It’s December and as we prep to head into a New Year, 2023, it’s never too early to speculate on saves for the upcoming season.
I know what you may be thinking: do I have to think about this already? In truth, the preparation never stops for serious players.
One thing we know for certain is that the landscape for saves and bullpens has dramatically changed in recent years. My friend Greg Jewett recently pointed out that 233 pitchers had saves last year. Think about that and it boggles the mind. Only ten relief pitchers had more than 30 saves; only 18 pitchers had 20 or more. That leaves us with some serious thinking to do on strategy for 2023. Do you spend a top pick on a “sure-fire” closer, as if there is any such thing? Do you let other players take the top tier of Edwin Diaz and Emmanuel Clase early, and then shoot to pick up a Josh Hader or Liam Hendriks type a bit later? Or wait even longer and try to get in on Jordan Romano or Ryan Pressly? There are a bevy of options and strategies, and we will cover those later in the winter, on some other cold, wintry Saturday morning.
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No matter what strategy we choose for closers, one thing to know is that in most competitive leagues, you need fewer saves to compete in the category. The purpose of this article is to get our brains working and look at a few teams that seem to have wide open spots or competition for the closer role.
Closer Speculation for 2023 Fantasy Baseball
Per a quote from manager Mark Kotsay, potential closer AJ Puk will be getting an opportunity to stick in the starting rotation in 2023. Puk had his moments as the closer, earning four saves while striking out 76 batters in 66.1 innings, but he also walked 16 and gave up five homers in his post-All-Star break work. Holdovers Zach Jackson and Dany Jimenez remain and could get looks. Jackson had three saves and 67 punchouts in 47 innings, and Jimenez led the team with 11 saves in 2o22. Domingo Acevedo also had a handful of saves last year too. The Athletics are somewhat famous for signing relief arms off the so-called discard pile, and they did it again this year. signing veteran Trevor May to a one year, $7 million deal. At the bottom of this article is a list of free agent relievers that are looking for a home this season. The Athletics could sign one, hope for the best, and then flip the veteran at the trade deadline to help their perpetual rebuilding efforts. My speculation is that May was not going to be paid $7 million by the pecunious Oakland management to be a setup guy. Could be very wrong here, but the tea leaves at this time point to May being the closer. Obviously, this all can and likely will change.
It feels like the Marlins should be shopping in the bargain bin to find their next closer. Miami received some good work for a time from Tanner Scott before trouble found him again, mostly due to an elevated walk rate. This feels like a potential landing spot for Aroldis Chapman, doesn’t it? Dylan Floro will also be in the mix. Floro has an ADP of 309, far ahead of Scott (548) and Anthony Bender. That said, I would be surprised if the Marlins went to camp without adding a free agent, experienced closer to their ranks. There is a list of free agent relief pitchers at the end of this article, and perhaps one of these guys signs for an opportunity in Miami.
Los Angeles Angels:
Many fantasy players will tout Jimmy Herget or Jose Quijada, but an under-the-radar signing was Carlos Estevez. My best guess is that he has been signed to close games in Los Angeles. Herget is the clubhouse favorite based on his work in 2022 and many fantasy players will have him as the top choice. Estevez is kind of under the radar at this time as his work may have been overlooked given the success of Daniel Bard in Colorado last season. Estevez had a bad May, with an ERA of 8.22 and four home runs, but he was excellent after the All-Star break: 2-0, 1.40 ERA, .78 WHIP, one save and 27 strikeouts in 25.2 innings. Getting out of Coors Field should help as well.
The Cubs signed veteran reliever Brad Boxberger to add to their bullpen mix for the 2023 season. Boxberger does have closing experience and has 82 career saves. But he’s 37 and the Cubs have other options in Brandon Hughes, Miguel Rodriguez, and perhaps Rowan Wick. And Codi Heuer will be back from TJS by midsummer. The best arm of the bunch is likely Hughes, but in today’s game, we know that being the best arm in a bullpen does not necessarily translate to getting saves. In Draft Champions leagues, Hughes has the highest ADP at 393. It will be interesting to see how this changes as we get into Spring Training and this situation sorts itself out. This looks like it could start as a committee if the Cubs do not add anyone else to the equation this winter, but I am assuming they will add a piece or two here. Even though Hughes ended the season in the role, word on the street in Chicago is that management would prefer to use the lefty as a stopper and not as a closer. Time will tell.
The Phillies and general manager Dave Dombrowski took a chance this week on former All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, signing him to a one-year, $10 million deal. It’s a fairly low-risk move for a team that has almost $650 million tied up in two players. Of interest here is how this plays out in Philadelphia for manager Rob Thomsen. Thomsen proved adept at bullpen mixing and matching all the way through the playoffs. My best guess is this will be a division of labor, with Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado also getting chances. Dominguez could end up being the stopper, being used later in games to put out rallies, while leaving save chances for others. At this time with no other information available, I would put them Kimbrel/Dominguez/Alvarado for save opportunities. Again, the best pitcher may not get the bulk of the saves here on a team that looks to contend for another World Series appearance. I would guess that Kimbrel, if healthy and resurgent, could get 15-20 saves, and Dominguez maybe 10-15. Alvarado could get 5-7 saves too. Anything can happen and likely will.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
The Dodgers have in-house options after allowing the aforementioned Kimbrel to leave via free agency. Evan Phillips did a nice job for them last year, and a return to health of Daniel Hudson could see him involved in the discussion as well. A point that could be important to remember is that Hudson has preferred a high-leverage role that is not the closing role in the past. It always feels to me that Brusdar Graterol is a forgotten man who could likely close games based on his skillset. Graterol is often seen as a better setup guy because folks want closers to miss more bats than he does; Graterol’s K rate is 21.8%, which is far less than what you would hope for in a top closer. Do not forget that former closer Blake Treinen, who has battled through nagging shoulder woes over the last year, has experience in the role with 79 career saves and remains on the roster. We know the Dodgers may feel like they have enough pitching to start the season, and that they could always turn to the trade market to get what they need midseason.
Former closers looking for new homes in 2023: Zack Britton, Alex Colome, Will Smith, Trevor Rosenthal, Aroldis Chapman, Corey Knebel, Alex Reyes, Brad Hand, Michael Fulmer, Andrew Chafin. Any of these guys added to a bullpen in the coming weeks could dramatically alter the outlook of that bullpen. Be on the lookout this winter!
percunious? or impercunious?
Manuel Rodriguez pitches for the Cubs, not Miguel.
Yes, thank you!
Did you mean Manuel Rodriguez for the Cubs?
Yes I did. Thanks! Sorry about that.