Many sites, including this one, have been rolling our early rankings for 2015 in an attempt to give owners a leg up on what to expect in 2015. On Monday we gave your our Dynasty Rankings for relief pitchers and followed that up on Friday with 2015 rankings. While rankings are a fine tool, they don’t tell the whole story when it comes to closers. With other positions and using first base as an example, the guy ranked number twenty – Mark Trumbo in this case, will still have a job come July (short of an injury). Even Brandon Belt at number twenty-five will still be on the field when mid-season rolls around. You can’t say the same thing about the closer position.
The closer job is one of the most volatile ones in baseball, not just because of injuries but for the potential for demotions as well. How many of the closers that were drafted lost their job last at some point in 2014 leaving owners to scramble to the waiver wire? Most times, like in cases dealing with demotions, you can see and anticipate this as the writing was on the wall. You can see over the course of a month or two which jobs would be in jeopardy. Well, the same thing applies in the off-season. We can look at a closers past performances and anticipate which jobs are secure as well as which ones are in danger. That is what I will attempt to do here today as I take a stroll through the bullpens of all 30 teams to see which closers are safe to draft, which ones might be facing a demotion during the season and which bullpens have a closer role up for grabs.
The Safe Bets
Closers to draft with no fear (other than an injury).
Atlanta Braves – Craig Kimbrel: It doesn’t get any safer than this. Kimbrel will be the first closer off the board in almost all drafts and for good reason. Four seasons of 95+ strikeouts along with 42+saves, and three straight seasons with a WHIP of 0.91 or lower and an ERA of 1.61 or lower.
Baltimore Orioles – Zach Britton: He didn’t start the year in the 9th, but by season’s end Britton was a top 5 closer and goes into 2015 with job security (at least one would assume). My only concern is can he repeat himself? If he can’t, both Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day are still there. He comes in at #8 in our early 2015 rankings so I would draft him with confidence.
Cleveland Indians – Cody Allen: Allen’s ERA, WHIP and BAA have all gone down each year while the strikeouts have increased. Given his improvements and the numbers he has put up to date, it would be a long shot for Axford to reclaim the closers role. Expect similar numbers in 2015 with a save total over 30. Allen comes in at #10 in the early ranking.
Cincinnati Reds – Aroldis Chapman: That’s three straight 100 strikeout seasons for Chapman along with 36+ saves in each of those years. Throw in a WHIP of 1.04 or lower, a career BAA of .147 and only 15 blown saves since coming into the league and you get one dominant specimen. At $5 million dollars the Reds won’t be trading him anytime soon. An almost unanimous choice for the #2 closer in the league.
Kansas City Royals – Greg Holland: His past two seasons have been scary similar as far as ERA (1.21 / 1.41), WHIP (0.87 / 0.91) Saves (47 / 46), strikeouts (103 / 90), BAA (.170 both seasons), home runs (3 each season), walks (18 / 20) and innings pitched (67 / 62.1). Holland ranked #3 in our rankings coming in just ahead of Kenley Jansen.
Los Angeles Angels – Huston Street: Health is the only thing keeping Street from being a top 10 closer each year. In three of the past four seasons he has had a WHIP of 1.02 or lower and an ERA of 1.85 or lower. He’s capable of throwing a strikeout an inning, but will more than likely come up a little short of that (just a little). Unlike the Padres, the Angels will be in the thick of the playoff picture so the odds of them trading Street are slim. Street comes in at #12; if not for the slight injury risk, he would probably be slightly higher.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Kenley Jansen: At 27 years old and a cost under $5 million, Jansen isn’t moving out of Los Angeles. If it weren’t for the 99 strikeouts in 2012, he would have had 3 straight 100 strikeout seasons. His career ERA is 2.25, but it could be lower if he learned to harness that big arm of his. Jansen ranked #4 in our early rankings, but you can flip a coin between him and Holland who just edged him out.
