As has been documented by many analysts and players alike, trying to figure out bullpens in February 2022 has amounted to a fool’s errand.
It’s part of my duty to you as a reader to help determine who the closer will be in these bullpens. In years past, it’s been an easier task, with clear-cut answers for probably two-thirds of teams.
I do not consider this lightly, but there are 10 teams that I consider as having the closer spot ready for the 2022 season: Mets, Yankees, White Sox, Angels, Braves, Brewers, Astros, and Arizona. I am 90% confident that the Blue Jays and the Guardians will be on this list. That makes a total of 10 teams. At last check, there were 30 teams in MLB. This means a headache trying to determine who will be closing in those other 20 cities.
The following is a list of a few bullpens that may be busts this year, and ones that I will not be touching unless in desperation.
Oakland: I never believed in Lou Trivino as the closer (although he is a fine reliever) and I think his “hold” on the job is temporary. At this time there is not much competition. Trivino’s ADP since February 1st is 261. That’s too high for me as I feel there are other, safer options there.
I think AJ Puk (ADP 628) is worth a dart throw at the end of the draft. This bullpen could easily be a bust especially if Oakland goes full rebuild and does not add more arms to it. I won’t touch this one unless the job goes to Puk or another young arm. Trivino would be a trade candidate and will not close at his next stop.
Chicago Cubs: Lots of love being thrown at Rowan Wick and to a lesser extent, Codi Heuer. Given the lack of experience here, this could easily be a bust. Wick’s current ADP of 324 tells us that fantasy players are starting to buy into the idea (Heuer is at 561 and thus going undrafted in many leagues). Wick has some experience in the job, earning 11 saves over parts of the last three seasons. One thing to watch here: his middling K rate of last year (29%) and high walk rate (14%). The other issue I have is that we don’t know what the Cubs are doing exactly; are they rebuilding or retooling? If retooling, they may be on the market for a “name” closer, which would render Wick far less useful for fantasy teams. Be careful of investing too much capital here.
Texas Rangers: I have been surprised by the amount of draft capital being used on Joe Barlow, for two reasons. Barlow has the highest ADP of any Texas pitcher at 230 over the last two weeks. The minimum pick on him was 156. That’s far too pricy for me.
Number one, he’s not very good. Barlow’s ERA last year was 1.55, but his xERA was 3.42. Not bad, but two runs higher than what he posted. Don’t like ERA as an indicator? His FIP was 3.45 but his xFIP was 4.56. If he is the closer, he will get saves, but they may be painful: Steamer projects him with 24 saves, but with a 4.45 ERA and a 9.68 K/9. You need better from your closer in my opinion.
And number two, the Rangers have spent over $500 million this offseason. My best guess would be that they will spend more after the new CBA is established and sign a closer. Keep in mind as well that internal options do exist here in the rehabbing Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez, neither of whom have been getting drafted. Listing this as a bust doesn’t necessarily mean the bullpen will not be any good, just that I would be wary of drafting Barlow too highly.
I Tweeted on Friday that I was working on a bust bullpen piece but ended up with far more questions about contentious bullpen battles. Here are six pens worth watching this spring.
Colorado: I am not sure I would speculate here. Carlos Estevez seems to have a leg up on Daniel Bard, but this bullpen could be the worst one in baseball. ADP since February 1: Estevez 471, Bard 656. People seem to be doing the right things: staying away from this bullpen unless you are speculating. One guy you might want to throw a dart at is Robert Stephenson.
Pittsburgh: I continue to draft David Bednar as the potential closer in the Iron City. There could be competition from Chris Stratton. Looking at NFBC ADP since February 1, Bednar is going 202, and Stratton 578. Don’t sleep on this situation; Bednar could sneak up draft boards and provide a bunch of saves even on a terrible team.
Cincinnati: My money has been on Lucas Sims for more than a year and I will not back off that claim. Art Warren and Amir Garrett remain potentially viable options as well. If Sims can build on his success over the last month of the season, he should be first in line in the Queen City. Sims’ ADP has climbed to 239. I love him at that price point, as I believe he is the best option in their bullpen to close. Warren is at 603 and Garrett 720. Sims would be a great selection as your RP#2.
San Diego: Questions abound here. So much depends on how general manager AJ Preller builds his team. It just feels that for a team that is set to contend, they would go into the season without an established closer. Current options include Drew Pomeranz, Emilio Pagan, Pierce Johnson, and Robert Suarez. Two sleepers: Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack, depending on how their rotation works out. Lamet’s pitch mix seems ideal for the bullpen, and given his past health troubles, relying on him as a starter seems like a faulty plan. In truth, I have been rostering Lamet with the idea of him being in the bullpen. That said, San Diego could just as easily sign a free agent like Kenley Jansen or trade for an old friend like Craig Kimbrel.
Boston: While it appears that it could still be Matt Barnes’ job to lose, early speculation is that Garrett Whitlock could end up being the closer. The NFBC ADP since February 1: Whitlock at 241, Barnes at 299. If the players can ever get to Spring Training, this will be an interesting one to watch. Even if Whitlock does not close, he will be a multi-inning weapon for manager Alex Cora.
Seattle: Finally, is there a bullpen with more possibilities than Seattle? Ken Giles, Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Diego Castillo, and Andres Munoz could all be the closer. What is ADP telling us about buyer confidence? Giles is at 306, Sewald 348, Steckenrider 449, Castillo 461, Munoz 654. There seems to be confidence that Giles is the guy, and I believe that is true too, even though he is not the best arm in their bullpen. Giles is the type of pitcher who may only be used as the closer; he is probably not a multiple-inning weapon like the others could be. And if you are in a keeper league or dynasty format, Munoz will be the guy, maybe as soon as this year, but definitely in the mix next year.