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3 UP / 3 DOWN: 2014 Relief Pitchers

Matt takes a look at which relief pitchers you should target and avoid for the 2014 fantasy baseball season.

Scott Cunningham
One of the most important elements of winning in fantasy baseball comes down to finding those players that take a step forward and outperform their draft positions by breaking out or having their career years. We will be reviewing certain players at each position and discussing whether their fantasy value will be on the rise or decline heading into the 2014 baseball season and if you should target or avoid them in your draft. Every Friday we have been reviewing a new position here at The final position up for debate is relief pitcher, a position that has seen a lot of movement via trades and free agency this offseason. Now, let’s take a look at the relief pitchers that could improve or hurt their fantasy value during the upcoming baseball season.

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Rex Brothers – The Colorado Rockies signed LaTroy Hawkins this off-season and quickly announced that he would be the team’s closer in 2014. Hawkins did a fine job during the last few months of the 2013 season for the Mets while he filled in as the closer for the injured Bobby Parnell. But Hawkins has a career 4.37 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. How do you expect those numbers to play in Colorado? Rex Brothers was outstanding while closing games last year, making the Hawkins signing even more surprising. Brothers put up 10.2 K / per 9 IP to go with a 1.74 ERA in 2013. Simply put, those numbers are closer-worthy. Why teams are still paying for pitchers with “closing experience” rather than choosing a more skilled in-house option still baffles me. Especially when Brothers has proven he is capable of closing out games already. The leash on Hawkins will be short, and he is my pick to be one of the first closers to lose their job in 2014. Take Rex Brothers towards the end of your draft, and you could have a top 15 closer by mid-season.

Trevor Rosenthal – There is a dark road on the outskirts of St. Louis, leading up to a mysterious deserted looking-building. Inside you find a Willy Wonka-esque factory, but instead of Oompla Loompas, you find Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan manning the conveyor belt. But it isn’t candy they are making. These two are churning out a plethora of prototypical pitching prospects, intended to lead the Cardinals on continuous runs deep into the playoffs. Trevor Rosenthal is the latest Frankenstein to come out of this baseball factory. The young righty was dominant while setting-up for the Cardinals for most of the 2013 season. Then after Edward Mujica faltered as the closer, Rosenthal stepped into the role and was overpowering. In his first full season, Rosenthal recorded a 2.63 ERA and 1.10 WHIP to go with 12.9 K / per 9 IP. Those numbers are comparable to Craig Kimbrel’s first season in the majors. Already cemented in as the team’s closer, Rosenthal just needs to keep doing what he does best, and he will soon join Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen in the top tier of closers.

Neftali Feliz – This is a situation to monitor closely once spring training begins. At the moment, the Texas Rangers believe (are saying) even after losing Joe Nathan to free agency, they still have three potential closers already on the roster in Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, and Tanner Scheppers. That’s nice and all of management to pump up half of their bullpen, but that leaves some work for us fantasy managers to do as we try to read between the lines. It was recently reported that Tanner Scheppers was told to show up to spring training stretched out enough to start in case a move to the rotation fit. He was informed to be ready to pitch out of the rotation even before the Derek Holland injury occurred, enhancing the team’s need for a starting pitcher even more. The other two candidates, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, are both returning from injury. However, the 25 year-old Feliz proved he is back to form recently with his stellar performance during the Dominican Winter League. Feliz will also carry SP-eligibility in many leagues into the 2014 season, which can add quite a bit of value to a closer. Management was encouraged by his performance in the DWL and has been subtly hinting that they want Feliz to win the job. This is still a position battle, but if Neftali Feliz wins the closer’s role outright, he could provide one of the best returns in value from the closer position.

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Jonathan Papelbon – The 33 year-old closer saw his K-rate dip from 11.8 K / per 9 IP in 2012, down to 8.3 K / per 9 IP in 2013. Papelbon recorded less saves in 2013 than Kevin Gregg, Edward Cishek, and Casey Janssen. The Phillies weren’t providing him with as many save opportunities, but the 7 blown saves didn’t help his cause either. The Phillies recently made it public this off-season that Papelbon was on the trade block and could be had for the right price. So far, nothing has come of these rumors. We are looking at an older closer, with declining stats, on a team that hasn’t been providing ample save opportunities and just keeps getting older. Add the fact that the Phillies haven’t had any success moving the closer, and it is tough to see this situation improving anytime soon. Papelbon will still be drafted inside the top 10 closers in most leagues due in large part to name value. But if he doesn’t improve on that 80% save rate in 2013, Papelbon could become the highest payed set-up man in baseball.

Grant Balfour – When the A’s let Balfour walk and traded for Jim Johnson and his large contract, many of us were left scratching our heads. After arbitration, Jim Johnson is projected to make around $10 million dollars in 2014. This was a surprising move for the fiscally challenged Athletics, especially after Balfour had done such an outstanding job as the closer in 2013. After the A’s scooped up Johnson, the Orioles came to an agreement with Balfour on a 2 year / $15 million dollar contract, pending a physical. Well, whatever the Orioles saw in that physical led them to back out of their deal and search elsewhere for their next closer. After this news broke, we found out why the A’s decided to sign Johnson and let Balfour leave via free agency. I believe if Billy Beane and the rest of the A’s front office thought Balfour would be anywhere close to as effective to what he was in 2013, they would have tried harder to bring him back. Follow the Moneyball-Team’s lead, don’t pay for a repeat of 2013 from Grant Balfour.

Heath Bell – From 2009 until 2011, Bell did a fine job of closing the door in the pitchers' haven of PETCO Park. But since then, the reliever has spent time with the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks, failing to reproduce the same form he displayed in San Diego. The Tampa Bay Rays added Bell to the mix this offseason to fill the team’s closer void after Fernando Rodney became a free agent. Although he has still been able to chip in a fair amount of saves the past few years, Bell is far from a lock at the end of games. A quick look at his ratios over the past few years would make any fantasy manager hesitate before drafting him. The Rays do an excellent job each year of getting the most out of their bullpen, so a career revival for Bell is a possibility. But the declining skill set will not help Bell’s case, and more talented options like Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are waiting in the wings. If Bell struggles early, there could be a changing of the guard in Tampa very quickly.

Which relief pitchers do you think could break-out next year?

Which RP’s will be over-drafted in 2014?

Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below...