- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Fantasy owners shouldn't be at all surprised that the Baltimore Orioles finally traded closer George Sherrill. We've been preparing people for this day for a while, in "Relief Efforts" and other online content, in podcasts, and on television. Sure, last-place teams like the Orioles need closers, too, but generally not 32-year-old lefties with limited experience in the role who don't figure to develop with a young team.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, have one of the most overworked bullpens in baseball, and they desperately needed help for Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Ramon Troncoso and pals. Entering Thursday, Dodgers relief pitchers had thrown an amazing 350 innings, with only the Padres' bullpen logging more. Of the teams with the seven bullpens logging the most innings, only the Dodgers would be playoff participants if the season ended today.
Sherrill will certainly help, but from a fantasy perspective, don't expect saves. This is the danger of owning closers on bad teams: They sometimes get dealt and become set-up men for good teams. Broxton, abused or not, has been fantasy's top closer this season, in part from his seven wins, but he also leads all relief pitchers in strikeouts and is among the league leaders in saves. Troncoso, a 26-year-old right-hander, leads all major league relief pitchers in innings. Kuo just returned from an elbow injury that three months ago was rumored to possibly be career-ending. The Dodgers badly needed Sherrill to help set up Broxton. I don't envision saves coming the left-hander's way.
The Orioles now need someone to save games, and don't think this is a meaningless role. Sherrill had 20 saves for a team with 43 wins, which is not a bad percentage at all. The obvious choice would be the team's main set-up man, Jim Johnson, a ground-ball-inducing right-hander who leads the Orioles with 14 holds, and pitched in with two saves as well. Johnson has a solid 3.17 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, but he isn't having quite the same season he did in 2008, when he threw 68 2/3 innings and allowed nary a home run. Johnson has already given up five home runs, and right-handed batters held a .296 batting average against him. Johnson could pick up 10 or more saves the rest of the way, so he's worth adding in pretty much any format, but he's no guarantee to be successful.
Other Orioles who could be in the mix for saves are Danys Baez, Cla Meredith, Kam Mickolio, Jim Miller and Chris Ray. Baez has 114 career saves, mostly for the Rays and Indians, and has a 1.16 WHIP this season. Of course, he could be trade bait as well, even after the Friday deadline. Meredith was recently acquired from the Padres and, like Johnson, is known for inducing ground balls. Mickolio has been up and down from Triple-A Norfolk this season, but has been a strikeout option at each level of the minors. Miller is the current closer for Norfolk and has 16 saves for the Tides. He also picked up 10 saves for the Tides last season.
Ray closed for the Orioles in 2006-07 before needing Tommy John surgery. He was expected to challenge Sherrill for ninth-inning duties this season, but didn't have much command with the Orioles. He's been on the DL for a biceps injury most of July, but is on a rehab assignment now and should be promoted soon. Johnson should get Baltimore's saves, but it wouldn't surprise me if Ray got back into the picture, since he does have that experience.
The Orioles pick up third baseman Josh Bell and pitcher Steve Johnson, both of whom have been at Double-A Chattanooga recently. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect either of these players to contribute for the Orioles this season, but take a look at Bell in long-term keeper leagues. Bell is an interesting power prospect who was ranked No. 8 in the Dodgers organization by Baseball America. He had hit 11 home runs and 30 doubles this season, and he could fit into the Orioles' major league plans by 2011. Johnson had made two starts at Double-A. He turns 22 on Friday, and at least one Orioles follower should be pleased by his acquisition: his father, Dave, who also pitched for Baltimore and is one of the team's broadcasters.
One final thing on this deal: We've discussed in depth this season how the Orioles appeared to fleece the Mariners in the Erik Bedard trade after the 2007 season, with Chris Tillman and Adam Jones the young names you know. Sherrill was part of that deal, and now he's been flipped for two of the Dodgers' top 15 prospects, both of whom figure to appear in the majors. Sure, the Orioles just dealt their closer, a fellow who was an All-Star in 2008, but if Bell and Johnson continue to develop, it will be worth it. Wise fantasy owners in deeper leagues make deals like this as well, trading for young depth and picking up throw-ins who matter later. The Bedard trade is the one that keeps on giving.
Eric Karabell looks at the fantasy implications of the Dodgers-Orioles trade, saying that George Sherrill loses value by not getting saves while Jim Johnson gains value as the O's closer.