Closing situations in Washington and Anaheim remain fluid. Also: Is it time to worry about Francisco Rodriguez?
Welcome back to the Closer Report. There were multiple changes in the reliever world over the weekend, and some messes yet to be cleaned up. Just a quick reminder that you can keep up with all of the changes at the Closer Grid. As always, the sections that are highlighted represent changes since the last iteration of this column.
Another injury in the Angels bullpen
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Injuries hit the back of Baltimore's and Texas' bullpen. And we're waiting on Fernando Rodney to implode. But who picks up the saves if he does?
Welcome to Week Three of the Closer Report, and while there hasn’t been too much baseball played this year there already is plenty of news to cover. Before we do, though, allow me to direct you back to my Closer Grid, where I update any and all changes as soon as possible. With that out of the way, let’s get right to the news.
Changes already in Philly, uncertainty in Washington and concern in Texas.
We’ve only had one week of baseball in 2017, but there already is plenty of news on the closer front. We’ve had one change to date, with more intrigue on the horizon. As always, you can keep up with the changes with my Closer Grid, which I update as quickly as I possibly can. Just a quick reminder: the grid's third column is not the third person in line for the closer gig. Rather, it’s an intriguing name to watch for in the short- and/or long-term future. With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s get on with the news.
Many were surprised during the offseason when the Phillies declared that Gomez would be their closer again. He mostly held down the job last year, but it wasn’t always pretty, and he’s not exactly a dominant force in the bullpen. As it turns out, it didn’t take long for him to prove that was so in 2017; he allowed multiple runs in two of his three outings to start the year. Joaquin Benoit will be taking over the ninth for the Phillies, not Hector Neris. It’s a decision that makes sense from the team’s point of view for a few reasons. For one, delaying his ascent to closer keeps Neris’ arbitration prices down. Furthermore, he is more capable of going multiple innings, so keeping that kind of arm in a set-up role makes more sense. He’s still worth keeping in most leagues, as his ratios still figure to be quite good. Plus, Benoit is no guarantee to keep the job. He’s been good over most of his career, but he’s in his age-39 season, and is a fly ball pitcher who struggles with control at times. That’s a recipe for a few meltdowns in a short span at some point, which would presumably open up the role for Neris. For now, though, it goes without saying that Benoit is must-own.
What’s going on in Washington?
One of the bigger storylines of the offseason was how the Nationals would rebuild their bullpen. They were linked to all of the big names, but never pulled the trigger. Instead, they stuck with their internal options and, right before the opener, Dusty Baker named Blake Treinen as his closer. As I mentioned last week, I was a little disappointed, as I had invested in Shawn Kelley in a few leagues. Treinen hasn’t been great to start the year, allowing runs in two of his four outings, and blowing one save. Luckily for him, neither Kelley nor Koda Glover have been all that great, either. The former allowed a home run in each of his first two outings, while the latter allowed a run in just one of his three outings—but also doesn’t have a strikeout yet. I still have Kelley as the second in line here, but I’m not super-confident about it. In one league in which I own Kelley, I also grabbed Glover. I’ll keep both until I have a better feel for the situation, although it’s also a league in which I am mostly punting saves for the start of the season.
Since baseball started in the 1800s, Fernando Rodney has been hanging around as a closer who is always on the verge of losing his job. This year, that dance is happening in Arizona. On the plus side, he has converted two saves without blowing one. With that being said, he has allowed runs in two of his three outings, although in one outing the only run he allowed was unearned. Still, he’s an erratic presence in the ninth inning and it’s always easy to envision him losing his job. The issue in Arizona is that there is no clear replacement. I have Tom Wilhelmsen in the second spot for now, although I don’t foresee him being the one to eventually take over for the Diamondbacks. Jake Barrett is on the disabled list right now, but he’s expected back soon and I’d think he’ll be the primary set-up guy at that point. There’s also Archie Bradley, who’s been phenomenal in his new role as a reliever. He’s probably my favorite on this roster for fantasy purposes, but I’m not so sure he’ll get many saves. He can still fill a multi-inning role, and as I said above those guys generally aren’t named closers.
Keep an eye on Texas
It seems like Sam Dyson is always flirting with losing his closer job before he goes on a month-long run in which he solidifies his role. The start of his season was rough, as he allowed eight runs over his first two appearances. He did follow that up with a scoreless outing in a non-save opportunity, but it’s worth watching if this is the time he finally unleashes the job. The good news for Dyson is that he’s being pushed by Matt Bush, who also has allowed runs in two of his three outings. Still, Bush has the better stuff and is worth stashing as a speculative add. For those in deep and/or AL-only leagues, it’s also worth keeping an eye on Jeremy Jeffress. I’d be surprised if he got the gig over Bush in the event of an opening, but he does have experience as a closer.
