Closer Hot Seats and Setup Men Who Want To Sit In Them

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"Closer" can more or less be considered a starting role in fantasy baseball. It's not a starting role in the sense that the player actually starts every game, nor does he start in a regular rotation, but he has a set role that his manager uses him in.

The whole point of trying to convince you that the closer is a starter is to say this: closers have the least firm grasp on a starting role compared to any other players in baseball. If a starting pitcher performs poorly for a few starts, he almost always gets a few more starts to try to "get right" before he's sent to the minors or demoted to the bullpen. If a starting position player goes into a slump, he might get a day or two off, but he's still the starter and gets to work his way through the slump. Closers, though? Two blown saves in a row, maybe three, and all of a sudden he's pitching in the fifth inning of a blowout loss. Maybe he works his way back up the bullpen hierarchy and gets his ninth inning job back, but it seems like most of the time, he ends up either staying in middle relief or perhaps helping out the new closer by working the eighth inning ahead of him.

All but the highest paid closers seem to always be on the hottest of seats, so it's important to stay one step ahead and figure out who is next in line. Here's a look at which seats are white hot and which setup men are willing to plant their cheeks on the heat if need be.

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The Hottest Bullpen Seats in MLB

Los Angeles Angels

Huston Street is the Angels closer. Saying it out loud doesn't make it easier to believe, but the 33-year old is still hanging around. According to the Los Angeles Angels' official website, Huston Street really is the Angels closer. This is the same pitcher who appeared in only 26 games last season and posted an obscene 6.45 ERA. The same Huston Street who is already injured and nursing a Grade 1 lat strain.

Waiting in the wings and likely to at least start the season pitching the ninth inning for the Angels is Cam Bedrosian. He'll most likely get the chance to close at the beginning of the season while Street recovers from his injury. Bedrosian, in strict contrast to Street, had an excellent 2016, posting a 1.12 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. He has the tools to be a very good closer, both in fantasy and for the Angels. Hopefully a hot start to the season lets the Angels know that Street's days as a closer are behind him and that the 25-year-old Bedrosian could be a bullpen ace in Orange County for years to come.

Bedrock Jr. is already worth a pick up in deep leagues and in AL-only, and could be worth that last roster spot in standard mixed leagues as well. Street, on the other hand, should not be rostered at all right now given the uncertainty behind his injury and returning role if Bedrosian is effective to start the year.

 

Chicago White Sox

With each passing day, it seems more and more like David Robertson will start the season as the closer for the White Sox. Earlier in the spring, rumors swirled about a Robertson-to-the-Nationals trade, but those have mostly died down. Nate Jones is a closer-in-waiting in the White Sox bullpen, but it seems like he might not get a chance to close until at least the trade deadline. Robertson was shopped in the winter, meaning he'll almost surely be gone by the trade deadline if not sooner. He and Jones both have the "stuff" to be excellent closers, only that Robertson has proven himself in the past.

For now, Robertson is fine to own in fantasy leagues, but owners could do worse than handcuffing him with Jones. In many leagues, Jones is even being drafted ahead of Robertson in anticipation of a change. If Robertson ends up traded and you still have Jones on your roster, you could end up with two excellent closers all of a sudden. Not a bad insurance policy.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are trying something similar to what the Angels are trying: they are trying to convince themselves that one of the worst pitchers in their bullpen should be their closer. Jeanmar Gomez currently holds the title of closer for the Phillies, as he did for most of last year, saving 37 games but posting an ugly 4.85 ERA and 1.46 WHIP with only 47 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings. Gomez is a decent middle reliever, if we're feeling generous, but he's definitely not a closer. He will open the season as one though, even though he lost the job at the end of last year. Waiting in the bullpen behind Gomez are several better options: Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit, and even Pat Neshek.

The best bet by far is Neris. He is a strikeout machine with "closer stuff" who had 28 holds last year with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. He struck out 102 in his 80 1/3 innings. He's the arm most likely to develop into an excellent closer, but the Phillies may decide to give the job to veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit instead (once Gomez inevitable falters). The 39-year-old Benoit had a 2.81 ERA and 1.27 WHIP last season, striking out just over a batter per inning. He's been an excellent setup man throughout his career and will open the season in that role for the Phillies. Whether or not someone will have to take Gomez's seat in almost inevitable. Figuring out just who it would be is almost impossible though, making the Phillies bullpen one to avoid in most leagues. Neris has the most upside though, so he is certainly worth the last roster spot of any team gutsy enough to pick up Gomez.

 

Washington Nationals

Everyone assumed the Nationals would go with Shawn Kelley as their closer. Then we heard rumors about them trying to trade for David Robertson. Then those rumors died down, and we were back to Kelley. But now, new rumors are stirring that Kelley may end up in an inning other than the ninth once again. He has been pitching multiple innings on minor league fields, while rookie Koda Glover has been essentially working in the closer role in Grapefruit League games. While no official designation has yet been made, and manager Dusty Baker loves his veterans and rarely gives rookies important roles, it would seem like Glover does have a chance to work his way into the ninth inning. He had a rough debut last season, working to a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings, but he has "closer stuff" and can blow his fastball by hitters. Kelley should still start out as the closer, but Glover is certainly an arm to keep an eye on.

