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2020 Early Bullpen Outlooks - A.L. East


Updated 2/14/20: Pagan no longer on the Rays, Anderson likely closer. Workman confirmed as closer in Boston.

Welcome to 2020, fantasy friends. With football season winding down and basketball and hockey in full swing, it's time to start thinking about the 2020 baseball season.

Free agency has been a little more front-loaded this season, leaving fewer questions about rosters heading into Spring Training. Still, there will be changes between now and Opening Day, so keep an eye on our Fantasy Baseball Bullpen Depth Charts throughout the year.

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Let's get started with the American League East, where not much has changed since last season, but some things may have settled down a bit. There's a lot of upside in AL East bullpens, and some potential later-round value as well. Let's dive in.

 

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are World Series favorites heading into 2020. Signing Gerrit Cole moved the needle significantly, but their elite bullpen plays a huge role in their outlook as well. Aroldis Chapman will return as closer after posting 37 saves and a 2.21 ERA/2.28 FIP. His K% went down a bit from 2018, but was still an excellent 36.2%, especially when combined with his improved 10.6% BB%. Chapman should once again be one of the more popular closers on fantasy rosters.

The Yankees will also have Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle returning, among others. Dellin Betances moved on to the other New York team, but he hasn't been a factor in the Bronx since 2018 due to injuries. Britton is the early favorite for the main setup/8th inning role, but any of Britton, Ottavino, and Kahnle could be solid holds league options, likely ranked in that order. There is a ton of fantasy value throughout the Yankees pitching staff.

 

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox went through a rough 2019 in terms of the bullpen and other issues. They finally seemed to figure things out at the end of the season though, and Brandon Workman will head into Spring Training as the main closer in Boston. Workman closed out the season with a 10-1 record, 16 saves, and a 1.88 ERA/2.46 FIP. He struck out a strong 13.06 per inning, but also walked a concerning 5.65 per nine. Workman has nice upside on what could end up being a slightly rebuilding Red Sox team in 2020, but there is a little bit of concern based around his control.

Along with Workman, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Marcus Walden should feature prominently in the Boston bullpen. Barnes would be the best choice in holds leagues, and should also be next in line if Workman were to be hurt or ineffective. Barnes ended 2019 with a 3.78 ERA, but he struck out 38.6% of the batters he faced. He also has some control concerns (13.3 BB%), but showed some flashes of elite upside last season.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays were generally disappointing last season, but they showed some flashes and should be much improved in the 2020 season. Injuries and constant trade rumors messed with the bullpen north of the border somewhat, but Ken Giles will be entering the season healthy and as the unquestioned stopper in the Jays bullpen. When he was on the mound, Giles was excellent in 2019, posting 23 saves to go with a 1.87 ERA/2.27 FIP. He struck out 39.9% of the batters he faced and only issued walks to 8.2%. Those are elite-level numbers given a better team that should provide more save chances.

The rest of the Blue Jays bullpen is much more of a question mark, but Sam Gaviglio and Anthony Bass should play significant roles. Gaviglio was a solid enough middle reliever last season, posting a 4.61 ERA/4.64 FIP. His control was solid, as he struck out 8.28 per nine while walking just 2.07 per nine. He's not a high-upside arm and will likely be more valuable on the mound than in a fantasy lineup. Bass had similar numbers in 2019 and a similar outlook for 2020: he'll be good enough for the Blue Jays, but likely not good enough for many fantasy lineups. Bass had a 3.56 ERA/3.90 FIP with 8.06 K/9 and 3.19 BB/9. The only standard-league asset in the Blue Jays bullpen will be Ken Giles.

 

Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles had a long, difficult 2019 season and seem almost certain to experience a similar ordeal in 2020. Still, bad teams will win some games, and a lot of them will be close, making a closer a potentially valuable fantasy piece. Mychal Givens spent time as the Orioles closer in 2019 and was okay, although he showed signs of being more than that. Overall, he ended up with 11 saves, a 4.57 ERA/4.50 FIP, and 12.29 K/9. His 3.71 BB/9 wasn't great, but it wasn't as concerning as many other closers with high strikeout rates.

Givens will have competition from Hunter Harvey perhaps as early as Spring Training, however. Harvey only pitched 6 1/3 innings at the big league level, but he posted strong numbers on the mound in Triple-A and could be given a chance to earn a significant role right out of camp. At least, he should be a holds league option in deeper formats. Richard Bleier and Shawn Armstrong should make up the rest of the late-inning bullpen options for Brandon Hyde and the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

As usual, the Tampa Bay Rays led the charge with creative uses of the pitching staff in 2019. Continued use of the "Opener" strategy made things messy for fantasy purposes in 2019 and will keep the theme going in 2020. Still, the Rays have several high-upside arms on the roster that could make for excellent fantasy assets depending on the way they are used. Emilio Pagan seems locked in as closer right now and ended last season with 20 saves, a 2.31 ERA/3.30 FIP, and 36.0% K%. Combined with a strong 4.9 BB%, Pagan could be one of the better fantasy closers as long as manager Kevin Cash keeps him in the ninth inning.

While Pagan's role seems mostly secure, the rest of the Rays bullpen is more of a free-for-all. Nick Anderson, Colin Poche, and Jose Alvarado will all mix into the late innings, although some will perhaps be featured as openers as well. Anderson seems like the best bet for saves now that Pagan was traded. Anderson was excellent in 2019, posting a 3.32 ERA/2.35 FIP with 15.23 K/9 and just 2.49 BB/9. He split time between the two Florida teams, starting the season with the Marlins before heading to the Rays before the trade deadline. Anderson's only issue was that when he did give up hits, he gave them up HARD. Batters seemed to have a hard time making contact against Anderson, but made hard contact when they did. If he can limit hard contact or induce more ground balls, Anderson could suddenly become one of the most effective relievers in baseball.

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