The news that Milwaukee Brewers closer Devin Williams is going to miss a significant chunk of the early baseball season was certainly a shock to the system for fantasy baseball managers who’ve already selected him in early preseason drafts. Those managers probably felt a little bit better if they  also drafted Joel Payamps, Williams’ presumptive handcuff. Unfortunately, the fantasy managers that didn’t attempt to roster Williams’ handcuff are going to find themselves scrambling to look for a replacement once their league’s waiver wire is open for business.

In general, whether you choose to roster your primary fantasy baseball closer’s handcuff depends on a few factors. You’re obviously going to want to roster your closer’s handcuff if you play in a draft-and-hold league (a league that doesn’t allow free agent pickups). Managerial styles are another thing to consider when deciding whether to roster a handcuff. Handcuffing your closer is a good idea if he plays for a manager who typically keeps his ninth inning relievers on a short leash and has a history of frequently changing the make-up of his team’s bullpen. Keep in mind that Major League hitters can fail to get a hit 70% of the time in their career and still make the Hall of Fame, but if a closer has a bad couple of weeks he could be out of a job! It’s also wise to handcuff your primary closer if he’s either coming off a season in which he’s been severely injured or if he has a history of landing on the IL.


Injuries Are Difficult To Predict

No one could have expected Devin Williams to miss significant time with with two stress fractures in his back. It actually turns out that the aforementioned Payamps might have some competition for saves based on Pat Murphy’s recent comments. He suggested that he might let game situations dictate which reliever he’ll use in individual high leverage situations. As this article is being written, no Brewers reliever other than Elvis Peguero has been lighting it up this spring. Brewers relievers like Abner Uribe, Hoby Milner, Bryse Wilson and Trevor Megill have all previously closed out games in their professional baseball careers and could be used in save situations at some point during the early part of the season. 

Previous closer experience is one of the things we look for when determining who will be the next man up in our Fantasy Baseball Closer Grid and it’s one of the things that you should consider when constructing your fantasy team’s roster. The following are some of the next men up, or handcuffs, that you should familiarize yourself with as we get closer to the start of the fantasy baseball season.

Chris Martin, Boston Red Sox

It seems like it’s a foregone conclusion that the Red Sox may eventually trade Kenley JansenShould that happen, that would likely leave Martin as the Red Sox’s closer. Martin posted a career best 1.05 ERA as Jansen’s setup man last season. He recorded 23 holds and he even served as their closer in late September. If the Red Sox are in full sell off mode at the trade deadline, Martin, who’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, could also be moved. Should that happen Josh Winckowski, who saved three games, pitched to a 2.88 ERA, and held 18 games for the Red Sox last season, would likely move into the closer’s role. You should also familiarize yourself with Greg Weissert. The Sox acquired him from the Yankees in the trade that sent Alex Verdugo to the Bronx. Weissert is on the Sox’s 40-man roster and has had a good spring. He has pitched to a 2.90 ERA and recorded 51 saves in seven minor league seasons. The Red Sox also inked Liam Hendriks to a two-year deal this offseason but he’ll likely miss the entire 2024 season as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. 

A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves

Raisel Iglesias has the enviable position of closing out games for an Atlanta Braves team that has a chance to win 100 games but he’s got some warts, and that makes Minter an intriguing handcuff. Iglesias’ 2023 strikeout rate was his lowest since the 2018 season and his walk rate increased for a second straight season. In addition, his four-seam fastball (.327 BAA) and sinker (.519) weren’t as effective as they used to be. With Iglesias sidelined due to a shoulder strain Minter opened the season as the Braves’ closer. He converted seven-of-nine save opportunities in his first 16 games and while his ERA was a bloated 7.74 during that time frame, some of it could be blamed on bad luck and a .366 BABIP. Minter’s ERA was 2.57 the rest of the way. He added another three saves and also recorded 21 holds. Minter has proven that he can be successful when pitching with the game on the line. In save situations last season Minter held batters to a .228 BA and a .615 OPS. Joe Jimenez is another Braves reliever to keep on your watch list. The right-hander has 20 career saves and he held opposing batters to a .222 BA and .553 OPS when he was asked to pitch in high leverage situations last season.

Giovanny Gallegos, St. Louis Cardinals

Ryan Helsley missed almost two months of the season due to a forearm strain. When he did pitch, he was successful, posting a 2.45 ERA and converting 14 of his 19 save chances. He continued to mow down hitters (12.76 K/9) but at the same time his BB/9 jumped from 2.78 in 2022 to 4.17 last season. Helsley seems healthy this spring but according to a study conducted by Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ head team physician, “20% of pitchers who attempt to return to play after a forearm strain will go on to require Tommy John surgery within one year.” Including 2023, Helsley has been on the IL in three of the last five seasons. Gallegos has at least 10 saves in each of the last three seasons and while there was a slight drop in his velocity last season and his 4.42 ERA was the third highest of his career, some of that could have been caused by the onset of rotator cuff tendinitis which forced him to prematurely end his season. Andrew Kittredge, who has 15 career saves, and Jo Jo Romero are other relievers that the Cards can turn to in high leverage situations this season. Unfortunately, Keynan Middleton, who the Cardinals signed to a one-year deal this offseason, is dealing with a forearm strain and will likely start the season on the IL.

Andrew Nardi, Miami Marlins

Tanner Scott, the Marlins’ presumptive closer entering the 2024 season, has had issues with his control throughout his career but his overall walk rate noticeably improved as last season wore on. 

He eventually took over as the Marlins’ closer late last season and finished strong, converting 10-of-12 save opportunities and striking out 33 batters while walking just three in his final 27.1 innings of work. We don’t like to put too much credibility into spring training stats but as this article is being written Scott has walked seven batters, given up seven hits and allowed eight earned runs in his first 1.2 innings this preseason. Seven different Marlins relievers recorded at least one save last season and with control issues creeping up on Scott again this spring the Marlins might turn to Nardi to close out their games at least for the short term. Nardi had three saves last season and was often used in the seventh and eighth innings of games in August and September. The Marlins may opt to use Anthony Bender in late inning, high leverage situations as well. He has nine saves in his brief career and seems to be fully recovered from his August 2022 Tommy John surgery.  

Jason Adam, Tampa Bay Rays

Rays manager Kevin Cash has been notorious for using a committee approach to managing his bullpen but that’s changed of late with Pete Fairbanks settling in as the team’s very effective primary closer. Unfortunately, Fairbanks has hit the IL in each of the past three seasons, most recently missing time due to hip and forearm inflammation. As the next man up, Adam has converted 20 saves over the past two seasons and he’s been a good resource for holds, recording 33 during that timeframe.