Investing in a jumbled closer situation is never a great idea. Sometimes you may strike gold, but more often than not, that draft pick could have been spent on someone else far more valuable.
If you do invest, it’s always better to select from a contending team. More wins equal more saves to go around. So even if your guy is stuck in a committee, at least he’ll earn a decent amount of saves.
There’s really no need to take a potential closer on a team that will struggle to reach 30 saves overall. It’s just not worth the risk or roster spot for those 10 to 12 saves he’ll get with marginal ratios. Especially with the amount of volatility at the position.
Ideally, you’ll draft two closers you feel confident about and then one more at the end of the draft who could work out. With so much turnover throughout the year, you’ll have no problem adding saves later on.
For all the unsettled bullpens out there, there’s usually a favorite to win the job. Today I’ve broken down each of those teams’ likeliest candidates to close and which ones to target. There are different levels of uncertainty, so we’ll start with the safest choices.
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Closers to Target From Unsettled Situations
Felix Bautista is behind schedule because of a nagging knee injury. If he’s not ready by Opening Day, look for Cionel Perez or Bryan Baker to take the job, but it would only be for the short term. Bautista is a beast with one of the nastiest splitters in the game.
Kansas City Royals
There is almost zero chance Chapman supplants Barlow for the job. KC’s incumbent put up another stellar season, finishing with a sub-2.50 ERA for the second consecutive year, while Chapman was awful. It’s worth mentioning for due diligence, but unless Barlow is traded, he will be the guy.
Despite being a lefty, Leclerc has had little trouble getting righties out (.152/.279/.243). He has also racked up 36 saves in his career despite missing plenty of time due to injury. Reports coming out of camp are that he’s the front-runner to land the job, and after a solid return last year that saw high saw his fastball average 96.4 mph, I see little reason to doubt him. His ADP is a bit high, but the Rangers are going to be much improved.
Hernandez is a solid handcuff, but he walks too many batters and doesn’t have the alluring strikeout totals Leclerc does. Chris Young, the Rangers GM, did tell the Athletic that Hernandez could be the closer, though, so the situation is worth monitoring. But Leclerc is the one to target.
With Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, and Andrew Chafin no longer with the team, Lange is the heavy favorite to win the closer’s job. He’s a three-pitch pitcher that leans heavily on offerings down in the zone, where he consistently racks up swings and misses (19% SwStr). His ground ball-to-fly ball rate is nearly 2:1, and his FIP, xERA, and SIERA are all well below the 3.41 ERA he produced. The former first-rounder totaled 82 strikeouts and 21 holds last season while allowing just five home runs in 71 appearances.
The knock on him is that he has almost zero closing experience, but neither do the other guys. The Tigers won’t win a lot of games, but Foley is a solid closer to target late in drafts who could hold onto the role all year. Cisnero would likely be the second choice.
Tampa Bay Rays
On almost any other team, Fairbanks would be the clear-cut closer. He was arguably one of the most dominant relievers in the second half of last season. After missing nearly the first four months due to injury, Fairbanks returned with a 99.2 mph fastball and a devastating slider. He allowed just 16 base runners in 24 innings while striking out 38. He also only gave up three runs, all of which were surrendered in his first two games played. If he can stay healthy, the 29-year-old could finish as one of the top relievers in the game.
All that said, the Rays haven’t stuck with a single closer since Alex Colome in 2017. That’s not to say they won’t this season, but coming off such a lengthy rehab process, the Rays may limit Fairbanks’ usage.
If it weren’t for Fairbanks, Jason Adam would be the heavy favorite to close. He totaled eight saves last year, struck out 10.7/9, and held hitters to an impressive 0.76 WHIP. He only totaled five saves over the final two and a half months of the season, though (after Fairbanks was activated), and none over the final month (Fairbanks snagged four).
Fairbanks is the clear-cut number one, but with his injury history and the Rays’ penchant for using multiple relievers as closer, both are worth rostering.
Chicago White Sox
It’s awful what Liam Hendriks is going through, but he’s already thrown a bullpen session, so there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is no timetable for his return, however, and his focus will be on fully recovering before returning to baseball. He’s absolutely worth stashing in the interim, though.
