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Closers to Target from Unsettled Situations (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

Closers to Target from Unsettled Situations (2023 Fantasy Baseball)
cameraClosers to Target from Unsettled Situations (2023 Fantasy Baseball)

With Opening Day finally upon us, just about every fantasy league has finished drafting. Of course, that doesn’t mean your job is done, in fact, it’s just beginning! Depending on your league size, there are still likely a handful of decent options out there just biding their time on the waiver wire. If not, the trade market to begin the season is always a bit skewed where you can usually come away with some excellent value based on other teams’ needs.

If you missed out on a few closers, then you are probably sound in other categories. Searching for teams lacking in your strengths will make for your best trade partners. With them, you can draw on your excess to help balance your roster. Closers in unsettled situations are likely your best bets to target since most fantasy managers don’t feel great about them, to begin with. Well, I’m here to tell you which ones you should go after and which ones you shouldn’t.

Updating our unsettled closers series from the previous report, today’s article will help narrow down the candidates. March performances from the WBC and Spring Training helped clear up a few things. As well as a few front office/manager statements shared throughout different media outlets. Spring Statcast numbers such as velocity and spin rate also help shed further light on which relievers are the most valuable.

While spring numbers don’t typically matter much, they do take on greater significance when battling for a position or role. And trust me when I say quite a few of these guys pushed the needle drastically in one way or another.

Without further ado, here are this season’s early closers to target from unsettled situations.

Closers to Target From Unsettled Situations

First, the Newcomers (not previously reported on):

New York Mets

David Robertson ADP 208
Adam Ottavino ADP 324
Brooks Raley ADP 497

As most know by now, the Mets, unfortunately, lost Edwin Diaz for the season. In his absence, everyone in the bullpen moves up one on the depth chart, likely placing David Robertson in the closer role. The soon-to-be 38-year-old was stellar last season, collecting 20 saves while registering a 2.40 ERA with 11.45 K’s/9. Revitalizing his career after a series of injuries, Robertson can be counted on as a lower-tier, second closer for your roster. Adam Ottavino and Brooks Raley could see a few save changes here and there, but it’s Robertson you should target.

Atlanta Braves

Raisel Iglesias ADP 89
AJ Minter ADP 266
Joe Jimenez ADP 662

Iglesias is on the IL to begin the season with shoulder inflammation, but he may not be there long. Manager Brian Snitker said he’s hoping to see Iglesias back after the minimum of 15 days. He was nearly unhittable in Atlanta last year and should still end up as a top-ten closer by the season’s end. In the meantime, it’s not a bad idea to handcuff him with AJ Minter just in case the injury lingers on or affects his performance.

Safe Bets

Baltimore Orioles

Felix Bautista ADP 90
Cionel Perez ADP 803
Bryan Baker ADP 808

Bautista is healthy again and ready for a full workload. He has the ability to be a top-five closer, Target him in all leagues. He is a beast with one of the nastiest splitters in the game.

Kansas City Royals

Scott Barlow ADP 151
Aroldis Chapman ADP 296

Chapman had a rough spring, while Barlow was his dominant self. Barlow is a no-brainer. Now the Royals just have to win some games. He could be a trade deadline target, but for now, he’s a safe bet.

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.

Texas Rangers

Jose Leclerc ADP 200
Jonathan Hernandez ADP 656

Hernandez had a solid spring, but Leclerc was masterful. It was Leclerc’s job to lose and he definitely did not do that. With the Rangers’ improved pitching staff, Leclerc could be in for a hefty amount of saves.

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.

Detroit Tigers

Alex Lange ADP 242
Jose Cisnero ADP 982
Jason Foley ADP 898

Lange was awfully wild this spring, walking more batters than innings pitched. It wasn’t all bad, though, for the 27-year-old righty, as he prevented most of those free passes from scoring and struck out better than a batter per inning. Helping his case were the atrocious springs Cisnero and Foley had. Lange is the closer by default for now.

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 Lange is a solid closer to target late in drafts who could hold onto the role all year. Cisnero would likely be the second choice.

FantasyPros My Playbook

Moderately Unsettled

Tampa Bay Rays

Pete Fairbanks ADP 171
Jason Adam ADP 277

Fairbanks looked just as unhittable in the spring as he did closing out last season. He pitched nearly five perfect innings and should have a firm grasp on the closer’s role to start the year. Tampa loves to play matchups, however, and Fairbanks does have an extensive injury-plagued past, so there’s still a good chance Adam or someone else picks up a few saves. Adam threw four scoreless innings in the WBC and one for the Rays this Spring.

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.

Seattle Mariners

Paul Sewald ADP 177
Andres Munoz ADP 164

Just last week, the Mariners’ GM stated they still like Sewald as the ninth-inning guy pitching the lead. He also said Munoz will ideally appear in the eighth, while Matt Brash pitches the seventh. The manager obviously gets to make those decisions, but it’s similar to how they utilized their bullpen late last year, and on paper it makes sense. Sewald has been a reliable ninth-inning guy for the last two seasons and Munos is coming off of ankle surgery. Seaward’s spring wasn’t exactly great but he wasn’t really pitching for his job, and I highly doubt it was enough for him to lose the role.

That all said, Munoz is likely the closer of the future and could easily rack up 10 saves if not more this season. Combining those saves with his high strikeout totals and excellent ratios, Munoz is worth a selection a round or two after Sewald. In save+hold leagues, he’s a top-five arm.

Minnesota Twins

Jhoan Duran ADP 147
Jorge Lopez ADP 244

The Twins are intent on sticking with the plan of Lopez in the ninth and Duran in the seventh or eighth – at least at the beginning of the year. Duran missed some time with a leg contusion and Lopez didn’t give up a run in either the WBC or spring training. While both are worth rostering, Duran is still the more valuable target. Lopez’s velocity is down from last year and with Minnesota expected to be in a tight battle with Cleveland and Chicago all season, they’re going to need an optimal performance from their closer. Lopez has little wiggle room to start the season even with a solid spring. Both are worth targeting.

Chicago White Sox

Kendall Graveman ADP 249
Liam Hendriks ADP 268
Reynaldo Lopez ADP 434
Aaron Bummer ADP 843

Hendriks has already been spotted several times at White Sox camp despite going through cancer treatment. There’s still no timetable for his return, however, but if all goes well, he could be back sooner than later. He is worth stashing in the interim.

In his absence, Graveman was thought of as the front-runner to take over the job. Unfortunately, he did little to earn the role this spring, while Lopez allowed just two runs and seven baserunners over 9.1 innings. Chicago may still prefer to use Lopez as a multi-inning or in earlier pressure situations, though, so it’s probably best to avoid this bullpen for now. Bummer and even Joe Kelly could factor in for a handful of saves, further clouding the situation. If I had to target one, I’d take a flier on Lopez, but it’s more of a wait-and-see situation.

Miami Marlins

Dylan Floro ADP 291
AJ Puk ADP 401
Matt Barnes ADP 467
Tanner Scott ADP 617

The Marlins bullpen is a mess at this point, but if I had to focus my attention on one player, it would be AJ Puk. Floro was a fine stopgap last year, but after a mediocre spring, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Marlins move on.

The luxury of having two excellent lefties should allow them to utilize one as the closer. Scott and Puk had nearly identical springs, and both are left-handed. While the team may be more comfortable with a player that’s been there longer, Scott did not perform well as a stopper last year, and Puk has continuously been labeled as a future closer. Both have electric stuff, but Scott seems to get more rattled and wild at times.

In shallow leagues, you’re not touching this bullpen, but in deeper ones, you could take a chance on either southpaw or even Floro if it’s deep enough. It’s more than likely they use the dreaded committee approach, but Puk could easily become the full-time guy down the road.

Fantasy Baseball In-Season Waiver Wire & Trade Advice

Very Unsettled

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

Evan Phillips ADP 213
Daniel Hudson ADP 313
Brusdar Graterol ADP 320
Alex Vesia ADP 562

Hudson didn’t pitch in a game all spring, and Vesia gave up five runs in six innings. Plus, he was never really a strong candidate to close anyway. With those two pretty much eliminated from the closer battle – at least in the interim – that leaves ace reliever Evan Phillips and flame thrower Brusdar Graterol.

Reports state Graterol has worked thoroughly in the off-season on expanding his offspeed pitches to help his effectiveness. The good news is he didn’t allow a run over seven spring innings, but he also only stuck out five hitters. Meanwhile, Phillips continued to show dominance, allowing just four hits and a walk over 7.2 scoreless innings while racking up eight Ks.

Despite Phillips’s performance, the Dodgers brass continues to play it coy when it comes to naming a closer. Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, still claims they’ll use a committee to begin the year. While Phillips could be used in earlier high-leverage situations, I find it hard to believe he won’t be pitching in the majority of save chances. Even if he does only get you a handful of saves, the rest of his numbers will be exceptional, making him the most worthwhile target in LA.

