Closers Preseason Preview

Closer Updates – A Quick Run Around the League

After giving a preview on each division, as well as some closer competition updates and overall rankings, it’s time for a general rundown of each team’s closer situation. In addition to providing some insight into various bullpens, you will also find some helpful injury updates. Moving through the regular season, you can find similar information on our Closer Depth Chart.

American League

Unlike the quiet NL, all of the Spring Training closer battles are happening in the American League thus far.

Baltimore Orioles – 1. Tommy Hunter, 2. Darren O’Day, 3. Ryan Webb

While Os skipper Buck Showalter still won’t firmly commit to Hunter as the guy, it certainly seems that he’s leading the pack right now.

Boston Red Sox – 1. Koji Uehara, 2. Edward Mujica, 3. Junichi Tazawa

Uehara issued a surprising walk against the Braves last week and catcher David Ross explained that the mishap could be chalked up to the closer working on another pitch for his repertoire.

Chicago White Sox – Competition – Ronald Belisario, Mitchell Boggs, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom, Daniel Webb

It’s been rough for the White Sox because no pitcher has emerged yet as closer – Belisario arrived late to camp because of visa issues, Jones & Lindstrom are close to healthy after missing time early, Webb missed a week for family reasons, and Boggs is still trying to distance himself from last year’s 8.10 ERA.

Cleveland Indians – 1. John Axford, 2. Cody Allen, 3. Bryan Shaw, 4. Vinnie Pestano

If his time at the World Baseball Classic caused Axford to fatigue in 2013, he could be in for a bounce-back season and bring consistency to the Tribe.

Detroit Tigers – 1. Joe Nathan, 2. Bruce Rondon, 3. Joba Chamberlain

With 341 career saves, Nathan will bring reliability to a Tigers’ bullpen that has developed a reputation for its inconsistencies.

Houston Astros – Competition – Matt Albers, Jesse Crain, Josh Fields, Chad Qualls

With favorite Crain out past Opening Day with an injury, Qualls is currently leading sophomore Fields and journeyman Albers for the closer role.

Kansas City Royals – 1. Greg Holland, 2. Aaron Crow, 3. Kelvin Herrera

Holland should be in line for another monster year in KC, while Crow and Herrera will see their setup roles increase in the absence of an injured Luke Hochevar.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 1. Ernesto Frieri, 2. Dane De La Rosa, 3. Joe Smith

De La Rosa could provide real value if Frieri stumbles – Manager Mike Scioscia had the two splitting closing duties at one point last season.

Minnesota Twins – 1. Glen Perkins, 2. Jared Burton, 3. Brian Duensing

With a 90% save conversion rate, Perkins is a solid closer and should make a case for his second straight All-Star appearance this season.

New York Yankees – 1. David Robertson, 2. Matt Thornton, 3. Shawn Kelley

All eyes will be on Robertson this season and he should rise to the task, his career 11.7 K/9 and 2.76 ERA didn’t happen by mistake.

Oakland Athletics – 1. Jim Johnson, 2. Luke Gregerson, 3. Ryan Cook

Johnson’s arrival in Oakland shouldn’t change his stock too much – he’s still a dependable closer who can be projected for 35+ saves (though another 50-save season might be aggressive).

Seattle Mariners – 1. Fernando Rodney, 2. Danny Farquhar, 3. Yoervis Medina

Rodney has been signed to closer, but Farquhar might just be good enough to regain his job if there are struggles early.

Tampa Bay Rays – 1. Grant Balfour, 2. Heath Bell, 3. Joel Peralta

Balfour will be more reliable in Tampa than Rodney was last season and Peralta is a solid setup man, but buyer beware when it comes to Heath Bell.

Texas Rangers – Competition – Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria

Manager Ron Washington has not yet chosen a closer for 2014 and is unopposed to a closer-by-committee approach, but the race should come down to Feliz edging Soria before Opening Day.

Toronto Blue Jays – 1. Casey Janssen, 2. Sergio Santos, 3. Steve Delabar

Entering a contract year, Janssen is a very solid closer who should have another above-average season in the Great White North.

National League

Barring any major injuries before Opening Day, the NL has a much clearer picture in terms of closers than its AL counterpart.

Atlanta Braves – 1. Craig Kimbrel, 2. Jordan Walden, 3. Luis Avilan

Kimbrel signed a four-year extension with the Bravos that is chock full of incentive bonuses – look for another dominant year for the righty.

Arizona Diamondbacks – 1. Addison Reed, 2. Brad Ziegler, 3. J.J. Putz

The Dbacks traded for Reed to be their closer, but J.J. Putz seems determined in Spring Training to regain his old job in 2014.

Chicago Cubs – 1. Jose Veras, 2. Pedro Strop, 3. Blake Parker

Veras will lead the Cubbies this year and should see more save opportunities in Wrigleyville than he did while serving as the Astros’ closer.

Colorado Rockies – 1. LaTroy Hawkins, 2. Rex Brothers, 3. Wilton Lopez

While Brothers may have the job before season’s end, Hawkins will definitely start the season as closer in Denver.

Los Angeles Dodgers – 1. Kenley Jansen, 2. Brian Wilson, 3. Chris Perez

Jansen has the opportunity to learn from some stud relievers (Wilson, Perez, and Brandon League) and emerge as a top-tier closer in 2014.

Miami Marlins – 1. Steve Cishek, 2. Mike Dunn, 3. A.J. Ramos

After replacing Heath Bell, Cishek was quite the surprise in Miami last season and will look to build on his strong finish to 2013.

Milwaukee Brewers – 1. Jim Henderson, 2. Francisco Rodriguez, 3. Brandon Kintzler

With K-Rod’s recent foot injury (yes, he stepped on a cactus), Henderson has an even longer leash entering Opening Day.

New York Mets – 1. Bobby Parnell, 2. Vic Black, 3. Jose Valverde

Parnell has pitched without pain this Spring and should be the closer in Queens again this season – unless Jose Valverde storms through the minors and takes the gig.

Philadelphia Phillies – 1. Jonathan Papelbon, 2. Antonio Bastardo, 3. Justin De Fratus

Papelbon was much better than described last season, has regained his velocity this Spring and seems to be on track for another solid season.

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1. Jason Grilli, 2. Mark Melancon, 3. Vin Mazzaro

Grilli has looked good in Spring Training and may be ready to charge out of the gates once again (10 saves last April).

San Diego Padres – 1. Huston Street, 2. Joaquin Benoit, 3. Dale Thayer

Benoit’s presence will greatly improve the Padres bullpen, but Street is still the Padre’s guy in the ninth and should be in line for another solid season.

San Francisco Giants – 1. Sergio Romo, 2. Santiago Casilla, 3. Jeremy Affeldt

Romo is another closer who is going into a contract year and he’ll be pushed by Casilla and Affeldt all season long.

St. Louis Cardinals – 1. Trevor Rosenthal, 2. Kevin Siegrist, 3. Carlos Martinez

Rosenthal has the potential to be a top notch closer and Cards’ management would certainly love to see their faith in him rewarded with a 35+ save season.

