2019 NL East Preview

February 21, 2019

Atlanta Braves – The Braves enter 2019 looking to defend their NL East title, and will hope that their largely-unheralded-but-mostly-effective bullpen can repeat its output from a year ago. They’re strong at the top, with Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter as an enviable 1-2 punch in the late innings, with Minter wanting to become a Josh Hader-esque relief ace type. After that, it’s elder statesmen Jonny Venters and Darren O’Day, along with a slew of young holdovers, including Chad Sobotka, Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, and Dan Winkler. Of this group, we like Sobotka to potentially break out as a valuable holds candidate; the 25-year-old righty posted impressive strikeout totals throughout the minors, and struck out 21 in 14.1 innings after a late-season callup last year. Finally, despite the lack of any substantive discussions, the Braves continue to pop up on various speculative lists as one of the logical landing points for free agent Craig Kimbrel, so keep an eye on his status as you assess both Vizcaino and Minter.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Vizcaino | Minter | Venters.
Holds candidates: Minter, Venters, Sobotka.

Miami Marlins – With Kyle Barraclough shipped off to the Nationals in an October deal, the team will likely turn closing duties over to recent acquisition Sergio Romo, hard-throwing righty Drew Steckenrider, or lefty Adam Conley. We think Steckenrider could have a slight edge right now — the Marlins might use Romo as an opener, among other things — but this could easily go to any of the three, or become a closer-by-committee situation. Regardless, it gets pretty thin after these guys, as the only two other relievers entering camp with significant MLB experience are Tayron Guerrero and Jarlin Garcia, neither of whom have ever been more than serviceable. Look for them to be joined by a mix of youngsters (Riley Ferrell is a former 3rd round pick and Jose Quijada has impressive minor league numbers) and/or whoever doesn’t win the 4th/5th starter jobs (Trevor Richards, Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara, etc.) 

Starting 2019 hierarchy: *Steckenrider | Romo | Conley.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Conley, Guerrero, Garcia. 

New York Mets – After posting the third-worst bullpen ERA in baseball in 2018, the Mets spent part of their busy offseason attempting to shore up their relief corps and have, on paper, flipped the script from a year ago, with their bullpen currently projected to be the third-best in baseball. They traded for one of the best relievers in the game, Edwin Diaz; brought back their former closer who they had dealt midseason, Jeurys Familia; and added veteran lefty Justin Wilson. That trio will join holdovers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman to make up what will likely be the team’s top five relievers; rounding out this pen will be some mix of veterans (Luis Avilan, Hector Santiago) and youngsters (Paul Sewald, Daniel Zamora). 

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Diaz | Familia | Wilson.
Holds candidates: Familia, Wilson, Lugo.

Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies were among the more maddening bullpens for fantasy owners in 2018, as nine different pitchers logged saves, including five who managed to tally three or more. But the addition of David Robertson likely stabilizes the 9th inning for now, allowing Gabe Kapler to deploy the likes of Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris earlier in the game. Beyond those three, there’s a logjam of qualified guys in camp, and it’s likely to be a spring training battle for the remaining slots, with newcomers Juan Nicasio, Jose Alvarez, and James Pazos competing with holdovers Pat Neshek, Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, Adam Morgan, and Edubray Ramos. 

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Robertson | Dominguez | Neris.
Holds candidates: Dominguez, Neris, Neshek.

Washington Nationals – Sean Doolittle (1.60 ERA, 0.60 WHIP in 2018) is doing what he can to make Nationals fans forget that they once had both Blake Treinen and Felipe Vazquez in their midst, and Washington is hoping to support him this year with two offseason acquisitions: former Marlins closer Kyle Barraclough and former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who is fresh off of elbow surgery. (Dave Martinez has already said that Rosenthal will get a few save chances, though we’re a bit skeptical, given how good Doolittle has been.) Justin Miller, Matt Grace, Koda Glover, and Sammy Solis should round out this pen, which will likely see its share of saves and holds in support of their three top-tier starting pitchers. 

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Doolittle | Rosenthal | Barraclough.
Holds candidates: Rosenthal, Barraclough, Glover.

