It’s been clear for weeks that a game of musical chairs this offseason could leave at least one playoff hopeful without a reliable closer option. With the Winter Meetings behind us, a few options are off the board, but several teams still have voids to fill.
Here’s an update on teams who came into the offseason looking for a closer upgrade and the best remaining options to land one of the jobs.
*Click on the team name to view an updated depth chart
Arizona Diamondbacks – FILLED
Fernando Rodney, one of the best closers in baseball during the 1st half of 2016 and one of the worst after the Padres traded him to the Marlins, agreed to a one-year, $2.75MM deal. He’ll enter his age-40 season as the D’backs closer. If the can return to his pre-Marlins form, and if the Diamondbacks drop out of the playoff hunt, he could find himself back on the trade block.
Chicago Cubs – FILLED
Instead of setting their sights on one of the three pitchers who would eventually become the highest paid closers in MLB history, the Cubs used one of their many trade chips, outfielder Jorge Soler, to acquire Wade Davis from the Royals. The 31-year-old Davis, who has a 1.18 ERA and 0.892 WHIP over the past three seasons, is set to earn $10MM in his final year before reaching free agency.
There shouldn’t be much concern with Adam Ottavino as a late-inning option after posting solid numbers across the board while returning from Tommy John surgery in 2016. But with Jake McGee failing to impress during his first season with the Rockies, they would be wise to look for another reliable option to either close or serve as Ottavino’s primary setup man. The team had contacted Colorado native Mark Melancon, who was reportedly willing to take less money to pitch for the Rockies, but they apparently weren’t willing to compete with the Giants or other teams who offered him at least $60MM. They’ve shown interest in Brad Ziegler, who has decent numbers in 17.1 career innings at Coors Field.
They’re still one of the favorites to land Kenley Jansen, who is also being courted by the Marlins and Nationals. For a team that has so much money invested throughout their roster, it would be a huge disappointment if they missed out on retaining Jansen or adding another elite closer. If Jansen bolts, they’d likely turn to the trade market.
After losing out on the Aroldis Chapman sweepstakes, the Marlins will have one more chance to land the type of closer who could make their bullpen the clear strength of their team. Jansen’s former manager Don Mattingly and teammates Dee Gordon and A.J. Ellis would be familiar faces is he signs with Miami.
The trio of A.J. Ramos, Kyle Barraclough and David Phelps are capable of shutting the door in the late innings, but adding Jansen would further help to offset a rotation that is unlikely to pitch deep into games very often. Neftali Feliz and Ziegler are potential fallback options, although neither is a sure bet to supplant Ramos in the closer’s role.
There hasn’t been a lot of buzz surrounding the Twins and who will be their closer in 2017. Glen Perkins made just two appearances last season before being shut down with a shoulder injury. With his status up in the air for early in the season as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum in June, the Twins will need a good Plan B until he’s ready to resume closing duties. Brandon Kintzler did a fine job in that role last season, although a very shaky finish (7.82 ERA in last 12 appearances) makes him far from a sure thing.
New York Yankees – FILLED
The Yankees landed the big prize on the relief market, agreeing with Chapman on a five-year, $86MM deal on Wednesday night. He’ll return to the closer’s role he held during his two-and-a-half month stint with the Yankees in 2016 with Dellin Betances moving back into a setup role.
Philadelphia Phillies – FILLED
Despite having a couple of internal options, last year’s closer Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris, who had a breakout season in a setup role, the Phillies signed Joaquin Benoit to a one-year, $7.5MM deal. While Neris will likely have a chance to beat out the 39-year-old Benoit, the Phillies will quietly root for the veteran to win the job and pitch effectively up until they can flip him to a contender in July.
Tony Watson, who had been one of the best setup men in baseball for years, was given a well-deserved promotion to the closer’s role when Melancon was traded to the Nationals in late July. While Watson wasn’t bad, he wasn’t nearly as effective in that role. There has been little buzz, however, about how the Pirates will improve their roster this offseason. In fact, Watson is said to be available on the trade market.
San Francisco Giants – FILLED
Melancon to the Giants was one of the most popular offseason predictions. A seemingly perfect fit doesn’t always come to fruition, however, and the Giants weren’t the only team with heavy interest in the three-time All-Star. But in this instance, the rumors became reality when the 31-year-old Melancon agreed to a four-year, $62MM deal on the first day of the Winter Meetings.