Washington Nationals – 1. Rafael Soriano, 2. Tyler Clippard, 3. Drew Storen

Soriano is still getting the big bucks in DC and his job is safe for now, but Clippard is an elite setup man who might be worth a look if you’re trying to improve your fantasy bullpen.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

RotoAuthority Rankings 2014: Closers

As you certainly recall, we’ve recently dug into a number of different position rankings for hitters (including Outfield, Catcher, First Base, Second Base, and Third Base – with Shortstop rankings to arrive on Saturday). Now it’s time for Closers to get a little love. Like the rest of the RotoAuthority rankings, we’ll break down the position into tiers with some extra attention to sleepers and setup guys. Unlike Opening Day, we won’t make you wait any longer…

Tier 1 – Top Guns

1. Craig Kimbrel

2. Kenley Jansen

3. Aroldis Chapman

4. Greg Holland

The top tier features four excellent closers with high-end career strikeout rates (Kimbrel – 15.1 K/9, Jansen – 14.0, Chapman – 14.7 K/9, Holland – 12.3). With 163 combined saves last season, each one of these guys can give you a serious advantage in the relief pitcher department week-to-week. Many will place Kimbrel in a tier all by himself, and perhaps rightfully so, but I think that Jansen, Chapman, and Holland will give him a run for his money in 2014.

Tier 2 – Next Best Thing

5. Koji Uehara

6. Joe Nathan

7. Trevor Rosenthal

8. Casey Janssen

9. Jim Johnson

10. Glen Perkins

Uehara had an outstanding end to 2013 and might be among the game’s best. If he can prove that his 2013 numbers aren’t a flash-in-the-pan (1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 21 saves), he’ll be pushing Kimbrel with the rest of the top tier. Nathan has been consistent (340 saves over the last 10 years) and should keep the Joe Show going in Detroit. Rosenthal will have to prove that last season was not a fluke (2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 12.9 K/9) and he can handle the ninth before moving up the rankings. Janssen, Johnson, and Perkins are all consistent enough to round out the top 10 for the fickle closer position.

Tier 3 – On the Cusp of Top-Notch

11. David Robertson

12. Jonathan Papelbon

13. Jason Grilli

14. Sergio Romo

15. Ernesto Frieri

16. Rafael Soriano

17. Grant Balfour

18. Steve Cishek

Robertson will inherit the ninth after Mariano Rivera’s departure and has outstanding numbers as a setup guy (2.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 last season). If he can keep these numbers up, he’ll perform admirably in Mariano’s stead and be a draft day gem. Although Papelbon seemingly struggled last season, he still posted good numbers (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves) and should have another good year. Grilli provides strong value this season and was a dominant closer most of last season (2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9, 33 saves) despite missing time due to injury.

Tier 4 – Steady Eddies

19. Addison Reed

20. John Axford

21. Huston Street

22. Jim Henderson

23. Fernando Rodney

24. Bobby Parnell

Without being too flashy, this tier is dependable if you’ve decided to wait at closer. Axford might return to form and move up a tier before the season’s end. Rodney is closing for the new look Mariners and could have plenty of save opportunities. If Parnell can stay healthy for 2014, he’ll provide some great value later in drafts.

Tier 5 – Position Battles & Closer Sleepers

25. Jose Veras

26. Tommy Hunter

27. LaTroy Hawkins

28. Neftali Feliz

29. Nate Jones

30. Chad Qualls

31. Mark Melancon

32. Rex Brothers

33. Jesse Crain

34. Danny Farquhar

35. Joakim Soria

Unlike the above tiers, this one if chock full of potential and uncertainty. Jose Veras will regain the ninth as closer for the Cubbies and Tommy Hunter seems to have won the closer gig in Baltimore. Hawkins might eventually lose his job to Rex Brothers, but the Rockies are paying him to be their closer on Opening Day. While Jesse Crain may eventually own the job in Houston (out until April with injury), Chad Qualls should be the first to have it in 2014. Neftali Feliz and Nate Jones would both be ranked higher if either were officially named closer.

Tier 6 – Setup Guys

36. Darren O’Day

37. Tyler Clippard

38. Cody Allen

39. Pedro Strop

40. J.J. Putz

41. Matt Lindstrom

42. Joaquin Benoit

43. Brad Ziegler

44. Tanner Scheppers

45. Sergio Santos

46. Daniel Webb

47. Brian Wilson

48. Jose Valverde

49. Francisco Rodriguez

This grab bag tier features a number of names you’ve seen before and some that are fairly new to the scene. Clippard and Allen are both elite setup men that could steal a few saves. Strop, Benoit, and Santos also provide tremendous value as setup men and can be useful in several fantasy formats (especially those that count holds). Putz and Ziegler are speculative picks that could pan out if there’s a closer competition in Arizona. Other wild cards include former closer studs Wilson, Valverde, and K-Rod.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closer Draft Strategies

Now that we’ve dug into division-by-division bullpen previews, as well as provided updates on the current closer position battles, there are only a few things left to cover before drafting season is well under way. Next week we will explore closer rankings, but now it is time to discuss different drafting strategies for closers. A few weeks ago, we used a Point-Counterpoint column to address an age old question – Should one pay for saves? Unless you’ve decided to punt saves altogether and avoid closers like the plague, your strategy will fall under one of the below approaches. Whichever you choose, RotoAuthority and @CloserNews will be here all season to help you win saves and your league.

Approach #1 – Early and Often

If you are a disciple of the Pay for Saves school, then you’ll certainly be targeting closers early. In particular, you’ll have your eyes set on acquiring one (or more) of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen. While any one of these closers can anchor a fantasy bullpen on their own, having two of them means that you won’t have to worry about closer again until the end of the draft. Obviously you’ll want to round out your fantasy bullpen with another reliever or two before all is said and done, but a couple of these top tier closers and you should be sitting pretty in the closer department. If somebody else swings early and starts the closer run before expected, be patient and have a backup plan. If you are willing to pay for saves, there’s a chance someone else will too and there’s still plenty of talent out there.

Approach #2 – Medium-Level Talent

Should you miss out on the three amigos above (Kimbrel, Chapman, Jansen), the next best bet is to target several medium-level closers. The difficult part about the closer position is predicting how many save opportunities a pitcher will have or whether a newly appointed closer will pan out. The top tier closers are ranked as such because of their ridiculous strikeout rates and high number of projected save opportunities. That being said, several pitchers will post 40+ save seasons in 2014 without ridiculous strikeout rates and still provide great value to fantasy managers. Despite the uncertainty inherent in the position, look toward closers that have been consistent throughout the years and have strong job security rather than young guns newly taking over the ninth. For example, Joe Nathan, Greg Holland, Ernesto Frieri, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson, Jonathan Papelbon, and Casey Janssen will all go a few rounds later than the top tier guys and can provide enough value to lead you to a championship. Just keep in mind that one of them will not be enough and you’ll need a few to be truly competitive in saves.

Approach #3 – Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Each season a few closers come out of nowhere and hold onto the ninth tighter than four-seam fastball. Some of them are prospects, some journeymen, and others simply win the job after a closer-by-committee situation. Therefore, the smartest move might be to grab a solid closer early and wait around to acquire the rest later. Although this strategy is riskier than the other two, it can be the most rewarding when executed properly. With late round value at closer, a manager has extra opportunities to draft offensive talent early. If you’re going to take this approach, there are two different types of closers to target.