 

Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds ended last season with converted starter Raisel Iglesias installed as their closer. For the season, he did well, saving six games and holding seven, while posting a 2.53 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. He struck out 83 in 78 1/3 innings. Even though he ended last season as the closer and was thought to be the favorite heading into Cactus League play, Iglesias has been used for multiple innings in each of his spring appearances, something unheard of for closers. This raises questions about how the Reds plan on using Iglesias, who as a former starter certainly has the stamina to go multiple innings in an outing. Drew Storen would seem like a decent option despite coming off a rough year where he put up a horrifying 5.23 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Storen has great "stuff" though, and could put his career back on track by working his way into the closer role.

Michael Lorenzen is also reportedly in the running for the ninth inning spot, and despite not saving any games last season, he put up good numbers in relief. He pitched 50 innings, striking out 48 and posting a 2.88 ERA/1.08 WHIP. He wouldn't be an elite closer, but he could be valuable if given the chance. Finally, lefty Tony Cingrani spent some time as closer last season, saving 17 games for the Reds. His 4.14 ERA is a bit concerning, and his 1.44 WHIP is almost inexcusable. Pair that with only 49 strikeouts over 63 innings, and Cingrani seems like the worst choice to close out of the Reds bullpen. Still, he has the "experience" that some of the other don't.

Look for Iglesias to likely start the year as closer, but on a very short leash. Determining who takes his spot if necessary is tough, but Storen is the one with the most upside. For right now, Iglesias is the only one worth considering in fantasy, but that could change quickly.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates' closer situation is an interesting one. Lefty Tony Watson is the incumbent since Mark Melancon was traded, but he didn't do great with the chance he was given at the end of last season. For all of 2016, Watson posted 15 saves with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. He was solid, but certainly unspectacular, and he blew a few critical save situations toward the end of the season. Competing against him for the ninth inning is newly-acquired right hander Daniel Hudson. Hudson had a bloated 5.22 ERA and 1.44 WHIP for the Diamondbacks last season, but he struck out just about a batter per inning. Also, Hudson had an awful stretch that absolutely destroyed his ERA and WHIP sandwiched by several very solid months.

For right now, it would seem Watson has the upper hand simply because he ended last season with the job. Based on the contract the Pirates gave Hudson though, he seems destined to be the closer sooner or later, and certainly has a chance to win the job outright before the Pirates break camp. Early fantasy drafters might want to avoid both players, but players in save+hold leagues wouldn't do terribly by drafting both. One will be the closer, the other will be the primary setup man. That's basically set in stone.

 

Arizona Diamondbacks

Fernando Rodney was an excellent reliever for the San Diego Padres in the first half of 2016. Fernando Rodney was an excruciatingly awful reliever for the Miami Marlins in the second half of 2016. Which version of Fernando Rodney shows up as closer of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017 remains to be seen. Rodney will be given the chance to start the year as closer, but the chances of him being the second half version seem a lot higher than the former.

The problem with the Diamondbacks bullpen, however, is that there's no one else there. No one in the Arizona bullpen projects as even an average closer. Jake Barrett, Randall Delgado, and Enrique Burgos make up the back end of their bullpen, but Barrett is recovering from a shoulder injury and unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. Delgado (4.44 ERA/1.51 WHIP), and Burgos (5.66 ERA/1.46 WHIP) aren't very good relievers. Rodney showing up as good Rodney may be the only chance the Diamondbacks have at having a decent relief pitcher on their roster. Risk-averse owners will want to avoid this bullpen completely for fantasy baseball, and even the most daring might be better off doing the same in anything other than NL-only formats.

 

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies have a potentially elite closer in Adam Ottavino. They also have a proven elite closer recovering from injury in Greg Holland. Finally, they have a formerly extremely effective closer coming off a bad year in Jake McGee. An embarrassment of riches and a nice problem to have certainly. Both ring true, but with a giant Coors Field asterisk. Lefty Jake McGee had a sparkling 2.07 ERA in 112 games spanning 2014-2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Then he joined the Rockies and posted a 4.73 ERA in 2016. Adam Ottavino, meanwhile, pitched in 34 games in 2016 and posted a 2.67 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP, striking out 35 in 27 innings. He's expected to open the season as the team's closer, but might only be keeping that hot seat warm for when Greg Holland is ready.

Holland is returning from Tommy John surgery, but was an elite closer for the Royals not too long ago. He saved 93 games between 2013-2014, allowing only 19 earned runs in 129 1/3 innings pitched while striking out 193. If Holland can return to that form, it's hard to see him not earning his way to the ninth inning. Ottavino is no slouch either though, so deep league fantasy players may want to consider drafting both and reaping the rewards of two excellent relievers. However, the Coors Field asterisk still applies, so many fantasy players will likely avoid both right handers altogether. This could make for a value pick in the later rounds for those willing to take the risk.