We’ve flipped the calendar over to August, which means the MLB trade deadline has passed and player are, more or less, where they will be for the rest of the season. It also means that our fantasy trade deadlines are quickly approaching. This is obviously a busy time of year, particularly for those of us in longer-term leagues. If you’re the owner of a team that is not in contention this year, it’s time to start thinking of next year. With that in mind, I thought today I would attempt to predict the closer landscape for next year. Obviously, there are going to be events that I cannot predict, but it’s useful to know who could get saves in the following season and try now to get them on the cheap. So, with that in mind, here is a link to who I see closing for each team at the start of next season. Below is an explanation for teams that are seeing a change from who is closing right now.
So, we start with the team for whom I have the least confidence with my pick. Arizona currently has Fernando Rodney as their closer, and while he’s had great stretches this year he’s a free agent after the season and will be 41 by the time next year starts. I can’t imagine he’s coming back. Archie Bradley would be the next guy in line on the team, and he’s shown this year he has the talent to be trusted with a closer role. That said, I think the Diamondbacks could value him more in a role that doesn’t tie him to one specific inning. Furthermore, this is a team in contention and with a solid rotation and a great core in the lineup, there aren’t a ton of areas to swing a big deal. On the other side of things, the Royals are expected to lose some of their biggest stars to free agency, so they could be looking to trade Herrera to kick-start their rebuild rather than losing him for nothing the following the winter. I feel strongly that Herrera will be traded, and the Diamondbacks made the most sense to me as a team with a need in the ninth inning. If they stay in-house, Rubby De La Rosa could be another option.
Wade Davis is a free agent at the end of the year, and he’s played well enough that he’s going to earn himself a huge deal this winter. I don’t think the Cubs will be the team do pay that deal. It’s possible they’ll stick with Justin Wilson in the ninth inning, but I think they’ll go down a tier in free agency and hand Holland a sizable, but not huge, contract.
This might have been the most difficult team to predict. The White Sox have no one in their current bullpen that I see in the discussion for next year, and Zack Burdi undergoing Tommy John surgery stops them from going to prospect route. Assuming they want to keep Reynaldo Lopez in the rotation, I think the safest bet is they sign a cheap free agent to start the year as their closer. Hernandez has been quietly good over the past couple of years and seems like the best bet from his tier of free agency to be handed a closer role on a rebuilding team.
With Holland almost certainly opting out of his deal this winter and going to the Cubs in this scenario, the Rockies are left without a closer. I went back and forth between them sticking with Adam Ottavino or going out and getting a new arm, and I landed on the latter. If they aren’t going to pay Holland, they obviously wouldn’t go after someone like Wade Davis, so Reed seems like the best option that will be cheaper than Holland. If Ottavino limits his walks down the stretch, though, I could see him getting this job as well.
After trading Justin Wilson, the Tigers are currently using Shane Greene as their closer. I think Greene will do just fine in this role, but I think his fit is better in a setup role than can be used for multiple innings and not tied to a specific time of the game. Fortunately, Detroit has one of the more intriguing relief prospects in baseball in Jimenez. The rest of this season will be his audition for 2018, and if he passes I imagine he’ll get the job out of the gate.
With the Royals trading Herrera—and, in my mind, Joakim Soria as well—I don’t think they’ll then go and spend money or prospects on a new closer. Fortunately, they just traded for a pitcher with closer experience and one who is under control for two more years after this one. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maurer was dealt at next year’s deadline, but I think he’s the easy favorite to be their closer to start 2018.
Bud Norris’ success as a closer for the Angels this year has been one of the most unexpected storylines of the season. He’s starting to falter a bit, though, and Bedrosian always has been the most talented arm in this bullpen. He’ll take his rightful spot in the ninth inning when next year starts, if not earlier.
I went back and forth on this one a lot. On the one hand, I think the Twins will target a new closer from outside the organization. On the other hand, I don’t really see a good fit that will be available. I considered having them bring Brandon Kintzler back, but instead I’ll say they stay in-house as Hildenberger has impressed this year. If he continues to pitch well down the stretch the Twins could decide to stick with them next year. Other options include Taylor Rogers and Michael Tonkin.
Oakland A’s: Liam Hendriks
When the Athletics first acquired Blake Treinen in the Sean Doolittle trade, my immediate sense was that they were trying to build his value down the stretch to trade him in the offseason. He’s now their closer, and that just makes it more likely to me that he’ll be dealt. That leaves an open closer spot, which should be handed to Hendriks to build his value and to be traded at next year’s deadline.
Brad Hand wasn’t traded at the deadline this year, but I don’t expect that to be the case this winter. With more time for negotiation and more teams with roster spots to fill, someone will pay up for one of the best left-handed relievers in the game. The rebuilding Padres certainly won’t pay big for a new closer, but instead will turn to a hopefully-healthy Capps. If he isn’t healthy, Phil Maton is another in-house possibility.
Frankly, I’m a little surprised Kela isn’t the closer already. Alex Claudio and Jose LeClerc are both fine, but Kela clearly has the most upside in this bullpen. He’ll grab the job before this year is over and it will be all his by the time next season begins.
Washington Nationals: Wade Davis
This just seems like the most obvious fit ever. Davis easily will be the most sought-after closer available this winter, and the Nationals are never afraid of the big free-agency splash. They opted not to make that splash in the bullpen this past winter, and I’d be surprised if they make that mistake again. Sean Doolittle would be fine if they kept him as their closer, particularly with a healthy Koda Glover behind him, but I don’t think Washington will be able to help themselves.