In the meantime, Kendall Graveman is the front-runner to fill the job. He has totaled 16 saves over the last two seasons and has put up quality numbers since joining the Sox. Bummer walks a few too many batters and is much better against lefties. Lopez has developed into an excellent reliever but has never been a late-inning guy and has yet to secure a single save. Target Graveman in most leagues until Hendriks is ready to return. All of us at FantasyPros wish him well.
The Mariners have two great options who could easily run away with the job. While Munoz’s stuff is more electric, Sewald has given the M’s little reason to pull him from the role. He limited batters to just half a hit per inning last year while averaging 10.1 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9. His BABIP was extremely low (.158), but it wasn’t all luck. His numbers are supported by an elite batted-ball profile and equally stellar numbers against the shift and no shift. Sewald deserves his praise.
Munoz, on the other hand, reaches triple digits with his fastball and has an outrageous slider. His slide piece rendered a ridiculous .126 batting average, a .120 xBA, and 78 strikeouts. Overall, he totaled an outstanding 96 K’s in just 65 innings. His 4-seamer, although extremely fast, was hit hard at times, likely keeping him out of the ninth inning for now. He’s also coming off of minor surgery but is said to be ready by Opening Day.
Both pitchers are worth rostering. A case could be made for Munos to go first in drafts because of all the strikeouts, but if saves are what you’re after, target Sewald in the round before.
The Twins are in a similar boat as the Mariners, but the water may be a bit murkier. The Twinkies have two great options to close, and both will likely see save opportunities. Lopez diminished a bit down the stretch last season but was solid for most of the year. His sinker averaged 97.3 miles per hour and regularly missed bats leading to 23 saves.
Duran is a special talent. Armed with a unique “splinker” pitch – described as half sinker and half splitter that topped out at over 100 miles per hour last year, Duran is must-see-tv. An offering with that type of velocity and movement is unheard of in today’s or even yesterday’s game. His curveball is also filthy, and his heater averages nearly 101 miles per hour. This man is a beast. If he doesn’t blow his arm out, my money’s on him taking over the full-time closer role at some point. You’ll have to pay for it, though, as Duran’s ADP is over 80 picks earlier. But he’s still the one to target, with Lopez being a fine secondary option at the end of drafts.
Floro isn’t your prototypical closer, but he’s probably their best option to start. Barnes hasn’t been good in quite some time, and the other two are probably better saved for lefty-on-lefty matchups.
Scott has a filthy put-away-slider but walks too many hitters, and when placed in the closer role last year, he struggled. Puk is a decent option to eventually close, but he’ll likely be utilized in earlier, high-pressure situations where he can pitch in multiple innings.
Without the shift, teams are going to be putting an even bigger emphasis on K’s late in the game. That said, Floro may be the outlier. He actually faired much better when the defense didn’t move, and the numbers are quite drastic. Last season against the shift, hitters produced a .326 average, with a .421 SLG against him. Without the shift, Floro somehow managed a .228 average with an identical .228 SLG. The numbers weren’t as kind as the previous year, and Floro’s pull rate did increase last season to over 40%, so maybe he just got a bit lucky. The bottom line is that as much as everyone wants to write off Floro, he continues to register good numbers.
In all likelihood, Floro will start with the job but won’t last, given the new nature of the game. However, once he loses it, the Marlins will likely stick to more of a committee-style approach rather than naming one guy.
Here’s where we get into the nitty gritty of situations – the ones you may want to avoid. There are some high-quality teams under this category though, so if a closer is named, he could become extremely valuable.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Hudson was great to begin 2022 until a torn ACL ended his season. The well-traveled veteran produced a 2.22 ERA and 0.90 WHIP over 24.1 innings. He earned five saves and nine holds during that span and only blew one lead. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 6/1, and he held opposing hitters to just one home run. Reports on the knee are good, but now he’s dealing with some ankle soreness. If he’s ready to go by Opening Day, then he’ll likely be the guy if he gets enough reps in Spring Training. If not, then the Dodgers will likely turn to Evan Phillips.
