While we still have almost two weeks left to go before each team’s 25-man roster is finalized and bullpen jobs are still being won and lost, now seems as good a time as any to update the Closer Grid and share some thoughts on key set-up men and potential successors. Yes, for all 30 teams. Some situations aren’t really up for much discussion, so I won’t waste your time with lengthy write-ups on bullpen which are obvious, but some definitely require a little more of a detailed explanation. So let’s just get right to it…
We all know Fernando Rodney is the closer and none of us are really happy about it. But considering the rest of the options in the pen, he’s going to open the season as such. Jake Barrett seems to be the next in line but he’s currently dealing with shoulder inflammation and may not start the season on time. That puts Enrique Burgos and Randall Delgado as potential arms to watch, as well as Jimmie Sherfy and even lefty Jared Miller. None of them are relievers you want to jump in on during drafts, but if you’re a middle-relief hound, you may be able to add them to your watch-list.
Another disgusting situation here as we’re forced to look at Jim Johnson as a closer option on Draft Day. But sadly, this seems to be the way manager Brian Snitker wants to go. Now those of us who have played fantasy baseball for years understand that Johnson has lost the job each and every time he’s had it, so that immediately puts Arodys Vizcaino and Mauricio Cabrera on your radar. Vizcaino filled in last season as the closer and will probably get first crack at the job after Johnson blows it, but Cabrera could be the guy in the ninth further down the road.
Zach Britton is back on the bump, working through his oblique issue. He’s locked in and has phenomenal job security. Should the Orioles need to turn to someone else, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach are the unquestioned heir-apparents.
Boston Red Sox
Boston has Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning and they expect (read: hope) he’ll be healthy and effective all year long, but have brought in Tyler Thornburg to serve as his primary set-up man and potential closer, if needed. Heath Hembree was once considered a possibility back when he was coming up through the Giants’ system, but if the team needs to go that deep into the pen for a new closer, Matt Barnes and possibly even southpaw Fernando Abad who was a temporary closer in Minnesota last year could get a look.
While Wade Davis is the unquestioned closer right now, you’ll notice that his ADP is on the decline right now as many in the industry are finally expressing the concern for his elbow that I was screaming about when the Cubs first brought him in. He missed time last year with a flexor strain in his elbow and saw a drop in both his fastball velocity and strikeout rate. It was treated with rest and rehab, so obviously there’s concern of a flare-up or worse. Hector Rondon seems like the obvious successor after having worked as the Cubs closer last year, but also keep an eye on Carl Edwards, Jr. who’s mid-90’s heat and 13.00 K/9 are pretty darn tasty.
Chicago White Sox
As it stands right now, David Robertson has the job and should hold it for as long as he A. doesn’t suck and B. remains in a White Sox uniform. The first part is obvious, but the second, for those who haven’t done their due diligence during the offseason, is listed because of the trade rumors which persist. The Pale Hose will be selling at some point this season and Robertson will be one of the first to go. Once he does, Nate Jones should be the guy to step in as the closer with Zach Putnam and Jacob Petricka following him.
We’ve spent the entire offseason hoping manager Bryan Price would pull his head out from his ass and actually settle on a legitimate closer, but alas, that is not the case. The four-headed monster which consists of Raisel Iglesias, Drew Storen, Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen is still in effect. Yes, it’s crap. Yes, it’s a bummer for fantasy owners. And yes, it’s a situation you MUST avoid. If you feel compelled to try it out, Iglesias is the likely guy to own, though he is currently dealing with some elbow and back issues. Price says that he doesn’t expect the 26-year old right-hander to miss much time, but given the Reds’ track record with injuries, you cannot take anything for granted. Keep a very watchful eye.
According to Terry Francona, he’s sticking with Cody Allen as his closer with Andrew Miller serving as a jack-of-all-trades set-up man/shut-down reliever. No reason to doubt Tito here, so just go with it. Miller is still an effective reliever for ratio stabilization and strikeouts, but he’s unlikely to see consistent saves work unless Allen completely falls apart or gets hurt. Right-hander Bryan Shaw would be up next after that.
