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Closer Rankings: A post-deadline debrief

Three full-time closers moved last week, and a handful of other theoretically important relievers saw their roles change as well.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There was a reason I didn't do a Closer Rankings last week. Monday was July 27. Between then and the deadline Friday, we saw so many closers switch spots.

Tyler Clippard went to the Mets. Jonathan Papelbon went to the Nationals. Joakim Soria went to the Pirates. And those are just the closers who moved. Jim Johnson, Steve Cishek, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins, Jonathan Broxton, Kevin Jepsen and Mark Rzepczynski — all theoretically save-get-able — were dealt as well. Heck, Miguel Castro was in the minors when he was dealt, but he was a closer to start the season.

It's one thing to put out closer rankings July 6 when you know there will be trades. But ranking them July 27 seemed like the surest way possible to be wrong. I could have guessed at trades, but good lord, I would have figured the Brewers would send Francisco Rodriguez somewhere, so I‘d have been wrong there, too.

(Seriously, though, if you're Milwaukee, why wouldn't you send him any-dang-where? Give him to Toronto for whatever low-end prospect they have left. Low-floor, low-ceiling, whatever. Even a five percent chance is better than running a closer out there for one of the game's worst teams. Sometimes baseball teams confuse me.)

Anyway, the trade deadline has passed now. We might still see some deals in August — for the sake of intelligence, I hope the Brewers still move Rodriguez, and maybe someone like Brad Ziegler moves as well — but by and large, I can at least publish a rankings list without feeling dumb this week.

Before I get to the rankings, let's look at the situations that have changed in the last week or two. I'll run through it team by team:


Despite their run differential, the A's seem to have accepted that they aren't going anywhere this season, dealing away Scott Kazmir, Tyler Clippard and Ben Zobrist. In the inverse of last year, I still honestly wouldn't be shocked to see them make a little bit of a down-the-stretch run, as this is still a talented team run smartly, but it's almost certainly too little too late.

For now, Edward Mujica appears to be the save-getter in Oakland, though Evan Scribner is also a candidate to get some opportunities. Sean Doolittle is working his way back from injury, though he might not be back until September, if he returns in 2015 at all. Even with my prediction that the team might make a run, I don't know how you confidently invest in any Oakland reliever.


A few weeks ago, the Braves had Jason Grilli closing and Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan setting him up. Now, Grilli is hurt, and Johnson and Avilan are Dodgers, after the most convoluted trade I've ever seen. It's the exact way to play it, parlaying a few months of a mediocre Johnson into ... heck anything. I'd like to think that, had Grilli stayed healthy, the Braves would have flipped him as well.

Arodys Vizcaino is slated to be the Braves' closer, or at least to get the first crack at it. His injury history is lengthy, meaning he's been a prospect of various degrees of regard for like seven years now and still only has 33.1 big-league innings, but he at least has the pedigree of a closer-able guy. Still, if he struggles to start, David Aardsma could easily supplant Vizcaino. Grab Vizcaino, but don't tie your future to him.


The other shoe was always going to drop with Jeurys Familia, who was succeeding on a career year and a ridiculous BABIP. He blew three straight save chances in late July, giving up six runs and 10 baserunners over the course of 5.1 innings in five games. He still has the gig for now, because he still has 28 saves and a 2.10 ERA, but the Mets, who despite their additions still have to be considered underdogs to reach the postseason (yes, even after the weekend), can't afford to let Familia struggle for a long time. He has the job, but not the longest of leashes.

Enter Tyler Clippard, who is also a bit overrated, though not to the extent of Familia. He comes over from Oakland as insurance and as a new setup man — especially with Jenrry Mejia getting himself suspended for rest of forever — and will be the replacement if Familia continues to falter. Stash him in moderately deep leagues, but don't go crazy.


I mean, I guess I get it. No matter how you slice it, I'd rather have Drew Storen as my closer than Jonathan Papelbon. So if I'm starting from scratch, I'm putting Storen in the ninth and Papelbon as my setup guy. But that wasn't the choice presented to Washington. They could add Papelbon and make him the closer or not add him at all. It's dumb, but, while "Storen eighth, Papelbon ninth" is worse than "Papelbon eighth, Storen ninth," it's better than "Storen ninth, the other guys eighth" that Washington had before.

Fantasy-wise, it very frustratingly robs Storen of most of his value, barring an unlikely Papelbon collapse. He's the handcuff, but he isn't a fantasy-useful piece now. Papelbon, meanwhile, ought to keep pitching as well as he was, more or less, and now he has the chance to earn far more saves. His value goes way up.


I mean, finally, right? The Phillies have wanted to move that Jonathan Papelbon contract since not too awfully long after it was signed. The annoying part is that Papelbon has actually been a really good pitcher almost throughout the deal; it's just that you can get good closer production for a small fraction of the salary (see: well, most of the teams at one point or another, really). To finally get out of his deal (and the vesting option that accompanies it) has to finally be a relief.

Philadelphia has been strong since the All-Star break, but we shouldn't pretend this is actually a good team — it's bad. Like, really bad. Still, Ken Giles will man the helm as the closer for whatever saves do come down the pike. He's an elite strikeout guy, though he's still allowing too many baserunners. He's a mid-tier closer who might not get a lot of save chances, but hey, a closer's a closer.


Pittsburgh probably doesn't have a realistic shot at unseating St. Louis atop the NL Central (its a 5.5-game difference, and the Cardinals are really good), but they are also four games clear of the second wild-card slot and the closest non-postseason-qualified competitor. Basically, the Pirates are playoff-bound. While Mark Melancon and Tony Watson have made a formidable 1-2 punch out of the bullpen, but adding an arm like Joakim Soria only strengthens that.

For fantasy, though, it renders Soria largely useless outside of holds leagues. Melancon has been lights-out for a while now, despite his lack of strikeouts, and the job is his.


This team might be really bad down the stretch, guys. Justin Verlander is, at best, inconsistent. They certainly aren't going to rush Miguel Cabrera back now. The bullpen was already struggling before dealing Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh.

For now, Alex Wilson is serving as the team's closer. He's been superficially successful this year, but between an artificially low BABIP and a 3.5-percent HR/FB rate, I can't say I have the most faith in him keeping it up. If I'm stashing a Detroit reliever the rest of the way, it would be Bruce Rondon, who hasn't had the results this year, but does have the pedigree. That said, most of what I'm doing with the Detroit bullpen is "ignoring."

Now, on to the rankings. We're late enough in the season, that I'm retiring the separate right-now rankings and rest-of-season ones; the differences are too narrow. Scroll below the rankings for "What they're talking about."

Closer Rankings

Rank Player Team
1 Aroldis Chapman CIN
2 Craig Kimbrel SDP
3 Andrew Miller NYY
4 Kenley Jansen LAD
5 David Robertson CHW
6 Trevor Rosenthal SLC
7 Greg Holland KAN
8 Jonathan Papelbon WAS
9 Mark Melancon PIT
10 Huston Street LAA
11 Glen Perkins MIN
12 Zach Britton BAL
13 Cody Allen CLE
14 Koji Uehara BOS
15 Dellin Betances NYY
16 Wade Davis KAN
17 Luke Gregerson HOU
18 A.J. Ramos MIA
19 Ken Giles PHI
20 Francisco Rodriguez MIL
21 Brad Ziegler ARI
22 Santiago Casilla SFG
23 Carson Smith SEA
24 Roberto Osuna TOR
25 Drew Storen WAS
26 Jeurys Familia NYM
27 Brad Boxberger TAM
28 Shawn Tolleson TEX
29 Jake McGee TAM
30 Hector Rondon CHC

What they're talking about

  • On Kenley Jansen:

  • On Greg Holland:

  • On Jonathan Papelbon/Drew Storen:

  • On Glen Perkins:

  • On Cody Allen:

  • On Dellin Betances:

  • On Wade Davis:

  • On Ken Giles:

  • On Francisco Rodriguez:

  • On Hector Rondon:

  • On Arodys Vizcaino:

  • On Rafael Soriano:

  • On John Axford:

  • On Edward Mujica: