The trade deadline is a few weeks away, so the rumor mill is about to heat up. To prep you for the coming trade season, we're providing a primer on who the top available trade targets could be as get closer to July 31st.
Relief pitchers are the one thing that you can always find out on the market. Contending teams, no matter how loaded their respective pitching staffs are, will always be looking to add a reliever or two to the mix just in case. We've seen at least one option fall off the market (at least temporarily), with Jesse Crain headed to the DL, but there are still plenty of options out there for a team looking for an arm at the middle or the back of the bullpen, or even as a closer. Unlike the previous positions in TOC's trade deadline primers, relief appears to be a spot where really anybody can be had, in a massive class of available relievers. Let's try and condense this a bit and take a look.
Kevin Gregg – Strange days when Kevin Gregg may be the best closer available on the market. He's had a fantastic year for an awful Cubs team, which is exactly what they were hoping for. He's been dynamite in closing out 14 of 15 save opportunities to the tune of a 1.59 ERA. Not bad for a guy who didn't make it out of spring training with the Dodgers.
Jonathan Papelbon – If you want a mouth and a big contract, then Papelbon is the guy for you. He doesn't miss as many bats as he used to, which probably isn't a good sign, but his ERA is as low as it's been since 2009 and he's only walked five hitters this year. It's not for certain that Philly will deal him, but if they could get a team to take on the $26 million he'll earn in the next two years, they'll probably ship him out of town.
Steve Cishek – One of the last real bargaining chips for the Miami Marlins, Cishek has bounced back after a slow start to the season. His ERA is at 0.96 since the middle of May and at 2.97 for the year. He's been a steady reliever over the course of the last few years and isn't eligible to become a free agent until 2018, which could allow the Marlins to drive the price up on him.
Francisco Rodriguez – The artist formerly known as K-Rod has taken over the closer job from John Axford (more on him later) and has been very impressive at the back of the Milwaukee 'pen. His ERA for the year is just 0.92 and he's converted all seven of his save opportunities. He's cheap and looking to earn that next big contract, and a team could jump on that type of situation.
Setup guys/Middle relief types
James Russell – The lefty is a popular name on the trade market once again, but the Cubs aren't in any sort of hurry to deal him. Perhaps they view him as a closer when they're ready to contend. But he's among the best late inning guys in the game, though he's not overpowering. If the Cubs get a team to overpay, they'll consider dealing him.
John Axford – Axford lost his gig as the closer for the Brewers, but has actually been pretty strong in his new role for the Crew. He hasn't allowed a run in over 20 innings, and is under team control for the next few years, though he could end up costing quite a bit.
Oliver Perez – How about this guy? Perez has revived his career as a reliever with the Mariners and has been absolutely fantastic. He's striking out over 12 hitters per nine innings and has a 1.47 ERA for the year. And he's cheap. He'll draw plenty of interest for a team out on the market.
Jesse Crain – We're going to add him to the list, even though he's out on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. Prior to heading to the DL, Crain was terrific for the White Sox with a 0.47 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine. If he's healthy before the deadline, teams could try and bank on that performance, and the return would likely be a bit lower than it was due to his uncertain health.
Other available relievers (the 'at least they have a pulse' category)
Matt Thornton – Nowhere near as effective as he used to be at the backend of a bullpen, Thornton can still be a useful guy, particularly against lefties.
Mike Dunn – He's an effective reliever, but his walk numbers are higher than a team would probably like, though that doesn't mean he won't find a new home.
Tom Gorzelanny – A pretty underrated guy, Gorzelanny actually has the best ERA of his career and an impressive 1.08 WHIP. He's the type of guy who can come out of the bullpen in a long relief role, as well as a spot starter. There's value in a pitcher like that.