When drafting, focus on pitchers that are either (A) the lead dog who will eventually take over a closer-by-committee situation or (B) an elite setup man who should have the closer gig in due time. Examples of (A) pitchers include Nate Jones, Jesse Crain, and Neftali Feliz. On the other hand, (B) pitchers include Rex Brothers, Danny Farquhar, and Tyler Clippard. The beautiful thing about the (B) pitchers is that they’ll contribute to your ERA and WHIP even if they don’t grab the ninth right away and give you saves. Finally, do not forget to follow @CloserNews each night as we’ll be giving you tips on who might step in and steal a save.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closer Updates – An Updated Look at Position Battles

So far this preseason, we’ve given an in-depth preview of each division and their closer situations. Now that we’re on the cusp of Spring Training, it’s time to have an update on some of the ongoing position battles discussed earlier this preseason. The NL East and NL Central have both been fairly quiet, but there’s plenty happening elsewhere. We’ve got updates on the position battles in AL Central and NL West, as well as some new arrivals via free agency in the AL West and AL East.

Baltimore Orioles – When we first wrote about the Os bullpen, it seemed that Baltimore was one free agent away from having a new closer and the in-house competition was between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day. Now it looks like Tommy Hunter is leading the way and will have the first opportunity to close this Spring Training.

Chicago White Sox – During out AL Central preview, we took a look at the White Sox bullpen in the post-Addison Reed era. Frontrunner Nate Jones was the first injury in Spring Training with a mild strain. While the injury isn’t a big deal, it may give Ronald Belisario, Matt Lindstrom, or newcomer Mitchell Boggs a few extra days to earn favor with the brass.

Colorado Rockies – Manager Walt Weiss recently stated that Rex Brothers could get some save opportunities early in the season, depending on matchups. This may be a not-so-subtle hint that they’re ready for Brothers to be the guy in Mile High, so beware of drafting LaTroy Hawkins too early.

Houston Astros – Skipper Bo Porter has made it clear that figuring out the closer’s role would be a top priority this Spring Training. Chad Qualls may be the early favorite given his limited experience as a closer in three seasons with the Diamondbacks. Jesse Crain is still recovering from an October surgery and will be back in April, but probably not near Opening Day.

Seattle Mariners – When we first hit the presses on the AL West, Danny Farquhar seemed to have an edge for the gig over Tom Wilhelmsen. Then, Fernando Rodney was signed by the Mariners and took over the role. He should have fairly safe job security given the money they’re paying him in Seattle.

Tampa Bay Rays – Another bullpen compeittion which was settled by a free agent signing was in Tampa with Grant Balfour. Backed up by Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, and Jake McGee, Grant Balfour will be the closer and should have another strong season following a strong 2013 (2.59 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 38 saves).

Texas Rangers – While there’s been plenty of talk about how Neftali Feliz is ready to take back the ninth inning (he’s reported to camp in the best shape of his career), Ron Washington recently said that he’ll wait a while before naming a closer. Besides Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers are both viable candidates with potent stuff and give Texas the most comfortable bullpen battle in baseball.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview – NL West

As we wrap up the closer previews for 2014, we take a look at the American League West. With five clear starters (or frontrunners), there shouldn’t be too many shakeups between now and Opening Day. On the other hand, there are some very good setup men and more than one reliever capable of taking over the ninth in an instant.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Closer – Addison Reed

After coming to the desert from the Chicago White Sox, Addison Reed is poised to take over the ninth for Arizona. Although J.J. Putz will be trying to take his old job back, Reed should persevere and enter Opening Day as the Dbacks closer. With 69 saves over the last two seasons and a career 9.3 K/9, Reed should be consistent enough to keep Putz at bay.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Reed beats Putz for the ninth inning gig, each of them pitch outstandingly and give the Diamondbacks an edge late in games. Reed has a 30+ save season and Putz ranks highly among holds leaders.

Who’s Lurking? – J.J. Putz has vowed that he will regain his job and should give Reed a run for his money in Spring Training. Although Putz was on the Disabled List twice last season and blew four saves in April, he held a 1.27 ERA in his last 27 appearances and really came back to form as the season ended. David Hernandez consistently holds a 9.0+ K/9 but is better suited for a setup role. Brad Ziegler may be the dark horse in this race, with a career 2.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, and 32 saves.

Colorado Rockies

Closer – LaTroy Hawkins

With Rafael Betancourt lost to free agency, the ninth inning should look a little different in Denver this season. Back with the Rockies, the 41-year-old Hawkins is the definition of journeyman reliever (11 teams thus far) and has been consistent, when healthy, over the years. Last season, Hawkins posted a respectable 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 7.0 K/9 last season in Queens and should have another strong year in the twilight of his career.

Bold Prediction – LaTroy Hawkins starts to run into trouble around the All-Star Game and Rex Brothers takes the job in the Mile High City. Brothers finishes the season with 25+ saves and is one of the best closers going into 2015.

Who’s Lurking? – In 2013, Brothers had a 30-inning scoreless streak and 19 saves after filling in for the injured Betancourt. With a career 2.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9, Brothers has the stuff to dominate the ninth and just might take the job if Hawkins struggles early. Another young gun is Boone Logan, who had a solid 2013 season in 61 appearances (3.23 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 11.5 K/9) and has a closer’s profile. Adam Ottavino may not have a great spot in this race yet (2.64 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 last season), but could really bring himself into the conversation with a strong Spring Training.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Closer – Kenley Jansen

After Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are gone, Kenley Jansen is your next best bet. With a scorching fastball and dominant strikeout rate, Jansen should be excited about his first full season in the closer’s seat. After starting last year as a setup guy, Jansen ended the season with 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, and 28 saves, and has the stuff to be among the game’s best.

Bold Prediction – Kenley Jansen surpasses Kimbrel and Chapman in his first full year as closer. The Dodgers starting rotation puts Jansen in position for 40+ saves and he posts an unbelievable 14.5 K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – The Dodgers have a very interesting bullpen to back up Jansen with a trio of former All-Stars and 377 career saves. Chris Perez, the two-time All-Star, has a career 3.41 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9, and four consecutive 20+ save seasons. Brian Wilson, the three-time All-Star with a very dark beard, is also in Los Angeles after 18 appearances last season (0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Brandon League, the last musketeer with one former All-Star appearance, had 14 saves at the beginning of the year but eventually lost the job to Jansen. Another interesting candidate is sophomore Chris Withrow, who posted a 2.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 11.2 K/9 in 26 appearances.

San Diego Padres

Closer – Huston Street

Unlike many traditional closers, Huston Street is a closer that relies on finesse rather than pure power. With a strong last season (33 of 35 save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.02 WHIP), Street is poised to have another good year in San Diego. Recently acquired Joaquin Benoit may give Street some competition, but he should march through Spring Training with few issues.

Bold Prediction – Despite the fact that Benoit is on the scene, Huston Street has another strong season in San Diego (29 saves, 2.92 ERA, 1.10 ERA) by depending on his accuracy rather than his power.

