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Each club's projected closer for 2019

January 28, 2019

As the 2019 season draws near and rosters take a clearer scope, MLB.com has been examining each club's current construction and projecting how personnels might look on Opening Day.With bullpens becoming more versatile and less defined, the closer role has seen as drastic a change as any in recent years

As the 2019 season draws near and rosters take a clearer scope, MLB.com has been examining each club's current construction and projecting how personnels might look on Opening Day.
With bullpens becoming more versatile and less defined, the closer role has seen as drastic a change as any in recent years -- particularly with many clubs opting for their best relief arms in the most high-leverage situations, regardless of inning.
That trend could certainly continue in 2019, and it has led to some uncertainty about who will pitch the ninth for a handful of clubs. And for others, some of the most established closers will retain their roles. Here is a breakdown of where things stand for each club at closer. 
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Ken Giles
The Blue Jays' bullpen has plenty of question marks this year, but the one area where there appears to be a lot of certainty is at the very back end. Toronto might have parted ways with an established -- yet troubled -- closer in Roberto Osuna but they got an effective one in return by landing Giles during last year's trade. The 28-year-old posted a shaky 4.65 ERA in 2018 but almost all of his troubles came in non-save situations. In save opportunities, Giles was a perfect 26-for-26, and he enters camp as Toronto's undisputed closer. The better he pitches this spring, the more likely it is he will be dealt before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. -- Gregor Chisholm
Orioles: Mychal Givens
Like nearly everything with regards to the Orioles roster, the closer spot remains in flux. Givens is the obvious choice. One of the O's few veteran holdovers, Givens finished 2018 as the closer after spending the previous three and a half years as an effective setup man, particularly against right-handed hitters. He is clearly Baltimore's most accomplished reliever at this point. But whether Givens closes remains an open question. It'll likely take weeks of assessment before new O's manager Brandon Hyde tabs someone specific for the ninth, if he even does so at all. The O's could also decide whether they prefer to deploy Givens in high-leverage situations regardless of inning. For what it's worth, Givens has said he's open to any role. -- Joe Trezza
Rays: José Alvarado
There's a good chance the Rays go into the 2019 season without naming an official closer. Sergio Romo led the team with 25 saves last season, but he's not expected to return in '19. For the most part, Romo served as the team's primary closer, but manager Kevin Cash wasn't afraid to use Romo earlier in the game if he believed that was the pivotal part of the game. While that will continue to be the case this season, left-hander Alvarado has the chance to establish himself as the primary closer, with right-handers Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe as other potential options. Alvarado finished third on the team with eight saves last season and established himself as one of the best relievers in the American League. His fastball velocity ranks in the 93rd percentile, and he showed a dominant curveball also. -- Juan Toribio
Red Sox: Matt Barnes, other contenders
For a team that won the World Series last year and is loaded in most areas, it is somewhat eye-opening that the closer's role remains unknown so close to Spring Training. If Craig Kimbrel isn't re-signed, who will fit at the back end of Boston's bullpen? Barnes (96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings last year) is the top internal candidate, but the righty has never done it before. Ryan Brasier, who came out of nowhere as a Minor League free agent last year, will also compete for the job. Brasier mixed his pitches better in 2018 than ever before, leading to his breakout. If you're looking for an unconventional option, don't rule out knuckleballer Steven Wright, who has consistently pitched well for the Red Sox when healthy. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Aroldis Chapman
The Yankees' closer situation is clear-cut, with Chapman set to be again entrusted with the ninth inning. Chapman converted 32 of 34 save opportunities last season with a 2.45 ERA, holding opponents to a .136 average while leading all relievers with a 16.3 K/9 ratio. Chapman missed four weeks late in the season due to left knee tendinitis, but with Dellin Betances, Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino pacing their setup crew, the Yanks appear to be well covered in the event of any similar absences in 2019. -- Bryan Hoch