Looks like we’ve got our first closer controversy of the season here! While nothing has been said by the team, an article in the Denver Post by Rockies beat writer Nick Groke says that, Greg Holland will be "the man to whom the Rockies will probably pin closer status next month [April]." Obviously you have to wait and see what the team says, specifically manager Bud Black, but for those who are drafting now, it looks like you may need to grab Holland and then use a reserve-round pick on Ottavino just to be sure. After that, you’ve got quite the number of also-rans in Jake McGee, Carlos Estevez, Chad Qualls and Jason Motte. How Black would want to play it if it got this far is not yet known.
The Tigers were content with Francisco Rodriguez’ performance last season and seem willing to just let it ride this season. At least for now. They have an outstanding arm in Bruce Rondon who consistently hits 97 on the gun with his fastball and showed improved command last season, so he appears to be the next in line. From there it would likely go to Alex Wilson or even Mark Lowe, both of whom have minor experience working the ninth inning.
It took some time and a few ups-and-downs last year, but by the time the season ended, Ken Giles was the closer and both Will Harris and Luke Gregerson were the set-up men. That’s how it is expected to start this season, but just keep in mind that this was also how it was expected to be at the start of spring training in 2016. Not that manager A.J. Hinch is going to throw fantasy owners for a loop at the end of March again, but just keep in mind that he’s not afraid to shuffle things up if he believes it to be for the good of the club. Despite a 3.00 ERA this spring, Giles has looked real good with his 10:1 K:BB over six innings, so it would probably take a severe meltdown for things to change over the next two weeks. Just be aware that the job security is good, not great.
Kansas City Royals
After working the eighth-inning set-up role for a number of years, Kelvin Herrera now walks into the 2017 season as the Royals’ closer. Not only did he jack that K/9 up to double-digits last year, but he also showed outstanding command has be pulled his BB/9 down to a 1.85 mark for the year. His job security should be fairly strong, though we’ve all seen Ned Yost do some pretty stupid things during his tenure as a manager. Still, I’m drafting with tremendous confidence. Former closer Joakim Soria will handle the primary set-up duties and likely be the fill-in should one be needed. After that, things get a little murky. Maybe Scott Alexander? Travis Wood if he’s not needed for spot starts in the rotation? Who knows? Mike Minor’s urethra has finally healed, so maybe?
Los Angeles Angels
With Huston Street out with a lat issue, it looks like Cam Bedrosian should handle the closing duties to open the season. He’s got a fantastic strikeout rate, he isn’t prone to the home run and he’s worked the ninth for Mike Scioscia before. There are still some who believe the Sciosciapath might consider Andrew Bailey, but that seems unlikely for two reasons – 1. Both Street and Bedrosian would have to be either really horrible or really injured and 2. Bailey would actually have to be healthy for more than two games in a row. When was the last time that happened?
Los Angeles Dodgers
It’s all about Kenley Jansen here. Easy as can be. Sergio Romo and Pedro Baez are the primary right-handed set-up men and likely successors to the job while Grant Dayton looks like the primary, late-inning lefty.
The Fish will walk into the season with A.J. Ramos as their closer. He was hindered by a sore leg early in the spring, had a rough debut but has since looked fine. The Marlins do have some options though as former Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler is now with the team and Kyle Barraclough remains one of the top set-up arms in the game right now. Add to that David Phelps being bumped back to the pen and you’ve got one hell of a relief corps in Miami. Manager Don Mattingly hasn’t hinted as to which way he’d go if Ramos didn’t get the job done, but it feels like Ziegler would be the guy as Barraclough has a lot more value as a shut-down reliever in the seventh and eighth.
Despite a shaky 5.40 ERA over just four innings of work this spring, Neftali Feliz seems to have the confidence of his manager Craig Counsell and will enter the 2017 campaign as the team’s closer. It was a bit of a surprise as it looked like Corey Knebel might get the gig after Tyler Thornburg was gone, but alas, he will remain a set-up man along with fellow right-handers Carlos Torres and Michael Blazek who would both be next in line after Knebel. The long ball has been Feliz’ undoing in recent years, so if that feature rears its ugly head again, watch out. Things could move quickly.