2019 NL Central Preview

February 21, 2019

Chicago Cubs – Brandon Morrow was the top arm in the Cubs bullpen last year, and was outstanding when he was healthy. However, the injury that shut him down last season resulted in surgery that will keep him out for the first month of the year, which means that last year’s trio of Pedro Strop, CJ Edwards and Steve Cishek will get the bulk of the chances while Morrow is recovering. Strop was the primary closer when Morrow wasn’t available last year, while Cishek was their most consistent reliever and saw a fair number of save chances himself. Edwards has always had a live arm, but has found himself in a perennial set-up role despite his high strikeout totals. Another arm to watch is free agent acquisition Brad Brach, who has some closing experience and is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018 with Baltimore and Atlanta. Brandon Kintzler and Mike Montgomery are veteran relievers who will round out the Cubs bullpen to start. Joe Maddon has never been shy about playing matchups and the Cubs figure to be contenders again this year, so while Morrow is worth stashing until he is ready to come back, most of the Cubs relievers can be helpful in leagues that count holds.

Starting 2019 Hierarchy: *Strop | Cishek | Edwards.
* = closer-by-committee until Brandon Morrow returns
Holds candidates: Brach, Kintzler, Montgomery.

Cincinnati Reds – The Reds bring back closer Raisel Iglesias this season, and his main competition for the role will be first-year manager David Bell. Bell has said that he will use Iglesias in the most important spots in games, whenever they may be. Iglesias boasts solid numbers and job security, which make him a relatively valuable closer even though the Reds aren’t projected to win many games this year. Behind Iglesias the Reds will turn to Jared Hughes, who put together an excellent season in 2018 (1.91 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 78 IP), as the primary setup man. David Hernandez, Amir Garrett and Michael Lorenzen also return as holds candidates. The Reds added veteran lefty Zach Duke, which may free up Garrett to stretch out as a starter, but it is more likely that they use both lefties situationally, making them good candidates for holds.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Iglesias | Hughes | Hernandez.
Holds candidates: Hughes, Hernandez, Garrett.

Milwaukee Brewers – The Brewers bring back the NL’s best reliever from last year in Josh Hader, and the only reason he isn’t a top tier closer is because he isn’t really a closer. The Brewers have a three-headed monster in their bullpen featuring Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, all of whom spent time closing out games last year. Hader won the Trevor Hoffman award as the NL’s best relief pitcher, and finished 7th in the Cy Young vote; Jeffress was a solid option all the way up until the playoffs last year, where he posted an ugly 7.71 ERA over 5 games; and Knebel struggled with injuries and inconsistency early in 2018, and even was sent down to AAA, but returned to put up staggering numbers in September (0.00 ERA, 18.2 K/9). All three figure to be prominent parts of the Brewers’ bullpen, but with Craig Counsell preferring to use Hader in the highest-leverage spots, it will likely be Knebel or Jeffress getting the first crack at saves in Milwaukee.

2019 starting hierarchy: *Knebel | Hader | Jeffress.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Hader, Jeffress, Jacob Barnes.

Pittsburgh Pirates – The Pirates enter the 2019 season with one of the more stable bullpens in baseball. Clint Hurdle has been known to stick with defined bullpen roles, and to start the year he has a pretty clear hierarchy to work with. Closer Felipe Vazquez saved 37 games last year, and will return to his spot at the back end of the Bucco bullpen. Keone Kela was perhaps the best pitcher for the Pirates last year, and will serve as the primary setup man, with Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez also getting late inning looks. The Pirates signed Francisco Liriano and Brandon Maurer to tryouts, and if they make the team they could add some bullpen depth, but a more interesting prospect is rule 5 draftee Nick Burdi. Burdi is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and the Pirates will have to hold on to him for at least 2 months or he goes on waivers. He has a lot of upside as a former top prospect, and with the Pirates in a bit of a rebuild, they may want to see what they have in the young righty.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Vazquez | Kela | Crick.
Holds candidates: Kela, Crick, Rodriguez.

St. Louis Cardinals – The Cardinals have a potentially lethal one-two punch at the back end of their bullpen with free agent acquisition Andrew Miller joining flamethrower Jordan Hicks. If Andrew Miller can wind back the clock to his 2017 form, and if Jordan Hicks can perform as well as he did last year,  they could be one of the best lefty-righty tandems in the majors, which is good for the Cardinals because it gets pretty shaky after that. Last season’s closer Carlos Martinez was an option, but now looks like he will miss the start of the season. Luke Gregerson is still on the roster, but is coming off a woeful 2018. The same is true for Brett Cecil. Dakota Hudson shows flashes of brilliance, but his walk rate was a scary 5.9/9 last year. John Brebbia quietly put up solid numbers last season including 2 saves, but spent the bulk of the year pitching in low leverage spots. The lack of stability means that the Cardinals might be looking to add arms via free-agency, with part-time closer from last season Bud Norris being a possible target. All of this uncertainty, and the likely split of 9th inning duties between Miller and Hicks, make the Cardinals a risky proposition in the early going.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: *Hicks | Miller | Hudson.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Hudson, Brebbia, Gregerson.