AL CENTRAL
Indians: Brad Hand
The Indians acquired lefty Hand -- one of the game's elite back-end arms -- and right-hander Adam Cimber from the Padres last July in exchange for catching prospect Francisco Mejía. The addition of the two relievers was not only to bolster the bullpen in 2018, but to also prepare for the departure of Andrew Miller and previous closer Cody Allen at the end of the year due to free agency. The immediate plan was to leave Allen in his ninth-inning role, but with Hand's arrival along with Allen's uncharacteristically shaky season, the Indians soon decided to leave the relievers' roles undefined. After both setting up and closing for the Tribe last year, Hand will officially earn the label of Cleveland's closer in 2019. In his time with the Padres and Indians in '18, the two-time All-Star recorded a 2.75 ERA with 32 saves and 106 strikeouts against 28 walks in 72 innings over 69 outings. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: Wily Peralta
The Royals will go into 2019 presumably with the same closer, right-hander Peralta, who finished 2018 in that role. The Royals re-signed Peralta last fall to a one-year deal. But while manager Ned Yost likes to point out, and he did so again at the Winter Meetings, that Peralta was 14-for-14 in save opportunities once he claimed the job from Kelvin Herrera (who was traded), club officials have hinted that the closer's role isn't necessarily locked in stone. There is a sense that the Royals will get somewhat creative with how they employ their bullpen in 2019, and set roles may never be completely defined. "It comes down to whatever we can do to get 27 outs," general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com. -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: Shane Greene
While Joe Jiménez is the Tigers' closer of the future, Greene remains the closer going into this season. Part of the reason is his experience in the ninth inning, while part can be tracked to his potential trade value down the line if the Tigers make a move. Greene's 32 saves last year ranked tied for fourth-most in the AL, but his ERA nearly doubled from 2017 (2.66) to 2018 (5.12) thanks to 12 home runs allowed 63 1/3 innings, despite a four-percent drop in his hard-hit rate dropping according to Statcast™. Five of those homers came off his sinker, which dropped in velocity from 2017. On the flip side, his 3.42 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year was the best of his career. If he can avoid the longball, he should be in line for a bounceback season. If not, Jimenez will be looming. -- Jason Beck
Twins: Several contenders
There are five pitchers in the Twins' bullpen -- Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, Addison Reed, Trevor Hildenberger and Blake Parker -- with the ability and experience to close, but manager Rocco Baldelli and his staff aren't in any hurry to install anyone in the role. Instead, the Twins are confident they have several arms capable of pitching three of the last nine outs, and how exactly those nine outs will be allocated will be determined in the weeks to come. Fernando Romero, a hard-throwing 24-year-old, has been a starter throughout his Minor League career, but the Twins' braintrust has also had discussions about whether his fastball might play better as a late-inning option moving forward. There's still time for the Twins to acquire a more proven arm via free agency or trade, but even if they don't, remember that Joe Nathan and Glen Perkins weren't proven when they stepped into Minnesota's closer role, either. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: Alex Colomé, other contenders
The White Sox haven't named an official closer, and to be honest, they have given themselves a number of options for the 2019 season. Colome led the Majors with 47 saves in 2017, but he also worked as a setup man for the Mariners last season. Kelvin Herrera, who the White Sox brought in via free agency, and returnee Nate Jones also have closing experience, and the White Sox could turn to Jace Fry from the left side. The focus for the White Sox simply is getting outs late in the game, and they have a number of high leverage options. -- Scott Merkin
AL WEST
Angels: Cody Allen