According to Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Glen Perkins (shoulder) is throwing pain-free sessions every four days but the velocity is nowhere close to where it needs to be and there is still no timetable for him to face live hitters. The speculation has a mid-April return for the lefty, but again, nothing is even remotely firm. That means Brandon Kintzler should remain in the job for the foreseeable future. The ground-ball specialist may not have swing-and-miss stuff, but he may very well have enough to even hold off Perkins when he eventually returns. Behind Kintzler right now is Ryan Pressly and Michael Tonkin, neither of who is worth even owning as a potential closer-in-waiting.
New York Mets
Jeurys Familia is expected to be the Mets closer once again, but we’re all still waiting to hear what kind of a suspension MLB is going to hand down for the domestic violence arrest from last October. Word has it the suspension won’t be given until after Familia returns from the WBC tournament, so it’s tough to know how long you’re going to need to hold Addison Reed who will likely be closing in his stead. After Reed, it looks like Hansel Robles is the next in-line, but hopefully it won’t ever get that far.
New York Yankees
Another easy one here. Aroldis Chapman then Dellin Betances then Tyler Clippard. ‘Nuff said.
The A’s are sticking with Ryan Madson who, surprisingly, served as the team’s closer for the entire 2016 season. Many thought Sean Doolittle would eventually reclaim his role, but as the sole lefty in the bullpen, he remained in a set-up role. While he’s not the only southpaw in the pen heading into this season, he’s probably the only lefty Bob Melvin will trust in the later innings. That means the $11 million man Santiago Casilla is likely the next in line for closing work and if he falters, the club would likely stick with the right-handers and give John Axford a look.
Manager Pete Mackanin hasn’t backed off his original comments and fully intends to stick with Jeanmar Gomez as his closer. Many expected Hector Neris to assume the job he snagged late last year when Gomez allowed 17 runs over his final eight innings (no, that’s not a typo), but it looks like Mackanin feels better about being able to use Neris and Joaquin Benoit as his shut-down relievers in the seventh and eighth innings. In truth, it’s not a terrible plan as a switch can be very easily made should Gomez falter. If he does, Neris is probably the next in line with Benoit to follow while Edubray Ramos moves up the ranks as well.
After a good but not great 2016 in which both his K/BB and GB/FB diminished while his HR/9 increased, Tony Watson entered spring training as the team’s closer. Now here we are in late March and after allowing eight runs in 4.1 innings this spring, he’s still standing. Sort of. The Pirates don’t seem all that freaked out yet, but maybe that’s because they are already looking at Daniel Hudson as a potential replacement in the ninth. Nothing has been mentioned and the Hudson comment is purely speculation, so don’t get yourself all freaked out just yet, but it’s obviously something to monitor over the next two weeks. After Hudson, the club may consider going back to the southpaws as Felipe Rivero looks like he might be in contention for the job should the opportunity arise.
San Diego Padres
Entering the spring, Brandon Maurer was tabbed as the expected closer and while many thought Carter Capps would take over, injuries have prevented that from taking place. Injuries along with the supposed “Carter Capps Rule” being implemented by MLB this season. Maurer showed an improved strikeout rate last season which helped push his K/BB to 3.13 over 69.2 innings, but when he gets hit, he gets hit hard, as evidenced by his 4.52 ERA last year. Capps definitely has better stuff, but between the elbow issue that will likely delay his season debut and the questions as to whether he will be equally effective with a slight change in his delivery to adhere to the new rule, there’s just not enough evidence pointing to him taking over the job. He’s a great final-round add in drafts due to his potential. And should he struggle, he makes for an easy drop.
