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The MLB Closer Landscape: Bullpens in Flux Already

We’re just two games into the season, and bullpens around MLB are already in flux; some, are in a state of crisis.

It feels odd because of the relative stability at the back end of bullpens for most of 2023. Turnover wasn’t as high as past years. That may have lulled us into a false sense of peace.

Injuries to some of the top closers in the game have rendered changes in bullpens. The Milwaukee Brewers are prepared to face at least three months of the absence of Devin Williams due to back issues. Toronto Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano had an MRI of his ailing right elbow earlier this week, and as of press time, we did not know yet when he would resume throwing. Even Romano’s understudy, Erik Swanson, is dealing with forearm tightness. Minnesota’s ace and draft day darling Jhoan Duran is set to begin the season on the 15-day IL with a “mild” oblique strain. Boston Red Sox reliever Kenley Jansen has been dealing with a balky back again but is supposedly set to begin the season.


We’re back here at Fantrax this season to help you make sense of these situations before your first big FAAB run, or simply free agents on your league’s waiver wire. Every week, we will update and color code our chart to show you who the closer is at that time, who the best options are for holds, and who are the sleepers you might be able to nab on your waiver wire.

Ready to make the 2024 MLB season the best yet? Fantrax offers a fantasy baseball league for everyone. Want to get started right away? Then jump into a Best Ball League or a Draft and Hold. Maybe you have an existing league but want the most customizable fantasy baseball platform in existence? Then you definitely need to check out the Fantrax Commissioner! And of course, whether you play roto or points, you can head to the Fantrax Mock Draft Lobby to start your draft prep for the 2024 fantasy baseball season.

Fantrax MLB Bullpen Report

AL East

Closers 3-23 AL East

Kenley Jansen has experienced a recurrence of back trouble but appears to be ready for Opening Day.  Should he be unable to go, veteran Chris Martin could ascend here.  Another name to watch for later is Rule 5 pick Justin Slaten, who has been outstanding this spring.

Much conversation in recent days has centered on the woes at the back end of the Toronto Blue Jays. If Romano and Swanson cannot begin the year, save chances could go to Yimi Garcia or Nate Pearson.  The veteran Chad Green also has a middle relief role here but has experience closing. Garcia has the most experience, but Pearson is far more intriguing. Fantrax’s Dave Funnell shared that Romano will play catch today and that the team will wait until the end of Spring Training to make a decision. Code word: plan for him to start on the IL.

AL Central

Many have looked at the Chicago White Sox with scorn this winter, including this writer.  For this article, we are looking at who will get the scant save chances for this team. What we do know: even bad MLB teams get saves. For example, even the Oakland Athletics had 29 saves last year spread among seven guys. This Sox bullpen might look the same way; several pitchers with a handful each.

We talked about Jordan Leasure in this space earlier in the winter. His numbers this spring: nine games, 0.00 ERA, .84 WHIP in 8.1 innings, and nine strikeouts. The only thing holding him back is his rookie status, but he could very well be the best option in the beleaguered Sox bullpen.

The team also moved righthander Michael Kopech to the bullpen a week ago. They also added veteran righty Steven Wilson to the mix after acquiring him in the recent Dylan Cease trade. To start the season, it appears that John Brebbia could be the top choice. Yet there is a question if Brebbia will be ready for Opening Day. We are watching.

In Detroit, the Tigers seem primed to use Alex Lange as their closer to start 2024. Lange features a terrific curveball that he throws about 59% of the time and has a high whiff percentage at almost 49%. He throws a sinker to right-handed batters and a change-up to get left-handed hitters too and has a 51% groundball rate.  Sounds good, but the problem is the 15.6 BB%, which was in the bottom 1% of all major league pitchers.  If he could cut that in half, you’d be looking at an excellent closer. Something to watch this spring. Lange has gotten into six games this spring with middling results. Look for about 20 saves as setup men Jason Foley and Shelby Miller could get opportunities as well. I love Miller as a dart throw at the end of drafts. Check out Lange below. He could be excellent if he can control the walks.