The nearly untouchable righty went through a complete pitching overhaul after joining the Dodgers. Armed with a new cutter and sinker, Phillips allowed just eight earned runs over 63 innings (1.14 ERA). His WHIP was an outlandish 0.76, and he struck out 33% of batters faced. The Dodgers also have Brusdar Graterol, who throws over 100, and Alex Vesia, who’s tough on lefties, but let’s face it, neither is as good as Phillips.
As incredible as Phillips was, he only earned two saves, and both came after Hudson went down. If Hudson isn’t ready or just isn’t up to the task, then put your money on Phillips to take over. What’s surprising is that Hudson is going undrafted in the majority of standard 12-team leagues. With Hudson’s injury history and Phillips’s breakout, he is the better choice to target, but I would argue Hudson is still worth a selection at the end of drafts. If his ankle turns out to be just a minor setback, then there’s a good chance Hudson is LA’s closer come early April.
Kimbrel is probably the slight favorite to earn the first save, but it’s close. The 34-year-old veteran will probably get the initial nod out of respect for what he’s done over his near Hall-of-Fame career, but keeping the job will be another story. He is no longer the flame thrower he once was with his velo and production down across the board. With the Phillies looking to return to the World Series, the leash will be short in Philadelphia, and they have plenty of other arms capable of doing the job. Even Kimbrel himself said he has no problem being part of a committee this season.
Dominguez is the odds-on favorite to take over if Kimbrel fails and is someone to target at the end of drafts. He earned nine saves last year for the fighting Phils and registered a neat 3.00 ERA with 10.76 K’s/9. They also have strikeout specialist Jose Alvarado (14.29 K/9) and Gregory Soto (the Tigers’ former closer), who they signed in the off-season. Both southpaws will likely be mixed and matched in the late innings. Soto is a favorite in some circles, but he just walks too many batters (career 13.1% BB rate).
It’s going to be a tough job for Rob Thomas (Phillies manager) to navigate on a nightly basis, but considering the wealth of talent they finally possess in their pen, I doubt he’ll be complaining. If you can avoid the entire situation, that would be best, but if you’re in need of a closer at the end of your draft, I’d opt for Dominguez. It’s absolutely a pen that should be monitored over the first few weeks of the season because if one of them can emerge as the guy, he’ll be quite valuable.
Los Angeles Angels
Estevez’s big contract likely means the Angels view him as their new closer. Roles aren’t won on paper, though, and there’s not a ton that screams closer when analyzing his profile. Estevez doesn’t strike out many batters (by closer standards), and he also struggles with the free pass. You would think leaving Coors would help his overall numbers, but he actually performed better at home last year than he did on the road. He does possess a high-velocity fastball and throws a decent changeup, but his slider often gets hit hard or is taken for a ball.
Herget is a lanky right-hander who delivers the ball with deceptive spin. The strange delivery makes it difficult for hitters to make solid contact which led to a stellar 0.91 WHIP and a 2.48 ERA. The 29-year-old exhibits excellent control and mixes speeds effectively. His curveball spin is high on the spectrum, and ERA projectors were favorable last year, ranking him in the 84th percentile of xERA/xwOBA. He doesn’t throw hard but did rack up nine saves.
Both pitchers are going well beyond the top 300, but at 335, Estevez is still a little too rich for my blood. He simply doesn’t have the tools necessary to hold up as a closer, and there are a few arms I’d rather have that are going after him (Daniel Hudson, for one). Herget is funky enough to miss bats and get outs, and with such a cheap price tag, I’d rather have him over Estevez. In standard leagues, it’s better to stay away from the Angels bullpen entirely, but if you’re absolutely desperate, you could take a stab at Herget in deeper leagues or Estevez if he falls to you.
The Cubs have so many options it’s anyone’s guess who will be the closer. It’s another situation worth avoiding, but if you have space at the end of your draft, Hughes is the one to target. His slider was outstanding last season, allowing just a .172 batting average while totaling 37 strikeouts. He averaged 10.61 K/9 over 57.2 innings for the year. His strikeout numbers in the Minors were also optimal.
