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Closers and Saves Report: Summer Camp Edition

In a normal year, we'd be talking about the upcoming trade deadline and how this team needs that player but that team needs this player but then that guy got hurt. During a normal baseball season, we'd be discussing the All-Star Game and how this player definitely didn't deserve a spot and that player was certainly robbed of his and that Home Run Derby was wild and can you believe that guy won the All-Star Game MVP?

But... it's 2020, so it's definitely not a normal year. It's 2020 so we're not having a normal baseball season. We're getting 60 games, maybe. We're getting designated hitters everywhere, and lots of teams aren't playing lots of other teams they usually do. Rosters will be expanded for the start of the season, then made smaller and smaller... Likely the position that will be the most different (besides the National League DH) will be the pitcher. With extra arms in every bullpen and lots of games to play in little time, the trend of starting pitchers throwing fewer and fewer innings will continue and likely spike this season. Guys like Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will be ready to throw 1,000 pitches every day, but most teams will limit their starters to maybe 5-6 innings, especially the first few times through the rotation.

Effective innings from relievers will be one of the keys for winning teams in 2020. That statement holds true in real baseball, but maybe even more so in fantasy baseball. Closers have been key members of fantasy teams for years, and setup men have grown their importance over the past few seasons with the spread of holds being counted in many leagues. Keep an eye on our Rotoballer Closers and Saves Fantasy Baseball Depth Charts leading up to and throughout this shortened season to get a leg up in your league! Even though divisions won't really be a thing this season, we can still divide teams by where they usually would be, right? Let's take a quick look at the bullpens in each division and highlight any recent or expected changes.

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AL East

Three of the American League East teams should have pretty straightforward bullpens in the sure-to-be-strange 2020 season. The Yankees will have Aroldis Chapman closing things out, with Zach Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle helping to get leads to the ninth inning. The Yankees should be one of the best teams in baseball and will have plenty of leads for Chapman to save this year. He's one of the safest bets at closer in fantasy and has the upside to lead the league in saves.

The best reliever on the Red Sox is likely Matt Barnes, but he'll work in a setup/fireman role ahead of closer Brandon Workman. Workman himself has a good bit of upside and should end up with plenty of saves as long as he can hold off Barnes in his ninth-inning role. Barnes has the strikeout upside to be one of the better bets in leagues that count holds.

Up in Toronto, the Blue Jays will have Ken Giles wrapping up games with Anthony Bass and Sam Gaviglio trying to get leads into the ninth. Giles routinely performs better on the mound than people seem to expect, making him a bargain in some fantasy leagues where he remains underappreciated.

Then we get to the two AL East bullpens that will probably give fantasy owners (and the real team's managers) headaches all season long. The Orioles look like they'll start the year with Mychal Givens at closer, but Hunter Harvey could be knocking on the ninth inning door starting on Day 1. Harvey is the better pitcher with very high upside, and would take over for Givens if Givens struggles or if he is ultimately traded before the modified trade deadline. While Givens hasn't been great in the closer's role, he's a solid relief pitcher that would certainly help out a contending team, so the Orioles won't have a hard time finding a trade partner if they choose to move him. Harvey should be owned in holds leagues and should have a close eye kept on him in standard formats, even though the Orioles probably won't have many hold or save opportunities.

Finally, we have the Tampa Bay Rays and their always interesting bullpen. Nick Anderson is the early favorite for saves, but Diego Castillo, Colin Poche, and Jose Alvarado will all likely be seen in the ninth inning as well. Rays manager Kevin Cash doesn't tend to like to pigeonhole his relievers, so he's even less likely to have a specifically-named closer in a season like this one. Anderson's seeming top spot in the hierarchy along with his strikeout upside make him the best fantasy asset in this bullpen, but his real value will be in SVHD leagues over standard formats.


AL Central

The American League Central is the only division in baseball where all five teams are listed as Solid in our Depth Charts. Everything in every bullpen is always subject to change though, and that's never been more true than in 2020 (where, I suppose, we can say that everything everywhere is always subject to change.) The Tigers will have Joe Jimenez at the end of their pen, with Buck Farmer and a few other arms trying to get those leads to him. The Tigers might not have a ton of save chances, but Jimenez should be solid enough and could be a decent bargain closer.

The White Sox will stick with Alex Colome in the ninth inning, with Aaron Bummer and Steve Cishek working the earlier innings along with Kelvin Herrera and Jace Fry. Colome doesn't strike a bunch of guys out, but he does get saves so he could be a decent fantasy option if you can pair him with a higher-strikeout guy in your bullpen.

Cleveland enters the season with Brad Hand holding down the ninth inning. He had a very mercurial 2019 season, looking unhittable at times but like a guy setting up a batting tee at other times. If the good Brad Hand shows up, he'll be able to keep the ninth inning all year and should be one of the best closers in baseball. If not, rookie James Karinchak is waiting for a chance to show what he can do in a save situation. Karinchak put up some of the most ridiculous strikeout numbers you'll ever see in his minor league career and is worth picking up right now in deeper leagues and holds formats. Oliver Perez and Nick Wittgren round out the back end of the Cleveland pen.

