The RP breakdown column follows a different format than the rest of the bunch. I’ll be addressing the more interesting closer situations in paragraph form and also provide my handcuff preferences for the situations that are settled. This year, the column skews rather AL-centric, since that’s where the injuries and the iffier situations are found.
I’ll post the final Strike Zone of the preseason, a team-by-team notes column, on Friday evening ahead of the weekend drafts. And if you still need some help there, the Rotoworld Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide is very available and very updated.
Boston: One gets the feeling the Red Sox are regretting not bringing in a true setup man over the winter. With Koji Uehara likely to open the season on the disabled list, Edward Mujica is expected to step into the closer’s role initially. Fortunately, Uehara’s injury is just a hamstring pull, and he could be ready to return 5-7 days in. However, Uehara is the biggest injury risk out there among closers, and it’d sure be nice if someone more trustworthy than Mujica were backing him up. Maybe Alexi Ogando will emerge as the No. 2 guy as the season goes on, but he’s just as much of a health risk as Uehara. Matt Barnes is the real sleeper of the group, what with his 16 strikeouts in 12 innings this spring, but he might not even make the Opening Day roster. It’s Mujica who will be the fallback until he shows he can’t get the job done.
Detroit: The Tigers are putting forth a united front, saying that Joe Nathan is still their man. I don’t think they’ll have a change of heart prior to Opening Day, even though Joakim Soria has been the obviously superior reliever this spring. I don’t disagree with the plan: the eighth is practically as important as the ninth, and Soria can pitch only one of them anyway. However, if Nathan can’t close, he probably doesn’t belong on the team at all. So, give Nathan the month of April and then reevaluate things. Sure, I project Soria, Bruce Rondon and Al Albuquerque to have better ERAs, but I still think there’s a decent change Nathan proves adequate and racks up 30+ saves. However, since the Tigers are likely to employ a quick trigger finger, I have Nathan ranked 30th among relievers right now (Soria 32nd). Don’t completely forget about Rondon, either. Soria is something of an iffy bet to stay healthy.
Houston: The Astros have yet to name a closer, but Luke Gregerson has been the clear frontrunner all along and nothing this spring has changed that. Gregerson, Chad Qualls and Pat Neshek have all pitched effectively, and the only disappointment for Houston’s bullpen thus far is that Josh Fields seems likely to land on the DL with a groin injury. It’s Fields who has the most explosive stuff in the group, but with three veterans ahead of him, he’s not the sleeper he was at this time last year, even though he looks like a better pitcher now. I expect Gregerson will get the ninth, with Qualls looming if he falters.
New York: The Dellin Betances that showed up this spring hasn’t in any way resembled the guy who one of MLB’s most dominant relievers as a rookie. Whether that has anything to do with last year’s workload (he threw more pitches in relief than anyone other than Carlos Torres) or, as the Yankees say, is just the result of mechanical issues is still to be seen. I’d hardly be surprised to see him find his groove and return to 2014 form, but since it’s not nearly a sure thing, I’m staying away him in drafts and maybe speculating on Andrew Miller in the later rounds in mixed leagues. Those who draft Betances anyway should target Miller, potentially as early as the 15th round in mixed leagues. Letting him get away is a risk one can’t afford to take. I can also see David Carpenter as an end-game pick in AL-only leagues, just in case Betances’ troubles are physical in nature.
Oakland: As everyone assumed they would, the A’s have settled on Tyler Clippard as their closer while Sean Doolittle rehabs his damaged rotator cuff. Doolittle’s price tag has fallen far enough that it’s worth targeting the duo. Doolittle is no lock to come back, but the early word from his rehab has been encouraging. Clippard seems to be indestructible, and he’s in a great situation for flyball pitchers in Oakland. If Doolittle does end up having a major setback, then Clippard could well finish the season as a top-10 fantasy closer.
Tampa Bay: Jake McGee is a bit safer than Doolittle in the health department; he’s coming off surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, which isn’t the kind of procedure that tends to result in rehab setbacks and such. The risk with McGee is that Brad Boxberger or someone else is so good while he’s out that the Rays see no reason to return the left-hander to the closer’s role when he comes back in May. Alternatively, they could just play matchups, as former manager Joe Maddon liked to do last year. Pairing McGee and Boxberger in fantasy leagues is one possible strategy. The downside there is that Boxberger isn’t nearly as locked in as a saves candidate as Clippard. The Rays are expected to open in a committee, and they have experienced closers Grant Balfour and Ernesto Frieri available to pitch the ninth if they’d like. For that reason, I’m shying away from this situation unless McGee comes just too cheap to pass up.
Toronto: Refusing to spend money on the back end of their pen, the Jays will go with Brett Cecil in the closer’s role. I wouldn’t mind that so much if only they had brought in more of a sure thing to work the eighth. As is, they’re looking at fellow lefty Aaron Loup and 20-year-old Miguel Castro as setup men. Castro is very much a name to know; he’s blown hitters and the Blue Jays away with high-90s heat, and from a raw stuff department, he’ll immediately step in as one of the AL’s most talented relievers. I don’t know that it will translate into saves this year -- again, he’s just 20 years old -- but he’d be my choice to pair with Cecil. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see the Blue Jays come away with Rafael Soriano as his price tag continues to drop.
