For the past four years, I’ve written an article at the end of each season discussing one of my favorite keeper league strategies: stashing potential closers. Today, I’m going to do the same, explaining the strategy and then trying to figure out which middle relievers are poised to step into the ninth-inning role.

The Strategy
All keeper leagues are different, but if you are in one where your leaguemates make a habit of keeping top closers, this strategy will be especially good for you. In these leagues, when auction day or draft day rolls around, the number of closers will be limited. Those who haven't kept a top closer will be bidding against each other for the leftovers, the second-tier closers. By default, their prices will rise, quite possibly above their raw value. This can trickle down the list of closers until Kevin Gregg is being auctioned for some crazy amount, like $18.

So how do you avoid this? Do you simply punt saves? Do you overpay for a closer? Hopefully closers won’t see such heavily inflation and you won’t be pressed to make such a decision. But the intelligent owner will prepare, read the market come draft day, and decide on a course of action.

If you're out of the running this year, the stats you accrue over the remainder of 2011 make no difference to you. You shouldn't have your keepers set in stone yet, although you definitely should have a good idea who they will be. You could, theoretically, drop every player you don't intend to keep, tank, and it wouldn't make an ounce of difference. Of course, I don't advocate this; this type of behavior skews league results, and it certainly would anger the rest of your league if you drop a $45 Miguel Cabrera because you decide he's too expensive to keep. It might even get you kicked out before you make your run for the title in 2012.

Knowing this, feel free to drop any overpriced, old, or otherwise unkeepable players (within reason) and pick up some that fall into the next category: middle relievers with the inside track for a closing job. The owners in your league who are in it for this year might be ignoring these guys since they can't afford to waste active (or even bench) roster spots. However, since you are concerned with next year, take the inside track while you can. Any advantage you can get is one worth pursuing, and there are several to be gained this time of year while many of your opponents don't have the flexibility to make the types of moves you can if you're out of the race.

When Chris Perez gets auctioned for $20 next year, you might be sitting on the Padres’ newly-anointed closer, Luke Gregerson, for $1. The great news is that it won't cost you anything in the short term because you're already out of it. Free value.

Of course, there's no way to know who will be closing next year, but you don't have to. If you're out of it, you just need to play the odds a little. Pick up five guys from the next list and, come March, if any of them have been promoted, decide to make that guy a keeper. That'll show the guy who's keeping Jose Valverde for $17.

Last Year’s Results
Last year, six of the 25 pitchers on my list ended up starting the season closing games. Of the seven I thought had the best chance, five ended up closing: Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Matt Thornton, Brandon League, and Frank Francisco. Of course, these relievers had mixed results this season, but starting the season with the job is really the best we can ask for of these flier types. Of course, there’s no guarantee of a repeat performance. My picks are merely speculation, and there are always off-season moves that can throw a wrench into any evaluation.

This Year’s List

Potential Closer


Current Closer

Jim Johnson


Kevin Gregg

Pedro Strop


Kevin Gregg

Daniel Bard


Jonathan Papelbon

Aroldis Chapman


Francisco Cordero

Joaquin Benoit


Jose Valverde

Edward Mujica


Leo Nunez

Mike Dunn


Leo Nunez

Greg Holland


Joakim Soria

Aaron Crow


Joakim Soria

Louis Coleman


Joakim Soria

Kenley Jansen


Javy Guerra

Glen Perkins


Joe Nathan

Bobby Parnell



Antonio Bastardo



Luke Gregerson


Heath Bell

Mike Adams


Neftali Feliz

Casey Janssen


Frank Francisco

Tyler Clippard


Drew Storen

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are currently rolling with Kevin Gregg, but that seems unlikely to last. He hasn’t been very good this year, has been terrible of late, and fans are calling for his head. He’s under contract for 2012, but there’s a good chance the Orioles demote him and go with Jim Johnson, who Jason Collette made a case for the other day. Pedro Strop is a couple years younger and makes for a decent darkhorse candidate.

