In fantasy baseball, the closer’s role experiences the most turnover over the course of a season. Every year, guys who appear to be locks for high-end production fall off and get replaced. It is truly a never-ending battle for any fantasy owner. Sure, Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, and Craig Kimbrel exist, but a premium price must be paid on Draft Day if an owner wants a virtual lock for a closer.
There are multiple arms still available in free agency that could change the current closing landscape, like Greg Holland for example, but here are some predictions on who every teams’ closer will be at the All-Star break:
Houston Astros: Ken Giles
Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, and Joe Smith all have some experience in high-leverage situations, but none are quite as talented as Giles. With a career 12.4 K/9 and 2.25 FIP, Giles definitely should remain the closer for the defending champs through the All-Star break.
Los Angeles Angels: Cam Bedrosian
Bedrosian has always possessed the electric stuff to profile as a closer, but injuries have derailed him from fulfilling his potential. This could be a rebound year for Bedrosian, as Huston Street is no longer under contract. Manager Mike Scioscia has already stated that he plans to open the 2018 season with a committee approach. Blake Parker, the incumbent closer, may get the first crack at the job given his success in the role last season. The Jim Johnson signing may also complicate matters, but Cam Bedrosian possesses the most upside of the trio and could secure sole possession of the role by the middle of the season.
Texas Rangers: Keone Kela
At 24 years old, Keone Kela is primed to be the Rangers closer of the future. Kela demonstrates outstanding strikeout ability with a 12.1 K/9 last season, although he does tend to keep the ball in the air, diminishing his chances of winning the job out of Spring Training. Alex Claudio is a solid reliever who will not rack up strikeouts the way Kela will, but may earn the role to begin the 2018 campaign. Keone Kela’s pure upside is a reason to give him a long look as a fantasy asset, if he does secure the job at some point this season.
Seattle Mariners: Edwin Diaz
Edwin Diaz is a promising young closer with an electric fastball that averages 97 MPH and the ability to miss bats with a 16.1% swinging strike rate last season. Diaz is slightly volatile, as he lost his job for a short period in 2017, but will be Seattle’s top bullpen arm heading into 2018. The Mariners brought in Juan Nicasio and David Phelps over the last calendar year, but neither player poses a significant threat to Diaz’s role. Edwin Diaz will rack up strikeouts, evident by a 13.6 K/9 in his career, and has the upside to be a top-5 MLB closing option this season.
Oakland Athletics: Blake Treinen
Blake Treinen turned his nightmare first half performance with the Nationals into a stellar second half with the A’s. Treinen has one of the most electric pitches in baseball in his arsenal, a sinker that can reach triple digits. Santiago Casilla has some experience and Ryan Dull is an intriguing option, but Blake Treinen with a well above-average 58.4% groundball rate and a solid 13.1% swinging strike rate is the best closing option available to Oakland to begin the 2018 season. He is also the best bet out of the A’s bullpen to maintain that role until the end of the season.
Cleveland Indians: Cody Allen
Allen has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball for the last four seasons. He has had a sub-3.00 ERA every season since he earned the 9th inning job for Cleveland in 2014. Andrew Miller is quite possibly the better pitcher, but it has become apparent that manager Terry Francona prefers to utilize Miller at various points in games, diminishing the chance that Miller overtakes Allen’s role. Allen will bring solid ratios and an above-average strikeout total to fantasy owners, and at his current NFBC ADP of 120, he may be a steal on Draft Day.
Minnesota Twins: Fernando Rodney
Minnesota has two options for the ninth inning role heading into spring with Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney. Rodney is as volatile as closers come, although his FIP ended at a healthy 3.03 last season. Reed is the more intriguing fantasy option of the two, but regression is to be expected. A low BABIP (.266), a higher FIP (3.67), and an unsustainable strand rate (86.9%) all point to this season not matching up to the last. Although Rodney is not exciting and is aging, he still has the ability to get hitters out. It’s a true 50/50 on who will win the job out of camp and who will have the job at the midpoint of the season.
Chicago White Sox: Nate Jones
The list of Jones’ injuries is pretty long. Back surgery, Tommy John, and nerve reconstruction have sidelined him for most of the last four seasons. When he has been on the mound though, he has flashed serious potential with career marks of 10.0 K/9 and 3.12 ERA. While Juan Minaya and Joakim Soria will be the favorites for the role this spring, do not count Nate Jones out. If he can remain healthy until the All-Star break, he could acquire the role and enjoy some success in it.
Kansas City Royals: Kelvin Herrera
Herrera is coming off his worst season in the big leagues, and to many in the fantasy community, is to be considered unreliable. Prior to 2017, Herrera was viewed as a shutdown reliever. That changed last season when he was moved out of the set-up role and into the closer’s role. There is reason to be discouraged, but he still has an electric arm. Kansas City is in the midst of a rebuild and nobody behind Herrera is a viable option for the 9th inning, all but securing his role. He may also be involved in trade discussion this season, so it is likely that he gets traded to a team that will use him as a set-up man.
