February 28, 2018
Chicago Cubs – For the first time in several years, the Cubs go into the season without a top tier closer to lead the bullpen. Brandon Morrow was confirmed as the closer out of the gate by Theo Epstein, but he has a solid group behind him that could press for saves if he struggles early. Newly acquired Steve Cishek was a serviceable closer in 2016, and posted solid second half numbers with Tampa Bay last year, and will likely be the first fallback option if Morrow falters. CJ Edwards, 26, has elite stuff, but still walks too many hitters and Pedro Strop throws hard but has never taken to closing. Former Tigers closer Justin Wilson is also around, as is converted starter Mike Montgomery. Wilson is the most intriguing of these options as he could vulture some saves as the primary lefty in the bullpen, and will likely pick up situational holds in leagues that count them.
Starting 2018 hierarchy: Morrow | Cishek | Edwards.
Holds candidates: Edwards, Cishek, Wilson, Strop.
Cincinnati Reds – One of the only stable positions on the Reds roster last year was their closer Raisel Iglesias. Iglesias posted 28 of the Reds 33 saves in 2017 and looks to be locked into the 9th inning role again. Behind him, the Reds bring back Wandy Peralta and Michael Lorenzen, who held the primary set up role for the Reds despite fairly mediocre numbers. In the offseason, the Reds looked to add some stability by bringing in David Hernandez and Jared Hughes. Hernandez has some closing experience, but is looking to bounce back from a few below average years. Hughes is throws a heavy sinker, which is a valuable skill in Great American Ballpark. Bryan Price was not afraid to run him out for multiple innings at a time last season, so keep an eye on the vulture save watch for opportunities to stream a few saves.
Starting 2018 hierarchy: Iglesias | Lorenzen | Hughes.
Holds candidates: Lorenzen, Hughes, Hernandez, Peralta.
Milwaukee Brewers – The bullpen was one of the major strengths of the 2017 Brewers and it is likely to be a strength for them again. They found an excellent closer in Corey Knebel and he will start the 2018 season in that role again. Anthony Swarzak is gone, but his setup role will be split between Josh Hader and Jacob Barnes depending on matchups. Barnes finished 8th in the league in holds last year, and could approach those numbers again if he stays healthy. There was some speculation that top prospect Josh Hader would move into the rotation, but he is in the bullpen for now. Although he is a lefty, Counsell had no problem giving him full innings last year, and that will likely continue. Behind the top 3, former closer Jeremy Jeffress is back, and veteran lefty Boone Logan gives Craig Counsell another matchup arm for the late innings, although he is more of a holds candidate than a threat for saves.
Starting 2018 hierarchy: Knebel | Barnes | Hader.
Holds candidates: Barnes, Hader, Logan, Jeffress.
Pittsburgh Pirates – One bright spot for in an otherwise forgettable season was the emergence of Felipe Rivero as a top tier closer. On a better team he would be one of the first closers off the board, but with the Pirates in the midst of a rebuild he may not see as many save chances as Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman. Rivero is locked into the 9th inning for the Pirates, while George Kontos returns as the primary set-up man. After them, there isn’t much certainty. Kevin Siegrest was signed this past weekend, and will compete for the LOOGY role. Steven Brault is the other lefty that could end up in the bullpen, but he projects as a starter so the Pirates may keep him in long relief if he makes the opening day roster.
Starting 2018 hierarchy: Rivero | Kontos | Siegrist.
Holds candidates: Kontos, Siegrist, Brault.
St. Louis Cardinals – The St. Louis Cardinals enter 2018 without a proven closer, and manager Mike Matheny has pressed the front office to bring in a reliable 9th inning arm. President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak declared Luke Gregerson the front runner, but that was before the Cardinals acquired Bud Norris, who thrived as a reliever last season with the Angels and has an outside shot to win the closer’s job out of spring training. Tyler Lyons could be in the mix as well, but as a lefty, he may be relegated to a specialist role. One intriguing option is Alex Reyes, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, but looks to be ready in May. For now, look for the Cardinals to play the hot hand early in the season. We’ll give Gregerson the inside track in the committee for now.
Starting 2018 hierarchy: *Gregerson | Norris | Lyons.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Norris, Lyons, Reyes.