The Angels signed right-hander Allen to a one-year deal worth $8.5 million earlier this month to be their closer in 2019. Allen is coming off a down year with the Indians that saw him post a career-worst 4.70 ERA in 70 appearances, but he's averaged 29 saves over the last five seasons and has a career 2.98 ERA. His velocity has declined over the years, but he still has a strong strikeout rate, so the key will be limiting homers. If Allen falters, the Angels could turn to Ty Buttrey, Justin Anderson, Hansel Robles or Cam Bedrosian as closer, but they're confident Allen will bounce back. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Roberto Osuna
After the up-and-down tenure of Ken Giles, the club stabilized its late-inning situation by trading for Osuna last July. The Astros sent three pitchers, including Giles, to Toronto for Osuna, who was suspended for the 75 games last year. He converted all 12 save chances with the Astros in the regular season, posting a 1.99 ERA in 22 2/3 innings over 23 games, walking three and striking out 19. The former All-Star will be only 24 years old on Opening Day, and he is under club control for three more seasons, so the Astros should be in good hands in the ninth inning for the foreseeable future. He's the youngest pitcher in Major League history to record at least 100 saves. -- Brian McTaggart
Athletics: Blake Treinen
The A's employ one of the game's best closers in Treinen, who posted historic numbers in 2018. The right-hander compiled 38 saves and turned in a tidy 0.78 ERA, the lowest in Major League history among pitchers with 80 or more innings. He was also the first pitcher in the history of the game to notch at least 30 saves and 100 strikeouts with a sub-1.00 ERA. The All-Star pitcher showed no signs of slowing down and could very well duplicate this success in 2019, leading a bullpen that also includes newcomer Joakim Soria -- who also boasts closing experience -- and flamethrower Lou Trivino-- Jane Lee
Mariners: Hunter Strickland, other contenders
A year ago, manager Scott Servais could trot out All-Star closer Edwin Díaz, whose 57 saves tied for the second-most in Major League history for a team that went an amazing 66-0 in games where he entered with a lead. But after dealing Diaz to the Mets along with Robinson Canó in a seven-player blockbuster, the picture is a little fuzzier. Free agent right-hander Strickland, who saved 14 games for the Giants last year in a season shortened by a broken hand, signed a one-year deal on Sunday and could be the early favorite to fill that role. Fellow newcomers Anthony Swarzak (six), Cory Gearrin (five) and returnee Shawn Armstrong (one) are the only other contenders with an MLB save to their name, and Servais said he'll likely use different ninth-inning options depending on matchup situations. -- Greg Johns
Rangers: José Leclerc
Manager Chris Woodward made it known on Friday that Leclerc would be the Rangers' closer this season. The Rangers had debated the best use for Leclerc, but decided to keep him in the role he excelled in for the final two months of the season after Keone Kela was traded to the Pirates. Leclerc can be dominating with his fastball and changeup if he stays under control and keeps his emotions in check. He did that for all of last season, but especially after taking over as closer. Leclerc did not allow a run in his final 21 games last season, and he allowed just five hits and six walks while striking out 32 and saving 12 games in that stretch. Overall, he pitched in 59 games with a 1.56 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP. He posted a13.3 K/9 ratio and allowed 3.7 hits per nine innings. -- T.R. Sullivan
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Arodys Vizcaíno or A.J. Minter
A healthy Vizcaino has proven to be a reliable closer, but concerns about the durability of his right shoulder could lead the Braves to primarily use Minter in this role. Minter struck out 43 percent of the batters he faced while experiencing his first 16 career appearances in 2017. That number dipped to 25.6 percent last year, when he tried to be too fine and then battled the lingering effects of lower back discomfort. If the young southpaw further develops the changeup he displayed more frequently in September, he'll have an offspeed pitch to compliment his effective cutter. -- Mark Bowman
Marlins: Drew Steckenrider, Adam Conley, other contenders
Without a clear front-runner, the Marlins may be leaning to "closing by matchup." Right-hander Steckenrider and lefty Conley are the likely choices, but adding a veteran free agent to join the mix is certainly possible before Opening Day. Their closer situation came in question when Kyle Barraclough was dealt to the Nationals in October for international bonus pool money, as it created an opening in the ninth inning. Manager Don Mattingly said at the Winter Meetings that the team may be leaning toward going by matchups. If there are tough lefty batters lined up in the ninth inning, Conley may get the call on those days. If not, it could be Steckenrider, who had five saves as a rookie in 2018. A third candidate could be Tayron Guerrero, one of the hardest throwers in the league. Guerrero's average fastball was 98.8 mph, per Statcast™, with a high of 104 mph. But Guerrero lacks a reliable second pitch. Should he find it, the lanky right-hander could join the closer mix. -- Joe Frisaro