AL Handcuffs (Necessity on a 1-10 scale)
(My necessity concept is based on three factors: the chances that the primary closer will lose his job/get hurt/get traded, the presence of a clear No. 2 in line for saves and the quality of said No. 2 reliever. A Necessity of 1 means there’s little reason to handcuff, even in deep AL- or NL-only leagues. 5 means AL- and NL-only leaguers should definitely attempt the handcuff. 9 or 10 means mixed leaguers should go for the handcuff.)
Cleveland (Cody Allen) - Brian Shaw - Necessity: 4
Minnesota (Glen Perkins) - Casey Fein - Necessity: 2
Texas (Neftali Feliz) - Keona Kela - Necessity: 3
Feliz is the riskiest closer in this group, but there isn’t any clear backup in Texas right now. Kyuji Fujikawa has oodles of closing experience in Japan and has pitched effectively this spring, but he seems no better than 50-50 to make the team. Tanner Scheppers hasn’t shown his 2013 potential since sliding back to the pen. Phil Klein would probably be my choice for the eighth inning, but after struggling his last couple of appearances, he could also get booted back to Triple-A. So, I’m listing Kela, under the theory that he’s the best bet to be the eighth-inning guy come June or July. Despite never having pitched about Double-A, the 21-year-old with the huge fastball has been the Rangers’ most impressive pitcher this spring.
Robertson would have been a 2 here, but his recent bout of forearm soreness -- even though he said it was nothing -- makes him a little riskier. Of course, the likely fallback there, Petricka, is expected to open up on the DL with some forearm soreness of his own. With Zach Putnam struggling this spring, Javy Guerra might be the primary setup guy initially.
Seattle is another situation without an obvious fallback at the moment. Because Danny Farquhar is having a bad spring, I’m guessing Medina will open up as the eighth-inning guy. For the long haul, I like Dominic Leone as the No. 2 man in the Mariners pen. …Holland gets a 5 largely because Davis is likely to produce significant value as a setup man once again.
Arizona: Addison Reed came down with a sore shoulder early in camp, and since returning, he’s tweaked his delivery some in an effort to take some pressure off the area. It doesn’t bode well for a guy whose velocity had already slipped a couple of mph since his rookie season in 2012. With the likelihood that the Diamondbacks will be the NL’s worst team, it should come as no surprise that I have Reed ranked 15th of the league’s 16 closers, ahead of only LaTroy Hawkins. Brad Ziegler would be the fallback to Reed in Arizona, but he also comes with question marks after undergoing microfracture knee surgery last September. Most likely, he won’t be quite as effective as usual. Instead, Evan Marshall, who had stellar groundball and strikeouts rates as a rookie last season, looks like the better sleeper here. Reed owners should grab him as insurance.
Los Angeles: The Dodgers are expected to go to a closer-by-committee until Kenley Jansen returns from foot surgery, hopefully around May 1. Joel Peralta seemed like the clear favorite for saves at the time of Jansen’s injury, but he developed a sore shoulder last month and hasn’t looked particularly sharp since returning. I’d still speculate on him first among Dodgers relievers for April. Chris Hatcher, one candidate to overtake Peralta, has been a disappointment in camp. Sergio Santos has been the most impressive of the non-roster veterans the Dodgers have brought in, and he has experience closing. I’d place him second behind Peralta right now, with the caveat that things could look a lot clearer by the time Friday’s column rolls around.
New York: The Mets have talked about Bobby Parnell being given a chance to win back his old closer’s role following his return from Tommy John surgery, but his velocity hasn’t come back quite as quickly as hoped this spring. He’s likely to spend at least the first two weeks on the DL, and I don’t think he’ll outpitch Jenrry Mejia after returning. Of course, Parnell doesn’t necessarily have to outpitch Mejia if it’s Terry Collins’ whim to give him back the ninth. The safe play would be to pair the two in NL-only leagues. I wouldn’t worry about it in mixed leagues, not unless Mejia gets off to a poor start.
NL Handcuffs (Necessity on a 1-10 scale)
On the one hand, you don’t necessarily need Giles if you’re a Papelbon owner -- most likely, Papelbon is going to remain a closer if he’s traded -- but it sure would be nice to have him. Giles is my highest ranked reliever among those not currently in the mix for saves, but I’m hardly alone there, and Giles is going earlier than some pure closers in a lot of leagues. The only true closer I’d take him in front of is Hawkins.
The fallback situation for the Padres might be the toughest one to judge here, and it’s a rather important one, since Benoit is probably the biggest injury risk from the list above. I’m guessing Quackenbush is still second in line after filling in for Benoit late last year, but Brandon Maurer is their most talented reliever and Shawn Kelley and Nick Vincent are hardly slouches themselves.
Walden’s 5 is assuming that Carlos Martinez is in the rotation. Otherwise, the situation behind Rosenthal could prove fluid. … It’s possible Blake Treinen will beat out Barrett for the eighth-inning role in Washington. He’s been really impressive this spring. I like both as $1 relievers in NL-only leagues.