Over in Kansas City, Ian Kennedy will try to build on his renaissance 2019 season that saw him go from "Wait, Ian Kennedy is still in the league?" to a 30-save season and his lowest ERA since 2011. Trevor Rosenthal is back with manager Mike Matheny, but his health and effectiveness both remain huge question marks after a disastrous 2019. Speaking of disastrous 2019s, Greg Holland and his 6+ walks per nine innings will be in the Royals bullpen as well.

Rounding out the AL Central, the Twins will feature Taylor Rogers in their ninth innings, set up by a combination of Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey, and Trevor May. This should be one of the more solid bullpens in the league, headlined by Rogers who will be an excellent fantasy asset in all formats.


AL West

The American League West has a few more question marks than the AL Central, but possibly a lot more upside as well. Starting off with the solid teams, the Los Angeles Angels will have Hansel Robles closing things out in the ninth inning. Ty Buttrey will return as a fireman of sorts, getting the key innings before the ninth and serving as the handcuff for Robles. Cam Bedrosian and the returning-from-TJ Keynan Middleton will all be in the mix for the later innings as well. With Joe Maddon's creative managing at the helm for 2020, things could look a bit different in the Angels bullpen, but at least so far, it seems like things will be similar to how they were last season.

The Athletics got a pretty bad year from Blake Treinen last season, but that led to an excellent year from Liam Hendriks. Hendriks saved 25 games and put up a statistics-backed 1.80 ERA. He should be one of the better closers in baseball and won't have a problem holding off the rest of the A's bullpen, made up of veterans Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, and Yusmeiro Petit.

The Astros will bring Roberto Osuna back for the ninth, and he should be one of the safer closer bets in baseball, with some upside as well. He'll have plenty of leads to save, and strong arms like Ryan Pressly, Chris Devenski, and Joe Smith bridging games to him.

Now to the not-so-solid bullpens in the AL West, starting with the Rangers. The Rangers do have a clear front runner for saves in Jose Leclerc, but there's been some buzz that Texas may use him in a fireman role this year. That will maintain or maybe even improve his value in SV+HLD leagues, but could limit it some in standard leagues. The rest of the Rangers bullpen will feature Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez, and Cody Allen. Allen hasn't been as good as he used to be lately, but managers love "experience" and Allen does have 153 saves throughout his career. This could end up as a full committee, with Leclerc pitching whatever late inning is expected to be the toughest, then whoever is left picking up the save opportunity in the ninth.

Over in Seattle, the Mariners bullpen looks like it could be a full committee as well, except this one doesn't really have a clear favorite or fireman. For now, Austin Adams seems to be atop the list, but Matt Magill, Yoshihisa Hirano, Brandon Brennan, and Carl Edwards Jr. should all work somewhere in the later third of games. Unless a full-time closer is announced at some point, the entire Mariners bullpen might be best avoided for most fantasy formats.


NL East

Quite the opposite of the AL Central, the National League East doesn't really have any completely solid bullpens at this point. Three of the pens are listed as Solid but the closer's hold in each of those still just seems more tenuous than in some others. Let's start with the at least somewhat solid bullpens, taking a look at the Marlins first. Based on experience and comments made by team manager Don Mattingly, it's a safe bet to say that Brandon Kintzler will be on the mound in the ninth inning when the Marlins have a lead. Kintzler certainly isn't the prototypical closer with a relatively low strikeout rate, but he's been able to get guys out and Mattingly certainly values his veteran experience. Ryne Stanek, Yimi Garcia, Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley, and Jose Urena will likely mix and match for the earlier innings to send leads over to Kintzler in the ninth. The dark horse in the Marlins pen is Brad Boxberger, but he'll have to prove he's worthy of significant innings before just being handed them.

The Phillies bullpen was looking like a pretty standard solid bullpen, but expected closer Hector Neris is currently on the injured list after testing positive for COVID-19. He's expected to be okay and ready to go by Opening Day, but that's not a sure thing quite yet. Adam Morgan would step into the ninth if Neris misses time, with Jose Alvarez and Anthony Swarzak working the bridge before him.

The other somewhat-solid NL East bullpen is in Washington. The Nationals will reportedly start the year with lefty Sean Doolittle in a classic closer's role. Daniel Hudson should get some save chances here and there and will be breathing down Doolittle's neck if he struggles. Roenis Elias, Will Harris, and Tanner Rainey round out what should be a pretty good late-game bullpen for the defending champs.

In the less-solid side of the NL East, the Mets bullpen has some huge names and powerful arms, but maybe no defined roles. In a recent quote, new Mets manager Luis Rojas refused to commit to Edwin Diaz as his full-time closer. Diaz still seems the most likely to hold it down as long as he pitches well, but Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances, and Jeurys Familia have all been shutdown relievers at times and could take the ninth inning if Rojas goes with a hot hand committee approach. Fantasy managers in holds leagues can take the risk on Betances or Diaz and could be significantly rewarded if they reach their upside.

