Closers to Target from Unsettled Situations (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy baseball managers who still follow the “Don’t pay for saves” mantra better brace themselves before beginning 2022 draft prep.
A decreasing supply of true closers has caused steep inflation in the RP market. Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks are getting drafted in the pick 30-35 range of NFBC drafts, and that exorbitant cost is only rising. Those top stoppers have gone as early as No. 12 and 13 overall, respectively.
In turn, Raisel Iglesias, Edwin Diaz, Ryan Pressly, and Emmanuel Clase are also pushed up into the 50-70 range. Aroldis Chapman, free agent Kenley Jansen, and even Will Smith require a top-100 investment. While Smith’s ADP is at 100, he went at pick No. 56 in my first draft of the season.
Like many other goods and services, saves are more expensive than ever. However, that doesn’t mean drafters must bite the bullet and pay up.
This closer tariff won’t necessarily apply to all formats. You can still go bargain hunting and tackle the waiver wire in standard 10- or 12-team mixed leagues, especially those with a more casual competition level. And despite the mad dash to pay a premium for elite closers, a handful of potential studs without a clear command of the closer’s role remain available at far more reasonable prices.
Those who draft closer to Opening Day — whenever that may be — should at least receive some more clarity. Jansen is the top free agent most likely to land a ninth-inning gig, but Alex Colome, Ian Kennedy, Brad Hand, and Trevor Rosenthal could alter a few late-inning situations. For now, early drafters should capitalize on the confusion and target these relievers.
Lucas Sims (CIN)
Sims stands out as the offseason’s most mispriced bullpen bargain. His No. 269 consensus ADP falls behind Joe Barlow and Lou Trivino, who may open the season as the closer but surrender the role weeks (or days) later. Given the high turnover and low probability of locating a start-to-finish closer in the later rounds, prioritize talent over role and target Sims.
Drafters are understandably afraid that the Reds won’t tab anyone as their official closer. Ten different relievers picked up at least one save last season, but Mychal Givens and Heath Hembree led the way with just eight apiece. While some teams don’t see the need to choose a closer, it’s also possible that Reds manager David Bell didn’t pick one guy because nobody earned it. Tejay Antone was their only reliever with a save to post an ERA below 4.20 last season, and he’ll miss 2022 recovering from his second Tommy John surgery.
Sims had a 5.02 ERA before missing over six weeks with an elbow injury last summer. By the time he repaired his value enough to justify a high-leverage assignment, the season ended. The righty closed 2021 with 25 strikeouts to no walks over his final 14.1 frames, relinquishing his only two runs on a Nolan Arenado blast. He still concluded the season with a lackluster 4.40 ERA, his spectacular 39.0% strikeout rate ranked sixth among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.
If Sims pitches to his 2.50 SIERA and 2.51 xERA, he’ll easily stand out as the Reds’ premier reliever. Although that doesn’t necessarily guarantee saves in 2022, it’s a gamble well worth taking at (or a bit ahead of) his current going rate.
Taylor Rogers (MIN)
Rogers registered just nine saves before suffering a season-ending finger injury in late July. Colome, Minnesota’s closer for most of last season, is a free agent, but managers must be worried the Twins will acquire another veteran righty to lead a closing committee.
That’s possible, but not as probable as Rogers’ No. 211 ADP suggests.
Rogers was already a frontline closer when combining 30 saves with a 2.61 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 90 strikeouts in 2019. He picked up nine saves and two wins in 21 appearances during 2020 before taking a back seat last year. The southpaw remained an elite performer, authoring a 2.13 FIP and 2.20 SIERA with 59 strikeouts and eight walks in 40.1 innings.
Because of his skillset, Rogers isn’t a “closer or bust” investment. The 31-year-old will likely scoop up a few saves with strong ratios and plenty of strikeouts regardless of his role. He’ll particularly help all managers in leagues with daily lineup changes.