Minnesota’s Jhoan Duran will begin the season on the IL with a moderate right oblique strain.  How long will he be out? The best guess is 4-6 weeks, per Fantrax’s Dave Funnell, and I agree with that. Once healthy, he will need to get into game shape, which will take some time. In the interim, it looks like Griffin Jax and maybe Brock Stewart could be in a timeshare to start the season. Stewart is a great story, coming back from several seasons of injuries to be an integral part of the Minnesota bullpen. Look up his story when you have time.

AL West

The Los Angeles Angels will open the season with the oft-maligned Carlos Estevez as their closer. They signed Robert Stephenson in the offseason and he should get some opportunities, but will start the season on the IL with shoulder soreness.  Stephenson is only playing catch right now. Should he make it back, this bullpen gets interesting.

There is palace intrigue in Oakland, where we wait to see who gets the first save chance there. Mason Miller has been a draft-day darling, but his role remains unclear. Lucas Erceg is also an intriguing piece. Could be a timeshare in Oakland this year. Miller will likely have limitations this year, both in innings and daily usage. Still, he’s an intriguing arm to look at drafting in the middle rounds if you want some upside. Adding to the intrigue, it was announced that Trevor Gott will undergo Tommy John surgery in the coming week, which adds another layer of intrigue here.  As visualized below, Miller throws everything hard.

NL East

Exciting news for the New York Mets is that Edwin Diaz is back and appears fully recovered from his freakish knee injury in last year’s World Baseball Classic. Look for him to get back to 30+ saves and 100 strikeouts this year as long as he remains healthy.

There may not be a more intriguing bullpen to watch all season than the Philadelphia Phillies.  Jose Alvarado is likely the top choice, but other options abound like Jeff Hoffman, Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez, Matt Strahm, and Orion Kerkering. For those drafting Alvarado, a word of caution: he is as nasty as anyone, but might only end up with 60-70% of the save chances here. Keep in mind that manager Rob Thomsen will mix and match at the end of games.  Alvarez should be good for about 20-24 saves, methinks.  And his peripherals will be outstanding, so even if he does not get tons of saves, he will be an effective part of your team.

NL Central

I remain a tad concerned about Adbert Alzolay. While he should clearly be the closer for the Chicago Cubs, he was dealing with forearm issues at the end of 2023. Adding to the intrigue, manager Craig Counsell told reporters he wasn’t ready to name roles in the bullpen about ten days ago. That being said, Alzolay is the top option in Wrigleyville and should get 25-30 saves if healthy. Should his forearm issues resurface, other options would include veterans Hector Neris, Julian Merryweather, and Mark Leiter Jr. 

The Williams injury is a tough blow for a Milwaukee Brewers team hoping to contend for an NL Central crown. But the Brew Crew seems well-equipped on the surface with a stocked bullpen of options. Joel Payamps, Trevor Megill, and Abner Uribe could all vie for save chances. To start the season, my lean is Megill.  He’s added almost three ticks to his velocity since 2021, and the 35.1 K% is eye-popping. Management may seek to limit Uribe’s opportunity to close to have a measure of salary control over him.  Payamps has struggled this spring with an 8.53 ERA and three home runs surrendered in 6.1 innings, and may be better suited for a setup role.  If you were to bid for the short-term, bid for Megill.  If you are looking for a long-term solution, it may be Uribe. Check out Megill below.

NL West

Colorado: The Rockies might be looking at a co-closer situation to start the year between Justin Lawrence and Tyler Kinley. The lean here is Lawrence; he’s four years younger and has better stuff.  I would guess he would get about 70% of their saves, which could be 15-20.  As a third closer or dart throw, you could do worse.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres opened the season this past week in Korea.  Evan Phillips got the save for the Dodgers in the first game, and Robert Suarez got the save for the Padres in the second game. Phillips is an excellent choice as a closer despite the relatively low profile compared to others.  See below:

For more of the great fantasy baseball rankings and analysis you’ve come to expect from FantraxHQ, check out our full 2024 Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit! We’re here for you all the way up until Opening Day and then on into your championship run.

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