Throughout the season, I’ll be looking at bullpens for all 30 major league teams. As closers fall off one by one (and they will), I’ll prepare you for who is next in line. For holds leagues, I’ll list the most likely arms on each team to come through for you. Finally, I’ll list a sleeper from each bullpen that may find themselves in a key role that you need to keep an eye on.
Bruce Rondon has torn ligaments in his elbow and will have Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss all of 2014. Rondon was my favorite sleeper to dominate the holds category in 2014, with his 2.29 ERA and 28% K rate in the second half of 2013. He also was exceptional in high leverage situations with a 7:1 K/BB ratio. The Tigers are left with Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque in the 8th inning role setting up Joe Nathan. Alburquerque’s strong K rate make him a good speculative grab to be first in line for holds. Corey Knebel is a name to watch as the Tigers are going to need bullpen help sooner than later. He throws mid to high 90s heat with an excellent curveball. Knebel was the Texas Longhorns closer for 3 years before the Tigers drafted him in June with the intention of turning him into a starter. He dominated low A with a 35% K rate while holding hitters to a .131 batting average against. Somewhere along the lines the plan changed and Knebel stayed in his relief role during the Arizona Fall League. With the current needs of the Tigers, this 22-year-old could find himself moving very fast through the system and into a prominent spot in the Tigers pen in 2014.
Tier One: Super Hero Motion Pictures
These closers have superhuman abilities and are dedicated to protecting your team from the evils of Dr. Blown Save, hereafter referred to as B.S.
|1||Craig Kimbrel||Atlanta Braves||Luis Avilan||David Carpenter||Jordan Walden|
|2||Kenley Jansen||Los Angeles Dodgers||Brian Wilson||Chris Perez||Paco Rodriguez|
|3||Greg Holland||Kansas City Royals||Kelvin Herrera||Tim Collins||Aaron Crow|
|4||Trevor Rosenthal||St. Louis Cardinals||Carlos Martinez||Kevin Siegrist||Jason Motte|
Just four superheroes remain; the Avengers of baseball relief pitching. These four offer elite strike out rates and ratios, while pitching for excellent ball clubs, providing plenty of saves throughout the season.
Aroldis Chapman had successful surgery to repair facial fractures after taking a line drive to his face last week. When I talk about closer casualties I sure hope none are of this variety ever again! Chapman is expected to miss 6-8 weeks but I’d hold on to him everywhere; he could be a difference maker to you in the second half of the season. Chapman will, barring any setbacks, return to this tier when he is back able to get on the mound. Godspeed young Aroldis.
Carlos Martinez lost the 5th starter position battle; what is the Cardinals rotation loss is their bullpen’s gain. Expect elite numbers from this pitcher who will help all of your ratios, and in points leagues may out-produce most closers. It’s a shame he’s not starting, but pairing Martinez with Trevor Rosenthal will provide dominance in holds and points leagues.
Tier Two: Westerns
These cowboys are tough, honorable and ready to inflict their own personal justice on opposing hitters.
|5||Koji Uehara||Boston RedSox||Edward Mujica||Junichi Tazawa||Andrew Miller|
|6||Joe Nathan||Detroit Tigers||Joba Chamberlain||Al Alburquerque||Ian Krol|
|7||David Robertson||New York Yankees||Shawn Kelley||Matt Thornton||Dellin Betances|
|8||Glen Perkins||Minnesota Twins||Jared Burton||Casey Fien||Michael Tonkin|
Dellin Betances is having an excellent spring; he’s a big 6’8″ imposing presence on the mound throwing mid 90s heat. He’s caught in a numbers game with his one remaining option, but I suspect if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he’ll be a presence before long. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a good source for holds in 2014.
Glen Perkins signed an extension in Minnesota, solidifying his closer profile even further. He really is one of the best in baseball and often goes under-appreciated. Heck, I’m guilty of it putting him at #8 instead of #6.
Tier Three: Dramas
As in film this is the largest group assembled. These closers have big questions and real conflicts. You’ll see their best, their worst and everything in between. Tragically, some of these closers will not survive the season while others will persevere and triumph.
|9||Jason Grilli||Pittsburgh Pirates||Mark Melancon
|10||Jim Johnson||Oakland Athletics||Sean Doolittle
|11||Grant Balfour||Tampa Bay Rays||Joel Peralta||Jake McGee
|12||Sergio Romo||San Francisco Giants||Santiago Casilla||Javier Lopez
|13||Steve Cishek||Miami Marlins||Mike Dunn
|14||Ernesto Frieri||Anaheim Angels||Dane De La Rosa
||Joe Smith||Kevin Jepsen
|15||Casey Janssen||Toronto Blue Jays||Sergio Santos||Brett Cecil||Steve Delabar|
|16||Addison Reed||Arizona Diamondbacks||David Hernandez||Oliver Perez||J.J. Putz/ Brad Ziegler
|17||Fernando Rodney||Seattle Mariners||Danny Farquhar||Charlie Furbush
|18||Jim Henderson||Milwaukee Brewers||Francisco Rodriguez
|19||Bobby Parnell||New York Mets||Vic Black
|20||Nate Jones||Chicago White Sox||Matt Lindstrom||Scott Downs||Donnie Veal|
|21||Joakim Soria||Texas Rangers||Neal Cotts||Jason Fraser||Neftali Feliz|
Jason Grilli is looking good in spring training and all indications are that he’s good to go for the start of the season.
Casey Janssen pitched in his first spring game on Monday topping out at 86mph, allowing two hits in his inning of work. The velocity should hopefully go up in his remaining spring outings.
Addison Reed, in one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, has been officially named the Diamondbacks closer. Having J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler stink up the joint in spring training couldn’t have hurt.
Nate Jones has not been officially named the White Sox closer yet. I’m really not sure what the hold up is here as he clearly has the best stuff out of the contenders. Like Reed, this is really a no-brainer.
Ron Washington finally revealed his 2014 closer and it is Joakim Soria. Soria is having a spectacular spring and has the potential to put up big save numbers this year. He keeps the ball on the ground (always helpful in Arlington) with a good strike out rate. His inflated BB rate in his brief return from Tommy John last season isn’t in line with his career norms. While there is risk involved with all pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery, this is a guy who could be a top 10 option as the season moves on. Neftali Feliz has been assigned to AAA but I would still consider him the heir apparent.
Tier Four: Disaster Films
Be prepared for the shipwreck that’s coming. Whether by injury, age or diminishing arsenal these closers are about to be left to freeze and die in the Arctic Ocean.
|22||Huston Street||San Diego Padres||Joquain Benoit||Nick Vincent||Dale Thayer|
|23||Jonathan Papelbon||Philadelphia Phillies||Mike Adams||Antonio Bastardo||Jacob Diekman|
|24||Rafael Soriano||Washington Nationals||Tyler Clippard
|25||Tommy Hunter||Baltimore Orioles||Darren O’Day||Ryan Webb
|26||John Axford||Cleveland Indians||Cody Allen||Mark Rzepczynski||Bryan Shaw|
Huston Street has now pitched two spring innings striking out four batters without allowing a hit. He looks like he’ll be ready for the start of the season. Joaquin Benoit has looked great as well and this could be a very dominant bullpen (as usual) if Street stays healthy. He’s the most likely closer in this group to move up the rankings.
Tommy Hunter and John Axford have fly ball tendencies and have given up a combined 3 home runs in 14 innings this spring. They’re both pitching well though and may not end up being disasters, yet I’d be surprised if both of them held the position for the entire season. Axford has a better strikeout rate, but he also walks too many for it to give him an advantage over Hunter.
Jonathan Papelbon and Rafael Soriano have combined to pitch 12 innings this spring allowing 16 runs (11 earned). These guys can hurt your ratios even if they manage to hold on to their closer roles for the season.
Tier Five: Mysteries
Secrets, plot twists and unpredictability are all the order of the day. While some leave you asking “whodunit”, the mystery with others is “what are they thinking?”
|27||Latroy Hawkins||Colorado Rockies||Rex Brothers||Matt Belisle
|28||Jose Veras||Chicago Cubs||Pedro Strop
||Blake Parker||James Russell
||Cincinnati Reds||Sam Leclure||Manny Parra||Sean Marshall/ Jonathan Broxton
|30||Chad Qualls/ Josh Fields
||Houston Astros||Matt Albers||Kevin Chapman||Jesse Crain
In Chapman’s absence, Bryan Price has not committed to anyone, making this a closer by committee. J.J. Hoover figures to get the bulk of the opportunities with Manny Parra and Sam Leclure also figuring into the mix. Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton will start the season on the DL but either could be a closing option upon their return, making this a really messy situation for fantasy.
Bo Porter has announced that he will go with a closer by committee to start the season. This is bad news for Chad Qualls and Josh Fields owners hoping to have made the correct grab. Neither is a great option as a part-time closer and they can be ignored in all formats.