Detroit Tigers: Shane Greene
The Tigers are projected to be a bottom-of-the-barrel team this season, not boding well for Greene’s chances to rack up saves. However, nobody out of Detroit’s pen has the raw ability to displace him. Greene is not exactly exciting, but he did have a 2.66 ERA in 2017 and should maintain sole possession of the 9th inning job for the entirety of the 2018 campaign.
New York Yankees: Aroldis Chapman
Chapman is one of the top-tier closers in the game, although he did not exactly show that last season. Chapman pitched poorly enough that Dellin Betances seized the role from him for about a month. The Yankees are loaded with outstanding bullpen arms, but Chapman is a man among boys, posting a 1.63 ERA in 2015, a 1.55 ERA in 2016, and a career K/9 of about 15. Plenty of save opportunities will find him this season, as the Yankees figure to be one of the marquee teams in baseball in 2018. Owners should feel confident in drafting him at his current NFBC ADP of 77, which is a round later than Corey Knebel.
Boston Red Sox: Craig Kimbrel
Craig Kimbrel had one of the best seasons ever for a closer in 2017. Kimbrel posted a 1.43 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 16.4 K/9 (!), and an absurd 19.8 swinging strike rate. A 93.9% strand rate tells us Kimbrel is going to regress, but he still figures to be a lock for top-five closer production.
Tampa Bay Rays: Alex Colome
Colome led the league in saves in 2017 with 47, but a decline in saves should be expected and an strikeout rate below a strikeout per inning last season should provide a source of apprehension in selecting him on Draft Day. Colome’s SIERA sat above 4.00, and his ability to miss bats decreased last season. His job is not imminently in danger, but with a farm system stacked with pitching, the Rays could find an arm to replace him as the go-to guy in the ninth. Colome’s current NFBC ADP (150) is not far off from where he should be going in drafts, and if his stock continues to plummet, he could be a nice buy-low option as an RP2.
Toronto Blue Jays: Roberto Osuna
Osuna has transformed into an elite closer at such a young age. He didn’t have an outstanding second half but his FIP for the 2017 campaign was 1.74, an absolutely elite mark. He has always provided strikeouts and a low WHIP due to his elite strike-throwing ability and has a chance this season to solidify himself among the likes of Jansen and Kimbrel. He is currently going behind Chapman and prior to Edwin Diaz in terms of NFBC ADP, but has a strong chance to give some return on the investment.
Baltimore Orioles: Brad Brach
Brad Brach filled in for Zach Britton as the closer for Baltimore last season and excelled. He is currently projected to resume his duties in the ninth inning, at least until Britton returns from injury in late-May/early-June. Although Zach Britton is a top-tier closer when healthy, Baltimore may not want to run the risk of having him close and fail upon return, as they could trade him for more assets if he succeeds in a set-up role. Brach could definitely revert back to the 8th inning job as this is pure speculation, but Britton’s health concerns combined with Brach’s ability could allow Baltimore to go in a variety of directions when determining their ninth inning plans.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
Plain and simple, Kenley Jansen is the best closer in baseball. In each of the last two seasons, he has posted a FIP below 1.50. Pitching for one of the best teams in baseball in addition to his effectiveness will guarantee strikeouts and saves galore. If your strategy is to draft closers early, Kenley Jansen is worth the early-round investment.
Colorado Rockies: Wade Davis
Recently signed by the Rockies, Davis will see regression in ERA and WHIP moving to Coors Field. He has been an outstanding closer the last few years, but his ERA will be a lot closer to 3.00 than the 2.30 he posted with the Cubs last season. The Rockies figure to be a solid force in the NL West and Davis could benefit from a great deal of save opportunities, but it is always good to be cautious with Colorado closers.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley
Torey Lovullo used Bradley similar to the way Francona uses Andrew Miller last season, throwing in any inning and for various amounts. Bradley was a failed starter to begin his career, but has found new life in the pen. Brad Boxberger had a few solid years for Tampa Bay and newly-signed Yoshihisa Hirano has closing experience overseas, but neither are as talented as Bradley. Lovullo could deploy Bradley in a similar role to last year and have one of the other two options close, but that 1.73 ERA in 2017 bodes well for his chances of earning the role for the entirety of 2018.
San Francisco Giants: Mark Melancon
The Giants have a plethora of intriguing arms in their pen like Sam Dyson, Tony Watson, and Hunter Strickland, but it is Melancon who gets paid closer money. Although Melancon struggled last year in limited time, he has been one of the most consistent relievers over the last four seasons posting an ERA just under 2.00. Fully expect Melancon to bounce back in his second season in a Giants uniform and seek solid value for him on Draft Day.