2019 NL West Preview

February 21, 2019

Arizona Diamondbacks – Archie Bradley has his fingernail back (and, with it, his curveball), and so we peg the 26-year-old as the favorite in the Diamondbacks’ three-man closer competition. Also in the mix will be January signee Greg Holland and last September’s committee leader, Yoshihisa Hirano. There’s every indication that Torey Lovullo will pick one guy, so we’re not going to give the D-Backs a committee asterisk; watch this space for updates as draft day draws nearer.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Bradley | Holland | Hirano.
Holds candidates: Holland, Hirano, Andrew Chafin.

Colorado Rockies – With Adam Ottavino and his Bambino-baffling slider off to the Bronx, the Rockies will rely on veterans like Scott Oberg, Seunghwan Oh, and Bryan Shaw to get the ball to $18 million closer Wade Davis. Mike Dunn and Jake McGee are still around too, hoping to move past their disappointing 2018 seasons and finally give Colorado a bullpen that produces in line with its high price tag.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Davis | Oberg | Oh.
Holds candidates: Oberg, Oh, Shaw, Chris Rusin.

Los Angeles Dodgers – After (presumably) hurling Ryan Madson into Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers bullpen looks strong again in 2019. Kenley Jansen is feeling healthy and confident after heart surgery and a new, strict diet featuring absolutely no ice cream. To shore up the eighth inning, LA signed Joe Kelly, who was as dominant in the World Series as Madson wasn’t, and the team will also bring back key contributors like Pedro Baez, Scott Alexander, and Josh Fields. 

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Jansen | Kelly | Baez.
Holds candidates: Kelly, Baez, Alexander.

San Diego Padres – Kirby Yates should get the chance to build on his fantastic 2018 and start the year as the Padres’ closer. Craig Stammen should keep his eighth-inning role, with Phil Maton, Jose Castillo, Robert Stock, and newly-signed Aaron Loup also in the setup mix. Matt Strahm is another arm to watch in the late innings, but he has his eye on a rotation spot. Oh, and when Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. lead the Padres to the 2022 title, it’ll be current Sod Poodle Andres Munoz and his 103 MPH fastball striking out Aaron Judge to close out Game 6 at Petco.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Yates | Stammen | Maton.
Holds candidates: Stammen, Maton, Castillo, Loup.

San Francisco Giants – It’s a two-man race between Will Smith and Mark Melancon, and with Smith a pending free agent (and thus an ongoing trade candidate), we’ll give the slight edge to the guy with the $19 million salary. Sam Dyson, Tony Watson, and Reyes Moronta make up the second tier of Giants relievers. Pat Venditte probably won’t be too relevant to your fantasy team, but you better believe we’re going to mention he’s a Giant now.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Melancon | Smith | Dyson.
Holds candidates: Dyson, Watson, Moronta.

2019 AL East Preview

February 18, 2019

Baltimore Orioles — The Orioles traded away most of their key bullpen arms last year and signed nobody during free agency. This means that Mychal Givens will be back as the presumptive closer, should he have a lead to protect. Richard Bleier is back after his lat surgery. Paul Fry and Mike Wright Jr. are also back. Get excited! Givens is the only sure thing in Baltimore’s bullpen entering the spring, but we’ll keep an eye out to see if anyone else stands out in camp.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Givens | Bleier | Fry.
Holds candidates: Bleier, Fry, Wright Jr.

Boston Red Sox — The defending champions still haven’t named a closer, and according to Alex Cora they won’t do so until Opening Day. It’s becoming more and more unlikely that the Sox re-sign Craig Kimbrel, which means the competition this spring is projected to be wide open. Among the names vying for the job are Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, and dark horse candidate Tyler Thornburg. This will be a fluid situation throughout spring training, but for now, we think that Barnes, Brasier, and Hembree are the front-runners for the job.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Barnes | Brasier | Hembree.
Holds candidates: Brasier, Hembree, Steven Wright.