Miami Marlins – Steve Cishek: He won’t be eligible for free agency until 2018 and is an affordable option for the Marlins who appear like they want to win with the big signing of Stanton. He’s not a top 10 closer and he never will be, but he delivers solid strikeout numbers and 30+ saves. Cishek has short-term job security and is a safe draft choice for 2015. His early ranking was 17 so he’s one of the cheaper stable choices on this list.
Minnesota Twins – Glen Perkins: You’re looking at 35 saves, 75 strikeouts, an ERA around 2.5 and an acceptable WHIP. Perkins isn’t the best closer, but he is a good option with job security. He is 31 years old, will make under $5 million next year and under contract through 2017 with a club options for 2018. The Twins would be crazy to trade him with that salary given the market and I don’t see it happening, but it is the Twins. Perkins comes in at #13 just behind Street, but I might take him first for health reasons.
New York Yankees – Dellin Betances / Andrew Miller: Well, our early rankings were done and posted before the Andrew Miller shoe dropped. Betances came in at #6 with the assumption he would be the closer. There is no official word yet, but one would assume Miller and his 4 year $36 Million dollar contract were brought in to close. Even without a closer role, look at what Betances did in 2014. The ERA, WHIP and 100+ strikeouts made him playable in all league formats so he doesn’t need to be a closer to have value. If the Yankees decided to put him in the 9th and Miller setting up, he will more than earn his ranking. If Miller is the closer, drop Betances down out of the top 10 but still keep him on your draft board. As for Miller, he came in at #25 without a closer gig. I can see him moving up to the early teens if not cracking the top 10. Miller is another guy who still has value without being a closer.
Oakland A’s – Sean Doolittle: Doolittle didn’t allow an earned run from April 29th to June 28th. He repeated this feat again from July 6th to September 14th. Fantasy owners will get over a strikeout an inning, a WHIP below 1.0 and an ERA of 2.5 or lower. The A’s get a solid closing option for under a million dollars and only $1.5 million in 2016. If the A’s were worried about having a lefty in the closers role, they would have given the job to Ryan Cook. Since they didn’t, there is no reason for you to worry or speculate. Doolittle comes in at #7 and only one from the panel placed him higher than that..
Pittsburgh Pirates – Mark Melancon: Over the past two seasons, Melancon had an ERA below 2.0, a WHIP below 1.0 and almost a strikeout an inning. He is under 30 and arbitration eligible through 2017 so the price is right, and Pittsburgh isn’t trading away an arm as good (and cheap) as his. With an overall ranking of 9 and individual rankings between 9 and 11, the panel agrees.
Texas Rangers – Neftali Feliz: Feliz saved 40 games in 2010 and 32 in 2011, but things went south when Texas tried to shift him back to the starting role. If not for Joakim Soria’s spring, we might have seen Feliz sooner. The Rangers took care of that and shipped Soria off to Detroit mid-season and recalled their former closer. The velocity was down on his fastball upon his return, but he’s got all winter and spring to build up arm strength. I’m not in love with Feliz, but the Rangers are so his job is safe and he will be closing out games in 2015. His overall ranking was 22 making Feliz a reliable later round pick.
Safe to draft, but keep in mind they have viable options behind them should they stumble.
Chicago Cubs – Hector Rondon: Rondon had a very good sophomore season lowering all of his totals from 2013. The Cubs are happy with him, have stated that he will be their closer in 2015 and are not pursuing any free agent options for the closer role. I like Rondon as well and think he could be a very good mid level closer, but Rondon isn’t the only talented young pitcher in the bullpen. Neil Ramirez produced better numbers than Rondon and filled in for the closer role in June while Rondon was away. Rondon is the closer here, but he is inexperienced. Because he is not a seasoned veteran, it’s easier for the club to remove him if he struggles. Should that happen (and there is that possibility) Ramirez would be the man to step in. Don’t let that play into your decision on draft day though, just throwing that out there. With a ranking of 23, it won’t cost you much for Rondon and he could outperform his ADP.
