The closer situations around baseball are nearly finalized. Save one or two holes and the recent uncertainty related to Grant Balfour's physical with Baltimore, the closer market seems rather set. That said, we know that approximately 30% of these guys will lose the job at some point during the season due to injury and/or ineffectiveness. Edward Mujica, Kevin Gregg, and Danny Farquhar are just a few recent example of surprise saves having a major impact in fantasy standings after going undrafted in March.
While we wait for the final pieces to fall in place, here is how the closer situation looks for each team and who you should keep an eye on if you want to speculate for replacements.
Baltimore: By all indications Balfour won't end up with the Orioles now. Perhaps another move or two will be on the horizon, but barring further additions, look at Ryan Webb as the other options in Baltimore have too many issues with splits.
As for Balfour, he has been fantastic over the past three seasons from a skills level. Looking at all relief pitchers in that time, his opponents' batting average is in the top 10%, and his OPS is in the top 15%. He has a .232 BABIP over that time and will be changing from an ideal home park for his flyball approach to a less than ideal one in Baltimore.
Boston: Beware the closer coming off a career season. Uehara has been AMAZING over his last four seasons, but took that awesomeness to another level last season. There is some natural regression coming for him, but the larger concern is the fact he's never worked back to back heavy seasons. He threw a career-high (for MLB) amount of pitches in the regular season and was worked frequently in the postseason. If he falters, Edward Mujica has the chops to step in and pick up saves as Uehara did when Bailey broke down last season.
New York: I'm guessing 30% of you reading this don't even know who Mariano Rivera replaced as the closer for the Yankees (it was John Wetteland). David Roberston appears to be the guy who gets to try to fill the humongous shoes that Rivera leaves behind. He has the skills to get the job done and excels in stranding baserunners. If he fails, there is not a clear option to replace him. Matt Thornton is there, but he is not what he once was and has issues with right-handed batters.
Tampa Bay: Welcome to the Heath Bell experience. Joe Maddon refuses to use the closer label (God bless him), but he hasn't used any kind of committee since the 2008-2009 seasons when Troy Percival did not pan out. Bell has had his issues since leaving San Diego, but his strikeout rate was in the top third of the league and he has a strong walk rate. A high BABIP and HR/FB rate hurt him; things that pitching in a better park and with a better defense should help. If he falters, Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are there to use in matchup situations.
Toronto: Casey Janssen has handled the closer role very well since Sergio Santos first went down with his injury. From a skills perspective, there is nothing to be concerned about with him. The problem now is, Santos is back. He only faced 90 batters last season, but looked fantastic in doing so. He punched out 31% of the batters he faced, walked just four, and opponents had a .393 OPS against him. This job could go either way; the earlier your draft is, the cheaper you should be able to acquire either guy.
Chicago: Exit Addison Reed, enter Nate Jones? Jones has the octane in his arm to do it and he improved his strikeout rate by seven percentage points last season. He cut down on his walks and has been very effective against lefties. He does have an 80-point career split in batting average as righties do better against him, but as that bullpen looks now, he is the best option. Matt Lindstrom has closing experience, but the skills are a steep step down from what Jones brings to the table.
Cleveland: John Axford takes over for Chris Perez, and Axford was a classic victim of reliever ERA last season. He allowed nine runs in his first 3.1 IP last season, including four home runs. He had a 2.92 ERA the rest of the season as he recovered from his work in the World Baseball Classic. Overall, his K% dropped seven percentage points, but he got his walk rate back near the league average for relievers and the .346 BABIP should come back down some this season. Cody Allen is the best handcuff here if Axford has issues.
Detroit: They decided not to keep Joaquin Benoit and instead gave Joe Nathan a two-year deal for $20 million. Nathan's skills have been terrific now that he is fully recovered from his elbow surgery, but he is still 39 years old. His velocity and crispness on his slider aren't what they once were, but he is still getting the results. There should be no need to worry about speculating on another closer in Detroit this season, but Al Alburquerque still lurks around if you insist on speculating.
Kansas City: Greg Holland is the AL's version of Craig Kimbrel. Holland struck out 40% of the batters he faced, allowed just three home runs, and limited batters to a .170 batting average. Zero risk skills-wise, but if he were to get hurt, the Royals have a plethora of options in the pen. The hard-throwing Kelvin Herrera, or even Luke Hochevar could step in if needed. This is a situation where you fully invest in Holland and be near your phone or computer to pick up his replacement should something happen to him.
Minnesota: Last year, Glen Perkins was a bargain in drafts because he lacked the proven closer label. That is no longer the case as he's coming off a 36-save season with excellent ratios and skills. Perkins has improved his strikeout rate each of the past three seasons and does not hurt himself with walks or homers. He's no longer a bargain, but he is a very safe investment. If you think he needs an insurance policy, take a look at Casey Fien.
Anaheim: Ernesto Frieri remains the closer here, for better or for worse. He gets strikeouts in bunches, but as an extreme flyball pitcher, has major issues with home runs. On the plus side, his walk rate has improved each of the past four seasons, but it still remains below league average for closers. He should still compile his saves, but his ERA is always going to be dependent on his HR/FB fortunes. If he slips up, Joe Smith is now in the fold.
Houston: Chad Qualls is your man. Yes, Chad Qualls. Over the past three seasons, he has pitched for six different teams, and mostly ineffectively, until he got his career back on the right track pitching for the Marlins. Last season, he realized he needed to get back to doing things that made him successful, and he did that. He has his old slider back, and should be a nice source of cheap saves just as Jose Veras was last year before he was dealt away. If Qualls regresses, it's wide-open as to who might replace him, just as it was when Veras left last season.
Oakland: Oakland surprised everyone by going out and trading for $10.8M Jim Johnson as their closer. He's saved 50 games in back to back seasons in Baltimore where Buck Showalter used him rather heavily. Oakland looks very good on paper, but may not be in as many close games as the Orioles were in recent seasons. Johnson's skills hold up and he quietly set a career high in strikeout percentage last season. The big spike in his BABIP hurt last season, which is surprising given Baltimore's aggressive shifting. If he slips up, perhaps Sean Doolittle gets a chance.
Seattle: For now, Lord Farquhar reigns supreme. Danny Farquhar stepped in nicely once Tom Wilhelmsen lost his ways, but it has been reported several times this offseason that the Mariners are looking for a proven closer. Ugh. If they are foolish enough to waste money like that, then Farquhar becomes the insurance policy. Given the fact Fernando Rodney is essentially the last remaining closer on the free agent market, the Mariners should just sit tight.
Texas: Joe Nathan's departure leaves an open job here, and there's no clear favorite. Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz have the experience, but both have question marks. Tanner Scheppers could be the favorite; while he doesn't have the dominating strikeout rate preferred for closers, he is tough to elevate and that's a great thing in Texas.
Atlanta: Now that Mariano Rivera is gone, Craig Kimbrel owns the best closer in baseball title. Video-game like numbers across the board make him an extremely valuable asset in fantasy baseball. Spend the money and don't look back - he is worth a top-five round draft pick. This, coming from a guy who never takes a closer before the 10th round.
Miami: Steve Cishek was a cheap saves source in drafts for 2013 and for those that noted the skills and overlooked the lack of experience, their investment paid off very well. He won't be a bargain this time around, but he is also relatively unchallenged in their bullpen. A.J. Ramos and Carter Capps are both present, but both struggle with their control.
New York: Bobby Parnell is slated to be ready for the start of the season as the Mets feel he's making a nice recovery from the herniated disc surgery he had earlier this season. Before going down, Parnell did well in the role and allowed just one home run in 198 plate appearances. If he isn't ready, perhaps Vic Black would start the season in the role. Black has experience as a minor league closer and nobody else in their current bullpen stands out from the crowd skill-wise.
Philadelphia: Jonathan Papelbon has been on the trade block most of the winter, but nobody is touching him. His strikeout rate fell from 32 to 22% last season and his average velocity is in a three-year decline. That alone should give you extreme pause as he no longer resembles the safe closer money he once was. If he is dealt or falters in his performance, there is no clear option behind him other than the well-paid Mike Adams.
Washington: Rafael Soriano, like Papelbon, is showing signs of wearing down. Soriano's strikeout rate went from 25% to 18% last season, and opponents had their highest slugging percentage against him in five seasons. Additionally, his swing-and-miss rate plunged from 27 to 19%. If that doesn't get corrected, Drew Storen is waiting, willing, and able to do the job.
Chicago: Remember, kids, Kevin Gregg saved 33 games here last season. Jose Veras was recently signed and he could do the same thing in 2014. He has a better than league average strikeout rate and shaved off a big chunk off his walk rate. He saved 21 games last season when most people weren't even sure the Astros would win 21 games. He takes his skills to a better situation and Pedro Strop is there if Veras cannot replicate his success.
Cincinnati: This is simple - Dear, Bryan Price - PLEASE LEAVE AROLDIS CHAPMAN IN THE CLOSER ROLE. Great ratios, gets his saves, and strikes out nearly as many as some starting pitchers in the league. Just let him flourish in the role and don't even worry about looking for his backup because it will be a wasted roster spot.
Milwaukee: Jim Henderson took over from John Axford and did not look back. The strikeouts are great, but his control is borderline and he can get bit by the home run bug. Despite those issues, he had solid ratios last season and is very much the favorite to keep the job in 2014. Currently, there is not a clear backup option for him so pay attention to see who Milwaukee adds this offseason.
Pittsburgh: Both Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon did excellent work in the closer role last season. If healthy, Grilli should get the job back to start the season but Melancon is more than ready to step in and do the job again if Grilli hits a roadblock in his recovery. Roster the skills and let the role play itself out.
St. Louis: Jason Motte got hurt, Edward Mujica became ineffective, in stepped Trevor Rosenthal. Strong skills across the board, so even if Motte is healthy, it is going to be tough to unseat the kid. He is the safer alternative and gives the team its best chance to win. So what if he has just three career saves; use that inexperience to get him at a discount.
Arizona: Addison Reed takes over this role and should do very well with it. His swing-and-miss rate jumped five percentage points last season and if he can keep the ball in the yard in U.S. Cellular, Chase Field shouldn't be a problem. David Hernandez is still around, as is Brad Ziegler, but this bullpen situation has much less uncertainty this season than it did in 2013.
Colorado: In fantasy football, we hate old veteran running backs that come in and vulture touchdowns from our young running backs. In Colorado, we may come to hate LaTroy Hawkins stealing saves from sexy Rex(y) Brothers. It is unclear whether the Rockies added the vet as an insurance policy or as the closer, but Brothers owners have to be a bit worried here.
Los Angeles: Has anyone seen Brandon League these days? No? Good! Kenley Jansen is a beast and has held batters to a .158 batting average and a .249 slugging percentage over the past four seasons while striking out 40% of the batters he has faced. Not bad for a former minor league catcher. Brian Wilson is back if Jansen has an issue, and in case of emergency, break the glass that League lives in now.
San Diego: Huston Street is the incumbent, but the Padres just signed Joaquin Benoit. Last season, Benoit had the better skills, but the three-year average between the two is rather neutral. One thing to be concerned about for Street is his LOB%; he only permitted seven baserunners to score all season. He allowed a double on June 15th that plated a runner, and then didn't allow another until the final game of the season in walk-off fashion. Street is also in the final year of his deal, so he is excellent trade bait.
San Francisco: Sergio Romo's strikeout rates over the past three seasons: 40%, 29%, 23%. His swing and miss rates: 36%, 36%, 31%. The heavy dose of sliders is not as dominating as it once was, but he's still very good at what he does. If throwing 100 billion sliders a season catches up with him this season, there isn't a clear insurance policy outside of Santiago Casilla.