Hughes’s biggest drawback is the number of home runs he gives up. He tends to leave a few gopher balls down the heart of the plate that get hammered into the upper decks. The other major factor working against him, other than a lack of track record, is that he is the only lefty projected to make the Cubs bullpen. It will be difficult for management to save him for the ninth inning when they also have guys like Fulmer and Boxberger who can get the job done. Of those two, Fulmer is the one to target, even coming off of a rocky second half that included an elbow injury. He had 14 saves two years ago and was decent last season. They also gave him a sizeable one-year contract.
Boxberger is a decent option, but he hasn’t been a closer since 2018 and can struggle with command at times. The wild card who some believe will eventually take over ninth-inning duties is Adbert Alzolay. Alzolay was filthy as a reliever last year, albeit with a small sample size. The 28-year-old recorded a 12.83 K/9 ratio, with a 2.22 xERA and a 1.91 FIP. He is still capable of throwing multiple innings, however, so the Cubs’ brass may prefer to use him earlier in the game.
While the Cubs arguably have the toughest bullpen to predict, they will be better this year, so there could be upwards of 30 saves to be collected. The committee approach will likely destroy any of the hopeful’s values, but if you’re extremely desperate, take a shot at Hughes.
Unlike the Angels, the Diamondbacks have too many candidates to close. While it’s a nice problem to have in real life, it’s a headache for fantasy managers. If I had to choose one pitcher to target for saves, however, I’d go with the man they call Big Country, Andrew Chafin.
Chafin has never been a full-time closer, and he likely won’t be this season, either. He has picked up the random save here and there though, totaling eight over the past two seasons. And unlike Joe Mantiply, who is a solid candidate to shut down tough lefties leading up to the ninth, Chafin actually faired better against righties than lefties last year. Without having to worry about matchups and Mantiply taking care of lefties in the seventh or eighth inning, Chafin can be left to close out the ninth more often than not.
Kevin Ginkel could also be utilized from time to time as the stopper. The soon-to-be 38-year-old Mark Melancon could be too. Fantasy managers are drafting Melancon as if it’s 2016, but I’m staying far away. His stuff just isn’t what it used to be, and he’s likely to get crushed when facing the tough offenses of the NL West. They’ll both likely earn a handful of saves, but neither has the makeup or filth Chafin has. The Diamondbacks also paid him over six million dollars to come to the desert, so you know they’re expecting a lot out of him.
Torey Lovullo will almost assuredly utilize a committee-style approach, but if you snag one guy from the D’backs pen, target Chafin. He has the highest upside, but he likely won’t get you more than 8-10 saves. It’s best to leave all four of these guys on the waiver wire outside of really deep or hold leagues.
Is anyone drafting an Oakland closer? As much as I like Trevor May’s personality, I’m not going anywhere near him in fantasy leagues. May got a nice contract to come to Oakland, and while his ERA wasn’t kind last year, his xERA and FIP have been fairly consistent. He is a fly ball pitcher, so his game could fit nicely in Oakland, but still, he’s never had more than four saves in a season for a reason. He’s just not that guy.
May could easily prove me wrong, and the A’s have to win some games, so he could be worth a selection at the end of the draft. But they’ll dump him at the deadline, and once he gets flipped, he’ll lose his closer status if he hadn’t already.
Jimenez is another option to close. He was actually halfway decent early last year as the default closer. He fizzled down the stretch, but he could be the full-time guy again at some point this season.
Jackson is another possibility. He’s a 6-foot-4 righty with an electric arm and wipeout slider. He earned a few saves in the Minor Leagues, but his walk rate in Oakland was 6.19/9. That number would have to come down before the A’s would grant him the opportunity.
Domingo Acevedo is another option, but if you’re considering him for your fantasy team, I hope you play in a very deep AL Only league.
The brunt of it is that Oakland is going to struggle to win 60 games. Therefore, the whole situation is worth avoiding unless you are truly and extremely desperate. May is really only an option in the deepest of leagues or AL Only ones.
Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.