Note: I am reposting this since we have written a few closer pieces this week. This piece originally ran back on January 16th.
Last season, there were 40 relievers who saved 10 or more games, 31 with 15 or more saves, and 26 with 20 or more saves. All told, there were 1,235 saves in 2014, with more than 100 relievers earning a save last season, with each team averaging 41 saves.
That said, everyone wants at least two closers on draft day, and with the way closers turnover from year to year, it pays to draft three if you can, without hurting your other pitching categories like strikeouts and wins. Every year, we see closers lose their jobs for days, weeks or even months at a time. So, which middle relievers should you be targeting late in drafts this season?
Glad you asked. Today, I bring you twelve relievers who could close by midseason, or sooner.
Twelve who could close in 2015
Ken Giles, Phillies
Giles was one of the more dominant relievers in the game last season, striking out almost 13 batters per nine innings with his devastating slider, and putting up a 1.18 ERA and a 1.7 fWAR, almost unheard of for a closer, let alone a reliever. Only 14 relievers put up a higher fWAR than Giles last season. All he needs is for Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to deal Papelbon, heck, give him away, so Giles can show us what he can do in the ninth inning in 2015.
Tyler Clippard, Athletics
Clippard was traded to the A's this offseason for shortstop/second baseman Yunel Escobar. Clippard has been one of the best relievers over the last five seasons, making 70 or more appearances in each of those seasons, and averaging more than a strikeout per inning. He moves to Oakland where he will pitch behind left-handed closer Sean Doolittle, and should be first in line for saves should Doolittle "do little" in the closer role early in the season.
Update: With Dollittle probably starting the season on the disabled list, Clippard appears to be first in line for the closer role to start the season.
Sergio Romo, Giants
I list Romo here as he ended the 2014 season as a set up man behind Santiago Casilla, but Romo is the guy who got the big two year contract this offseason, so spring training should be telling for both. I don't think either has the upper hand heading into spring training, and personally think Romo is still the more dominant reliever of the two.
Jason Grilli, Braves
I don't care what Braves GM John Hart said earlier this offseason, if the keeps closer Craig Kimbrel past July 31st, he's a fool, and I think he has done a terrific job this offseason rebuilding the Braves farm system. But, to say that he is not dealing Kimbrel probably means he hasn't received an offer he likes yet. Once Kimbrel is dealt, Grilli becomes the Braves closer.
Jordan Walden, Cardinals
Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal wasn't as dominant in 2014 as he was in 2013, and he struggled with his command all season, walking more than five batters per nine innings. He saved 45 games, but by the end of the year, manager Mike Matheny appeared to have had enough with him in the ninth. Rosenthal is the guy I could see losing his job in spring training this season, and I own him in an NL only keeper league at $6 too. Should he lose it, Walden should be first in line to save games for the Cardinals. Last season, the Cardinals had to battle the Pirates down to the wire in the NL Central. This season, you can add the arch-rival Cubs into the mix as well.
Shawn Kelley, Padres
The Padres have made plenty of splashy moves this offseason, trading for Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and others, but one of the smarter moves was dealing for Shawn Kelley. I think he could be closing shouldJoaquin Benoit struggle early on this season. With all the big moves this offseason, the pressure will be higher to start off on the right foot.
Luke Gregerson, Astros
The Astros made an early splash in the free agent market this offseason, signing both Gregerson and reliever Pat Neshek. So who will close? i think Gregerson gets the first chance, as the guys they have in the back end of their bullpen last year were pretty horrible. Hey, the Phillies and Astros have made plenty of trades together over the years, why not a Papelbon for a prospect deal?
Brad Boxberger, Rays
Boxberger quietly had a terrific season out of the Rays bullpen last season, striking out almost 15 batters per nine, walking less than three and keeping the ball on the ground at 41% rate. He's a closer in waiting.
Update: With Jake McGee had surgery on his elbow this offseason and will probably start the season on the disabled list. Boxberger is the leading candidate for saves come Opening Day.
Aaron Barrett, Nationals
The Nationals dealt set up man Tyler Clippard two nights ago and now there will be a competition between Barrett and young right Blake Treinen to set up closer Drew Storen, but I think Barrett wins out. Barrett had some control issues of his own last season, but struck out almost 11 batters every nine innings, so he has the arm to close.
Update: The Nationals signed Casey Janssen this offseason, so he should be first in line behind closer Drew Storen should Storen struggle in the role. Janssen converted 25 of his 30 save opportunities with Toronto last season.
Joakim Soria, Tigers
This one is easy, and everyone knows the story. Joe Nathan is probably one of the best closers over the last decade, but he was one of the worst last season, as his strikeout rate dropped, his walk rate rose, and was very hittable. Maybe some of it was bad luck, as his .324 BABIP allowed was the highest of his career. If it was real, Soria should be first in line in Detroit, as they are built to win now.
Rafael Soriano, FA
K-Rod and Soriano are still free agents at the moment, but they will sign somewhere, and when they do, they could sign to close as teams like the Blue Jays and Astros are looking for closers.
Update: Rodriguez will be closing in Milwaukee once again this season, but Soriano is still looking for work. It is possible he signs with a team desperate for a closer, but time is running out for that to happen before Opening Day.
Two more potential closers
Joel Peralta/Chris Hatcher, Dodgers
With Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen out for at least the first month of the season, either Peralta or Thatcher could grab some save opportunities in April. Thatcher got hit around in his last spring outing, but has the stuff to close games.
Brad Ziegler, Diamondbacks
Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed is tweaking his delivery this spring to reduce stress on his shoulder, and has yet to make an appearance in a game yet, so the closer we get to Opening Day, the more likely Ziegler opens the season as their closer. If not, it may just be a matter of time before Ziegler takes over the role. Reed saved 32 games last season, blowing six saves, and has blown 14 saves chances over the last two seasons. His time as a closer might end this year.
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