Philadelphia Phillies

Craig Kimbrel ADP 240
Seranthony Dominguez ADP 260
Gregory Soto ADP 286
Jose Alvarado ADP 444

Kimbrel arguably had the most impressive spring of the group. He struck out 13 batters over eight innings while allowing just a single run. Alvarado was also stellar, keeping the opposition off the scoreboard over 4.2 spring training innings and pitching well for Venezuela in the WBC. Soto had a few struggles surrendering six runs on six hits and three walks, but he did strike out eight of the 11 outs he recorded. Dominguez had a decent spring but wasn’t overly impressive.

While both lefties (Alvarado and Soto) have their strengths, neither will likely be reserved until the ninth inning, often with fellow southpaw Matt Strahm ticketed for the starting duty. Dominguez is also solid and will likely earn a few saves over the first couple of months, but it should be Kimbrel that fantasy managers target. With his lengthy resume and excellent spring, it seems only logical that he’ll get the first crack at things.

Rob Thomas is on record stating he prefers a “floating closer,” but my money’s on Kimbrel taking the lion-share of opportunities over the first few weeks (if not months) of the season. He’s tough to trust long-term, but he could be a valuable source for saves early on. Plus, he can be had relatively cheaply, so now may be a good time to pounce.

Los Angeles Angels

Jimmy Herget ADP 359
Carlos Estevez ADP 363

Was there a reliever who had a worse spring than Estevez? Carlos couldn’t hit water from a boat while his main competition, Jimmy Herget, looked great. He still doesn’t profile as an everyday closer, but with Estevez’s wild spring, Herget may be the closer de facto.

Recently signed Matt Moore could also garner some late-inning action, but he’s a lefty that got pummeled this spring and is better kept for multiple innings. The Angels have a few other random options, like southpaws Ryan Terpa and Aaron Loup, but if you were to target one arm out of the bunch, it should be Herget. The Angels will be better this year, so he could make for a solid number three or four closer on your team.

Chicago Cubs

Michael Fulmer ADP 396
Brandon Hughes ADP 417
Brad Boxberger ADP 478
Adbert Alzolay ADP 552

Hughes is expected to open the season on the IL, and Alzolay will be used in the sixth or seventh inning. It’s down to a two-man race between veterans Fulmer and Boxberger. The competition will likely even spill over into the regular season until one of them fully claims the job. Fulmer was off to a great start this spring but had a rough go of late. And Boxberger has gotten the job done but hasn’t been very impressive, walking as many batters as he struck out.

Neither are strong fantasy options, but if you are desperate for saves, then Fulmer is the target. He’s been a closer more recently and exhibits better control than Boxberger. Plus, he throws harder. David Ross prefers to use one pitcher regularly in the ninth, so Fulmer could end up an ok option in deeper leagues. Just be aware he could inflate your ERA and WHIP a bit, and Hughes could eventually take over again once fully healthy.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Mark Melancon ADP 409
Andrew Chafin ADP 446
Scott McGough ADP 461
Kevin Ginkel ADP 632
Joe Mantiply ADP 659

Arizona’s bullpen is still very much up in the air. I don’t even think Torey Lovullo knows who he’s going to pitch in the ninth until the inning before. A new candidate has emerged, however, in Scott McGough. He’s a thirty-three-year-old righty who pitched well in Japan over the last four years but hasn’t seen the big leagues here since 2015. The 5-foot-11, former fifth-rounder showed great promise this spring, striking out 11 batters over 9.1 innings of work. He held opponents to a minuscule 0.75 WHIP while allowing just two earned runs. McGough racked up 69 saves over the last two years for the Yakut Swallows and could easily end up the full-time guy here as time progresses.

I wouldn’t call him a shutdown closer by any means but with Andrew Chafin as their next-best option, McGough will likely be the guy. Chafin is arguably their best overall reliever, but he’ll likely be saved for the opposition’s best left-handed hitters regardless of what inning it is, especially now with Joe Mantiply and Mark Melancon hitting the injury list.

Oakland Athletics

Domingo Acevedo ADP 419
Trevor May ADP 428
Dany Jimenez ADP 514
Zach Jackson ADP 724

Trevor May was dismal this spring, possibly removing him from any early season closing opportunities. He did strike out an enormous amount of hitters (18.5 K/9), but he also allowed nine earned runs over 6.1 innings. Jackson was extremely wild, and Jimenez was equally as bad. Acevedo performed the best out of the quartet, wrapping up the spring with solid numbers.

It’s still anyone’s guess who they’ll throw out in the ninth inning, but unless your league rosters over 450 players, I’d avoid the situation completely. There are a few Trevor May believers out there, but I’m not one of them. The strikeouts aren’t enough for what he’ll do to your ERA and WHIP.

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Austin Lowell is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Austin, check out his archive.

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