For many leagues, saves are the single rarest category and closers the single rarest commodity. Because of this, closers are often drafted quite high in the draft and are tough to pry away in trades, meaning that if you don’t have saves, it’s challenging to make up your deficit.
There are two ways to get an extra closer without overpaying for one. One option is to pick up guys who seem to be next in line for save opportunities if the current closer falters. The problem with this approach is that it ties up roster spots with players who aren’t yet valuable, and might never become assets to your team. The second possibility is to wait for someone else to hold onto these lottery tickets and to swoop in once the player appears to be securing the ninth-inning role, getting a closer on the cheap.
With that in mind, let’s examine five of the most volatile closing situations in the league to see if we can glean any insight into how we can nab a valuable asset on the cheap.
Beginning in the Windy City, Hector Rondon has been spectacular as the closer and hasn’t allowed an earned run in over a month, but despite this, Joe Maddon has given multiple save opportunities to each Pedro Strop and Jason Motte. Complicating matters is that a couple of weeks ago the Cubs signed Rafael Soriano, presumably to compete for saves. He’s in the minors until after the All-Star Break to get back into game shape, but this really is a mess. I’d bet on Rondon to keep his job, but to continue to share some saves with his teammates. If your league allows you to keep him off an active roster spot while he’s in the minors, it’s wise to pick up Soriano, just in case.
In Toronto, Brett Cecil has been receiving save opportunities but has been horrible while doing so. Roberto Osuna picked up the last save, converting a two-inning save against the Rays. Cecil has been so bad that Osuna seems likely to keep getting saves, but before trading too much to acquire him, remember that the Blue Jays are among the most likely teams to acquire a closer, so Osuna may not have this job for long.
For the Rockies, John Axford has been very good since Adam Ottavino went down, but he’s a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. He’s likely to keep his job for a couple of reasons. One, there are no elite relievers on his team to compete with him and two, since the Rockies aren’t contenders, they aren’t going to trade for a better closer. That’s a double-edged sword, though, because while Axford won’t lose his job, there aren’t going to be many save opportunities on basement-dwelling Colorado.
Moving on, the Diamondbacks have had instability at closer for a long time. Last year Addison Reed was meh, but they stuck with him. Arizona opened up this season with Reed as its closer, but Brad Ziegler took over, after a few days with Enrique Burgos in the role, once Reed started to fall apart. Burgos only recently came off the DL, but Ziegler has been solid enough that he’s not in any immediate danger of losing his job. There are no speculative adds in this bullpen but if Ziegler starts to stumble, Burgos should be next in line, especially after Reed’s demotion to the minors.
Lastly, let’s take a look at Seattle. Fernando Rodney opened up the year at closer but was absolutely atrocious. When he finally lost his job, his bloated ERA was over 7. Over the past couple of weeks, Carson Smith has been getting all save opportunities and has pitched effectively, as he has all year. Lloyd McClendon, Seattle’s manager, seems to be warming up to the idea of Smith as his long-term closer, and Smith has yet to give him any reason to pause. Rodney has been subpar since his demotion from closing and doesn’t seem close at all to reclaiming the role. Buy Smith with confidence, but if you miss out on him, don’t worry, because the next big thing for saves is just around the corner.