St Louis Cardinals – Trevor Rosenthal: He took a step backwards in 2014 with an unplayable WHIP and frustrating ERA. If not for the 45 saves and 87 strikeouts, he probably would have been dropped in fantasy. The Cardinals stuck with him even with other viable options behind him in the bullpen. While the Cards showed their support in 2014, they might not be as forgiving in 2015 with former closer Jason Motte healthy. If a change does happen, it won’t be until mid-season or later, but if you see him struggle early keep his replacement on speed dial. Rosenthal comes in ranked at #11 so we have faith in him (well, most of us do).
Tampa Bay Rays – Jake McGee: McGee had a hiccup in 2013 but his 2012 and 2014 seasons were very close, posting an ERA under 2.0 and a WHIP under 1.0 in each season. The strikeouts have ticked up each year and while I don’t know if he will get another 90, the K/9 will be above 9.0. This should be a safe option, but Tampa will be under new management with Maddon’s departure. In my world McGee starts (and finishes) the year as closer, but the presence of Brad Boxberger can’t be ignored. McGee is a lefty and Boxberger is a righty, and depending on who the Rays bring in, they may not want a lefty closing (some managers are fickle that way). That uncertainty is probably why McGee came in at #16 in our rankings. If Tampa does switch things up and name Boxberger the closer, I would say The Box moves into McGee’s spot in the rankings with the potential to move higher with his Betances like strikeout potential.
Washington Nationals – Drew Storen: With Soriano gone, it is assumed Storen will step into the closer role. The former closer saved 43 games for the Nationals in 2011 and seems to have rediscovered himself after a down year in 2013. Unfortunately, you know what they say about assumptions, and the Nat’s have another guy who could easily steal Storen’s thunder. Tyler Clippard is the man who replaced Storen in 2012 and recorded 32 saves that year. While Clippard should be the setup man, he could easily find himself in the 9th inning should Storen’s numbers slip. It’s also entirely possible that Clippard starts the year as the closer with Storen setting things up in the 8th. Regardless of who closes, that player is a strong buy on draft day. Storen comes in at #15 overall, and with rankings from 10 to 21 he could go off the board at any time during the draft.
Secure Yet Unsecure Options
Closers that could find themselves traded at some point during the season.
Philadelphia Phillies – Jonathan Papelbon: Paps is in the final year of his contract (not counting the vesting option for 2016) and the Phillies are on the verge of going into full rebuild mode. Papelbon isn’t a bad closer, he’s just an expensive option and it’s that contract that has him on the hot seat. Should Philly deal Papelbon, there is the chance he could go to a team that already has a solid closer. Odds are, wherever he goes, it will be to a team that is in need of saves. It is that possibility that he ends up on a team as a middle relief pitcher or set up man that makes him unstable, but you can easily make a case for him to be a stable option. I would draft him with little fear, but I would also have Ken Giles on my watch list as he should be the first one called upon should Papelbon be dealt. At #15, Paps is still a top and stable option.
San Diego Padres – Joaquin Benoit: Like Papelbon, this is a stable option that can easily become an unstable one. Benoit is signed through 2015 with an $8 million dollar team option for 2016. The salary makes him an affordable option on any team, but we’re talking the Padres here. This is a team that had Huston Street under contract for one more year at a similar salary but opted to move him for future parts. Benoit faces the same reality should the Padres not improve much over last season. If you draft Benoit you’ll get a solid closing option, but there is a chance he could be worthless around the all star break. I wouldn’t hesitate in drafting Benoit, but if someone of similar value was available I might take the other option. I’m sure if his job were more secure, we would see a better ranking than 20. Something tells me that won’t change much when we update our rankings in March.
They hold the title of closer, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hold it all season.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Addison Reed: Reed ended the year as the closer, but that was under the Kirk Gibson regime. The Diamondbacks traded for Reed because they believed in his upside and potential, but he hasn’t done anything to earn anybody’s confidence. His numbers took a step back from what we saw in Chicago, a surprise going from the AL to the NL. Gibson stuck with Reed, but if Reed struggles again this year, there is a good chance we see someone else in the 9th inning come June/July. Brad Ziegler would be my first guess. While his numbers went up in 2014, his ERA was under 2.5 the previous 3 seasons and his WHIP and BAA were both very good in 2012 and 2013. Youngster Evan Marshall might be ready by this time and has the strikeout abilities you look for in a closer. A long shot would be Daniel Hudson who is rumored to move to the bullpen, and sometimes the best closers are former starting pitchers. Reed is in the bottom 10 of my top 30 and failed to make the overall top 25. I might gamble on him late, but he isn’t someone to target and is not someone to get attached to.
Boston Red Sox – Koji Uehara: He was the man in 2013 and the first three months of 2014 was more of the same. Then July came and so did the struggles, and things went downhill quickly from there. By September, Uehara was unplayable and his name was uttered in the same sentences as Joe Nathan. The Red Sox believe it was only a minor hiccup and handed him a 2 year deal worth $18 million dollars. Should fantasy owners show him the same faith? That’s for each man to decide. Koji has had a WHIP below 1.0 for five straight years and will give you very good strikeout numbers. On the flip side he turns 40 in April and was a lot more hittable in the second half of 2014. I think drafting him for his 2014 numbers is safe and paying for his 2013 season would be a mistake. I would avoid Uehara, and with a ranking of 19 most here agree (although he did receive one ranking of 11). Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa will be in waiting in the wings if things go awry.
Colorado Rockies – LaTroy Hawkins: Raise your hand if you think Hawkins will still be the Rockies closer next September. Surprisingly, the same number of people raised their hands when asked this question in March, zero. Hawkins defied the odds and un-impressively held the 9th inning gig for the entire season, but he can’t do it again, can he? At age 42? His fastball in 2014 was 93.1 MPH; that’s the highest it’s been since 2009 so the old man still has some gas in the tank. Still, time and history are not on his side, but the Rockies took a chance given his option was under 2.5 million. Rex Brothers was supposed to be the heir apparent, but he absolutely imploded in 2014 with a 1.85. That’s not Brothers ERA, that’s his WHIP. Adam Ottavino pitched OK, but nothing in his 2014 numbers scream closer role. That’s not to say that either of these pitchers can’t turn things around and steal the job. The odds favor their improvements over Hawkins not declining. I would not draft Hawkins, and right now I wouldn’t trust either of his potential replacements. Short of a lights out spring by Brothers or Ottavino (or a f/a signing by the Rockies), I’ll just avoid the Colorado’s bullpen on draft day. Oh, and nobody mentioned any of these players in the rankings, that should tell you something.
Detroit Tigers – Joe Nathan: The 2014 collapse of Nathan is well documented so there is no need to recap. Looking ahead, Nathan will make $10 in 2015 and has a $10 team option for 2016 with a $1 million dollar buyout. There is a chance that Nathan can bounce back, but at 40 years old you have to question what is left in the tank. Since this is his final year (as I see Detroit buying out his 2016 option), the possibility for a demotion is a reality. The Tigers traded for Joakim Soria so they have one option there, and Al Alburquerque is another name to consider (sorry, Bruce Rondon will have to wait another year). Nathan may start the year as the closer, but the odds are against him finishing the year in the 9th. I would rather do without a closer than roster Nathan, the saves aren’t worth the potential damage to your peripheral stats. Let someone else take the risk. Where did Nathan rank in the early rankings…..he didn’t, case closed.
New York Mets – Jenrry Mejia: This one could easily get filed under committee because, while Mejia finished the year as the Mets closer, it is no sure thing he will retain that job in 2015. The strikeout numbers were nice but that’s where the compliments end. The ERA was good, but good for a starting pitcher, not a closer. The WHIP was unacceptable, mostly due to the 41 walks in 93 innings. He has upside and potential, but so do a number of players behind him in the bullpen. Carlos Torres produced better numbers and has shown improvement for two years straight. Jeurys Familia also produced better numbers and has been mentioned a number of times when the closer conversation was brought up. Then there’s Vic Black whom the Mets have called a future closer. Don’t forget Bobby Parnell will be back in May, and if it wasn’t for Tommy John surgery we wouldn’t even be discussing those other names. Mejia is on a short leash, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Mets named someone else as closer in March. I wouldn’t touch Mejia in drafts. As for the rest, there are too many names to choose from so I would wait to see how this plays out. The winner is worth a waiver wire pickup when things get settled.
San Francisco Giants – Jean Machi: When the Giants finally had enough of Sergio Romo they turn to Machi. His numbers were solid despite the lack of strikeouts, but he wasn’t the Giants only choice when deciding which direction to go. Their former closer Santiago Casilla threw his name into the arena and posted the best numbers of his career. In the end they went with something new and the Jean Machine was unleashed. While Machi should be given the closer role, Casilla is still there so be prepared to flip-flop these two names. The Giants also have a title to defend so there is a better than average chance that San Fran signs an available f/a to close out games. If Machi is the closer come spring, he’s a rosterable low-end option. If the Giants sign a hired gun to close out games….well, we will deal with that in the spring bullpen report.
Seattle Mariners – Fernando Rodney: His two-year deal with the Mariners is over at the end of 2015, and $7 million dollars isn’t enough reason to keep him in the closer role. Sure Rodney can still strike out over a batter an inning, but let’s face facts here. This was just the second time in the past 9 years his ERA has been below 3.0, his BAA has gone up for two straight years and his second lowest WHIP since 2007 is a 1.32. Not exactly a confidence booster. He may start the year as the closer, but odds are we will see Tom Wilhelmsen or Danny Farquhar at some point. If all you are interested in is saves and strikeouts then draft Rodney, those two categories got him an 18 overall ranking. I would personally avoid him, wait for his demotion and then scoop up his understudy (whichever man it may be at that time).
Bullpens that have no clear-cut closer and could still sign an available f/a.
Chicago White Sox: There were plenty of saves to go around in 2014 with Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka, Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom all taking their turn playing closer. Baring an outside signing, this will come down to Petricka and Putnam in my opinion. Either one could make a good closer and one worthy of a late round flyer, but neither one is guaranteed success. I see a spring training battle coming if the Sox don’t bring in someone via free agency.
Houston Astros: The Astros settled on Chad Qualls in 2014. Does anyone really believe that Qualls will be the man closing out games again in 2015? Yea, me neither. The million dollar question is who will close? Unfortunately, unless the Astros go out and sign someone, we’ll all have to wait until spring training. If it’s anyone on their current squad, I would just skip the Astros come draft day and watch how things unfold there.
Milwaukee Brewers: The departure of K-Rod leaves the door open with several hopefuls vying for the same job. The odds are in favor of the $9 million dollar man Jonathan Broxton who has some closing experience. Another option is Jim Henderson who came out of nowhere to take the closer role in 2013. A third option to get jiggy with is Will Smith who had an incredible season going before getting shelled in July and August. All three players have had their ups and downs, but any one of them would be worth of a late round pick should they be named to the closer role. I would not get too attached to whoever wins the job though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone different in the closer role by year’s end.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays were in pursuit of Andrew Miller. Now that the Yankees have signed him, they will more than likely pursue another veteran arm or even attempt to resign their former closer Janssen. With the signing of Russell Martin and trade for Josh Donaldson, the Jays look to be committed to competing so they will have a big name in place one way or another before the season starts. If they sign or trade for an established closer, you can more than likely move that name under safe bets or stable options.
So there you go, about one-third of the league has a less than desirable option at closer (or no closer) which should narrow things down for you on draft day. Granted that can change as there are a number of name brand closers still looking for a job and fat contract. David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Casey Janssen are the five biggest names available. One of them will land in Toronto and my money says another goes to the Giants. Considering most of the big market money teams have closers, it will be up to the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Brewers and White Sox to play the white knight and sign the rest of these players. If not, they may have to settle for a RP role, less money and possibly a one year contract so they can try again in 2016. See you in March for the Spring edition of the closer carousel (which should line up with our updated 2015 RP rankings).