The Closer Landscape Continues to Shift by Al Melchior February 15, 2019 Over the last several weeks, I have been writing about the closer picture for teams who are unlikely to contend, but are likely to deal an incumbent closer before the trade deadline. While this year’s Hot Stove season has generally moved slowly, there have been a number of moves and announcements involving relievers lately, so I’m taking the opportunity to update some of the situations I have written about recently. I am also tossing in a couple of closer conundrums from teams that I have yet to address this offseason (including one from a clear contender). Both situations are already starting to vex owners getting ready for drafts. Giants Earlier this week, Bruce Bochy said he still wasn’t ready to name a closer, so that provides further incentive for us to avoid Will Smith until the later portion of drafts. Not surprisingly, Bochy specifically referred to Mark Melancon as a potential alternative to Smith. If Melancon has a good spring and if the Giants sign Bryce Harper, it’s conceivable that the righty could spend all of 2019 as the Giants’ closer. Orioles Even though the Orioles don’t figure to have too many save opportunities, Mychal Givens has had some fantasy appeal for this season, since he didn’t look to have much competition for the closer’s job. Now new manager Brandon Hyde has possibly messed that all up for Givens and for us fantasy owners. As is the rage these days, Hyde has indicated that he will play the matchups in the late innings and not necessarily have a designated closer. The Orioles do have several viable lefty options to go to late in games (Tanner Scott, Richard Bleier, Paul Fry), but Givens is their best right-handed reliever by far. Even managers who have been vocal proponents of fluid relief roles, such as Gabe Kapler and Craig Counsell, have stuck with a hot hand in the ninth inning (i.e., Seranthony Dominguez, Jeremy Jeffress) over an extended period of time. I am not yet convinced that Hyde’s approach will diminish Givens’ value much, though that still maxes out as a mid-range No. 2 closer. Diamondbacks Archie Bradley was the early frontrunner to be the Diamondbacks’ closer, but that is no longer the case. With the team’s signing of Greg Holland, Bradley is now thrown into a three-way competition with the former Royals and Rockies closer and Yoshihisa Hirano. While Hirano was effective last season, he does not profile as a typical closer. If this boils down to a Bradley-Holland competition, it could be one of the more enthralling battles this spring. Bradley struggled in the second half of last season, but he has put a cracked fingernail that limited the effectiveness of his curveball behind him. Just as Bradley was flailing, Holland was bouncing back from a disappointing tenure with the Cardinals, allowing only two runs in 21.1 innings as a National. Neither pitcher is being drafted among the top 20 closers, so if you’re inclined to take one of them late, consider taking the other as a handcuff. You should wind up with a quality closer, regardless of how the competition resolves itself. Royals Despite going 14 for 14 in his save chances last year, Wily Peralta looked like a prime candidate to lose his job at some point this season. Without improving his abysmal control and mediocre whiff rate (10.0 percent in 2018), he would have a hard time avoiding blown saves. Now that the Royals have signed Brad Boxberger, Peralta’s status is even shakier. Ned Yost has thrown the late-inning roles wide open, citing Peralta, Boxberger, Tim Hill and rotation candidates Ian Kennedy, Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer as options to pitch in various late-inning situations. Boxberger is the most attractive fantasy option among these pitchers, but he, too, has not compiled an impressive swinging strike rate over the last three seasons. That is not an encouraging development for someone prone to high walk and home run rates. The Royals’ situation is still one to avoid. Marlins In adding Sergio Romo, the Marlins further muddied an already unclear closer situation. Romo may split duties with Drew Steckenrider and Adam Conley, but if Don Mattingly were inclined to settle on a single closer, he would be well-served to go with Conley. The lefty is the Marlins’ best returning reliever, and in his first season as a full-time reliever, he was effective against both lefties and righties. Then again, Mattingly does not have another reliever who projects to be nearly as good as Conley was against lefties, so that may work against his case to be a primary closer. Romo’s slider isn’t what it was four years ago, and Steckenrider took a step backward last season. As a result, Conley is the only Marlins reliever I am even remotely interested in drafting, and we should definitely be comfortable taking him if there is any indication he could be the Marlins’ closer on a full-time basis. Red Sox The Red Sox are yet another team with undefined roles for the late innings. That could change if they re-sign Craig Kimbrel, but there are still no indications of that happening. So as of now, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the top candidates to pitch in save situations. Both were effective set-up relievers a year ago, though Brasier (.134 wOBA) was far better against righties than Barnes (.268 wOBA). Then again, Brasier relied on a .122 BABIP versus right-handed hitters that he almost certainly won’t repeat. Because he has been far better at getting called strikes than Brasier, Barnes profiles as the better strikeout pitcher, but each has his own strengths, and either pitcher would probably be a fine closer. Since neither pitcher has an ADP in the top 300, this situation is similar to that of the Diamondbacks. Both pitchers are worth owning, so be prepared to draft them both if you take a flier on either one of them. White Sox Whereas the Red Sox appear to be sticking with internal options, the White Sox have gone out and acquired two potential closers. However, according to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times, Alex Colome appears to have the upper hand over Kelvin Herrera for the closer’s job. He was steady for much of his two-and-a-half season tenure as the Rays’ closer, even though he did not stand out as a strikeout pitcher in either of the last two seasons. Colome’s SwStr% did rebound from 11.6 percent in 2017 to 13.6 percent in 2018. It was not fully reflected in his strikeout rate, as he had an uncharacteristically low 15.2 percent called strike rate. As long as that proves to be an outlier, Colome appears to be safe to draft as a top 20 reliever.