• The Athletics continue to have a frustrating closer situation, with Santiago Casilla and Sean Doolittle both getting saves, and Ryan Madson getting plenty of work himself. I’d try to avoid this situation if I could, although I still believe Doolittle is the best of this group and when I’m in doubt I just grab the best arm.
• The Angels, meanwhile, said they were going with a committee but it’s abundantly clear that Cam Bedrosian is the team’s closer. Andrew Bailey could get a few more saves than your typical set-up man, but Bedrosian is the man to own. That is, at least until Huston Street returns from the disabled list. He’s throwing again, but there’s no timetable at this point.
• The Tigers called up Joe Jimenez, who was one of the more exciting minor-league relievers in the game. Francisco Rodriguez should be safe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jimenez makes his way to the second spot in the pecking order within the next month or two. At that point, he’d just be an injury away from saves.
• Roberto Osuna is expected to return to the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Joe Biagini and Jason Grilli each allowed one run in three outings in Osuna’s absence, and I’d expect Grilli to remain next in line for Toronto for now.
It's early, but it's never too early to review the fluid nature of baseball's save men and their potential successors.
Welcome back to another season of the Closer Report. If you’ve been reading here for the past couple of years, you’ll recognize me. This is the third-consecutive season that I’ll be handling this column, which every other writer on staff views as a punishment. Generally, I pick three or four situations a week to take a deep-ish dive on, and three or four more for quick hits. Of course, we’ve only had two days of baseball and not much news has come out just yet. So, instead, I'll focus on 10 situations of interest to start the season, and I’ll take a brief look at each of those today.
Additionally, I have a Closer Grid that I do my best to update relatively quickly. When I make a change, I’ll highlight in yellow. The third column might not seem as much obvious use to fantasy players; rather, it is for relievers that I generally like. Some could close games this year, and some could be of interest to dynasty players who want to keep an eye on young relievers. Mostly, though, it’s just pitchers who I think are fun. Anyway, with all of the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
My biggest miss of draft season in regard to closer was almost certainly the Nationals situation. All spring, I didn’t understand why Shawn Kelley wasn’t being drafted higher. He’s clearly the best reliever in that bullpen, and Dusty Baker is a fairly traditional manager. Kelley getting the closer gig was a slam dunk in my eyes. Instead, they named Blake Treinen to that role. Now, I’m not cutting Kelley right away, because I think Treinen could have a fairly short leash. He’s a really good reliever, but since it took Baker so long to even name a closer it leads me to believe he also won’t hesitate to make a change. Additionally, Kelley should provide good value with his ratios in the meantime. I wouldn’t say I’m expecting Treinen to lose the job soon, but it’s realistic enough to hang onto Kelley at a time where there’s not much reliever value on the waiver wire.
While Kelley was my biggest miss, it wasn’t my only one. I also was banking on Adam Ottavino taking the closer gig in Colorado. I know the Rockies made a fairly high-profile splash in signing Greg Holland, and he’s not that far removed from being one of the premiere relievers in baseball. However, he did miss all of last year, and Ottavino looked outstanding when he returned from his own long-term injury midway through last season. Holland was solid in spring and I think the Rockies will give him a little bit of a longer leash given their commitment to him this winter. I like Ottavino a lot, but I’m more likely to drop him before Kelley (and yes, I do own both in one league). Some of it is because of the leash, but it also is just a product of calling Coors Field home. I suspect that Ottavino will be the closer at some point, but if another closer option emerges early in the year I won’t wait around for the Rockies.
Right before the season started, the Blue Jays announced that Roberto Osuna would start on the 10-day disabled list. This was surprising, considering that he pitched toward the end of camp. This likely moves Jason Grilli to the top of their depth chart, although he struggled in the opener Monday, and that could open the door for Joe Biagini. Don’t get too excited about either one, though, because Osuna is expected to be back as soon as he’s eligible to return.
We all knew that Jeurys Familia was going to be suspended to start the season, but we weren’t sure for how long. It came down last week that he’d miss New York's first 15 games, rather than the 30 that some speculated. This is a bit of a hit to those who drafted Addison Reed for a month’s worth of saves. He’ll still help with ratios, but Reed is not nearly as valuable as some were led to believe.
