Welcome back for another year and a new edition of Closing Time, ranking the closer situations through Major League Baseball. I want to jump right into what I believe could be the best bullpen in baseball this upcoming season, that being the one in Seattle. However, while it may be the best bullpen out there (they could probably use another lefty) it may be a headache for fantasy purposes if the team continues trending towards being Rays West. Here’s a look at how their bullpen played out following the acquisition of Diego Castillo leading up to the trade deadline.
- The Rays will likely be mixing and matching at the back end of their bullpen again this year, something we’ve just come to expect over the years. That being said, someone on this roster will have to lead the team in saves and the favorite right now should be 2021 All-Star Andrew Kittredge who had eight saves last year. Kittredge had the highest Chase rate amongst all qualified relievers last season with an insane 40.5% mark as his slider is just not fair to right-handed hitters. Next in line would probably be Pete Fairbanks, but he had been limited by injuries since 2017 and only managed 42.2 innings last season.
- Perhaps the biggest question heading into the spring for the Red Sox this year is who will be the teams closer to open the season. From August 1st on, Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles and Garrett Richards combined for 11 of the teams 15 saves over that time span and it’s more than likely none of the three will be on the roster this season. Garrett Whitlock is the team’s most consistent reliever returning from 2021, but there’s a chance (unlikely) that he moves into the rotation. If he stays in the bullpen, I’d expect him to remain in a multi-inning fireman role in front of the closer. That role should go to Matt Barnes as despite breaking down over the second half of last year, he was an All-Star caliber closer in the first half. Barnes also enters the season due $9.4m and doesn’t have the potential versatility in the bullpen someone like Whitlock has. While Barnes remains a risk/reward pick, I still would bet heavily on him being the teams opening day closer, barring an addition post-lockout.
- Kyle Finnegan finished the last two months of the 2021 season with nine saves, and had solidified hisself as the Nationals closer…up until the middle of September at least. After allowing nine earned runs, 12 hits and a 8/6 K/BB ratio over the final eight games, it was Tanner Rainey who finished the year as the teams closer, which is not to say Rainey had a great season or month even. It was a highly, highly disappointing season for Rainey, but there were at least glimpses in September that showed what he could be. There’s a ton of volatility here, but Finnegan doesn’t even come close to the type of upside Raineys possesses so if I’m going to throw a late-round dart on this bullpen, Rainey would be my target.
- It looks like Corey Knebel will get a second chance at being the primary closer after signing with the Phillies for one year at $10 million. It’s certainly a risk, as Knebel was only able to manage 25.2 innings last year and 13.1 the year prior after missing all of 2019. That said, Knebel looked much closer to his old self last year in his stint with the Dodgers and has next to no competition for the closer role in Philadelphia. IF he can stay healthy for the season, Knebel could certainly outperform his ADP and be a top 10-12 closer in all of baseball.
- Dylan Floro will likely open up the year as the Marlins closer, but I think I’d prefer to avoid him and wait on Anthony Bender to take over the role at some point. Nothing against Floro who’s a fine reliever, but he’s also a likely trade candidate and whose upside is fairly limited. Bender on the other hand is someone to get excited about, who despite a rocky second half, had a phenomenal rookie season.
- The same here can be applied for Rowan Wick and Codi Heuer in Chicago. The difference being that Wick is inferior to Floro and also likely won’t be a trade candidate. However, the Cubs won’t be afraid to use one of their young relievers like Heuer or Manuel Rodríguez in the closer role as long as they are the best option. Again, like Floro, I’m only taking a shot on Wick basically if he’s available for free, and would rather monitor Heuer to see if he can finally put it all together as he has the potential for three plus pitches.
- The only concern I have with drafting David Bednar is the potential to split time with Chris Stratton or for Stratton to have the job straight up. Bednar is the better reliever (and it’s not really close) yet Stratton still had eight saves over the final month-plus, although Bednar missed some time with an oblique injury. With the Pirates still a few years away from competing, they may opt to go with the veteran Stratton in the closer role to increase his trade value while keeping Bednars future arbitration numbers down.
- There’s not really a question as to who opens up the season as the Tigers closer, as AJ Hinch has already pegged Gregory Soto as the teams closer, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Michael Fulmer should be a full-time member of that bullpen this year and realistically might be the better option. Despite missing some time with a shoulder strain, Fulmer outperformed Soto from July on.
- With not a lot of competition to hold him off, perhaps this season will be Lucas Sims breakout campaign as the Reds closer. The team has made a commitment to not spend money so I wouldn’t expect any veteran relievers coming in once the lockout ends and while I am very high on Art Warren, I can’t imagine they would start him in the closer role to begin the year after he missed much of last season. Sims comes with his own injury baggage, however, there’s no one else in that bullpen that can touch his upside. With relievers like Whitlock, Floro, Soto, and Joe Barlow currently being taken in front of him, Sims is set up to be a potential draft-day steal.
- Speaking of Joe Barlow, there may be no reliever being more overdrafted right now. After impressing over the first half of his rookie debut last season (15.2 IP, 21% K-BB%, 3.62 xFIP, 13.8% SwStr%) Barlow was not quite the same over the past month-plus following a finger injury (12.1 IP, 4.1% K-BB%, 5.83 xFIP, 8.9% SwStr%). There’s also the return of former closer José Leclerc and Jonathan Hernández at some point this year could cause some late-inning turmoil. I’m all for taking a chance on Barlow but not at his current ADP.
- Following the departure of Mark Melancon, the Padres bullpen remains without a designated closer although there are many worthwhile in-house candidates who could fill the role. Pierce Johnson may be the returning favorite as he was one of the most reliable members of the bullpen last season, but it’s tough to rule out Dinelson Lamet if he’s healthy and locked into a full-time bullpen role this season. There are also newcomers Luis García who broke out with the Cardinals last season and Robert Suárez who has saved 67 games in Japan since 2020. don’t forget about Emilio Pagán who saved 20 games back in 2019. It all leads up to a situation not worth chasing, but one worth monitoring closely and taking a late-round flier on.
- As things currently stand, it looks like Lou Trivino will get another shot at closing out games this season as the Athletics bullpen is quite thin at the moment. 2021 was a tale of two halves for Trivino, 1.84 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP over the first half followed by a 5.16 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over the second. This kind of volatility has been a trend throughout Trivinos career and paired with a middling rate (21.6%). I’d rather just avoid Trivino in most formats.
- After struggling in his first stint at the MLB level, Camilo Doval returned to the big club in September and never looked back as he became the team’s closer following an injury to Jake McGee. Doval was one of the best relievers in all of baseball over the last month of the season, finishing his final 14.1 innings without allowing a wrong while striking out 20. While McGee was great for much of 2021, I think it’s Doval’s time to run with the closer role here from the get-go. Knowing how Gabe Kapler has managed his bullpens however, there’s certainly some risk that comes with drafting Doval in the top 200 picks.
- While the tea leaves point to Kenley Jansen moving on from Los Angeles this offseason, I wouldn’t rule out a return until the ink dries on his new contract. This is the Dodgers after all, and while Blake Treinen would make for a fine closing option, the rest of the bullpen depth is a bit shaky when compared to years past. At his current ADP (175), Treinen is the example of a boom/bust pick as long as Jansen remains unsigned.