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2019 Bullpen Outlooks - American League East

With the National League already taken care of, it's time to jump into the bullpens of the American League and take a look at what we can expect for the 2019 season. After a slow offseason, it seems like relief pitchers are finally coming off the free agent board and signing with the teams they'll spend at least this coming season with.

Several solid late inning relievers are still available, so every bullpen is still subject to change, although the bullpens of the AL East seem mostly settled (but are the Red Sox really going to start the season without replacing Craig Kimbrel or Joe Kelly?) The Yankees, meanwhile, should usually only need about four innings from their starting pitchers before the bullpen comes in and strikes out everyone in sight.

Let's ride the bullpen cart through the bullpens of the American League East.

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Baltimore Orioles

Closer: Mychal Givens
Volatility Rating: Solid
Other Relevant RP:  Richard Bleier

The Baltimore Orioles had a rough 2018. The Baltimore Orioles are going to have a rough 2019. Maybe they'll be a bit better, but it's not going to be pretty in Maryland this season. That being said, Orioles closer Mychal Givens could be a solid fantasy piece. He struggled a bit in 2018, posting a 3.99 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP, but he still struck out 79 in 76 2/3 innings. Since the few games the Orioles win should be close ones, Givens could be a sneaky source of saves throughout the season.

Richard Bleier is a solid setup man, but his fantasy prospects are limited due to his low strikeout totals. He posted an excellent 1.93 ERA but struck out just 15 batters in 32 2/3 innings of work. He's one of those pitchers who is much more valuable to his real team than he would be to any fantasy teams. Still, he could end up with some occasional value in AL-only holds leagues.

Fantasy Must-Own: Givens isn't a must-own, but he could prove to be a decent source of saves and strikeouts and should be available at the end of most drafts.


Boston Red Sox

Closer: Matt Barnes
Volatility Rating: Volatile
Other Relevant RP: Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree

The Boston Red Sox relied on Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly at the end of their bullpen in 2018. Neither player will be back on the Red Sox roster in 2019. Kelly signed with the Dodgers and Kimbrel, while still a free agent, is extremely unlikely to re-sign with Boston. So what will the new-look Red Sox bullpen look like?

It seems like Matt Barnes is the front-runner for the ninth inning, although this seems like one of the more likely bullpens in the AL to rely on a committee approach. Barnes would be a solid choice, however, as he posted 26 holds in 2018 while striking out 96 in just 61 2/3 innings. His 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP weren't anything to celebrate, but his strikeout upside makes him a guy worth keeping an eye on in all formats.

Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, and Tyler Thornburg are likely to round out the back end of the Boston bullpen. Brasier only threw 33 2/3 innings last season, but he posted a sparkling 1.60 ERA and 0.77 WHIP while striking out 29 batters. He should work in a primary setup role. Hembree should also see significant innings, and he struck out 76 batters in 60 innings last season, potentially giving him some value in holds leagues as well.

Fantasy Must-Own: Matt Barnes (must-own in all formats only if named closer), Barnes and Brasier should both be owned in holds formats.


New York Yankees

Closer: Aroldis Chapman
Volatility Rating: Solid
Other Relevant RP: Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green

The Yankees bullpen looks like the bullpen you put together in a video game's franchise mode after turning on the "force trades" option. They legitimately have at least five guys who could be high-end closers on other teams. In 2019, if the Yankees get a good five innings from their starting pitcher, they are probably going to win the game. It all starts at the top with closer Aroldis Chapman. He'll have the most fantasy value in standard leagues, at least to start the season. Chapman ended up with a 2.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP last season, striking out 93 in 51 1/3 while saving 32 games. Assuming he stays healthy, he's a pretty good bet to up that save total this season.

Behind Chapman will be Dellin Betances (2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 115 strikeouts in 66.2 innings), Zach Britton (3.10 ERA, 1.23 WHIP), Adam Ottavino (2.43 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 112 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings), and Chad Green (2.50 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 94 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings). This is shaping up to be the best bullpen in baseball and could end up as one of the best all-time. Guys like Tommy Kahnle and Jonathan Holder both have tons of upside and will likely be pitching in middle relief and mop-up roles.

Fantasy Must-Own: Aroldis Chapman (all formats), Dellin Betances and Adam Ottavino (all holds leagues, most deeper standard leagues), Zach Britton and Chad Green (deeper holds leagues)


Tampa Bay Rays

Closer: Jose Alvarado
Volatility Rating: Questionable
Other Relevant RPs: Chaz Roe, Ryne Stanek

The Tampa Bay Rays might ultimately re-write the book on how bullpens work. Their use of the "opener" has spread to a few other teams across the league at the same time as a few other teams, like the Phillies, are refusing to name an official closer and instead opting to play matchups based on each situation. Still, the saves stat isn't going away, and someone in Tampa Bay has to pick up a few, right?

Jose Alvarado seems like the guy to own in the Rays bullpen. Last season, he put up a 2.39 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP while striking out 80 in 64 innings. Alvarado was never officially given the role to himself last season, but he was one of the key members of the ninth inning toward the end of the year. Chaz Roe and Ryne Stanek will likely get some save chances as well. Roe posted a 3.58 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP to go with 53 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings. Stanek, meanwhile, pitched to a 2.98 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP while striking out 81 in 66 1/3 innings of work. For now, Alvarado is the one to own in this bullpen, but that could change quickly once the season begins.

Fantasy Must-Own: None, but Alvarado is the closest to it. If the Rays surprise everyone and actually name a closer, that closer would be a must-own in most formats. Alvarado and Stanek should both be owned in holds leagues.


Toronto Blue Jays

Closer: Ken Giles
Volatility Rating: Solid
Other Relevant RPs: Ryan Tepera

The Toronto Blue Jays suffered through a lot of Bad Ken Giles before they got to experience Good Ken Giles. He put up a 3.38 ERA in June, but then gave up four runs in the only two innings he pitched in July, only to come back to a 7.36 ERA in August. He gave the Blue Jays hope though, ending his season with 8 2/3 scoreless innings. For the season as a whole, Giles ended up with a 4.65 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 53 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings split between the Astros and the Blue Jays. He'll enter the season as the team's closer and based on the lack of depth in their bullpen, he might end up with a longer leash than expected.

The only other potentially fantasy-relevant reliever currently on Toronto's roster is Ryan Tepera. Tepera worked as the closer at certain points last season, picking up seven saves. He posted a 3.62 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP while striking out 68 in 64 2/3 innings. At this point, he's the only real competition for Giles, but he'll likely be the primary setup man at least to start the year.

Fantasy Must-Own: None in standard leagues (Giles is too unpredictable, but is someone to keep an eye on in case he pitches like he did in September), Tepera could be a decent piece in deeper holds leagues.

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