A shortened season may be good news for fantasy baseball’s most volatile position, as more closers than usual should be able to hold their role through the entire campaign. In fact, Andy Behrens recently floated the idea of a reliever-filled fantasy staff — and who wouldn’t want to follow Andy’s lead? After all, he’s the most brilliant fantasy mind around (just ask him).
Still, there is a handful of ninth-inning men who will be on short leashes, as well as a few others who don’t have the skills to handle even an abbreviated slate. Here are the closers to handle with care, as well as some setup men who may prove to be especially valuable.
Combine this article with Andy’s and you can perfectly execute his short-season strategy.
Toronto will open the season with a stable bullpen before likely dealing away closer Ken Giles at the Trade Deadline. Giles could finish the season with fewer than 10 saves, and unfortunately, there is not an obvious closer alternative in the current relief corps. Still, fantasy managers would be wise to stash any Blue Jays reliever who starts the season with a strong K:BB ratio.
Like Giles, Alex Colome is on the verge of free agency and could be traded by the end of August. But unlike Toronto, the White Sox have some excellent alternatives. Lefty Aaron Bummer recently inked a five-year deal and logged a stellar 2.13 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP last season. And if the club prefers a stopgap solution, they could turn to 34-year-old Steve Cishek, who owns an impressive lifetime 2.69 ERA and 132 saves.
Mark Melancon may have just enough skills to make it through a shortened season, but his results have been all over the map in recent years. Setup man Will Smith is likely the team’s best reliever, and the 2019 NL East champs won’t hesitate to make a switch if Melancon struggles out of the gate.
Although I’m a big fan of Craig Kimbrel, I have to admit that he struggled mightily in a 2019 season that started without a contract and also included IL time. Should the long layoff not fix the veteran closer’s control woes, the team could turn to Rowan Wick, who posted a 2.43 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP last season.
The top closer off the board in most 2019 drafts, Edwin Diaz posted a 5.59 ERA last season, which was by far the highest mark of anyone who tallied more than 15 saves. Diaz is a strong candidate to get back on track, but Seth Lugo and Justin Wilson are waiting in the wings if Diaz falters again.
Although sometimes virtually unhittable, Jose Leclerc will not become a trusted closer until he makes major improvements on his lifetime 5.6 BB/9 rate. A few too many free passes issued in August could send Leclerc down the pecking order, at which time the club may turn to Rafael Montero, who produced a stellar 2.48 ERA and 0.97 WHIP last year.
Cincinnati won’t be satisfied with also-ran status this season, which means that Raisel Iglesias needs to improve on his career-worst 4.16 ERA and 1.22 WHIP from last season. The right-hander has logged a HR/9 rate of at least 1.5 in each of the past two seasons, and continued struggles with the long ball could open the door for Michael Lorenzen (2.92 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 2019).
Wade Davis may be the least trustworthy closer in baseball right now, after posting an 8.65 ERA across 42.2 innings last season. Davis has been reinserted into the ninth-inning role, but he may not have the skills to hold off Scott Oberg, who dazzled in 2019 to the tune of a 2.25 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
Although Ian Kennedy was surprisingly successful in his first year as a reliever (3.41 ERA, 30 saves), the Royals have no long-term ties to a 35-year-old with a lifetime 4.09 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. One of the few teams with virtually no postseason shot, the club could use the shortened season to try out younger closer candidates, such as Tim Hill (3.63 ERA, 1.11 WHIP in 2019).
Closer Joe Jimenez has been mediocre throughout his career, posting a 4.31 ERA in 2018 and a 4.37 mark last season. The club doesn’t have any especially appealing alternatives, but Buck Farmer was decent in 2019 (3.72 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and could take over ninth-inning duties if Jimenez gets off to a rough start.
St. Louis Cardinals
Giovanny Gallegos has stellar skills (5.8 K:BB ratio in 2019) but is nearly 29 years old and has amassed just two saves and 105.2 innings. He is also late to arrive to summer training. Ryan Helsley excelled as a rookie last year (2.95 ERA) and veteran Andrew Miller can handle the occasional save chance. The club could also go back to Carlos Martinez, who was looking for a rotation spot after collecting 24 saves in 2019.
Matt Magill should open the season as the top saves candidate after collecting three saves across his final 11 innings of work last season and posting a 2.45 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP. But when we are talking about 11 innings, you know the closer is going to be on a short leash. The alternatives aren’t enticing, although Yoshihisa Hirano excelled as a rookie in 2018 (2.44 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) before struggling last year. And Carl Edwards Jr. looked like the Cubs’ future closer before dealing with injuries for most of 2019.
Brandon Kintzler should open the season in the closer’s role, but he lacks strikeout ability and will turn 36 years old shortly after Opening Day. The rebuilding Marlins should hope that the right-hander gets off to a hot start so that they can trade him at the deadline. By September, Miami could turn to Ryne Stanek (10.4 K/9 rate in 2019) or Drew Steckenrider, who was considered a closer candidate before being limited by injuries to 14.1 innings in 2019.