Deep League Closer Handcuffs

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"Don't overpay for saves." As dedicated fantasy baseball players, we've heard it a million times. When you start to see closers fly off the boards in your draft, however, it's tough not to pull the trigger so you don't get stuck with Jim Johnson as your lead fireman.

There's no need to panic though. Given the volatility of the closer position, you shouldn't worry at all. Over the last three seasons, less than 40% of pitchers who started the season as their team's closer also ended the year in that role.

It may make more sense strategically to pass on the mid-to-late tier closers who aren't sure things while stocking up on hitting and starting pitching. Where will the saves come from if you aren't planning to punt a whole category? Grabbing a couple of handcuffs, relievers who may be next in line to close, might get you just as many saves in the end. The top few handcuffs (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Nate Jones) are usually gone before the late rounds, so instead I'm going to highlight some players who could be worth a shot in the waning moments of drafts for very deep mixed or NL/AL-only leagues.

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Closer Handcuffs for Deep Leagues

Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

He's starting the season on the disabled list, which is already a bad omen. However, it's for a muscle strain and he's only on the 10-day DL for now. Rosenthal had a poor showing in 2016 with a 4.46 ERA and horrible 6.47 BB/9. He also posted an incredible .427 BABIP that conspired to make him look even worse. The good news is that the strikeout ability is as good as ever. He struck out 12.5 per 9 last year and has 11 K in 10 IP this spring. Remember, this is a 26 year-old that has saved 107 games over the last three seasons, so it's premature to simply write him off. What about the Final Boss? Seung Hwan Oh is set as the closer right now and rightfully so, but he only took over the role due to Rosenthal's struggles. He is already 34 years old and keeps his fastball around 93 MPH with nothing higher than 95. Rosenthal should be the closer here - it just may take some time for him to regain his form.

 

Daniel Hudson, Pittsburgh Pirates

Hudson might appear the least likely on this list to become a closer, but might also have the best odds. All-Star setup man Tony Watson was thrust into the closer role late last season after the Bucs dealt Mark Melancon. He didn't take too kindly to the job, blowing five out of 20 chances. He also saw jumps in his BB%, HR%, and FB%. Watson is still an effective reliever, but he may just not be cut out for the ninth inning. Hudson is a converted starter who has gone through two Tommy John surgeries. He's always had good stuff, but couldn't stay on the field. He took a turn in the closer role for the Diamondbacks late last year, saving five games. If he can stay in one piece, it might be Hudson who takes over in Pittsburgh if Watson proves ineffective or gets dealt.

 

Brad Ziegler, Miami Marlins

Kyle Barraclough is the Marlins reliever not named A.J. Ramos that is being drafted next in most leagues. Although he has no saves to his name, "Bear Claw" had an eye-popping 14.0 K/9 last season which tends to make one think closer material. Ziegler has the advantage of experience, however, which may just make him next in line for saves. Ziegler was saving games effectively for Arizona last season when he was traded to the Red Sox as bullpen depth for a playoff run. He finished with 22 saves in '16 after closing out 30 the previous year. Coming from the Dan Quisenberry school of submarine pitching, Ziegler won't rack up too many Ks (6.08 K/9 career average), but he can be a solid source of saves if Ramos were to go down.

 

Jeremy Jeffress, Texas Rangers

The impressive first half Jeffress put together in Milwaukee last season has seemingly been glossed over. Jeffress logged 27 saves in Milwaukee while maintaining a 2.22 ERA and 3.18 K/BB, thanks mainly to a 5.8% BB%. He wasn't the same after getting shipped to Texas, but he remains the obvious handcuff to Sam Dyson. In this case, there is little reason to think Dyson will lose the job unless he inexplicably melts down, but if it happens Jeffress will be there to pick up the pieces. He also won't get you huge strikeout numbers (8.00 K/9), but then again neither does Dyson (7.45 K/9).

 

Mauricio Cabrera, Atlanta Braves

Now we're getting deep. Arodys Vizcaino started 2016 as the Braves' closer, Jim Johnson finished it and still has a hold on the job. Of all three players, Cabrera seems best suited for the role though. In his rookie season, Cabrera posted a 2.82 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.5 K/9 and notched six saves. He definitely needs to harness his control, evidenced by his 11.7% BB%, but he is just 23 and will surely settle down with experience. He is currently experiencing elbow soreness and could land on the DL list, but he is more of a second-half stash anyway. When Jim Johnson inevitably gets traded to a contender, Cabrera has a chance to step in and flash his plus fastball which touches 100 MPH. His 11.7% SwStr% points to higher K totals in the very near future, assuming he can throw more strikes altogether.

 

Ryan Buchter, San Diego Padres

We'll finish with a player that currently sits either third or fourth on the closer pecking order for a losing team (chances are). Buchter doesn't seem to be in line for the ninth inning any time soon, but don't be surprised if it happens. Brandon Maurer was less than impressive in the second half, converting 13-of-19 saves. Carter Capps is already starting the season on the disabled list and must prove he can stay healthy. Brad Hand is a valuable bridge between the starters and bullpen who can stretch out multiple innings, so he won't be confined to the ninth. Enter Buchter, who as a rookie tallied just one save but 20 holds. He struck out 11.1 batters per nine innings and posted a 2.86 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP. Buchter doesn't look like a prototypical closer, but in the end it's the results that matter, isn't it? Keep him on your watch list and wait for things to break bad in the Padres' bullpen.

 

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