Dylan Floro (MIA)
At first glance, I wanted nothing to do with Floro. He picked up 13 saves after Miami traded Yimi Garcia, seemingly giving him first dibs to hold down the ninth inning this season. But Floro seemed like the precise placeholder I just said to avoid. While his 2.81 ERA matched his FIP, he recorded a pedestrian 13.7 K-BB% and a 3.6% HR/FB rate likely to rise.
More long balls would lead to the 31-year-old regressing to his 3.93 SIERA and 3.95 xFIP, which would probably prompt the Marlins to give Anthony Bender a shot to close instead.
However, Floro made intriguing gains as the season progressed. The righty improved his strikeout (26.6%) and walk (7.3%) rates after the All-Star break, leading to a 1.00 WHIP and 3.47 xFIP. His fastball velocity bumped to a season-high 91.9 mph in September, yielding his lowest hard-hit rate (27.6%) since April. Although he may serve up a few more long balls, he’s skilled at keeping the ball on the dirt with a career 52.5% ground-ball rate.
Sims and Rogers are better targets beyond the top-200 picks, but Floro could provide cheap saves with solid ratios in deeper leagues. Keep in mind that he could then follow Garcia’s path of getting traded to a contender with an established closer.
Michael Fulmer (DET)
Gregory Soto is getting drafted right around Rogers and ahead of David Bednar, another excellent target not included here only because the situation in Pittsburgh looks settled for the moment. Fulmer, on the other hand, is the 53rd reliever (including RP-eligible starters) off the board at pick No. 349, which means he’ll go undrafted in standard mixed leagues.
Everyone thinks Soto will be Detroit’s closer in 2022. That might be because Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Soto will be the closer in 2022.
With a high-90s heater and wipeout slider, Soto brandishes the prototypical stuff of a late-inning reliever. The southpaw was the team’s only All-Star representative in a year that ended with a 3.39 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 63.2 innings.
He also issued 40 walks. That’s the norm for Soto, who has a dreadful 13.2% walk rate over his career. Not throwing strikes is a surefire way to lose a manager’s trust with the game on the line. Just ask Alex Reyes.
Soto led the Tigers with 18 saves last year, but Fulmer didn’t trail far behind at 14. He also performed far better when moved to the bullpen, where the righty registered a 2.53 ERA, 66 strikeouts, and 15 walks in 57 innings. The former starter certainly looked comfortable in his new assignment when notching a 1.52 ERA after the All-Star break.
When Hinch named Soto the closer, he also retained his right to use the 27-year-old lefty in other situations. Besides, a comment made in October isn’t a binding commitment. Even if Fulmer doesn’t steal the role outright, he’ll likely garner a few opportunities when the matchups dictate deploying Soto earlier.
Given the former Rookie of the Year’s past pedigree and impressive results in the bullpen, don’t be surprised if he eventually emerges as the primary closer. Skip Soto and take a shot on Fulmer to end your draft.
A.J. Puk (OAK)
Assuming Oakland doesn’t find a veteran stopgap like Colome or Hand to close, Trivino will likely resume the job he mainly occupied in 2021. But don’t overestimate his job security. Last year, his 10.6 K-BB% rate ranked 125th of 144 qualified relievers.
Although there’s no obvious usurper in Oakland’s bullpen, Puk is the most compelling candidate. Drafted as the No. 6 pick six years ago, the lefty underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and shoulder surgery after getting shut down again in 2020. Last year’s return won’t spark much confidence; he posted a 6.10 ERA in Triple-A and allowed nine runs in 13.1 innings for the A’s.
Targeting Puk requires a pure leap of faith. While the former top prospect hasn’t lived up to the hype, he’s stockpiled strikeouts at every level. Much like Fulmer, a permanent bullpen reassignment could resurrect his career by allowing him to throw his fastball at peak velocity and lean more on his sharp slider.
The better comparison, and one that hardly breaks new ground, is Andrew Miller. Also picked No. 6 overall a decade before Puk, the fellow southpaw found new life by making a slider his primary pitch from the bullpen.
Puk is by far the biggest longshot of this group. Unless drafting a Best Ball, draft-and-hold, or AL-only league, store him on your watch list instead of spending a pick.
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