On Monday, manager Mike Scioscia told the presumed favorite for the Angels closer role, Cam Bedrosian, that they'd be rolling with a committee approach for the ninth inning. This was a bit surprising, considering that Huston Street is hurt and Bedrosian is clearly the best remaining option. One could be tempted to jump after Andrew Bailey on waivers, because he’s the next-most likely to get saves for L.A. I'd hold off, though. Bedrosian is an outstanding pitcher and the Angels recognize that. He’ll get the majority of the chances early on and I suspect he’ll eventually win the job outright. Even if Bedrosian loses the job when Street returns, the latter is always an injury risk. If anything, I’d use this opportunity to buy low on Bedrosian.
There’s not much good about the Reds heading into the season, but I’m pretty fascinated by the back of their bullpen. Raisel Iglesias is the most popular fantasy target on the staff, and it makes sense. He’s the most talented. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if they decide he’s better off in a multi-inning, Andrew Miller-esque role. The most likely way this happens, in my eyes, is if Michael Lorenzen steps up. I’m not saying I’d add him right now, because there’s not a ton of value just yet. But the upside is there, as he showed last year. If he can up his strikeout rate a bit, I think he could take the closer gig, as guys like Drew Storen and Tony Cingrani fade, and Iglesias moves into a more impactful role. Iglesias is my favorite pitcher on this roster, but by midseason I think Lorenzen will be the best for fantasy purposes.
The most mysterious closer situation in baseball is in Oakland. It’s not that they’re officially going with a committee, it’s that they haven’t said anything about the role. Without any information, I’d just assume Ryan Madson still has the job. He took a big step back last year, though, and is entering his age-36 season. I don’t have a ton of trust in him, and believe it’s only a matter of time until Sean Doolittle takes the job. My only concern with Doolittle is that he could be traded if/when Oakland falls out of it again, which means he’d only have a couple of months—tops—to get saves.
Fernando Rodney is a popular pick to lose his role first, and for good reason. While he shows flashes of greatness, he’s incredibly erratic. That’s not the best look for a closer. With that being said, the Diamondbacks don’t have anyone who figures to challenge him immediately. Randall Delgado is likely second in the pecking order, and he had a 113 DRA- last year. I, too, believe that Rodney will eventually lose this job, but someone else will have to step up first, and it’s not clear who that’ll be or when they’ll do it.
The defending champs have an unambiguous closer situation. The ninth inning belongs to Wade Davis. With that being said, Hector Rondon is my favorite set-up option that no one seems to talk about. He’ll get you strikeouts, keep his WHIP down and his home run issues last year were probably a fluke. At worst, he’s a near-elite non-closer. There also is the injury risk associated with Davis, which would obviously open up a spot for Rondon. I think I’m more wary of Davis than most, but either way Rondon deserves to be treated more like Nate Jones and less like Joaquin Benoit (who immediately follows Rondon in NFBC ADP).
Though Dipoto is no longer making the moves in Anaheim, the Angels have nonetheless paid homage to their old boss by inviting a glut of players to assist them en route to the finish line. However, a different club—one without Dipoto ties—has since elbowed past the Angels to earn distinction as the team most willing to push roster expansion to its limit. That team is the Yankees, which, in addition to leading the majors in active-roster players (39) and percentage of the 40-man roster that is on the active roster, also lead the majors in roster-related creativity (numbers through September 22nd and courtesy of Roster Resource):
The diverse and carefully constructed bullpen of GM and former reliever Jerry Dipoto.
Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: two AL teams! Projected division winners Angels and their diverse bullpen of specific pieces, plus the Red Sox and their collection of same-position hitters.
Last week, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Grant Balfour to be their closer for 2014 (and presumably 2015), committing to pay him $12 million over the next two seasons. It’s not an expensive closer contract, as these things go. But for the cost-conscious Rays, it seemed a little strange. The team also re-signed Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) and traded for Heath Bell over the winter. Another sabermetric darling team, the Oakland A’s, signed Eric O’Flaherty last week and, earlier in the winter, traded for Josh Lindblom and Jim Johnson.
A tip of the cap toward the effective set-up men who get little publicity unless they implode.
The role of set-up man is a tough gig. Serving as the bridge to the more famous, better-compensated closer, the set-up man carries all of the risks of a late-inning reliever with virtually none of the accolades. A closer who gets his requisite three outs (or more, as often happens in the postseason) might be credited for “shutting the door” on the opposition, but the eighth-inning guy is rarely mentioned in the aftermath of a victory. The only time the name of a set-up man appears in bold ink is when he gives up runs and incurs the dreaded blown save.