The Edwin Diaz Era began in 2016 and it should continue straight through this season as the hard-throwing righty enters the season as the team’s closer. He’s got fantastic swing-and-miss stuff with a 97 mph heater and a nasty slider and should have pretty strong job security given what else is sitting in the Mariners’ bullpen. A banged-up Steve Cishek looms as a potential yet unlikely replacement should the team need one and Nick Vincent would also be available should it come to that. But barring injury, Diaz should remain entrenched in the ninth for the entire season.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants wasted little time with grabbing a high-end closer during the offseason when they landed Mark Melancon in early December. He racked up 98 saves over the last two years between Pittsburgh and Washington and has settled in nicely in the Bay Area. In fact, Melancon opted to not join Team USA immediately because he wanted to get better-acquainted with his new teammates, a very underrated move in this scribe’s opinion. Hunter Strickland will serve as his primary set-up man and the Giants’ insurance should anything happen to Melancon while Derek Law and Cody Gearrin will lend their support as well. Will Smith, who is currently dealing with elbow issues, is the primary lefty in the pen and while he has experience as a closer, Bruce Bochy is more likely to leave him in the seventh and eighth innings.
St. Louis Cardinals
After taking over the closer’s role in the second half of last year, Seung-Hwan Oh closed the season with 19 saves, 14 holds, a 1.92 ERA and a 103:18 K:BB over 79.2 innings. It’s really no wonder the Cardinals told Trevor Rosenthal to stretch out his arm sand try for a rotation spot. At 34-years old, though, there will obviously be some concern over the wear-and-tear on Oh’s arm, but he should still be treated as a high-end closer with strong job security nevertheless. Behind him, the Cards have Jonathan Broxton and the aforementioned Rosenthal, but with southpaws Brett Cecil and Zach Duke added to the mix, Kevin Siegrist could be the first one to get a look in the ninth should Oh not be able to pitch on a given day or get hurt.
Tampa Bay Rays
It didn’t take the Rays too long to realize Alex Colome would be able to handle the closer’s role last year and allowed him to run with it all season despite the return of Brad Boxberger from the disabled list. He racked up 37 saves on the year with a 1.91 ERA and a rock-solid 11.28 K/9 over 56.2 innings of work. He walks in to 2017 with the job in-hand while the rest of the bullpen gets sorted out. Boxberger is dealing with a lat/upper back issue and might not even be ready for Opening Day, which means the primary set-up role should land with a combination of right-handers Shawn Tolleson and Danny Farquhar and southpaw Xavier Cedeno for the time being. Once Boxberger returns, he should stick in the eighth.
He doesn’t notch you much in strikeouts and he pitches to a lot of contact, but ground ball specialist Sam Dyson is still the closer for the Rangers. The job security is probably at mid-level right now, but it’s going to take a severe meltdown for manager Jeff Banister to make the change. Jeremy Jeffress is expected to be the primary set-up man and likely next in line for the closing job while Matt Bush and Keone Kela also wait in the wings.
Toronto Blue Jays
This is a pretty easy bullpen to break down as Roberto Osuna remains the unquestioned closer for the Jays, once again. Jason Grilli should hold down the fort in the eighth as the primary right-handed set-up man and potential closer, if necessary, while J.P. Howell will handle the work as the primary lefty in the pen. Look for Joe Smith to serve as a potential closing option should the Jays need to go beyond Grilli. Smith worked the ninth inning for the Angels last season and the year before, so there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t call on him in an emergency.
Raise your hand if you just want to grab Dusty by the neck and slap him a few dozen times. Aggravating, isn’t it? With the rumors of obtaining David Robertson having died down, the Nationals are focusing on their in-house options. Unfortunately, Dusty won’t commit to anyone. Koda Glover has looked fantastic this spring, but Dusty, who we all know hates rookies as much as Ray Flowers does, isn’t sure the hard-throwing 26-year old is ready to handle the role full-time. Shawn Kelley looked solid down the stretch last season, posted a 12.41 K/9 over 58 innings and had an ERA of 2.64 while working in both a set-up and a closer role but Dusty doesn’t want to commit to him either. And then there’s Blake Treinen who is coming off a solid season in which he posted a 2.28 ERA and averaged almost a strikeout per inning over 67 innings last year. He’s got mid-90’s heat, a nasty slider and has thrown three scoreless frames this spring with six strikeouts and no walks. But again, Dusty won’t commit to him either. Speculating what Dusty will do usually becomes an exercise in futility, but I’d be grabbing Glover and Kelley with the hopes of one of them being given the job. We probably won’t know until just before the season starts, but if you can keep your bases covered with reserve-round picks, those are the two I like.