Who’s Lurking? – New to the Padres is Joaquin Benoit, who saved 25 games in Detroit last season (2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.6 K/9). Benoit was brought in to replace Luke Gregerson (who was shipped to Oakland in the offseason) and should immediately bolster the bullpen. Dale Thayer completed his first full season in the Major Leagues last year and performed admirably (3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.9 K/9). Another competitor is Alex Torres, who came to San Diego from the Tampa Bay Rays after a strong season (career 1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.7 K/9).

San Francisco Giants

Closer – Sergio Romo

Sergio Romo will take over the ninth inning for San Francisco after 38 saves in 2013. With a career 2.29 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9, Romo is a traditional fireballer who can close the door in the eighth. With some strong bullpen support but little internal competition, Romo should enter the season by saving games early and often.

Bold Prediction – Romo chases 40 saves in 2014 and comes just short with another 38-save season. Although his overall saves number remains the same, Romo lowers his ERA and WHIP, while still posting a 10.0+ K/9.

Who’s Lurking? – With the benefit of great setup man Santiago Casilla, the Padres will be able put Romo in plenty of traditional save opportunities. Casilla had a strong 2013 (2.16 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.8 K/9) and will be ready to contribute in the eighth. Jeremy Affeldt, another late inning reliever, may be simply waiting around for his opportunity for Romo and Casilla to struggle. Lastly, Heath Hembree had a very strong year in 2013 (0.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 14.1 K/9) and will have something to prove in his sophomore season.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview - AL West

As we head out west with the closer previews, there are a few more showdowns for the ninth. While there are some returners this season and a fresh face in Oakland, the two Texas teams offer tantalizing and competitive closer competitions. Like most divisions, the ability to win close games will depend on who finishes the season on top and all eyes will be on the Texas Rangers as their closer situation will have a big impact on the division race.

Houston Astros

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Jesse Crain, Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo, Chad Qualls)

Going into Spring Training, the Astros continue in lock step with last season as the least dependable bullpen in baseball. Not only are they inconsistent, but it seems that the Astros will give their closer few traditional save opportunities. If one of these candidates above emerge as an effective reliever, expect Houston to ship them to a playoff contender before the trade deadline (see Jose Veras). Last year’s top saves guys Josh Fields (5) and Chia-Jen Lo (2) both return this season. Fields had a below average first season in the big leagues (1-3, 4.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP), but did manage to earn some trust with the Astros’ management and has a strong 9.5 K/9. On the other hand, Lo posted similar numbers last year (0-3, 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 7.4 K/9) and makes it difficult to anoint either as favorite.

The first person to challenge the returning sophomores will be journeyman reliever Jesse Crain, who will also provide the greatest competition. Although Crain only has four career saves, he was an All-Star last season and was nearly unstoppable (19 holds, 0.74 ERA, 1.15 ERA, 11.3 K/9) before succumbing to injury. If he comes back to form this season, the Astros may have their guy. Nipping at Crain’s heels will be Chad Qualls, who had an excellent season for the Marlins last year (5-2, 2.61 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.1 K/9) and was originally drafted by the Astros back in 2000.

Bold Prediction – Jesse Crain wins the job and is traded before the deadline. Qualls ends the season as Astros’ closer, with both having respectable seasons.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Closer – Ernesto Frieri

Frieri is very good and the Halos are glad to have him back given his career statistics (2.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 12.3 K9). That being said, Los Angeles is also hoping that last year was an anomaly (3.80 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 12.8 K/9) and he will return to the Frieri of old. Although there may be uncertainty for other teams, Ernesto will anchor the division as the AL West closer with the most job security. Even if the Angels’ offense does not live up to expectations, Frieri should still have 30+ saves this season.

Bold Prediction – Ernesto Frieri proves that last year’s shaky stats (which aren’t that bad in comparison to the rest of the league) were a fluke and his dominance continues with a 40-save season.

Who’s Lurking? – Dane De La Rosa returns to Anaheim this season and management will hope that he can repeat last season (2.86 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.1 K/9). If Frieri stumbles, De La Rosa may have demonstrated enough to take the ninth until order is restored. To go along with Frieri and De La Rosa, the Angels signed Joe Smith this offseason from Cleveland. Smith is a dependable reliever, who posted a 2.29 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and a 7.7 K/9, and should really help the Angels get out of a jam (Smith has only had 15 inherited runners score over the past two years). Finally, Sean Burnett will be jockeying for position in this bullpen after a strong 13 games last season (0.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.5 K/9). If Burnett continues to perform, he will add great depth to the Halos’ bullpen but will probably not get a chance at the ninth this season.

Oakland Athletics

Closer – Jim Johnson

With Grant Balfour gone to Tampa Bay via free agency, the A’s will turn to Jim Johnson in the ninth this season. After leading Major League Baseball in saves over the last two seasons (also only the second player in MLB history to record 50+ saves in consecutive seasons), Johnson was traded in December and will bring his talents to the Bay Area in 2014. With 145 appearances in the last two seasons, Oakland is hoping that Jim Johnson will continue to be durable and dependable in the ninth.

Bold Prediction – Somebody has to say it… Jim Johnson posts another 50-save season, but this time it’s out in Moneyballville. With a handful of blown saves, Johnson continues to be overlooked as an elite closer.

Who’s Lurking? – Should Johnson struggle this season, Oakland will certainly miss Balfour. However, there are a few candidates who should provide relief options just in case. Luke Gregerson has also arrived (via San Diego for Seth Smith) and should continue to be a steady setup guy. Gregerson has 16 career saves and a solid career stat line (2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.1 K/9). Ryan Cook, last year’s setup guy (2.54 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.0 K/9), is ready to battle for the eighth and may be the first in line if Johnson starts blowing saves. Sean Doolittle is another option, who possesses a career 3.09 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9, but may have to surpass Gregerson and Cook in camp before getting the ball in crunch time.

Settle Mariners

Closer – Danny Farquhar

Last season, the Mariners struggled to find a dependable closer. After trying out a number of candidates, Farquhar took the job from Tom Wilhelmsen and never looked back. Despite the fact that last year’s statistics look poor (4.20 ERA, 1.19 ERA, 12.8 K/9), Farquhar actually performed quite well after becoming the closer (16 saves, 2.38 ERA). With that performance, Farquhar has earned the trust of Mariners’ management and will enter Opening Day as the closer.

Bold Prediction – Farquhar continues to stay ahead of Wilhelmsen and ends the season with the job, but their battle demonstrates surprising bullpen depth for the Mariners.

Who’s Lurking? – Despite the fact that he lost the gig to Farquhar and was sent to AAA last season, Tom Wilhelmsen will enter Spring Training as some of Farquhar’s greatest competition. Despite the fact that Wilhelmsen struggled last season, he should regain his pitching motion and see stats more in line with his career numbers (3.21 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.5 K/9). Considering the fact that he posted 29 saves in 2012, Wilhelmsen could be breathing down Farquhar’s neck before too long. Yoervis Medina performed admirably in his first season (2.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) last year and could also provide Seattle with much needed bullpen depth. After being shut down in 2013, Stephen Pryor is a top prospect who should be fully healthy this season. If so, he will be the wildcard and could start to make a name for himself in 2014.

