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With pitchers and catchers ready to report to spring training in less than two weeks, it’s time for fantasy baseball owners to start looking into upcoming position battles. Who’s got the job? Who’s got the job security? Who’s waiting in the wings? These are the questions you need to be asking and while some of the answers won’t be revealed until late March, tracking the position battles is how you’re going to turn guesses and speculation into informed, sound decisions.

And what better place than to start with the most volatile position out there – the closers? Hopefully, you’ve read the articles in the 2017 MLB Draft Guide and have decided upon which side of the fence you sit with regard to the position. Whether you choose to invest in the elite or wait until the end to secure the position, an extensive knowledge of teams’ bullpens is imperative to your success. Not only will you be able to formulate a draft strategy for picking up relievers, but the knowledge will also help you be more selective with which starters you draft as a strong or weak bullpen has a direct impact on wins and innings pitched.

Here is the initial Closers Grid for the upcoming season. I’ve listed each team’s closer and the next two candidates who I believe will be in line for saves should the closer get hurt or lose his job. It’s not just a direct ninth, eighth, seventh-inning order as, sometimes, there are guys who managers like to keep certain relievers in their set-up roles, whether it’s because of talent or handedness of the pitcher. Keep that in mind when you look at your hometown team and yell at me for not having their seventh-inning guy listed under “In the Hole.”

As for the rankings and the color-coordination, I have based it on several criteria including (but not limited to) talent, job security, managerial tendencies and track record. Some situations deserve more of an explanation than others, so continue past the grid and look for some additional analysis.

Closers Grid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, not every team needs an explanation, but here are a few mentions I thought would be helpful:

Chicago Cubs – While Wade Davis is the obvious closer, his elbow issue and dip in velocity during the second half of last season means you need to pay very close attention to who is next in line. The Cubs have a few arms from which to choose, including free agent acquisition Koji Uehara, but given Hector Rondon’s experience with the team and manager Joe Maddon, I feel like he could be the first pivot. Uehara, Pedro Strop and even Carl Edwards Jr. have some experience in the role as well and will warrant consideration, but if I’m looking at late-inning relievers with saves upside in the final rounds of my draft, Rondon is where I’ll look first.

Arizona Diamondbacks – Any time you have Fernando Rodney set as your closer, you need to pay very close attention to who is working the set-up role. Problem is, the D-Backs don’t really have anyone all that attractive to fantasy owners. Both Jake Barrett and Enrique Burgos have worked the ninth for the team, but neither is anything special. The only way I’m looking at this bullpen is if I have two solid closers already and am only considering Rodney as a third option. He’s listed in the orange section because Arizona doesn’t have much else which helps his job security.

Cincinnati Reds – During the second-half of the season, Raisel Iglesias was getting all sorts of buzz as a potential replacement in the ninth. Somehow, Tony Cingrani managed to get his shit together and actually finished off the season on…well, let’s just say it was a more positive note than the one with which he started in the first half. But it still looks like the team is going to give Iglesias the shot. Behind him is actually the guy who I think should be closing and that’s Drew Storen, but right now he’s listed as a set-up man. Funny thing is that Storen has been successful whenever he’s been tabbed as the closer and has fallen apart whenever he’s in a set-up role. Ah well. Not my decision. I was torn between Michael Lorenzen and Cingrani as the option after Storen and the Oracle made the final call for me. I was leaning Cingrani but with few lefty options, the team may just opt to leave him as the primary southpaw in the bullpen. The Oracle confirmed that assumption.

Cleveland Indians – Given the way Terry Francona likes to work his current bullpen arms, you have to go in with the assumption that Cody Allen has the job and Andrew Miller will be his jack-of-all-trades in the later innings of games. Should Allen falter, something he’s done in the past, Miller’s a no-brainer, but for now, his value takes a hit as the more versatile reliever.

Colorado Rockies – Looking at this bullpen reminds me of my childhood days of watching the Six Million Dollar Man. “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” Which rebuilt arm will shine brightest between Adam Ottavino, Greg Holland and Jake McGee? From everything the Rockies are saying, Ottavino is their first choice, but given the injury histories here, it’s a pretty big roll of the dice.

Oakland A’sRyan Madson gets the nod as the incumbent, but while Sean Doolittle has the experience in Oakland, as Ray Flowers points out, Santiago Casilla has the big contract. Both have been closers, but the Oracle believes that the money thrown at Casilla warrants the next-in-line status. I’m willing to concur here and not assume Ray is sporting some sort of ex-Giant favoritism.

Philadelphia Phillies – A very interesting situation indeed. Jeanmar Gomez is the incumbent but from everything coming out of the City of Brotherly Love, there’s no love for him as the team’s closer. The club already has strikeout-machine Hector Neris returning and they brought in Joaquin Benoit as well. Throw in Edubray Ramos and suddenly Gomez is looking like a middle-inning option, at best. We’ll see a competition during spring training, but I think Neris comes out on top just for the better skill set. Benoit has the experience, but always seems to be one of those guys who is just better in the eighth. Benoit will do it if he has to, but don’t discount the possibility of Ramos leapfrogging him, or possibly Gomez should things really go south.

Los Angeles AngelsHuston Street is hurt, Cam Bedrosian is hurt and Andrew Bailey is brittle. The three will compete for the closer’s job this spring and then it’s all up to every fantasy owner’s least-favorite manager Mike Scioscia to make the right decision. I think Bedrosian is a little further along in his recovery than Street, so I’ll give him the ever-so-slight edge for now. Unfortunately, this is not a situation you want to consider in your draft until the later rounds which, to me, means as nothing more than a third closer.

Milwaukee Brewers – Embedded in red because I don’t trust Neftali Feliz in Miller Park. Plain and simple. If the Brewers ultimately decide to hand the job over to Corey Knebel, I’m much more on-board.

Minnesota Twins/Washington Nationals – Talk to me in six weeks. Maybe then I’ll have a better handle on this ninth-inning disgustingness. I actually like Shawn Kelley, but not enough to draft him.

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