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Chasing Saves: The More Things Change …

Every season, we see plenty of turnover at the closer position. It’s one reason some fantasy owners hold back from investing heavily in the position during the spring – there are always options that pop up throughout the season due to injuries and poor performance. That being said, this season seems a little anomalous in that we’ve seen so much change so early. Here’s where we stand with recent ninth-inning changes and who makes for the best long-term pickups in leagues.

Red Sox

Edward Mujica in

Koji Uehara (hamstring) landed on the disabled list to start the season after suffering a hamstring strain this spring. That opened the door for Mujica, who was named the team’s interim closer. Mujica has made just one appearance in the season’s first week, and he didn’t get a save in that game. Now, it appears Uehara could be back with the Red Sox as soon as Monday. Deep leaguers may want to hold on to Mujica in case Uehara’s injury issues persist, but he’s droppable in most leagues.


Joakim Soria in, Joe Nathan (elbow) out

Soria landed in a higher spot than Joe Nathan in my rankings heading into the season, as the latter was so bad last season and the former represented a better option for a team looking to compete for a title. Nathan picked up a save Monday and then was placed on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow, opening the door for Soria to run away with the job. Soria’s my top injury replacement to hold on to the job over the long-term.


Andrew Miller in, Dellin Betances maybe out?

Betances was invested in heavily this spring thanks to his enormous upside and the hole that was left at closer in New York after David Robertson left. However, the Yankees also invested heavily in lefty reliever Andrew Miller, and I expected all spring that the two setup men could share the closing role. Now that the season has started, Miller has picked up the first save for the Yankees, with Betances pitching in the eighth inning of the same game. What happens with the next save opportunity? It’s hard to say, but the fact that Miller has the most recent save makes him the most likely “closer,” if we were to bestow the title on one player. However, I can see this being a time share this season, as Joe Girardi looks to maximize matchup potential in the back end of the bullpen. Note that Betances earned the last save of the spring, with Miller pitching the eighth. Make sure both guys are owned in all leagues, and Betances could represent a nice buy-low opportunity in trade talks.


Tyler Clippard in

This isn’t new news, as Clippard was expected to open the season at closer for the A’s with Doolittle sidelined until at least mid-May. Clippard is good enough to keep the job when Doolittle comes back if Bob Melvin decides to go in that direction, but the former closer is more than likely going to get his job back when healthy, leaving Clippard as a closer with a clearly limited shelf life.


Brad Boxberger chairman of the committee

The Rays said they’d be going with a committee with McGee out, but Boxberger received the first save opportunity as expected, and slammed the door while striking out three and allowing one hit in a scoreless inning. The committee member who would worry me the most in siphoning save opportunities is Grant Balfour, and he’s been limited to one-out appearances so far. Unless Jeff Beliveau establishes himself as a go-to setup man, it’s possible the Rays find that the bullpen sets up better with Jake McGee available to pitch earlier than the ninth when healthy. Boxberger would make that choice much easier by excelling over the next few weeks, which he has the talent to do. He should be owned in all leagues.

Blue Jays

Miguel Castro in, Brett Cecil out for now

Cecil was brought in with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning with his team up two runs in his season debut, which was a curious place to use a closer who was behind in his preparation to start the season. He gave up a hit and a walk while recording just one out before being removed. The next day, manager John Gibbons said that Cecil would be removed from the closer role for the time being as he rounds into form. That opens the door for rookie Miguel Castro, who pitched a flawless inning Thursday for his first save. It’s possible Castro will only be a one-week or two-week option in the ninth – it’s also possible the Blue Jays mix and match in the ninth inning in the immediate future, and Cecil himself could even be part of that committee. Castro has nice short-term value, but if you’re a Cecil owner, keep him on the roster.


Jason Grilli in, Craig Kimbrel out

The Braves shocked the baseball world by trading away elite closer Kimbrel the day before they were set to open the season. While the deal makes sense as a baseball move – why pay top price for a closer during a rebuild? – it was still hard to swallow for Braves fans, and especially for Joaquin Benoit owners. In Atlanta, Grilli steps into the role. At 38 years old, he’s not the team’s closer of the future, and the Braves should be expected to swing Grilli to another team by the trade deadline if he excels in the closer role. Still, he’s worth owning in all leagues at this point, and he should certainly be floated in trade talks in your league as the trading deadline approaches.


Chris Hatcher, Joel Peralta in

Peralta was the favorite to head the Dodgers committee heading into the season, but it was Hatcher who picked up the first save of the season for the team. He also struggled in his second appearance in as many days, giving up four runs (two earned) while not recording an out. Unavailable the next day after pitching on consecutive days, Peralta stepped in to get the save Wednesday. I can see the Dodgers continuing to use a committee, and I think I’d lean slightly toward Hatcher at this point. Neither player has long-term value though with Kenley Jansen’s return on the horizon, so don’t be afraid to leave them on the wire if you have a pretty set bullpen.


Jeurys Familia in, Jenrry Mejia (elbow) out

Mejia was placed on the disabled list due to inflammation in his elbow, and he suffered his injury during the warmup phase prior to what would have been his season debut rather than in a game situation. Familia is in line to close while Mejia is out, and he pitched well enough last season to make him worth a look in all leagues. Mejia will likely take the job back when healthy, and Bobby Parnell could also find himself back closing by the end of the month. Parnell is worth a DL stash if possible.


Craig Kimbrel in, Joaquin Benoit

Benoit was one of my favorite value picks at closer this season, and I ended up with him on four of my six teams. That didn’t pan out very well, as the Padres added an elite closer in Kimbrel the day before the season started. Kimbrel will obviously earn virtually all the save opportunities in San Diego, leaving Benoit as a droppable player in standard leagues.

Pick Him Up? Rankings

  1. Grilli
  2. Miller
  3. Betances
  4. Cecil
  5. Soria
  6. Clippard
  7. Boxberger
  8. Mejia
  9. Familia
  10. Castro
  11. Parnell
  12. Hatcher
  13. Peralta
  14. Mujica
  15. Nathan