The Braves bullpen seems solid based on what the team is saying, but talent often speaks louder than words. Mark Melancon will open the season as the team's closer, and he ultimately was the most effective in the role last year while the Braves bullpen generally struggled to hold leads. Newly-signed Will Smith seems the most likely candidate to ultimately take over the ninth inning, but the Braves could just choose to keep him in a fireman role while Melancon settles into the ninth. Shane Green, Luke Jackson, and Chris Martin round out what should be, on paper at least, one of the strongest bullpens in the National League.


NL Central

Almost like their matching division in the AL, the National League Central only has one questionable bullpen and four pretty solid ones. Let's start with the questionable one, the one in St. Louis. The Cardinals will probably have Jordan Hicks back from his Tommy John Surgery at some point this season, but he won't be ready to start out the season and won't likely be able to pitch in back-to-back games for a while. Giovanny Gallegos was expected to slide into the ninth, but he still hasn't joined the team at Summer Camp and could end up being a bit behind. When asked about the closer's role, manager Mike Shildt mentioned Ryan Helsley first, but then went on to mention Gallegos and Carlos Martinez. Martinez fared well enough in the closer's role for most of last season, but the team is trying to stretch him back out to be in the starting rotation.

The Cubs bullpen is solid in name, but that all depends on which version of Craig Kimbrel shows up in 2020. Kimbrel was mostly terrible in 2019, but there were reasons to believe those struggles were short term. If he's even two-thirds of the Kimbrel we know, the Cubs bullpen will be fine. Rowan Wick will be the key setup man and Kimbrel's handcuff, and Jeremy Jeffress will provide solid late-game innings as well.

The Reds bullpen is also expected to be solid, with Raisel Iglesias featured in the ninth. Swiss-Army-Knife Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Pedro Strop should all toss significant innings in 2020, and any of them could slide into the ninth if Iglesias struggles. The Reds' pen could be surprisingly good in 2020.

Despite a quiet step back in 2019, Josh Hader is still Josh Hader and will likely be the first reliever drafted in many fantasy leagues. He should be able to hold it down for the Brewers and will be backed up by Corey Knebel (once he's fully healthy), Brent Suter, and David Phelps.

The Pirates bullpen is solid to start the season, but expected to be at least somewhat in flux throughout. Keone Kela starts the year as closer, but he is not expected to last in Pittsburgh past the trade deadline. For now, Kyle Crick looks like he's next in line, with Michael Feliz and Nick Burdi waiting in the wings. Burdi has the most upside in the group and could take over the ninth if/when Kela is moved, as long as he's pitching well.


NL West

The National League West is an interesting division, bullpen-wise. There are four rather solid bullpens, then the bullpen that I think is the least solid of all. Let's start with that one. The San Francisco Giants will be managed by Gabe Kapler, so we already know their bullpen usage will be...creative. The big issue by the Bay is: there are no closers on the roster. Veteran Tony Watson leads the team in career saves with 30. He's the favorite to lead the Giants in saves in 2020, but he may "lead" the team with a single-digit number after the 60-game season. Joining him in the bullpen will be Tyler Rogers, Trevor Gott, and Jarlin Garcia. Shaun Anderson is expected to fight for a rotation spot, but he could be a factor in the bullpen too if he ends up there. Any of the listed guys could end up with a handful of saves and could have portions of the season where they are fantasy-relevant, but it's hard to recommend any reliever in a Giants uniform as a fantasy target.

The Dodgers have Kenley Jansen returning to anchor their pen in 2020. While he hasn't been the elite closer he used to be for the past two seasons, he's still been more than solid and should have no problem holding down the closer's role for a team sure to win plenty of games. He's a decent bet to lead the league in saves if he can stay on the field. Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, and Joe Kelly will throw important innings in Los Angeles as well.

Another guy who could lead the league in saves is Kirby Yates of the Padres. Yates had an amazing season in 2019 and emerged as one of the best closers in baseball. He's my bet to take over for Josh Hader as the best reliever in baseball. Helping set up for Yates will be Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz in what could surprise many and be the best bullpen in baseball. Any of those three Padres mentioned are excellent holds league targets. The last two NL West bullpens are a little less solidified than the two Southern California ones, but they're still solid in their own rights.

The Diamondbacks will send Archie Bradley to the mound to save their leads, and even though he only has 22 saves in his career, 18 of them were last season and he's proven to be a consistent bullpen arm in the desert for a while now.

Finally, the Rockies will put their trust back in Wade Davis, at least to start out. Davis was horrific last season, pitching to an 8.65 ERA and walking almost as many batters as he struck out. The Rockies think he can sort things out though, and they've announced him as the team's closer. Scott Oberg, Jairo Diaz, and Carlos Estevez will all be working the innings before Davis, and Oberg is the clear handcuff and would take over the ninth if Davis even hints at a performance like 2019's.

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