It’s crunch time boys and girls! Spring training is over for the A’s and Mariners. They kicked off the 2019 MLB regular season with two games in Japan. The rest of the league has a week until they take the field for their regular season openers, and several teams still have questions at the closer position. Let’s take a look at the state of the closer situation in the American League.
First, let’s define the terms. The Good Situations are those in which a team has one good closer who will get most of the saves. The Bad Situations are those with a few more variables. Maybe the team has one closer but there’s reason to think he’ll struggle this year. Maybe the team is rumored to be in talks with Craig Kimbrel, muddying up the waters of their current situation. Another bad situation is one in which the team is looking at more than one possibility at the position, but conventional wisdom says the pitcher who wins the battle will get most of the team’s saves. The Ugly Situations are those in which the manager has stated the team will have no set closer or there are still several pitchers battling for the position, but none of them are projected to be very good.
Since they’ve had a couple of teams play regular season games, let’s start with the AL West.
- The Good:
Oakland A’s – Blake Treinen – This one is easy. Treinen was outstanding in 2018 (his ERA and WHIP were both under 1.00) and his role as the team’s closer is unquestioned.
Texas Rangers – Jose LeClerc – It’s safe to say LeClerc won some fantasy players their leagues last year. He took over the closer role with about two months left in the season, and anyone who picked him up for that run was rewarded with a dozen saves, an ERA under 2.00, and a WHIP under 1.00. There is reason to be concerned about LeClerc’s BB% (19% or higher from 2016 through a four game stint in AAA in 2018), but his hold on the job and the Rangers’ faith in him (they inked him to a four deal in the off-season) make this a good closer situation.
Houston Astros – Roberto Osuna – I struggled with this one – almost lumped it in with the bad situations. “But Osuna is awesome!” you say. Yeah, he is. But even though his arrest for domestic violence didn’t result in a trial, we still can’t be convinced the issue that got him arrested is behind him. And, um… have you heard of Ryan Pressly? He was one of only eight relievers to finish with 100 or more Ks (101). Hader-esque and just waiting for an opportunity. The Astros could turn to him if Osuna struggles or has any off the field issues.
Los Angeles Angels – Cody Allen – This one is bad because, let’s face it, Allen had a horrible 2018 in Cleveland (4.70 ERA and 1.36 WHIP). The Angels signed him as a free agent in the off-season and are hoping the change of scenery helps Allen return to something closer to his 2017 numbers (30 saves, 2.94 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 32.6 K%, and 7.5 BB%). Further complicating the situation is the emergence of Ty Buttery as a viable closer option for the Angels last year. Could be a quick hook for Allen if he struggles.
- The Ugly:
Seattle Mariners – Hunter Strickland – After the unbelievable year Edwin Diaz had in 2017, the prospect of having Strickland close games has to be a bit disappointing. Strickland hasn’t had a K/9 over 9 since his first cup of coffee in the big leagues in 2014. He broke his hand hitting a wall after a poor performance last year. He just doesn’t seem to have the demeanor or the stuff that a team needs in its closer. Yet here he is. He got the call in both the Mariners games in Japan and pitched a clean 9thinning earning the save in each. Seems like a good start, but I still don’t trust him. And neither do Steamer, Depth Charts, or ZIPS which all have his teammate, Anthony Swarzak, projected for 21, 35, and 34 saves respectively.
- The Good:
Cleveland Indians – Brad Hand – Terry Francona has stated that Hand will be the closer in Cleveland. Closing for the Indians should provide Hand with the opportunity for 30 plus saves, and his 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 106 Ks from last year should have fantasy owners expecting big things from him in 2019.
- The Bad:
Chicago White Sox – Alex Colome – As of this writing, it looks like Colome will be the closer in Chicago. But Colome has said as late as March 20th that he has not yet been told what his role will be. The only other option the White Sox have is Kelvin Herrera who is working his way back from a foot injury. Herrera is a legitimate option, but I look for the White Sox to start the year with Colome in the role. The possibility that he could struggle and lose the role to Herrera makes this a bad situation.
- The Ugly:
Kansas City Royals – A Choice Between the Lesser of Two Evils – Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta are competing for the closer role KC. I view both of them as a last resort on draft day, but if it came to that choice I would take Boxberger. Even though he isn’t having the spring that Peralta is, Boxberger has done the job better for a longer period of time, and if it’s down to these two on draft day, that’s the deciding factor for me.
Detroit Tigers – Shane Greene – Greene had an ERA over 5.00 and a WHIP over 1.30 in 2018, his first full year as the closer for the Tigers. Joe Jimenez looks to be the heir apparent but has been erratic since his call up in 2017. There is little doubt that Greene will begin the year in the role and that Jimenez will take over at some point – that makes drafting either of them in re-draft leagues a losing proposition.
Further complicating things is the fact that Greene is having a slightly better spring so far in terms of ERA (1.13 versus 3.52 for Jimenez), but that’s where his spring edge ends. He has and 0.75 WHIP and only 4 Ks in 8 innings while Jimenez has a 0.56 WHIP and 10 Ks in 7.2 innings. I’m a Tigers fan and I’m running and hiding from these two on draft day.
Minnesota Twins – Your Guess is as Good as Mine – Trevor May? Taylor Rogers? Trevor Hildenberger? Possibly good ol’ Blake Parker? According to MLB.com, when asked about the closer role on March 12th, Rocco Baldelli, said “You might not ever get to the point where you’re giving firm answers on those sort of things.” I’m assuming the “you” and “you’re” he’s referring to his him. Regardless, no one seems to be giving any answers on the closer situation in Minnesota so that puts this situation squarely in the ugly category. If it’s late in the draft and you’re looking for upside, I’d take Trevor May. He’s also a good keeper/dynasty league option.
- The Good:
New York Yankees – Aroldis Chapman – This is probably the best of the good situations in the AL. Chapman has a stranglehold on the traditional closer role for the Yankees. He is a proven commodity with elite ratios and K%.
Baltimore Orioles – Mychal Givens – I know. I hear you. “Whaaaaaat?” You’re out of your mind, Clement!” Yup. I get it. But listen. He was unlucky last year. His ERA was 3.99 but he had a 3.07 FIP. His LOB% was 64.5% after having nothing less than 78.1% in any of his previous big league seasons. He gave up only 26% hard contact rate. Check out his Baseball Savant page.
Seven of his eight 2018 MLB Ranking indicators are well above average. The other is “only” above average. 92nd percentile in exit velocity, 85th percentile in xwOBA, 86th percentile in xSLG, 87th percentile in Hard Hit %. I know the Orioles aren’t going to have a lot of save opportunities, but when they do have them, they’re going to give them to Givens and he’s going to take care of business.
- The Bad:
Toronto Blue Jays – Ken Giles – I’m confident Giles is going to start the season as Toronto’s closer and am hopeful the change of scenery from Houston to Toronto is going to do him some good, and maybe he (and his fantasy owners) won’t feel the need to punch themselves in the face after each performance. “Confident” and “hopeful” don’t make the cut for a good situation, though. Yes, I know his blowups only came in non-closing situations. He didn’t blow a single save last year, but he seemed to be melting down due to poor performance once a week.
The Blue Jays have added Bud Norris this off-season, but he’s probably nothing more than insurance against Giles’ meltdowns coming in save situations. If you’re like me and don’t like to pay up early for closers, Giles is your guy (15threliever off the board and ADP of 153 according to Fantrax). But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- The Ugly:
Boston Red Sox – Another Guessing Game – Matt Barnes? Ryan Brasier? Re-sign Kimbrel? Barnes has the inside track on the job based on his performance last year, but Alex Cora’s reluctance to name him as the closer a week before the the season starts continues to keep fantasy baseball owners guessing. According Fantrax ADP, not only are they guessing, but they’re also none too confident selecting either Barnes or Brasier – currently the 48th and 64th relievers being drafted, respectively. Neither of them are being taken until after the likes of Joe Jimenez (46), Ty Buttery (45), and Wily Peralta (41). If Cora names Barnes as the closer between now and opening day, I still wouldn’t move this mess up any farther than the Bad Situations.
Tampa Bay Rays – Jose Alvarado – It has to be Alvarado, right? Not quite. Rumors still have them talking to Craig Kimbrel. Kevin Cash says he doesn’t plan to name a closer this season. So guess what. This one has to fall in the ugly category, at least for fantasy baseball owners. Even if they don’t sign Kimbrel, Cash’s words, the emergence of Diego Castillo, and the presence of Chaz Roe, Emilio Pagan, and Ryan Stanek make me wary of Alvarado as anything other than a late round flyer.