Texas Rangers

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria)

With Joe Nathan in Detroit, there will be a very serious battle for closer this season in Texas. Given Nathan’s consistency, he will leave very big cleats to fill. First up will likely be Neftali Feliz, the former closer who began last season on the disabled list (career 2.61 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.8 K/9). Considering that Feliz posted 30+ save seasons for the Rangers in 2010-11, he may have the insid track on the job. Tanner Scheppers, last year’s dependable setup guy (1.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 in 2013), will also have a shot at the ninth. Two-time All Star Joakim Soria is also lurking after spending a majority of the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. The one-time superstar closer (160 career saves) may have just enough in the tank to regain the ninth this season. Alexi Ogando is a difficult pitcher to predict. After bouncing from the starting rotation to the bullpen, Ogando is a jack-of-all trades for Texas and they will use him wherever necessary. If Feliz, Scheppers, and Soria all stumble this season, Ogando may become the closer by default.

Bold Prediction – Neftali Feliz returns to the ninth with a vengeance and reminds Rangers’ fans of the good old days. After earning the job in Spring Training, Feliz hits the ground running and wins comeback player of the year.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview – NL Central

Like its American League counterpart, the National League central has both fresh faces (Rosenthal and Veras) and returning closers (Chapman, Grilli, and Henderson). The three returning closers carry a strong pedigree (with 99 combined saves last season), but will face a serious challenge from the young guns for the 2014 NL Central Closer gold medal. If the race for the division title comes down to intra-division matchups, the closers below may just decide who gets a shot at the pennant.

Chicago Cubs

Closer – Jose Veras

After being moved from Houston to Detroit last July, Veras has landed in Wrigleyville for the 2014 season. Fresh off his first 20+ save season, he’s ready to bring much-needed consistency to the Cubbies’ bullpen. The right-handed veteran reliever carries a career 9.3 K/9 and hopes to help Chicago forget about last year’s Carlos Marmol experience (who was designated for assignment after a dismal 5.68 ERA in 31 appearances). Should Veras develop under pitching coach Chris Bosio, he will likely have even more success than he had in the American League last season (21 saves, 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 8.6 K/9).

Bold Prediction – Chicago will win far more games than the Astros did last year, giving Jose Veras his first season with 30+ saves and 80+ strikeouts. With the development of the other young relievers, he leads a talented bullpen and makes the rest of baseball take notice.

Who’s Lurking? -  The Cubs are fortunate enough to have a number of young relievers going into 2014. Pedro Strop pitched well after coming over from Baltimore last season (2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP) and has a career 9.1 K/9. After making Chicago’s Opening Day roster in 2013, right-handed reliever Hector Rondon settled in well and had a 3.20 ERA after the All-Star break. Blake Parker, who had a 2.72 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 10.7 K/9 in 49 appearances last season, should not be overlooked either. James Russell, the team’s only consistent lefty over last two years, should post some solid numbers as well, but will be grateful for not having to shoulder the load (151 appearances over the last two seasons).

Cincinnati Reds

Closer – Aroldis Chapman

There is little doubt that Chapman will be the closer in Cincy this season, as the lefty has been dominant since inheriting the job in 2012. Last season, the strikeout artist had a 2.54 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 15.8 K/9 en route to 38 saves. Although he slightly lags behind Craig Kimbrel in terms of strikeout rate, Chapman is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to closers and is worth an early round draft pick. Given the Reds’ offensive potential, he could be easily looking at another 38-save season (his save total in 2012 & 2013) with a K/9 higher than 15.0.

Bold Prediction – Aroldis Chapman breaks past the 38-save barrier and jumps ahead of Kimbrel as the game’s best closer. Despite the fact that his average pitch velocity drops for the fourth consecutive year, Chapman’s control is better than ever and he chases a 16.5 K/9 – easily making him the most valuable closer in the big leagues.

Who’s Lurking? – After losing the closer’s job to Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton has struggled to stay healthy. Because Broxton is still a top setup man (career 10.7 K/9), he should have a number of holds for the Redlegs this year. Young righty J.J. Hoover had three saves during an excellent 2013 season (2.61 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.1 K/9) and may get a crack at the gig if the injury bug hits. Sam LeCure is also a candidate after a strong 2013 (2.66 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 63 appearances) and a respectable career 8.7 K/9. When Ryan Madson went down in 2012, Sean Marshall initially got the job but performed poorly enough for Chapman to take the ninth. There’s little doubt the Reds have forgotten and Marshall is probably on the outside looking in.

Milwaukee Brewers

Closer – Jim Henderson

Given his admirable performance last season (converted 28 saves of 33 opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 11.3 K/9) and the Brewers’ lack of activity in the closer free agent market, right-handed journeyman Jim Henderson will likely be the closer in Milwaukee on Opening Day. Given that Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford were both traded away last season, Henderson has a fairly long leash in terms of job security and will be given the opportunity to work through any issues before being pulled.

Bold Prediction – Jim Henderson is so good that he reminds the Brewers faithful of Trevor Hoffman’s first season in Milwaukee. By limiting his blown saves and staying healthy, Henderson easily passes the 35-save mark with another 11.0+ K/9 season.

Who’s Lurking? – Brandon Kintzler is an above average setup guy and he should return to the eighth after a solid 2013 (71 appearances, 27 holds, 2.69 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.8 K/9). While he may be first in line if Henderson struggles, Brewers management could elect to keep him in a setup role simply because he’s a ground ball pitcher. Second-year relievers Jimmy Nelson (0.90 ERA in 10 innings last season, with a 0.70 WHIP and 7.2 K/9) and Rob Wooten (27.2 innings pitched, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 5.9 K/9 in 2013) will both have a chance to prove themselves throughout spring training. Tom Gorzelanny is still the bullpen’s only steady lefty, so look for him to remain outside of this race for now.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer – Jason Grilli

After being named the closer before Opening Day 2013, Grilli hit the ground closing. After 10 saves in April, he went on a stretch of pure dominance and even pitched the ninth inning for the National League in last year’s All-Star Game (33 of 35 save opportunities, 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13.3 K/9 last season). However, Grilli fell to a forearm injury and left the job open for Mark Melancon, who performed admirably in Grilli’s stead (16 saves, 1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.9 K/9). By returning before the playoffs began, Grilli regained the trust of Pittsburgh management and will be the closer again in 2014.

Bold Prediction – Jason Grilli charges out of the gate with an April similar to last season (11.0 innings pitched, 10 saves, 1 earned run, 17 strikeouts) and makes any questions about lingering forearm issues a thing of the past. The dynamic duo of Grilli and Melancon give the Buccos baseball’s best one-two punch.

Who’s Lurking? – With Melancon a premier setup man, he is most likely to step into the ninth if Grilli becomes injured again. Although Vin Mazzaro (2.81 ERA, 1.21 WHIP) and Tony Watson (2.39 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) both pitched well last season, they will remain in a setup role for the time being. Justin Wilson is a dependable lefty for the Pirates (2.08 ERA and 1.16 WHIP last year), but he’ll need to separate himself from this talented pack if he wants a sniff at the ninth.

