Saves are the bane of all fantasy players. But so long as rotisserie and points scoring continue to incorporate the flawed statistic we’ll be tasked with evaluating bullpens and identifying the more reliable closer options.
While bullpens are usually in disarray this early in the off-season, this year the clusterfrick is even more discombobulated than normal. To wit, my standard exercise is to distinguish the closers I feel will garner their teams’ first and last save. Normally, ten to twelve names are offered. However, this time around I’m hard-pressed to find a dozen guys I’m fairly positive will earn their squads’ first save let alone keep the job all season. Between injuries, free agents and inexperienced options taking over late in the season, the number of relievers virtually assured to be the closer on opening day is alarmingly scant.
With drafting season commencing earlier than ever before (the National Fantasy Baseball Championship kicked off their 50-man roster, no free agents Draft Championship format last week), it is necessary to investigate the current state of bullpens and design a strategy in both draft and hold leagues as well as traditional leagues to be competitive in saves come next summer.
The column will tier closers as presently constituted in an effort to formulate a plan of attack in early drafts.
DEFINITE OPENING DAY CLOSERS (12)
Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – consensus top choice at closer, whiffs a ton, lights out ratios
Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers – poor man’s Kimbrel
Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals – installed late in the season and purported to be the guy in 2014
Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals – walks keeping him from the elite
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants – health and durability a concern but so long as that devastating slider is still sliding, he’s solid
Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies – skills showing signs of a slight decline, but he’s still as reliable and durable as they come
Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals – in some minds needs to prove he can get it done on the big stage, but this isn’t relevant to fantasy
Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox – should continue to mature
Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox – I honestly considered putting him in the next group, but after all that transpired at the end of 2013 and into the playoffs, how can Boston not keep him at the helm? That said, it will be a miracle if Uehara makes in through 2014 unscathed. It was almost as if the Red Sox were willing to sacrifice what might be left of his career to win it all. The knock on Uehara was durability but yet John Farrell ran him out there for multiple saves requiring more than three outs. I better stop now before I talk myself into dropping him a tier for fear his arm falls off in Ft. Myers.
Joe Nathan, Free Agent – we don’t know where or for whom, but Nathan will be toeing the rubber in the ninth for someone come April
Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels – proof it’s OK to walk a ton of guys if you can fan two tons
Huston Street, San Diego Padres – one of the better closers in the game between DL stints
PROBABLE OPENING DAY CLOSERS (10)
Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – albeit remote, the possibility exists Chapman is converted back to the rotation
Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles – arbitration eligible, there is a small chance the O’s let him hit the market and you never know what happens (see Soriano signing with the New York Yankees a few years ago)
David Robertson, New York Yankees – the likely heir to Mariano Rivera, when it comes to the Yankees, you can never be sure
Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins – would be a definite if it weren’t for the unlikely but yet still possible scenario whereby he’s traded to a team as a set-up man
Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays – same explanation as Perkins but for different reasons
Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates – should get the nod, barring injury, but since a spring injury is not out of the realm, he gets dinged a tier
Fernando Rodney, Free Agent – the assumption is he signs somewhere to close but you never know
Grant Balfour, Free Agent – ditto
Chris Perez, Free Agent – him too
Brian Wilson, Free Agent – may as well make it a foursome
CLUBHOUSE LEADER BUT NOT A SURE THING (6)
Steve Cishek, Miami Marlins – could go with another in-house option though Cishek turned it on down the stretch
JJ Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks – still the best option when healthy, but health is a huge concern so Brad Ziegler and David Hernandez are still in the picture
Jim Henderson, Milwaukee Brewers – by default?
LaTroy Hawkins, Colorado Rockies – Brandon League called and said not to get too comfortable
Danny Farquhar, Seattle Mariners – very likely to sign one of the free agents above
Bobby Parnell, New York Mets – will need to prove healthy in the spring but if he does, he should retain the role
SPECULATIVE OPTIONS (5)
Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians – forget Vinnie Pestano, if the Tribe stays in-house, Allen is the man
Tommy Hunter, Baltimore Orioles – if the O’s do let Johnson walk, it’s because they trust Hunter can do the job for less coin
Rex Brothers, Colorado Rockies – pretty much a joke that Hawkins is considered the closer now
Drew Smyly, Detroit Tigers – Plan A is to deal a starter to clear a spot in the Tiger’s rotation, but they could instead opt to install the southpaw as closer
Jesse Crain, Free Agent – could be a cost-efficient option for a low-budget team
ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS
Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers – or they could go outside the or organization
AND THEN THERE’S
Josh Fields, Houston Astros – could walk more batters than he gets saves
Perhaps you’re more comfortable than I that there are some trustworthy candidates in the second tier – your team, your call. If I’m drafting in the NFBC DC style draft and hold format, I’m going to make an effort to get at least one option from what I perceive to be the second tier. I’ll then wait and aim for a free agent from the second tier and make a strong effort to add Cody Allen and Tommy Hunter to my roster.
If I’m drafting an early league that allows for free agent acquisitions, I’ll completely pass on the first tier since there will be a plethora of options that clarify in the spring. I’ll still target candidates like Allen and Hunter as well as Balfour and Parnell, but I am comfortable going into the season with nary a closer on my roster. Instead of taking a closer, I’ll fortify hitting and starting pitching.
This is strictly for early drafts. Once the available relievers sign and roles are more defined, I’ll reevaluate the landscape.
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Affectionately known as Lord Zola, Todd was the 2013 Fantasy Sports Writers Association recipient of the Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Web. He's been with Mastersball since its inception in 1997 and presently Todd writes for the ESPN Insider and Baseball HQ. Todd is a frequent guest on SiriusXM and is a regular on HQ Radio. He's a veteran of Tout Wars and LABR as well as a multi-time NFBC champion. Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddZola
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