Bullpen-starved contenders can target Chapman, Papelbon, Clippard, K-Rod in deadline deals

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Now that the All-Star game is over the next big date to circle on the baseball calendar is the July 31 trade deadline.

Starting pitching tends to generate the juiciest rumors and multiple aces could be available this year–Hamels! Cueto! Price!–but contending teams in search of a shutdown closer or reliable setup men also have some big names to choose from.

Here’s my view of prominent relievers likely to generate considerable trade interest between now and July 31 …

LHP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

Everyone seems to assume that the rebuilding Reds will trade impending free agent ace Johnny Cueto, but their plans for All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman aren’t as clear. Chapman is only 27 years old and under team control for next season, so the Reds aren’t in as much of a rush to trade him. However, his 2016 salary will likely be more than $10 million via arbitration and if they’re eventually going to shop Chapman around why wait 12 months and risk an injury in the meantime?

Performance-wise Chapman is dominating as much as ever with a 1.69 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 37 innings while holding opponents to a .178 batting average. His triple-digit fastball and wipeout slider have the ability to transform a contending team’s bullpen and because any team acquiring him would be getting 1.5 seasons of excellence it’s possible the Reds can get more in return for Chapman than for Cueto. The big question is whether they want to part ways right now.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies

Jonathan Papelbon has made it abundantly clear that he wants out of Philadelphia, providing strongly worded quotes to anyone who asks him about the rebuilding Phillies. Of course, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. presumably would have gladly traded him by now if there was a deal to be made that actually brought a decent prospect back to Philadelphia.

In the past Papelbon’s big contract scared teams off, but this is his final guaranteed season and even next year’s $13 million vesting option is around the going rate for top-level closers. And don’t let his personality or the Phillies’ lack of save situations mask the fact that he remains a top-level closer with a 1.60 ERA and 35/7 K/BB ratio in 34 innings this season. Papelbon has a 2.33 ERA and 89 percent save rate for the Phillies. He had a 2.33 ERA and 89 percent save rate for the Red Sox. He can still make a huge impact.

RHP Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers

After saving 44 games for the Brewers last season Francisco Rodriguez returned to Milwaukee in the middle of spring training by signing a two-year, $13 million deal. He made the All-Star team for a sixth time by saving 19 games with a 1.41 ERA and 37/9 K/BB ratio in the first half, but the last-place Brewers seemingly don’t have a ton of use for a 33-year-old closer. Rodriguez hasn’t always generated the most trade or free agent interest in recent years, so it’s possible his being under contract for $5.5 million next season may scare some teams off even though it’s a reasonable salary.

RHP Tyler Clippard, Oakland A’s

Oakland got Tyler Clippard from Washington this offseason to take over as the primary setup man, but he shifted to the closer role with Sean Doolittle hurt and has done a fine job with 17 saves and a 2.43 ERA in 37 innings. Clippard hasn’t been quite as dominant as he was for the Nationals and has struggled at times with his control, but opponents are batting below .200 off him for the third straight year. Oakland is 41-50 and he’s an impending free agent.

RHP Joaquin Benoit, San Diego Padres

Joaquin Benoit has been a consistently outstanding reliever since coming back from a bunch of injuries in 2010, posting a 2.36 ERA in 351 total innings during that time while serving as a setup man and closer. Even at age 37 he’s logged 38 innings with a 2.39 ERA this season, although his 33/15 K/BB ratio is underwhelming. San Diego is 41-49 and he’s an impending free agent.

RHP Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins

Steve Cishek saved 88 games in two-and-a-half seasons as Miami’s closer despite few people viewing the side-arming right-hander as ninth-inning material before it happened and then the Marlins demoted him to Double-A on June 1 following 19 rough innings. He returned two weeks later and has allowed just one run in 8.2 innings since, potentially re-emerging as a lower-wattage trade target for a team in need of seventh- or eighth-inning help.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Atlanta Braves beat the New York Mets 5-3, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closed out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before 15-game winner Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).