St. Louis Cardinals

Closer – Trevor Rosenthal

Going into spring training, the favorite for the St. Louis closer gig is Trevor Rosenthal. Although this comes with some debate (as Rosenthal could be moved to the starting rotation), he seems to be the best option for the Cards in 2014. With Edward Mujica in Boston, the fireballer hopes to build on the three saves he earned last season (3 saves, 2.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and his strong postseason performance (four saves). Given his 12.9 K/9 and an average pitch speed of 96.4 mph, Rosenthal might just provide great draft day value this season.

Bold Prediction – At this time next year, baseball fans will start to wonder if Rosenthal is the best closer in the NL Central. Rosenthal has the build of a prototypical closer, with a tremendous strikeout rate, and is throwing nearly as fast as Aroldis Chapman. If Chapman doesn’t stay healthy and the Cardinals keep winning ball games, Rosenthal may just keep trending upward until he’s at the top.

Who’s Lurking? – If Rosenthal does not have success in the ninth, St. Louis might be in some serious trouble. Jason Motte is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will miss the early part of the season. Sophomore Carlos Martinez is talented, but also very raw (5.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9 in 2013) and needs to prove he can be consistent. Fellow second-year reliever Kevin Siegrist may be the real dark horse in this race (0.45 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 11.3 K/9 last season) and could emerge if Rosenthal struggles early.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview – AL Central

Welcome to the American League Central, another division wrought with uncertainty at the closer position and looking very different than Opening Day 2013. The AL Central brings us a few returning favorites (Holland and Perkins), but also features a great deal of change via the free agent or trade market (see Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit). Unlike some of the steadier divisions, these teams should give bullpen fans plenty to watch for this season.

Chicago White Sox

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Ronald Belisario, Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom)

Once Addison Reed was shipped to the desert to pitch for Arizona, the battle for White Sox closer began. Although Chicago GM Rick Hahn doesn’t feel the need to name a closer at this juncture, there are plenty of solid candidates. The current favorite is fireballer Nate Jones, who led the White Sox in relief appearances over the previous two seasons (to go along with a career 9.3 K/9) and has earned Hahn’s trust in his first two seasons.  Should the White Sox opt for experience, Matt Lindstrom has 45 career saves (with stints as closer for the Marlins and Astros). Lindstrom may not be the prototypical candidate (3.12 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, and 6.8 K/9 in 2013), but he does have the know-how to get the job done. After being non-tendered by the Dodgers this offseason, Ronald Belisario was also brought in to compete and the sinkerballer carries a career 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 7.5 K/9.

Bold Prediction – Nate Jones enters camp with the closer job and earns his first save on Opening Day. Although the White Sox lose more games than they win, Jones continues to develop his repertoire and starts striking out lefties at a better rate. Despite the fact that Jones’ save total save is rather low, he has the highest K/9 of all AL Central closers.

Cleveland Indians

Closer – John Axford

Last season Axford lost his job in Milwaukee after four treacherous outings (0-2, 1 blown save, 22.10 ERA) and never had a chance to earn the ninth back. For those who know Axford’s career, remember that he’s struggled before and managed to bounce back. If he exerted himself too much during last offseason while representing Canada in the World Baseball Classic, he may have simply had a bad start and could be a prime candidate to return to form this season (career 3.29 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 10.8 K/9).

Bold Prediction – After being traded to the Cardinals on August 30, Axford spent time with the St. Louis pitching staff and All-Star catcher Yadier Molina to correct some minor flaws in his delivery. Entering his sixth season, Axford bursts back on the scene in 2014 and places himself back among the next wave of good young closers.

Who’s Lurking? – Career middle reliever Vinnie Pestano is still on the roster and earned six saves for the Tribe last June. If Axford struggles mightily, Pestano might be next in line to audition for the gig. Don’t forget about the right-handers Cody Allen or Bryan Shaw, each of whom performed well last season in Cleveland. Of the two, Cody Allen has the most potential (with a career 2.81 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9) and may develop this season as a premier setup man.

Detroit Tigers

Closer – Joe Nathan

The Detroit closer situation will be substantially different this season and the Tiger faithful could not be happier. Solving a major pain point, the three-time defending AL Central champions found a solution in 39-year-old Nathan, who went 6-2 with 43 saves for the Texas Rangers (1.39 ERA, 0.897 WHIP, 10.2 K/9) in 2013. Although there are always age concerns with a pitcher going into his 14th season, Nathan has made a career of being consistent (by averaging 31 saves a season) and should continue to dominate the ninth inning this season.

Bold Prediction – Nathan has been a model of consistency over the years and 2014 proves to be quite the opposite. Over the first few months of the season, it’s clear that Nathan has lost velocity and can no longer pitch himself out of trouble. Although Nathan struggles early in the season, he finishes the season as the Tigers’ closer and performs well enough in the playoffs to keep his job in 2015.

Who’s Lurking? – With Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras, and Octavio Dotel all gone via free agency, and Drew Smyly set to return to the starting rotation, the Tigers’ bullpen this spring training will look dramatically different than a year ago. This season, expect Bruce Rondon, Joba Chamberlain, and Al Alburquerque to fight for the eighth inning gig. If Nathan’s fastball begins to slow because of age, expect these three to be constantly jockeying for the role. Joba Chamberlain has more experience as a reliever (260 career appearances), but the Tigers seem to have placed a great deal of faith in Rondon - who hasn’t exactly matched up to expectations thus far (30 appearances, 3.45 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 9.4 K/9). Alburquerque pitched frequently last season and is a darkhorse candidate simply because of the fact that the Tigers know him the best (53 appearances in 2013, despite a 4.59 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, and 12.9 K/9 last season).

Kansas City Royals

Closer – Greg Holland

When Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2012, Holland took the ninth inning and never looked back. In his first full season as closer, Holland set the Royals’ single season saves record by converting 47 of 50 save opportunities. The 2013 All-Star finished ninth in AL Cy Young voting with a dominant season (68 appearances, 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 13.8 K/9) and could be standing at the cusp of greatness. If KC continues to give him save opportunities, expect Holland to have another great season.

Bold Prediction – Greg Holland keeps it going and breaks his own Kansas City single season saves record by converting 48 saves in 2014, pushing him over the 100 save plateau in only his second season as a full-time closer. Despite the fact that the Royals miss the postseason, Holland again places in the top 10 for Cy Young voting.

Who’s Lurking? – Kansas City has the benefit of possessing a trio of young, but experienced, relievers in Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow, and Kelvin Herrera. Although Hochevar is not a flamethrower like Crow and Herrera (possessing a career 6.6 K/9), he has a variety of pitches, performed quite well last season (70.1 innings pitched, 1.92 ERA, and 0.83 WHIP), and should have the first chance if Holland goes down to injury or inconsistency. Crow (9.0 career K/9) and Herrera (9.4 career K/9) are both strikeout pitchers with a handful of saves over the past two seasons. If both Holland and Hochevar struggle, expect Crow and Herrera to battle it out.

Minnesota Twins

Closer – Glen Perkins

After Matt Capps’ injury in 2012, Perkins took the Twins’ closer job and earned 16 saves before the season ended. Similar to Greg Holland, last season was Perkins’ first as full-time closer and he performed better than expected (36 saves, 2.30 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, and 11.1 K/9). Assuming that last year was not a fluke, Perkins has begun to establish himself as a reliable closer.