Mets: Edwin Díaz
Upon acquiring Diaz in a seven-player deal in December, the Mets made it clear that Diaz would take ownership of the ninth inning both in 2019 and beyond. Arguably the game's best closer last season, Diaz converted 57 of his 61 opportunities with a 1.16 ERA in save situations. He would need to take a half-dozen steps backward to lose his grip on the ninth. The Mets have another proven closer in Jeurys Familia to fill in on Diaz's off-days, or if injury strikes, but he's not a threat to take Diaz's job any time soon. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Sean Doolittle
Remember a few years back when "who would close?" used to be an annual question for the Nationals? Well, not anymore. Doolittle has all but erased those concerns since he arrived in the summer of 2017. His dominance on the mound, personality quirks and passion off the field are all reasons he quickly became a favorite in Washington, inspiring fans to chant "Doooo" as he marches out for a save in the ninth inning at Nationals Park. And last season further cemented him as one of the game's best relief pitchers. He made the NL All-Star team after compiling a career-low 1.60 ERA with 25 saves in 26 chances, although his season was interrupted by a nagging foot injury. His hold on the closer's job is very secure. -- Jamal Collier
Phillies: David Robertson, other contenders
Robertson will receive some closing opportunities, but so will Seranthony Domínguez and possibly Héctor Neris. Yes, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler still plans to use his relievers like he used them last season. If Robertson's best matchup is the eighth inning, then the Phillies will have him pitch the eighth. If that spot is best for Dominguez, it will be Dominguez, or Neris or Pat Neshek or Tommy Hunter, and on and on. Kapler might not be ready to implement an opener, like some other teams, but he loves relievers being open to any situation in any inning. -- Todd Zolecki
NL CENTRAL
Brewers: Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress or Josh Hader
The club appears likely to split closer duties between three capable relievers: right-handers Knebel and Jeffress, and left-hander Hader when an opposing lineup warrants it. Because manager Craig Counsell likes to pick his spots with Hader, often for multiple-inning stints that burn Hader for the next day or two, Knebel and Jeffress are the leading candidates for what we think of as traditional closer duties. Both have experience in that role and made the NL All-Star team; Knebel in 2017, and, after Knebel went down with a hamstring injury last April, Jeffress in 2018. Whomever emerges as the ninth-inning guy, Counsell has solid options for the late innings. -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: Andrew Miller
Perhaps the Cardinals' depth chart at closer should read Miller with an asterisk, as the club intends to maintain some flexibility in how they cover the ninth. Miller is the most experienced option, but because he's the most dynamic lefty in the bullpen, he will also be deployed in key situations earlier in games. That will open up opportunities for second-year righty Jordan Hicks to receive some ninth-inning exposure. And don't forget about Alex Reyes, the returning top prospect who could be used as a late-inning reliever if the Cards feel that's the best way to manage his workload. In other words, the Cardinals believe they've built a bullpen with options. -- Jenifer Langosch
Cubs: Pedro Strop
Expect Strop to begin the season as the Cubs' primary option for save opportunities, given Brandon Morrow's situation. Morrow underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow in November and will likely miss at least the first couple weeks of the regular season. That will likely lead to more chances for Strop, who has a 2.63 ERA in 361 games with the Cubs over parts of the past six seasons. He notched 13 saves in '18 when Morrow was also injured. The heavily-used Steve Cishek will present another option, and the Cubs also have an agreement in place with righty Brad Brach, who has closing experience over the course of his career. -- Jordan Bastian
Pirates:Felipe Vázquez
