Fantasy Baseball Closer Report: Week 1
Thankfully, we’re here to talk closers instead of starters who got bombed. It’s only been one day of action, but we’ve already received a surprising amount of intel on a bunch of closer situations. At least until everything gets turned on its head tonight!
The big winner of the week has to be Alex Reyes, who wasn’t widely considered the favorite to land the Cardinals’ closer job, but certainly has the pure stuff to dominate in the role. Hector Neris and Jake Diekman also join the closer ranks this week, while Trevor Rosenthal exists with a sore shoulder.
All ranking changes are relative to where I had them in last week’s Spring Training Closer Report. Feel free to jump to the bottom for my analysis of 17 different closer situations, but first, here’s this week’s rankings:
St. Louis Cardinals
With Jordan Hicks still working his way back into high-leverage situations following Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals’ closer job was wide open in Spring Training. Manager Mike Shildt didn’t provide many clues which way he would go until Thursday, when he announced that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Alex Reyes got most of the save opportunities to begin the season.
Reyes pitched the ninth with a five-run lead on Opening Day, providing further evidence that he’s the Cardinals’ preferred option in the ninth inning. Should he falter, St. Louis will have plenty of good alternatives, including Giovanny Gallegos and Andrew Miller. Hicks could also theoretically reclaim the closer job, but that may be a tough feat to pull off if Reyes excels in the role. Reyes is an incredible talent with dominant stuff, and is well worth a hefty FAAB bid, but he’ll probably need to keep his walk rate under control to hold onto the job all year.
Heading into the season, Trevor Rosenthal was one of the 10 or so closers you could feel relatively confident in regarding job security. Well, so much for that. Rosenthal landed on the 10-day injured list with shoulder inflammation before he had thrown a single pitch in a regular season contest, and with the team just trying to treat the symptoms for now, there is no timetable for his return. Right now, it’s impossible to tell if this is the kind of injury that lasts two weeks or the entire season.
On the plus side, A’s manager Bob Melvin was quick to name Jake Diekman as the “obvious answer” for who would step into the closer role in Rosenthal’s absence. MLB.com pegs Sergio Romo as another potential candidate, but for now it appears that Diekman is the guy. If he comes anywhere close to last season’s numbers — 0.42 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 13.08 K/9 — he may not be giving the job back to Rosenthal when he returns.
After watching Hector Neris, Archie Bradley, and Jose Alvarado pitch all spring, Phillies manager Joe Girardi announced just prior to Opening Day that Neris would serve as the closer to begin the year. We know the deal with Neris by now; he can look absolutely filthy at times, but also can go through extremely rough stretches. If/when that happens this season, Girardi will have two other veteran late-inning relievers who can step in and do the job.
I generally erred on the side of caution in last week’s Closer Report preview, rather than anointing closers in situations where committees were highly likely. Atlanta was one situation where I did feel comfortable enough to declare a closer, though. Following spring media reports that Will Smith would receive the “bulk” of the save chances, he pitched in the ninth inning of a tie game on Opening Day, while his main rival for saves, Chris Martin, pitched the eighth. That is standard usage for a closer and set-up man, respectively.
San Diego Padres
While unnamed sources within the Padres organization seemed to point to Emilio Pagan as the most likely closer in San Diego, we never got a direct quote from manager Jayce Tingler himself. For that reason, I resisted the urge to anoint Pagan as the Padres’ closer last week. Lo and behold, Pagan pitched the seventh inning on Opening Day, while Drew Pomeranz handled the eighth and grizzled vet Mark Melancon picked up the save in the ninth. The Padres are now the seventh different team Melancon has earned a save for during his Major League career. Following the contest, Tingler gave us a quote that suggests this will be a committee for the foreseeable future: “I’m sure you’ll see that (Pagán-Pomeranz-Melancon) combination some, and I’m sure you’ll see some other combinations as well.”
Indians manager Terry Francona hinted this week that James Karinchak, Nick Wittgren and Emmanuel Clase could all see save opportunities as Francona attempts to keep their workloads fairly even. Francona has typically relied on a single closer, so it will be interesting to see if any of the trio emerges in the season’s opening weeks.
San Francisco Giants
I was close to labeling Jake McGee as the Giants’ closer heading into the season, and after McGee pitched the ninth inning of a tie game on Thursday, I am closer still. However, the bar needs to be higher than that for a Gabe Kapler-managed team. This will continue to be a committee until we see McGee (or someone else) string together a few saves in a row.
Toronto Blue Jays
Many people drafted their fantasy squad with the assumption that Jordan Romano would serve as the Blue Jays’ closer, but Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo never definitively weighed in on the matter. On Opening Day, Romano very nearly lost the game, walking two batters and requiring a put-out at the plate to send the game to extra innings. Instead, Romano ended up with the win when the Blue Jays took the lead in the top of the 10th, and then unheralded 29-year old right-hander Julian Merryweather came in and struck out the side to shut the door on the Bronx Bombers.
If you drafted Romano, you’ll have to hope it’s a good sign that Montoyo handed him the ninth inning, but some observers of the Blue Jays seem to think this could result in more save chances for Merryweather. Until Montoyo provides clarity — or one Jays reliever reels of a string of three or four saves — this needs to be viewed as a committee. Who knows, maybe Rafael Dolis gets the next chance.
The Mariners’ closer situation was a confusing one heading into the season, and it didn’t totally clear up on Opening Day. In February, manager Scott Servais said “[t]here will be no closer,” but by March, reports indicated that Rafael Montero would get the first chance to handle the gig. That’s exactly what happened on Opening Day, when Montero was called on to protect a one-run lead in the ninth. Unfortunately, Montero blew the chance by surrendering a game-tying home run to Alex Dickerson. It’s not clear that Montero is good enough to hold onto the job, and Kendall Graveman is a logical pickup in fantasy leagues given that he is reportedly next-in-line.
Kansas City Royals
Royals skipper Mike Matheny called on presumed closer Greg Holland to get the team out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth, and he obliged by striking out Leody Taveras. Holland then remained in a 14-9 game to start the ninth, but struggled with his control, walking two batters and unleashing a wild pitch (along with a passed ball and a single). Enter Wade Davis, who struck out Nick Solak and Nate Lowe to end the game and earn the save.
Perhaps this will persuade Matheny to avoid using Holland in multi-inning appearances, but there isn’t much reason to believe we are witnessing a change at closer. Holland should remain the ninth inning man, and Davis is probably still behind Scott Barlow in the pecking order, too. Besides, given how awful Davis has been over the last couple seasons, you are going to want to know for sure that he’s the closer before you even consider putting him into your lineup.
The Twins were never a great bet to settle on a single closer under Rocco Baldelli, but if one guy was going to take the job, you’d figure it would be free agent acquisition Alex Colome, who has been an above-average closer for half a decade. Unfortunately, Colome’s first opportunity in Minnesota did not go according to plan. He got himself into trouble with a hit batter and a throwing error, and that paid for it by allowing a run-scoring single to Christian Yelich and a two-run double to Travis Shaw.
Daniel Bard successfully converted his first save of the 2021 season, but not without his fair share of drama. Pitching with a three-run lead, Bard loaded the bases with one out before retiring Matt Beaty and Mookie Betts to end the threat. It’s nice to know that Bard has this job to himself, but it’s not clear that he’ll be good enough to hold onto it all season in the unforgiving home environment of Coors Field.
Boston Red Sox
It looked for a second like COVID-19 might decide Boston’s closer battle, but now that Matt Barnes has been cleared to return to action, the competition between Barnes and Adam Ottavino remains very much up in the air. Red Sox manager Alex Cora says he doesn’t want to “handcuff” himself by naming a closer prior to the season, but Cora does want to utilize a set closer, so expect either Barnes or Ottavino to emerge relatively quickly.
Tampa Bay Rays
Diego Castillo earned the save for the Rays on Opening Day, while Pete Fairbanks pitched the eighth. It’s fair to consider Castillo a slight favorite for saves going forward, but this will almost certainly remain a committee situation.
Amir Garrett generated a fair amount of helium in the preseason, but the Reds never formally named him the closer, and according to pitching coach Derek Johnson, Garrett will share closing duties with Lucas Sims and perhaps also Sean Doolittle and Tejay Antone.
The Pirates did not name a closer heading into the season, but leading contender Richard Rodriguez picked up the save on Opening Day, and it would make some sense for Pittsburgh to stick with him there to build up his trade value. That said, Kyle Crick was unavailable while on paternity leave, so it’s possible he factors in eventually. Let’s see if Rodriguez gets the next couple saves before we anoint him the closer.
Gregory Soto earned the Tigers’ first save of 2021, but he didn’t exactly look great doing it. Working with a three-run lead, Soto gave up a two-run homer to Roberto Perez before finally slamming the door. Perhaps Bryan Garcia gets the next opportunity.
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