Bold Prediction – Perkins was named to the All-Star Game last season as an injury replacement and demonstrated, through the rest of the season, that he was worthy of the honor. This year, Perkins comes out of the gate with a charge and is named to the All-Star game again (but not as an injury replacement) while chasing Holland and Nathan for the AL Central’s best closer title.

Who’s Lurking? – The Twins seem comfortable with Jared Burton as Perkins’ setup man and he’s earned that trust over the past two seasons in Minnesota (135 appearances, 45 holds, and 4 blown saves). If Perkins falls from grace, look for Burton to be first in line. Casey Fien, who pitched admirably last season in the Twin Cities (73 appearances, 3.92 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.6 K/9), may also be a candidate. Flying under the radar is Brian Duensing, who earned his first career save last season (73 appearances, 15 holds, 3 blown saves) and any struggles from Perkins, Burton, or Fien should move him up the depth chart quickly.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview – NL East

Unlike their AL counterpart, the NL East closer picture seems eerily clear even before pitchers and catchers report. This list is also very similar to last year’s preseason preview, with only Bobby Parnell providing a new name as projected closer in 2014. Without many position battles, this week’s examination of closers should not change dramatically between now and Opening Day. Barring injury, the NL East may be the only division to give us a complete set of closers with adequate job security throughout the season.

Atlanta Braves

As the gold standard for closers, Craig Kimbrel hopes to have another epic season in 2014. Unsurprisingly, Kimbrel had a dominant season last year (1.21 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 13.2 K/9) and appears ready to continue the trend. Given the Braves’ consistency over the past few regular seasons, he may be in the position to put up another 45+ save season. Even if Kimbrel struggles, the Braves will let their perennial All-Star work through any issues and be hesitant to turn to anyone else.

Closer – Craig Kimbrel

Bold Prediction – It’s hard to have a bold prediction when you’re talking about Kimbrel. With 138 saves in three seasons as the Braves’ closer, he’s pitched almost perfectly for Atlanta. Instead of claiming that he’ll challenge Francisco Rodriguez’s record of 62 saves, let’s say that he’ll make a real run for the Bravos’ single season 55-save record (set by John Smoltz in 2002).

Who’s Lurking? – Fortunately for Braves nation, the Atlanta front office has some experience in rebounding from reliever injuries. This season, the Braves will turn to Jordan Walden, David Carpenter, or Luis Avilan in the late innings. Should Craig Kimbrel fall to injury, Walden posted a 32-save sophomore season in 2011 (for the Angels) and will be first in line to inherit the ninth. David Carpenter had 12 holds last season, a 10.14 K/9 and is also waiting in the wings. The true darkhorse candidate in this race is Luis Avilan, who may not have traditional strikeout stuff, but possesses a career 1.69 ERA and 0.98 WHIP.

Miami Marlins

At the beginning of last season, Steve Cishek was named Marlins’ closer and he performed admirably in the role. Despite the fact that Mike Dunn was nipping at his heels last season and Miami rarely gave Cishek a save opportunity, he was just good enough (2.33 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.56 K/9, 34 saves) to keep his job in 2014. Should he kick it up a notch, he’ll certainly become trade bait for a Marlins team who has a tendency to deal talent and build for the future.

Closer – Steve Cishek

Bold Prediction – Although he won’t reach Kimbrel-like heights, Steve Cishek gets his WHIP below 1.00 and has another 30+ save season. If Papelbon struggles in Philly, Cishek will quietly become the second best closer in the NL East.

Who’s Lurking? – A.J. Ramos is a young flamethrower that the Marlins favored at the end of last season and his overall performance was solid for his first full season in the big leagues. Mike Dunn was initially in the closer battle with Steve Cishek last season and pitched fairly well last season as a setup guy (2.66 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 9.58 K/9, 18 holds). If Cishek struggles, Dunn should be the first one to get the call. One offseason move that may have fallen under the radar was the Marlin’s acquisition of Carter Capps from the Seattle Mariners (in exchange for Logan Morrison). Capps is another youngster, who won the 2012 Best Relief Pitcher in the AA Southern League, and will be eager to run with the closer gig if given the opportunity.

Philadelphia Phillies

Although Jonathan Papelbon struggled last season, the Phillies are paying him far too much and his statistics aren’t bad enough to merit a demotion (2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 29 saves). The bigger concern was the 7 blown saves and 8.32 K/9 (as opposed to a career 10.56 K/9). If the Phillies give him enough save opportunities, he should return to form this season. On the other hand, Philadelphia will have a few potent arms if last season’s K/9 becomes a warning sign of worse things to come for Papelbon (a la Heath Bell). Philadelphia will likely lean on Mike Adams, Justin De Fratus, and B.J. Rosenberg – each of whom have a strong reliever pedigree – to finish the ninth.

Closer – Jonathan Papelbon

Bold Prediction – A Boston-like year for Papelbon shows his return to form (projected – 68.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.00 K/9, 35 saves) and he becomes a major steal for savvy drafters. He may go a few rounds late because of the “hype” surrounding last year’s struggles, but he's got enough upside potential to anchor your collection of closers.

Who’s Lurking? – Although he will not likely be ready for Opening Day after last year’s shoulder injury, Mike Adams probably is the best fit (career 2.39 ERA, 1.08 ERA, 8.99 K/9) to replace Papelbon should the time come . Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg provide the Phillies with two young righties that have loads of potential, but they need to prove their worth before being trusted in the ninth.

New York Mets

After an injury-riddled 2013, Bobby Parnell has the closer role again for the Amazin’ Mets. With LaTroy Hawkins in Colorado and Frank Francisco on the free agent market, Parnell has been cleared to pitch and all signs point to him firmly inheriting the ninth with little internal competition. Because the Mets’ front office has wanted Parnell to be the closer for a while, his leash should be fairly long even if he starts blowing saves on a regular basis. Despite his injury last season, Parnell still posted a respectable 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.92 K/9, with 22 saves and will have even better numbers if he can stay away from the disabled list.

Closer – Bobby Parnell

Bold Prediction – Without strong competition breathing down his neck, Bobby Parnell finally lives up to his potential and has a 30+ save season. With a sub 1.50 ERA and 9.50 K/9, Parnell has Mets fans debating whether he’s better than K-Rod in his prime.

Who’s Lurking? – Unlike other teams in the NL East, New York does not possess the bullpen depth which seems to be the norm. The Mets will be entering 2014 with a trio of relievers that they used fairly frequently at the end of last season - Vic Black, Josh Edgin, and Gonzalez Germen. Black (a righty) and Edgin (a lefty) give the Mets the flexibility to play matchups in the seventh and eighth innings, while Gonzalez Germen could creep his way into the discussion if Parnell struggles and the hierarchy is shuffled.

Washington Nationals

Similar to Papelbon, Rafael Soriano had a 2013 season (3.11 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 43 saves) that doesn’t stray too dramatically from his career average (2.82 ERA and 1.08 WHIP), but does show a dramatic difference in strikeout rate (2013 – 6.89 K/9, career – 9.15 K/9). Even at 34 years old, Soriano should give the Nationals another strong outing this season.

