Now with the 2022 MLB season officially over and the offseason underway, it’s time to start looking toward the 2023 season. It being so early in the offseason and there being only about 10-12 locked-in “closers” at the moment, I figured it makes the most sense to rank relievers for SV+HLD’s leagues first, but there will be a saves-only edition coming out by the end of the year as well.
- By himself in tier 1 remains Edwin Díaz, the now highest paid reliever in baseball after signing a $102 million dollar deal this past weekend. Díaz finished the season first in xFIP, CSW%, K%, SwStr%, K-BB%, Whiff%, pCRA, and plenty more categories amongst qualified relievers.
- Tier 2 consists of relievers who both have immense strikeout upside as well as an ability to limit baserunners. Andrés Muñoz was the only reliever I really considered for Tier 1 alongside Díaz. Muñoz has more upside than any other reliever in baseball right now, and I would not be surprised at all to see him take over as the Mariners’ de facto closer in 2023.
- Josh Hader is one of if not the hardest reliever to rank right now but I’m feeling pretty good about his chances to bounce back in 2023, although we should be prepared for at least one bad stretch at some point in the season. It’s happened to him almost every year, last year’s stretch just lasted longer than the previous ones. But by the end of the season and through the playoffs he was his elite self (Last 13.2 IP to end the season: 5 H, 23 K’s, 2 BB, 0 ER)
- Next up in tier 3 we have the rest of the very good closers as well as the near-elite setup options, who may not have the consistency (Alvarado/Minter/Abreu) or track record (Bautista/Stephan/Adam) as the relievers in the previous tier. Clay Holmes remains another tough reliever to rank because we aren’t sure what his role will be next year and his 2022 season was really a tale of two halves. The good news is he looked great in the playoffs and as of now doesn’t have much competition for the closer role.
- Raisel Iglesias had an up-and-down season, but unlike Holmes, his second half of the regular season was much better. Atlanta has already expressed interest in resigning Kenley Jansen but if they want to add a SS in free agency (or keep Dansby Swanson) they may need to roll with Iglesias in the closer role, especially considering his $16 million price tag.
- For tier 4, it’s mostly the next group of very good, just not quite elite set up men, plus a few possible closers. Speaking of Jansen, he’s likely now the top closer on the free-agent market and should garner interest from most of the league. He may be on the downside of his career but still proved he can be a top closer in this league (26.9% K rate, .239 xwOBA) and should wind up in that role wherever he lands this offseason.
- With a $6.25 mil team option yet to be picked up, José Leclerc may find himself at the top of the free agent class of relievers as well. Leclerc got off to a slow start in his first year back from Tommy John, but was fantastic after the All-Star break with a 1.85 ERA. He could very well return to the Rangers as their closer but if he ends up a free agent, his role for next season will be up in the air depending on where he signs.
- In tier 5 we have a mix of inexperienced relievers with upside and some steady veterans. Rafael Montero is coming off a career season with the Astros and should get paid this offseason, similar to Kendall Graveman last year. There’s room for Montero’s rank to fluctuate here depending on where he signs, but signing outside of Houston would be less than ideal.
- Joe Kelly was the most unlucky reliever in baseball last season (.382 BABIP, 60.8% LOB, 3.16 xFIP), so I’m looking for him to have some positive regression in 2023. After sinking a lot of money into their bullpen already, the White Sox bullpen should stay intact for the most part, where Kelly should have a chance for plenty of holds.
- Tier 6 continues to go down the list of setup options, with there still being some upside here but not without some risk. I know there’s a lot of hype behind Brusdar Graterol with the Dodgers closer spot open at the moment and Graterol being able to throw 100 MPH consistently, but I still just don’t believe that’s the best role for him. He basically just rolls up bowling balls that induce ground balls, which is great…as a situational late-inning reliever. I still prefer my closers to be able to miss bats at a high level, which is not a 21.8% K rate and 10.3% SwStr rate.
- Brandon Hughes ended the 2022 season as the Cubs closer, but it’s not a role I’d expect him to remain in for 2023. The Cubs may not be in a win-now mode quite yet, but I still think they will invest in some bullpen pieces this offseason and likely prefer Hughes as more of a left-handed setup option. Either way, he’s still a very interesting reliever after posting a 33.1% Whiff rate last year.
- Tier 7 features some closers, as well as more holds options, with the closers having massive question marks. Craig Kimbrel is one of the bigger wild cards this offseason, and it will certainly be interesting to see what team is willing to take a chance on him at this point in his career. I could see a team like the Marlins or Nationals taking a chance on a one-year deal, hoping to capitalize on a great start and then move him at the deadline.
- On the surface
he looks calm and ready, Gregory Soto is a steady closer, whose 48 saves over the past two seasons rank eleventh among all relievers. But there remain plenty of reasons to be concerned (9.9% K-BB rate, 4.59 xFIP) and it will be hard for me to trust him until he can get that walk rate under 10% and/or limit the amount of hard contact he allows.
- Tier 8 are mostly dart throws and relievers on your waiver wire, but there are still some interesting names to keep track of. Matt Barnes is due $8.375 million this season and that alone should keep him on the roster to being the season, but I can’t imagine he begins the year in a high-leverage role. That said, we still aren’t too far removed from Barnes closing out 24 games with a 37.8% K rate.
- Old friend Kevin Ginkel as of now may be the best bet to open the season as the Diamondbacks’ closer. There’s still some intrigue here especially with him averaging 96.4 MPH last year with his slider still getting plenty of swings and misses (44.3% Whiff). Definitely someone to keep an eye on in deeper leagues this coming season.