New York Yankees — The Yankees added to their already-loaded bullpen this offseason by acquiring Adam Ottavino, who essentially replaces the departed David Robertson. This gives them a multitude of options in the late innings, as Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and ZacK Britton all return from last year’s squad. Chapman should start the season as the closer, but don’t be surprised if someone else takes over should Chapman struggle out of the gate, especially considering this could be the best bullpen ever.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Chapman | Britton | Ottavino.
Holds candidates: Britton, Ottavino, Betances, Chad Green. 

Tampa Bay Rays — When we eventually start OpenerMonkey.com, you’ll know who to thank. The Rays, who surprisingly won 90 games last year, established the trend of using openers, though not everybody was a fan. That probably included most fantasy owners, who had to be less than pleased any time Sergio Romo trotted out to the mound in the first inning and not the ninth. With Romo off to Miami, the Rays will likely turn to Jose Alvarado if there’s a save chance on opening day. Chaz Roe and Diego Castillo are also good options in high-leverage spots, though Castillo may open as well from time to time.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Alvarado | Roe | Castillo. 
Holds candidates: Roe, Castillo, Adam Kolarek.

Toronto Blue Jays — Ken Giles, who somehow had zero blown saves last year, will be the Jays’ closer in 2019. Ryan Tepera seems to be the only other Blue Jay to have his bullpen role locked down, as David Phelps is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Jays also signed old friend John Axford to a minor-league deal, which means he could eventually work his way into the late-inning plans, at least until Phelps gets healthy.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Giles | Tepera | Mayza.
Holds candidates: Tepera, Mayza, Phelps, Axford.

2019 AL Central Preview

February 18, 2019

Chicago White Sox – The White Sox traded for Alex Colome and signed Kelvin Herrera in the offseason to bolster their bullpen.  They also bring back Nate Jones and Jace Fry.  Colome is the likely closer, especially with Herrera battling a foot injury.  Fry will be the primary lefty out of the bullpen and veteran Nate Jones could start the year as the set-up man if Herrera isn’t fully healthy.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Colome | Jones | Herrera.
Holds candidates: Jones, Herrera, Jace Fry.

Cleveland Indians – The Indians lost long time closer Cody Allen and versatile reliever Andrew Miller, but they prepared for this by acquiring Brad Hand and Adam Cimber last season.  Hand will be the Indians’ closer, while Cimber should serve as the primary set-up man.  Behind them, veterans Neil Ramirez and Oliver Perez return, but Jon Edwards is a guy to watch.  He impressed manager Terry Francona during his September call-up and is a sleeper in this year’s bullpen.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Hand | Cimber | Edwards.
Holds candidates: Cimber, Edwards, Oliver Perez.

Detroit Tigers — Shane Greene will return this season and manager Ron Gardenhire has already said that Greene will be the closer.  Greene was serviceable last year but he finished the year with an ERA over 5.00.  Joe Jimenez had a good season last year and is younger and has more upside than Greene.  Jimenez will start the year as the set-up man but if Greene falters at all early in the season, Jimenez could take over.  

Starting 2019 hierarchy: Greene | Jimenez | Farmer.
Holds candidates: Jimenez, Farmer.

Kansas City Royals – Manager Ned Yost has not named a closer, but instead has said that he will “think more in terms of high-leverage situation.”  Unfortunately for fantasy owners, that likely means a closer-by-committee, at least to start the season.  The Royals signed Brad Boxberger, who recorded 32 saves for the Diamondbacks last season, and also still have Wily Peralta, who went 14-for-14 in save chances last season.  Lefty Tim Hill could see time in the later innings, and it’s a possibility that the Royals try to find their next Wade Davis by converting a starter such as Ian Kennedy, Jorge Lopez or Heath Fillmyer. We’ll put Boxberger at the top of the committee for now and continue to monitor the situation to see if anyone emerges as the clear closer.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: *Boxberger | Peralta | Hill.
* = closer-by-committee

Holds candidates: Peralta, Hill, Kevin McCarthy.

Minnesota Twins — There are a lot of question marks in the Twins’ bullpen.  They bring back all three members of their closer committee that finished last season: Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, and Trevor May.  They also still have former closer Addison Reed and recently went out and signed Blake Parker.  To complicate things even more, they just announced that hard-throwing righty Fernando Romero will be used as a reliever.  Oh, and the Twins are also a possibility for Craig Kimbrel. Trevor May recorded the last three saves of the season for the Twins last year and we think the towering right-hander could get a shot to continue that in 2019, but until roles become more clear, this looks like a committee again.

Starting 2019 hierarchy: *May | Parker | Hildenberger.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Parker, Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers.