This has been a tough year for closers. Approximately one-third of the closer jobs have changed hands due to injuries, inefficiencies and demotions, and odds are we will have another half-dozen before the month is over. It’s gotten so bad that several teams have resorted to using the one word fantasy owners hate to hear, the dreaded “C” word. That word is…..Committee (get your mind out of the gutter). Having a closer by committee creates havoc among owners and a shortage of players to use at the closer position. Sure you can throw a dart at the board and hope to hit a bullseye, but we’d rather have something more concrete. Below are some of those committee situations along with some other bullpens that are or could be in flux in the near future.
In Los Angeles, it looked like Ernesto Frieri was given his closer job back. Not so fast there as it was Joe Smith closing out the ninth on Wednesday to pick up the saves. Smith has been the most consistent of the two men, but he doesn’t have the strikeout potential Frieri has. If you’re a Smith owner I would hold him for now. Frieri may be the preferred choice of the Angels, but he has had problems with walks and home runs in the past. This is a two-man committee situation with no rhyme or reason to it, just two men and thousands of fantasy teams at the mercy of Mike Scioscia. Long term it should be Frieri, but if he falters you know exactly where to turn to.
When John Axford was demoted, many assumed (including myself) that Cody Allen would be the man for saves. Terry Francona threw us a curveball when Bryan Shaw received the first save opportunity. I didn’t see that one coming, but after giving it some thought, it kind of makes sense. Odds are Axford will receive another shot to close out games. Everyone knows that Cody Allen is the future closer for the Indians (Including Franconna). Putting Allen in there now (no matter how much sense it makes) would mean that Allen’s time is Now. There is no going back to Axford with Allen in the 9th inning so giving Shaw an opportunity seems logical. Not many will clamor away when Axford replaces Shaw in the 9th but there would be plenty of angry Indians fans if Axford replaced Allen. For now, Shaw is the man to add if you are looking for saves in Cleveland. Just keep in mind this is more than likely a short-term add and that Axford (for better or worse) will be back in there before long if he shows some signs of life. I would still add Allen if you have the room and your closers are lacking.
As I stated a few days ago the Mets made a change, demoting Kyle Farnsworth (who opted for his release) and going with a full-blown committee situation. Jeurys Familia would seem like the smart add and long-term choice, but managers don’t always do what we expect them to do. Jose Valverde has the experience and has pitched well as of late, but veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka has also pitched well and was named several times as a possibility even before Farnsworth was jettisoned. Jenrry Mejia also threw his hat in the closer ring on Saturday nailing down his first career save. The Mets seemed to have cooled on Carlos Torres so while he is still an option, he’s more of a dark horse candidate but still and option. If you are desperate for saves you can take a shot at Familia, but the Mets haven’t had that many save opportunities to date so I don’t see a rush to add anyone just yet. Sit tight and keep your ears open and wait until this one plays out. When a decision is made here, you should be able to mosey on over to the waiver wire at your own convenience.
In Baltimore, Tommy Hunter was named closer to start the season as he was the best viable option. On May 6th he lowered his ERA down to a nifty 2.31, but then disaster struck. Over the next 4 games he saw that ERA shoot up over 6.0. He managed to get the save in those first two games but was charged with 2 blown saves and a loss in the next two. Zach Britton was called upon Thursday in the 9th and recorded his first save of the season. The Orioles haven’t said that a change is coming, but it’s not like they have committed a huge salary to Hunter that would prevent them from making a swap. Britton has been very good this year, but so has Darren O’Day. Both men have an ERA below 1.0 and have both converted saves this year. Conventional wisdom would suggest that O’Day would be next in line for the closers job since Britton is a lefty; like I stated above, managers don’t always do what we think they should do. If Hunter continues to struggle, we could have a committee situation here with O’Day & Britton sharing the closing duties depending on who is coming up in the 9th. Add both men to your watch list and even consider O’Day as a speculative add, a change could come at any time.
Chad Qualls continues his hold on the closers job in Houston, and with Anthony Bass hitting the DL it seems his job is a little more secure. That’s not saying much about Qualls, it’s just that the Houston bullpen is a mess and Qualls is the lesser of all the evils. Recently signed Tony Sipp or Kyle Farnsworth could both throw their hat into the closer ring. Granted any sort of move here by Houston and fantasy owners would be pointless as Jesse Crain is on schedule to return in 2-3 weeks. Those desperate for saves could take a flyer on Qualls, but one or two missteps and Crain will be right in there. He won’t get many more save opportunities than Qualls, but at least his ratios will be playable.
Jim Johnson’s name continues to be brought up as the closer despite the fact he keeps giving the A’s a reason to move on. Luke Gregerson was the man in charge while things were in flux, but he has fallen on rocky times as of late. Sean Doolittle has been dominant the past two weeks and to steal a line from Scott White, “Doolittle could soon do lots”. With 7.1 scoreless innings, 1 win and 1 save the past two weeks, it would seem logical to just pull the plug on the Johnson experiment and move on. If you’re a Jim Johnson owner, do yourself a favor and dump him and save yourself the headaches and damage to your ERA/WHIP. I would move on Doolittle now, he’s ranked behind Gregerson & Johnson on the depth charts, but clearly has the stuff to handle the job. Management in Oakland are also fans of Doolittle, they just need remove the J.J. albatross.
I discussed Trevor Rosenthal’s struggles the other day and the impending return of former closer Jason Motte. This one is all speculation, but it is something to monitor closely. Rosenthal seems to be doing what Edward Mujica did in the final month last season and while the strikeouts are there, it’s clear he’s not the man we thought he would be. A move to the 8th inning might be best for all involved, and with Motte potentially returning today (Sunday) it might be only a matter of time before he reclaims his old job. Lets see how Motte does upon his return though before we jump to any conclusions.
Kirk Gibson stated this week that Addison Reed is still his closer and there is no controversy here. If ever there was a kiss of death for a closer, it’s when a manager utters these words in public. Reed has 5 saves in the past 2 weeks, but he also owns an ERA of 7.94 along with a WHIP of 1.59 during that time. Brad Ziegler had a blow up on Wednesday, the difference is that was only the second game this season he allowed runs to score. Considering Reed’s struggles, the fact that his ERA is double Ziegler’s and now Gibson reassuring people that Reed is still the closer, one has to wonder if Reed’s job is really secure. The Diamondbacks are in the basement in the West and they have already started making changes in the starting rotation, the bullpen seems like the next logical choice. For 10 and 12 team leagues I would sit still and be ready to jump on Ziegler if they announce Reed’s demotion (or grab him if you have an extremely deep bench). For leagues with 14 teams or more, I would find a spot for Ziegler now if you’re in the need of help. If Reed turns things around in the next few weeks you can just drop Ziegler, but if he doesn’t you have the next guy in line for saves before anyone else.
Some days Grant Balfour looks like the guy we saw in Oakland the past two years, and other days he heads to the hill to do his best John Axford imitation. Thursday Balfour gave up 1 hit, walked 2 and allowed 3 runs without recording an out. His next 3 performances will be fine; that’s Balfour’s M.O. this season, lull you into a false sense of security and then BOOM. An ERA over 6.00 is not what the last place Rays need, especially with a half way decent pitching staff. Meanwhile Jake McGee continues to get guys out (zero runs the past 2 weeks). The Rays are on the hook for 4 million this year but Balfour’s price tag goes up to 7 million next season. Odds are the Rays will continue to send Balfour out there in hopes he turns in enough good performances in a row so they can ship him out of town. If those BOOMS start to get closer together though, McGee is where you should be looking. We’ve got some time before that happens, but the clock is now ticking.
Below are my current closer rankings and the (alleged) player next in line to for save opportunities. A number of the higher ranked closers will need an injury (or Tanya Harding incident) to remove them from their current role, while some of the lower ranked closers will probably put themselves out of work by their own doing.
Job security (1 = All Clear, 2 = solid ground, 3 = shaky ground, 4 = rocky ground, 5 = Avalanche…RUN
|Team||Next in Line||DL|
|1||Craig Kimbrel||1||Braves||David Carpenter|
|2||Kenley Jansen||1||Dodgers||Chris Perez|
|3||Greg Holland||1||Royals||Wade Davis|
|4||Koji Uehara||1||RedSox||Junichi Tazawa|
|5||Aroldis Chapman||1||Reds||Jonathan Broxton|
|6||Francisco Rodriguez||1||Brewers||Will Smith||Jim Henderson|
|7||Trevor Rosenthal||1||Cardinals||Carlos Martinez||Jason Motte|
|8||Sergio Romo||1||Giants||Santiago Casilla|
|9||Glen Perkins||1||Twins||Casey Fien|
|10||Huston Street||1||Padres||Joaquin Benoit|
|11||Joe Nathan||1||Tigers||Al Alburquerque||Joel Hanrahan|
|12||David Robertson||2||Yankees||Adam Warren|
|13||Rafael Soriano||2||Nationals||Tyler Clippard|
|14||Jonathan Papelbon||2||Phillies||Mike Adams|
|15||Steve Cishek||2||Marlins||A.J. Ramos|
|16||Joakim Soria||2||Rangers||Alexi Ogando|
|17||Addison Reed||2.5||Diamondbacks||Brad Ziegler|
|18||Mark Melancon||2||Pirates||Tony Watson||Jason Grilli|
|19||LaTroy Hawkins||3||Rockies||Adam Ottavino|
|20||Hector Rondon||3||Cubs||Justin Grimm||Pedro Strop|
|21||Casey Jannsen||3||Blue Jays||Brett Cecil||Sergio Santos|
|22||Fernando Rodney||3||Mariners||Danny Farquhar|
|23||Ernesto Frieri||3.5||Angels||Joe Smith|
|24||Matt Lindstrom||3||White Sox||Daniel Webb||Nate Jones|
|25||Grant Balfour||3||Rays||Jake McGee|
|26||Tommy Hunter||3.5||Orioles||Darren O’Day|
|27||Jim Johnson||4||Athletics||Sean Doolittle|
|28||Bryan Shaw||4||Indians||Cody Allen|
|29||Chad Qualls||5||Astros||Tony Sipp||Jesse Crain|
This weeks movers and shakers and other bullpen notes.
- Tommy Hunter drops down to #26 due to his recent blow-ups discussed above.
- K-Rod continue to rise in the rankings, coming in at #6 this week. He is the top ranked closer in the league but he has had some rocky years prior to 2014. He’ll have to earn his way to the top spot each week.
- Sergio Romo also gets bumped up one spot with 3 saves this week. Just like K-Rod, Romo is currently one of the top closers in the league but needs to keep performing if he wants to continue moving up.
- Addison Reed drops down 4 spots and while he continues to get saves, his peripherals are horrible and Brad Ziegler is breathing down his throat.
- With Jordan Walden hitting the DL, David Carpenter moves into the on deck circle should something happen to Craig Kimbrel.
- Same goes for Adam Warren of the Yankees who temporarily moves into recently DL’d Shawn Kelley’s seat.
- With Anthony Bass on the DL, recently signed Tony Sipp moves into the setup role. Farnsworth could move into the setup role as well if the Astros choose to go with a veteran.
- Casey Janssen & Aroldis Chapman are back for their respective teams. That means Jonathan Broxton and the committee in Toronto should be finding their way back to the waiver wire (if they already haven’t).
- Sean Doolittle replaces Luke Gregerson as the next in line for saves and could easily be named closer if/when Oakland gets over their infatuation with Jim Johnson.
- Jason Grilli declared himself ready to return. Management hasn’t given any indication on what the next steps will be. Regardless of their decision, look for Grilli to return sometime in the next few week. That means Mark Melancon’s usefulness is coming to an end.
- Wade Davis wasn’t a good starting pitcher, but he makes a hell of a setup man. He should be owned in 12 team mixed leagues.
- Tom Wilhelmsen has straightened out his problems from last season. He could challenge Danny Farquhar for the setup roll or even save chances should Rodney be replaced or go down