Shawn Kelley isn’t a bad option to replace Melancon. Given a chance to close while Jonathan Papelbon was on the disabled list, he was 6-for-8 in save opportunities and had a ridiculous 30 strikeouts and two walks in 16.2 innings. The bigger question might be whether Blake Treinen can capably replace Kelley as the primary setup man.
Regardless, adding one more reliable late-inning arm to the mix can only help. Like the Dodgers, the Nationals have a lot of money invested throughout their roster and extremely high expectations. Failing to solidify their bullpen this offseason could be disastrous.
Free Agent Options
Kenley Jansen: The Marlins are expected to be the most aggressive bidder. If that’s the case, the Dodgers and Nationals won’t have a chance unless Jansen will take less to play for the better team.
Greg Holland: Despite missing all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Holland is in a good position with so many teams looking for a closer. His velocity was down in a recent showcase, but he appeared healthy and teams certainly remember how dominant he was prior to his injury. Ideally, he’d be eased in as a setup man. Certain teams might not have that luxury, though.
Neftali Feliz: At age 22, Feliz was an All-Star closer and the AL Rookie of the Year with the Rangers back in 2010. His career was derailed by injuries, however, and he wasn’t close to the same pitcher after returning to health. Until 2016, that is. Not surprisingly, the Pirates were able to bring out the best in the 28-year-old, who posted a 3.52 ERA with excellent peripheral stats (6.7 H/9, 3.5 BB/9, 10.2 K/9) in a setup role.
Brad Ziegler: The 37-year-old sidearmer isn’t the prototypical closer. He gets the job done, though, with an array of deceptive pitches, including an 83-MPH sinker. Last season, he posted a career high 7.7 K/9 with only two homers allowed in 68 innings.
Santiago Casilla: Things didn’t end well with the Giants as Casilla imploded down the stretch. But his long track record of success is difficult to ignore. He’s had a 2.42 ERA and 1.160 WHIP in seven seasons with San Francisco.
Sergio Romo: Romo dominates right-handed hitters and can be vulnerable against lefties, making him a better fit as a setup man. He did have success as a closer, however, from 2012-14 and has a ton of playoff experience.
Jonathan Papelbon: For close to four months in 2016, Papelbon’s performance wasn’t a problem for the first-place Nationals. He had a 2.56 ERA and 19 saves in 21 chances through 32 appearances. But after giving up eight runs over his next five appearances, he was released. While he had interest from other teams later in the season, he chose not to sign due to “his own personal reasons”. It’s unlikely he’ll get anything more than a minor league deal with a contender. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise, though, if he were given a chance to win a closer’s job with a non-contender who can flip him prior to the trade deadline.
David Robertson, White Sox: It’s clear that the White Sox are selling off any player with value and Robertson, despite being owed $25MM over the next two seasons, is a hot name on the trade market. He’s blown seven saves in each of the past two seasons. His walk rate skyrocketed last season while his strikeout rate dipped. Still, he’s got a long track record of success and his numbers, while not nearly as dominant as they’ve been in the past, were still solid.
Alex Colome, Rays: Selling high on Colome after his breakout season isn’t a bad idea in this market. They’ll be smart to find out how desperate the Dodgers and/or Nationals will become if they’re unable to sign Jansen.
Zach Britton, Orioles: It’s unlikely that Orioles executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette is actively shopping Britton, one of the most dominant closer’s in baseball. But he’s admitted that there’s a lot of interest, which comes as no surprise. He should set the price extremely high and not come down. In this market, there’s a chance that a team will be desperate enough to meet his demands.
Brandon Maurer, Padres: Maurer hasn’t been involved in rumors, but all indications are that the Padres are willing to listen on any player. In Maurer’s case, he has three years left of team control, an electric arm and did an effective job as the team’s closer after Rodney was traded.
Nate Jones, White Sox: Robertson has the experience and reputation, but it’s very likely that teams looking for late-inning bullpen help are just as interested, if not more, in Jones. Not only did he have an excellent season (2.29 ERA, 6.1 H/9, 1.9 BB/9, 10.2 K/9), he also has a very team-friendly contract that runs through 2021.
Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, Athletics: As unpredictable as the A’s can be, they don’t appear to be in position to make big improvements to a team that lost 93 games in 2016. Both Doolittle and Madson should draw interest and the A’s should be willing to move them.
Sam Dyson or Jeremy Jeffress, Rangers: Most playoff contenders aren’t likely to subtract a good arm from their bullpen. But in the Rangers’ case, they have more than one good closer and multiple holes to fill on their roster. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they shopped Dyson or Jeffress in order to add a starting pitcher or a hitter.