San Diego Padres: Brad Hand
Brad Hand is currently projected to be the Padres closer to open the 2018 season and for good reason. They signed him to a three-year extension following a season where he posted a 2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 11.8 K/9. Carter Capps (when healthy) is a strong option to close and the fact that Hand could still be traded on a team-friendly contract limits his upside. Hand’s hypothetical new team could deploy him as a set-up man, which would obviously decrease his fantasy value.
Chicago Cubs: Brandon Morrow
The Cubs recently signed Morrow away from the Dodgers and Theo Epstein has already provided a vote of confidence in him, naming Morrow the closer before camp even started. Carl Edwards Jr. could have been a viable option for the role and still could be if Morrow returns to the pitcher he was before last season. Brandon Morrow has always been injury-prone, but when he is on the mound expect a solid amount of saves and about a strikeout per inning.
St. Louis Cardinals: Alex Reyes
Reyes has become one of the most hyped prospects in baseball after posting a 1.57 ERA in 46 innings as a starter in 2016. He possesses one of the game’s true electric arms, but the danger is that he is coming off February 2017 Tommy John surgery. His role for the upcoming season is still unclear, but he has been open about his willingness to close for the Cardinals. He is a starter in the long-term but in an effort to ease him back into game action, GM John Mozeliak intends to start him out in the pen. Luke Gregerson, Tyler Lyons, and Dominic Leone are all options to garner save opportunities until Reyes returns in May, but Reyes could simply end up in the rotation when he returns to full health.
Cincinnati Reds: Raisel Iglesias
Iglesias has been even better as a closer than many projected him to be in a big-league rotation. The Reds have been vocal about their plans to use Iglesias for more than three outs which increasing his draft stock as he could be a guy who racks up strikeouts, saves, and innings. He could be the subject of trade discussions eventually, but until then, Raisel Iglesias could post numbers in likeness to an RP1.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Felipe Rivero
The prize of the deal that sent Mark Melancon to Washington, Rivero has delivered. Last season, Rivero posted elite numbers last season with a 1.67 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 88 strikeouts over 75 ⅓ innings. The Pirates are in a rebuild which may limit Rivero’s ability to collect saves, but either way, his ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts should more than make up for a deficiency in saves.
Milwaukee Brewers: Corey Knebel
Knebel had a fantastic season in 2017, where he posted a 1.78 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings. He has solidified himself as one of the game’s most exciting young closers and has a great chance to maintain this level of production into 2018. The Brewers have Josh Hader who is highly-touted and has an outside shot to close if Knebel falters. Regardless of role, he is an interesting pickup at the tail end of drafts because of the great number of innings he will throw and strikeouts he will put up. By no means is Corey Knebel’s job in jeopardy, though. Knebel will now get a plethora of save opportunities after the Brewers bolstered their offense with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.
Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle
After getting shipped to D.C. from Oakland, Doolittle remained a fantastic fantasy option as the closer for an elite Nationals team. He put up a 2.59 FIP and a 0.86 WHIP, with a low BABIP (.244) that stands to say that he could be in line for some sizable regression. Nonetheless, Doolittle should be a healthy source of saves and can be viewed as a low-end RP1.
Atlanta Braves: AJ Minter
AJ Minter, a hard-throwing lefty who put up a 0.96 FIP in a 15-inning sample size, is a tantalizing fantasy asset if he becomes the closer. He was highly-touted out of college and was excellent in the upper minors. He has the ability to be a top-tier closer with tons of strikeout potential (11.7 K/9 in minors). Arodys Vizcaino will most likely open the year as the Braves’ ninth inning guy, but Minter can easily overtake him for the job just based off of pedigree.
New York Mets: Jeurys Familia
Familia was injured for the better part of 2017 and when he was on the mound, he was dreadful with a 4.38 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. However, Familia in the three years prior was one of the safest closing options in the league and is a solid candidate to have a bounce-back season. AJ Ramos is now with the Mets, but it is apparent that Familia is going to be the main option heading into the 2018 season.
Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris
Neris exhibited a strong ERA (3.01) but a weak WHIP (1.27) with good strikeout totals (10.5 K/9) last season. If Neris falters, Pat Neshek could get a look, but Neris appears to have a good shot to maintain sole possession of the role. A 3.71 FIP in 2017 tells us that Neris is a volatile asset for fantasy purposes and putting that together with the fact that the Phillies are not going to generate a lot of save opportunities for Neris is reason to pause heading into 2018.
Miami Marlins: Kyle Barraclough
Although Brad Ziegler is most likely going to open 2018 as the closer for Don Mattingly’s Marlins, Barraclough is the better pitcher. The latter does not exactly have the greatest strike-throwing ability, especially in comparison to Ziegler who is a command pitcher. Barraclough can, at times, be dominant while Ziegler has never been over-powering and has never generated strong strikeout numbers. Barraclough is the best bet to displace Ziegler, and is the heir apparent to the role anyway. Barraclough as a closer will be a solid late-round pick and owners can reap the benefits if he can improve on his walk rate.