Boston Red Sox
Jonathan Papelbon is entrenched as Boston’s closer as long as he’s around, but he’s a free agent at year’s end, and the Sox could decide to save money by letting him go and promoting dominant set-up man Daniel Bard. If they go this direction, Bard makes for an excellent closer option.

Cincinnati Reds
The team holds a $12 million option on incumbent closer Francisco Cordero, but there’s no chance they exercise it. Still, they’ve said they’re open to working out an extension at a lower price, but the highly-touted Aroldis Chapman is around should they decide against it. Everyone knows Chapman has good stuff, and his 13.3 K/9 this season accentuates it. The concern coming into the season was his control, and a 7.6 BB/9 shows this hasn’t been solved. Still, he’s been able to keep the ball in the park, post a 3.32 FIP, and mitigate some of the damage from the walks thanks to a 55 percent ground-ball rate, though it may not stay that high. His arsenal doesn’t suggest a ground-ball pitcher, as his blazing fastball gets a lot of vertical rise and is generally one of the worst pitches for grounders. The slider is an above-average pitch in general, but combined with the fastball Chapman wouldn’t look like anything more than an average ground-ball pitcher. It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up in 2012. Even with a drop, he could still be a fairly effective closer due to all the strikeouts.

Detroit Tigers
The team holds a $9 million option on closer Jose Valverde, so it seems like a pretty safe bet it will be picked up and he’ll remain in Detroit. But if they decide to let him go, they could promote Joaquin Benoit—who they spent big money on last offseason—to the role. He had a rough start to the year, but he’s been excellent since and would likely make a very good closer. The team also has some younger darkhorse options, such as Al Alberquerque, Daniel Schlereth, and Ryan Perry. Alberquerque would be the best bet out of that group by a wide margin.

Florida Marlins
The Fish debated trading Leo Nunez at this past trade deadline but opted to keep him. It’s possible they again look into a trade this offseason since they’d have two fairly capable options to replace him. Edward Mujica was the guy manager Jack McKeon said would replace Nunez if he were traded this year, but McKeon probably won’t be managing the team in 2012, and Dunn is younger with better “closer stuff.” I’d call Mujica the favorite if Nunez is traded, but Dunn would very much be in the mix.

Kansas City Royals
It may never happen, but there always seems to be talk of current closer Joakim Soria being traded or moved to the rotation. With excellent young set-up men in Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, and Louis Coleman now waiting in the wings, it’s possible the Royals could choose to move Soria this offseason, though there are better bets on this list.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Yikes. This Dodger bullpen has been a mess all year, with Javy Guerra finally providing the team some “stability” in the late innings. The problem is that Guerra isn’t actually very good and doesn’t profile as a closer long-term. However, Kenley Jansen does. He has excellent stuff and, while he has some control issues, could still be very successful in the way Chapman would be. Or in the way Carlos Marmol currently is. It’ll be interesting to see what the Dodgers do this winter, but if they go in-house and decide they don’t want to press their luck with Guerra, Jansen could finally step into the role.

Minnesota Twins
Matt Capps is a free agent and Joe Nathan has an expensive $12.5 million option, so it’s possible neither is closing for the team come Opening Day 2012. The problem is that the team doesn’t have any obvious in-house candidates to take over. Lefty Glen Perkins would be the best bet, but it seems more likely the team re-signs Nathan or looks externally.

New York Mets
The Mets had given Parnell the chance to close and audition for the role in 2012, but he didn’t do particularly well, and the team has moved to a committee approach. Still, if the team doesn’t look externally for a closer this offseason, Parnell remains the best in-house bet for next year.

Philadelphia Phillies
The Phils are currently employing a closing committee with Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Antonio Bastardo, but with Lidge and Madson facing free agency this winter, the team could easily let them move on, leaving 2011 breakout Bastardo to take over.

San Diego Padres
The Padres opted not to trade closer Heath Bell at this year’s trade deadline despite heavy speculation they would and one report indicating they did. He’ll be a free agent this winter, and the team could simply offer him arbitration and collect their draft picks, but there’s also talk recently that they could try to re-sign him. If he leaves, Luke Gregerson is an excellent bet to close and excel.

Tampa Bay Rays
The team has a fairly cheap $3.3 million option on closer Kyle Farnsworth, so it seems likely he’ll be brought back to close in 2012. They could decline and let Jake McGee close, but he hasn’t had the best year, and they could give him one more year of seasoning to see if he could close long-term.

Texas Rangers
The Rangers came into this season with an absolute mess of a bullpen, and while they allowed Neftali Feliz to train as a starter during spring training, they ultimately decided to give Alexi Ogando the spot in the rotation and keep Feliz at closer. Now that they’ve solidified the bullpen by adding Mike Adams and Koji Uehara to a solid group of Darren Oliver, Mark Lowe, and Yoshinori Tateyama, there’s talk that the Rangers could finally move Feliz to the rotation with C.J. Wilson potentially leaving via free agency. If they do so, look for Mike Adams to inherit the role and become an excellent fantasy option.

Toronto Blue Jays
Frank Francisco is a free agent and Jon Rauch has a club option (not to mention not being nearly good enough to be even a middle-tier closer), so it’s possible the Jays have a new look in the ninth inning in 2012. Francisco has been pretty good of late, though, and it’s becoming more and more likely the team re-signs him. If they don’t and they look in-house, Casey Janssen could be the guy. But between the possibility of Frankie returning, Rauch’s option, and looking externally, there are better bets.

Washington Nationals
Drew Storen was reportedly almost traded for Denard Span at this year’s trade deadline, and it’s possible he could get traded this offseason. The Nats don’t really have much incentive to move their young, cost-controlled closer, so they’d likely need to receive a very good offer to do so. If they do, Tyler Clippard makes the most sense to step in. But with lots of closers available via free agency, it seems unlikely a team will overpay for Storen.

My Top 5 Picks
If I had to make pickups today, here are the five guys I’d target in my keeper league (in order):

  1. Bobby Parnell
  2. Antonio Bastardo
  3. Francisco Rodrigurez (late addition—see comment 24—so I didn't remove anyone)
  4. Jim Johnson
  5. Mike Adams
  6. Luke Gregerson
  7. Kenley Jansen (if Parnell doesn’t count)
  8. Aroldis Chapman (if Bastardo doesn’t count)

 Since Parnell and Bastardo are currently sort of closing for their teams (part of committees, really), I listed my next two picks in case they are already owned in your league. Bard was also in heavy consideration for the list, but I think it seems more likely that the Sox keep Papelbon. If they let him go, they’d need to find someone to replace Bard in the eighth, and there aren’t many teams anyway who need a closer and have a lot of money to spend on one. Add in the fact that there are likely to be a ton of closers available, and it seems Papelbon will be affordable enough for the Red Sox to keep.  

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Johnson reportedly may be a candidate for the starting rotation!/Britt_Ghiroli/status/93704772854616064
Yeah, I'd heard that. It'll be interesting to see what happens. If Gregg keeps imploding, though, I think they might reconsider and stick him in the closer's role. Otherwise maybe they go with Strop. All just speculation on my part. As a starter I'd like Johnson quite a bit less.
Good plan, Derek. Most of these guys are owned in deep leagues, but good idea anyway.
Thanks, yeah, it all depends on your league.
I have to decide on an option for Chapman this off-season before spring training (Jan). Very deep 24 team league, equivalent of 14.25 for the next 3 yrs, 2012-14, (for a $260 league). Keep 'em and hope the Reds are sane, or cut bait and target elsewhere during the auction? I have no other closer candidates...
That's a tough call, but I have a feeling Cordero's fate will be known by then and the decision will be easier to make. At the very least, more information will be known about Cordero's other suitors, but that's a high price to pay for three years if Cordero ends up getting re-signed, even if the league is deep. Still, Chapman does have value outside saves. How many pitcher spots are there per team? Nine?
40 man rosters, start 10 P (25 man active roster)
I don't think I've ever played a league with that format. Do the top middle relievers typically go for double-digit prices at auction? I'd imagine their probably relatively expensive - at least high single digits.
Since the initial auction in '08 almost everyone worth a darn comes up through the minor leagues and they have different contracts.

RP FA last off-season include League went for 6.33 on a 260 scale and M Adams went for 5.88 on a 260 scale.

I was able to get Camp, Resop, and Durbin at the minimum contract of .68/260.

That seems like an expensive Chapman then if he doesn't close, no? I guess see what happens with Cordero and go from there. If you released him and he's just a setup man, you might be able to get him cheaper at auction.
Thanks Derek, hopefully the Reds make their decision early in the off-season.
I agree, good plan, as I try to do this every year even if I'm in the hunt and have an extra bench spot available which led to getting Parnell earlier this year already. Any chance of producing this list earlier for trade purposes, as all of the guys are taken already in my league as we play a deep roster. Also, as a KC fan and owner of Holland, I think he would be next in line behind Soria as I've heard Crow is most likely in the rotation next season. What are your thoughts on Holland's chances? Thanks...
Sure. I will do this earlier next year. I like Holland quite a bit. The Royals bullpen is surprisingly good and I didn't want to list eight guys for them, but yeah, Holland could very well be the choice. He's actually been used in higher leverage situations than Coleman this year, though Coleman's been used in higher leverage situations lately.
I agree. Holland is the primary set-up guy now, and I think he would be first in line for closer after Soria.
Yeah, I added him. I like Coleman a little better as a pitcher, but Holland may be next in line.
In the sense for this kind of article any chance we could get an article before the season next year called something like for 2013.
Some sort of article that points out players who are good targets in a keeper league for 2013.
Guys like Lucas Duda or Bonifacio, who have good ower and speed skills and if they get playing time could be worth a lot, along with preseason future closer picks.

This would be a great article to read and would help so much with drafting $1 guys in the end game.
Is Santos signed with CWS next year? Thoughts on Addison Reed maybe stealing the job at some point next year?
Yeah, with only a couple years of MLB service time, he'll be around for a while. It's certainly possible Reed could take over at some point, maybe next year, but the good money is against it. Santos will enter 2012 as the closer and is a very good pitcher to boot.
Thanks Derek. Also, another guy in the SD mix might be Josh Spence.
Maybe, but he hasn't been pitched in very high leverage situations, and I think Gregerson is the clear favorite there.
I do this each year, even if I am winning. If you are active each week for FAAB you can pick up relievers with good skills for $1 or $2 and dump injured guys, prospects that don't pan out, etc if you have deep benches. When you trade some of your prospects to an owner dumping you often create roster spots (2 for 1, 3 for 1 deals). This presents another good opportunity to fill roster holes with skilled relievers that don't hurt your ratios and give you some Ks and vultured wins. If you do this well you can mine for saves for next year and still keep a competitive roster. Good article!
Also, I am not sure I'd call it a closing committee in Philly. The job is Madson's. Bastardo is tiring at this point so even if he was a threat I think he is going to see his workload reduced over the rest of the month. I'd expect the Phillies to call up a lefty as soon as the Triple-A club is done with their playoff run.
Yeah, committee wasn't the right word choice. Madson's been the one getting the saves of late, but opportunities have changed hands several times this year.
I completely forgot to mention Francisco Rodriguez, who is a free agent (assuming the Brewers decline his very expensive option, which should be a given) and would likely make for a very good target since he's unhappy as a setup man and may take less money to close for someone. I've added him to my list of best bets.