In fact, it came up this past week as closers have been moving from team to team as the trade deadline approaches.
This churn creates new openings and sometimes, doubts about others. On certain clubs, injured pitchers are returning, though their old jobs aren’t always waiting for them.
Wise owners plan ahead, grabbing closers in waiting in preparation for the inevitable trades and job changes.
Or, if you are like me in National League Tout Wars this season, you picked up speculative future closers because you did not spend enough for any sure things on draft day.
So far, two of the four have come through, though only one was on my roster at the time. After K-Rod’s terrible start to the season, I cut him loose after a month. At the time, I went on a foolish chase after the Cubs saves, bidding on Rafael Dolis and James Russell. But that is a story for another day.
Clippard and Lopez are central to my handcuff story this week.
As I had mentioned in the most recent installment of our every-Monday Tout transaction blog:
“It feels funny to call new Houston closer Francisco Cordero “new”. After all, he has 328 career saves. Derek Carty’s $52 bid became just $17 via Vickrey, making this a solid pick up. Still, my lack of confidence in Coco is illustrated by my relatively tepid bid of $6 and backed up by my ongoing ownership of Wilton Lopez.”
Cordero’s first outing with the Astros was a quiet one inning in a non-save situation last Friday. It quickly went downhill from there. Returning home was not comforting for either the pitcher or Houston fans.
A blown save and a loss on Tuesday quickly caused Carty to explore his options. He emailed me, asking if he could purchase Lopez with FAAB.
As I had mentioned two weeks ago, there is a group of Tout owners who have between $35 and $60 remaining, but likely not enough money to compete for interleague traded players and too much money to use efficiently. Carty, with $45, is among them.
Too busy at the moment to check and analyze league balances, but wanting to reply in a timely manner, I told Carty it would take a “boatload” of FAAB for me to consider trading Lopez. He came right back, asking for a definition of "boatload" – a very fair question.
Because I want the saves that I hope will be coming from Lopez more than the money, I replied it would require than more than Carty’s available balance.
Carty didn’t back off. Thinking creatively, he suggested a handcuff trade.
I would send him Lopez to go with his Cordero. He would send me Washington’s Drew Storen to go with my Clippard. Recently off the disabled list, Storen was not given his closers’ job back. Clippard had a recent stretch of rough outings, which planted a bit of doubt in my mind.
Still, I felt greedy. I want both team’s saves. I sat on Carty’s last email while watching the evening’s games.
My answer was provided for me when Cordero took his second blown save and loss in two nights on Wednesday while Storen set up Clippard, who picked up a clean save against Milwaukee.
This pair of potential handcuffs, I turned down.
(Update: After I posted this article Friday night, the Astros burned Lopez in one of the strangest sequence of (failed) manuevers I can recall in recent years. Riding a 10-game losing streak but determined to win, Houston manager Brad Mills wanted to protect a one-run lead in the eighth. With one out and Andrew McCutchen coming up, left-handed reliever Wesley Wright was shifted to right field with the righty Lopez taking the mound. The matchup move failed when McCutchen doubled. Lopez was burned for the night but no runs were scored as Wright returned to get the final two outs. (If Mills was so worried about the hot-hitting McCutchen - and who wouldn't be? - why didn't he simply order an intentional pass and keep Lopez for the final three outs?)
Wright stayed in to fan Pedro Alvarez to open the ninth, and the Astros were just two outs away from ending their long and painful skid. But Mills just couldn't help himself. The over-manager pulled the veteran Wright from the mound - and the game this time - in favor of rookie Rhiner Cruz. A single and two walks loaded the bases, which ended Cruz' night. That left another rookie, Xavier Cedeno, who was pitching his third consecutive night after being recalled from the minors, to try to secure the final two outs.
You had to know this would not end well - and it didn't. A sac fly tied the game and a two-out wild pitch brought in another as the Astros turned their third consecutive ninth-inning lead into their 11th straight defeat. Cruz took the loss and Cedeno got the blown save. Wright was given a hold and Lopez was probably just as confused as the rest of us. Cordero may be have been happy that he had been ruled unavailable for the night.)
My advice to you from all of this is to look at your closers to review if any are at risk of being traded. Some may continue to close if dealt, but others could be turned into setup men. Now is the time to handcuff their understudies.
Then look at the reserves in any situations where closers could be traded away. Such clubs as Kansas City, San Diego, Miami and more could be seeing change soon. Consider their most likely heir apparents. Grab them if available and if you have roster room.
Remember that even after Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, MLB deals can be done in August for players that clear waivers.
If you are still chasing saves, don’t wait for these trades to occur. Make your handcuff and speculative acquisition moves now. You may want to stay clear of Houston, though!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.