Vazquez will be back in the ninth inning for the Pirates this year. The Bucs are betting on their bullpen being a strength, and it starts with the 27-year-old left-hander. Vazquez has put together a 2.35 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 216 strikeouts in 172 2/3 innings since joining Pittsburgh in a trade that sent former closer Mark Melancon to Washington. Last season, the hard-throwing Vazquez racked up 37 saves and struck out 89 in 70 appearances despite a handful of blown saves in May. Right-hander Keone Kela gained plenty of experience as a closer with the Rangers, but he is set to serve as a high-leverage setup man in his first full season with the Bucs. -- Adam Berry
Reds:Raisel Iglesias
Iglesias is in his fifth year with the Reds but he has quietly become one of the game's better closers the last two seasons with a 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 58 saves in 64 chances over 129 games. But after signing him to a new three-year, $24.1 million contract in November, Reds management indicated that Iglesias' role could expand beyond the ninth inning. New manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson could tap into the right-hander's starting experience and enjoyment of working multiple innings in relief to use Iglesias' elite arm in a variety of ways to get outs in high-leverage situations. If he's not closing a game, the job could fall to Jared Hughes or David Hernandez-- Mark Sheldon
NL WEST
D-backs: Archie Bradley
With the departure of Brad Boxberger, it appears like Bradley will inherit the closer's role. After a dominant 2017, the right-hander had some struggles in 2018. Some of that might be attributable to trouble with the nail of his right forefinger, which continually cracked and made it difficult for him at times to use his curveball. Yoshihisa Hirano will also be a big part of the backend of the bullpen and look out for rookie Yoan Lopez, who flashed electric stuff and a confident demeanor during a September callup. -- Steve Gilbert
Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers know who their closer is, they just don't know how he is. Jansen had a five-and-a-half-hour procedure to address a recurring irregular heartbeat. He had one six years ago and was fine by Opening Day and the Dodgers are cautiously optimistic that the issue -- which disrupted his 2018 season -- is resolved and he will be ready for Opening Day, but they won't really know until observing him in Spring Training. If he isn't, the acquisition of Joe Kelly looms large. At the club's FanFest on Saturday, Jansen said he's lost 25 pounds and is ready to roll for the start of Spring Training. -- Ken Gurnick
Giants:Will Smith
Smith enjoyed an impressive bounceback season with the Giants last year after missing the entire 2017 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The 29-year-old left-hander posted a 2.55 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP over 54 appearances and converted 14 saves in 2018. Smith is currently projected to reprise his role as the club's closer, but it remains to be seen if he'll still be wearing a Giants uniform on Opening Day. The Giants have been taking calls on Smith this offseason, and they could move him or fellow left-hander Tony Watson as they look to build a younger and more versatile roster under new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. Smith is slated to earn $4.225 million in his final season before free agency, further motivating the Giants to explore trades for him. -- Maria Guardado
Padres: Kirby Yates
Coming off a career year, Yates enters camp as the presumed closer in San Diego. He took over last July when Brad Hand was dealt to Cleveland. Despite a couple late-season hiccups, Yates finished with a 2.13 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 63 innings. In fact, Yates' 37.2 percent strikeout rate since joining the Padres in 2017 is highest in franchise history. It's worth noting, however, that the Padres played around with matchups quite a bit last season. Yates, a right-hander, will presumably pitch the eighth inning on occasion if he's set to face a string of tough righties. In such cases, a lefty like José Castillo could be saved for the ninth. -- AJ Cassavell
Rockies: Wade Davis
In many senses, the Rockies and their closer, Davis, are in an enviable position. Davis led the NL in saves with a club-record 43, with 5.70 strikeouts for each walk and a .122 batting average against in those games. But he also had a career-high six blown saves (two off the league lead). Manager Bud Black points out Davis has been dedicated to tweaks to improve his pitches, and bullpen coach Darren Holmes revealed that Davis -- who during last season had to change his eating and workouts because he felt more worn than usual -- has added weight and strength this offseason as he heads for the middle season of a three-year, $52 million contract. -- Thomas Harding