Closer – Rafael Soriano

Bold Prediction – Soriano’s strikeout rate returns to form and he channels the fountain of youth left behind by his former mentor, Mariano Rivera. This season marks the beginning of a career rejuvenation for Soriano, who has 40+ saves, 2.75 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and a 9.00 K/9 en route to a  Nationals’ push for the NL East title.

Who’s Lurking? – Tyler Clippard is the ultimate setup man and he seems to be comfortable with that role (career – 110 holds and 9.97 K/9). Even if Soriano ran into big trouble, the Nats would likely keep Clippard in the eighth and go with Craig Stammen or Drew Storen. After losing the closer gig to Soriano a few seasons ago, Storen has settled into a setup and reliever role. With Storen’s demotion to AAA last July, Washington will probably go with Stammen first (2013 – 2.76 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.71 K/9) if Soriano needs to be pulled.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out… For the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

Closers Preseason Preview: AL East

Editor's Note: The above byline is sadly inaccurate. Though posted by the writer whose name appears there, the work and writing of this article is from Luckey Helms.

Welcome to yet another year of fantasy baseball! As the big leaguers start to fine tune their skills for spring training, we’ll be helping you sharpen up the old fantasy toolkit. To start, we’ll explore each division and bring you the best insight on position battles, newly signed setup men, and any potential closers lurking in the wings. At the end of this series, we’ll give a clearer ranking system of the closer world – showing you who to snag, avoid, and root for in 2014… 

Baltimore Orioles

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Tommy Hunter & Darren O’Day)

There will certainly be some changes in the Baltimore bullpen this season. After trading away last year’s MLB saves leader Jim Johnson and bailing on Grant Balfour after a recent failed physical, the O's may still be on the market for a closer. That being said, their currently constructed roster sets up for a battle between Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day, each of whom had their chances last season. Hunter posted a 2.81 ERA and 0.99 WHIP, with four saves and a 7.1 K/9. On the other hand, O’Day had similar numbers (2.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP), but only converted two saves with his 8.6 K/9. Although Hunter converted a couple more saves last season, O’Day fits the mold of prototypical closer better and may take the job simply because of his ability to get batters to swing and miss more often.  

Bold Prediction – Darren O’Day wins the closer gig during spring training, the Orioles stay away from the closer free agent market (Kevin Gregg, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Rodriguez), and O’Day puts up numbers similar to Jim Johnson’s MLB-leading 50 saves from last year.

Boston Red Sox

CloserKoji Uehara

Although the Red Sox bullpen went through its share of injuries during last season, they certainly found a ninth inning gem with Koji Uehara. After stepping in as closer mid-season, Uehara owned the ninth and almost every batter he faced. Koji’s effectiveness in 2013 cannot be understated - 4 wins, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, and a K/9 of 12.2. Assuming that Uehara carries the same firepower as last season, and the BoSox offense puts him in the right positions, he could prepared for a monstrous 2014.

Bold Prediction – Uehara continues to own the ninth and a new dimension is added to the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry with the race between newly-minted closer extraordinaires (Koji Uehara and David Robertson). With the opportunity to close all season, Uehara earns an All-Star nod and closes the ninth for the AL in July. 

Who’s Lurking? – After initially being named closer in the wake of injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, Junichi Tazawa eventually settled into the setup role for Boston. He continued in that role through the postseason, allowing only one run in appearances en route to Boston’s World Series victory and earning the trust of Red Sox Nation. Given the rash of injuries that the Red Sox bullpen suffered through last season, their front office brought in Edward Mujica to provide some always valuable bullpen depth. Despite the fact that Mujica closed for the Cards last season, the Red Sox will look to put him in a less stressful position this season and use him as Uehara insurance.

New York Yankees

Closer – David Robertson

Yes, Yankees fans will certainly miss Mariano Rivera. Unquestionably the best closer in baseball history, it will be strange to see a different pitcher take the mound to close for the Bronx Bombers. Any lingering disappointment about the name on the back of the jersey should be gone once David Robertson starts rolling. As a stalwart in the Yankees bullpen for a few seasons, fans are used to seeing him set up for the best and now it’s time to see if he can succeed him. If his numbers stay as consistent as they have over the past few seasons, Robertson will be a premier closer immediately.

Bold Prediction – If Uehara’s 2014 looks like last season and Robertson inherits the ninth, there may be a battle to see who the new closer king in the AL East is. If the Yankees offense shows up, look for David Robertson to have a Mariano-like year in his first year as Yankees closer.

Who’s Lurking? – If Robertson struggles, the Yankees may turn to reliever Shawn Kelley or Matt Thornton. Thornton has an average career stat-line for a closer (3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 9.2 K/9), but he’s accumulated 18 saves over the last five seasons. Kelley provides an interesting contrast to the journeyman Thornton and carries a 3.77 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 through his five seasons. While each could be a substitute for Robertson, the Yankees will probably turn to the free agency or trade market if Robertson struggles mightily.

Tampa Bay Rays

Closer – Ongoing Position Battle (Heath Bell, Jake McGee, & Joel Peralta)

With Fernando Rodney still on the free agent market, Tampa Bay seems to be content with letting Heath Bell, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta battle for the ninth inning. Although it’s possible that the Rays’ front office will snag another closer off the market, each of the three aforementioned pitchers (Bell, McGee, and Peralta) have experience as a closer and can easily earn the job in spring training. For anyone who owned Heath Bell in the last two seasons, they will certainly not forget his recent ability to melt down in the clutch. If the Rays sign a free agent like Grant Balfour, Bell is probably the first to go. With a 10.8 K/9, Jake McGee has the strikeout rate of a typical closer and has grown up in the Rays organization. If he proves his worth in the spring, the job can be his in 2014. With a handful of saves for the Rays in the last three seasons, Joel Peralta is probably the early favorite for the gig.

Bold Prediction – Because McGee and Peralta offer Tampa Bay a solid lefty-righty combo, manager Joel Madden decides to go closer by committee in 2014 and they surprisingly provide the Rays with the AL East’s most dominant bullpen.

Toronto Blue jays

CloserCasey Janssen 

Last season, Casey Janssen performed admirably in the closer role with a solid stat line (2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) and 34 saves. Given his success in the last two seasons, the Blue jays will trust Janssen again and they should expect similar results. A quick glance over Janssen’s past three seasons (2011 – 2.26 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.6 K/9 ; 2012 – 2.54 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 9.5 K/9; 2013 – 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9) proves he’s been a model of consistency in the Great White North.

Bold Prediction – Toronto’s offense starts living up to its potential and Janssen goes from above average to elite given his sheer number of save opportunities.

Who’s Lurking?Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar are both young relievers who have spent the last two seasons with Toronto. Should Janssen fall to injury or inconsistency, Santos and Delabar both offer a Toronto a similar set of skills. Although Delabar has a slightly better K/9, Santos will likely be the first one off the bench to replace Janssen in case of emergency.

If you’re chasing saves in your fantasy league, there’s only one place to check out…for the latest news on closers to grab, stash, start, or bench, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter.

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