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Breaking down every team's closer situation

March 24, 2019

Teams can have solid starting pitching, strong middle relief and a potent offense, but if they don’t have a closer waiting in the bullpen to finish off games, wins won’t be easy to come by. And while not every club has an Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen waiting in the

Teams can have solid starting pitching, strong middle relief and a potent offense, but if they don’t have a closer waiting in the bullpen to finish off games, wins won’t be easy to come by.

And while not every club has an Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen waiting in the wings, it certainly helps to have a reliable back-end reliever to rack up saves.

With all that in mind, whether it be a heated battle still underway in spring, or a veteran entrenched in the role, here’s a comprehensive look at the closer situation for all 30 teams.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles don’t know yet, and simply may open the season without a closer. Mychal Givens seems the obvious choice on paper; perhaps he ends up handling the brunt of ninth-inning duties. Nate Karns, now a reliever, profiles as a potential back-end candidate as well. But with so much uncertainty regarding their bullpen, the rebuilding Orioles also see value in deploying their best relievers in the middle of games, where high-leverage situations are more likely to present themselves. The ninth could become something of an afterthought, and a revolving door. -- Joe Trezza

Boston Red Sox

Red Sox manager Alex Cora continues to be coy about who his closer will be on Opening Day, or if the club will even have a set pitcher for the ninth inning. “You’ll find out on March 28,” Cora has said repeatedly. If Boston designates a closer, Matt Barnes (96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings last year) is a strong candidate. Ryan Brasier, who came out of nowhere in 2018 to become a high-leverage setup man, is the other option. Though Craig Kimbrel remains a free agent, the Sox have said several times they don’t expect to go back down that road. In a committee approach, Barnes and Brasier could be joined by Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman for save opportunities. -- Ian Browne

New York Yankees

Aroldis Chapman will again handle the ninth-inning duties for the Yankees, heading what could be the strongest bullpen in the Majors. Chapman converted 32 of 34 save opportunities last season, posting a 2.45 ERA in 55 appearances while leading all relievers with a 16.31 K/9 IP ratio. Chapman battled left knee tendinitis, prompting him to miss a month beginning in late August, but says that he has completely recovered. -- Bryan Hoch

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays will head into the 2019 season without naming a closer. With Sergio Romo, who led the team with 25 saves in 2018, no longer on the team, Tampa Bay will play the matchups in the ninth inning. Jose Alvarado and Chaz Roe are expected to get most of the opportunities to close out games, with Ryne Stanek and Diego Castillo also being possible options. -- Juan Toribio

Toronto Blue Jays

Ken Giles barely pitched this spring after dealing with a severe cold, and later a sore shoulder following an awkward sleep. Even so, he's locked in as Toronto's undisputed closer. Last year's 4.65 ERA wasn't pretty, but Giles went a perfect 26-for-26 in save opportunities. Ryan Tepera, Bud Norris and Tim Mayza figure to be his top setup men. -- Gregor Chisholm

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox

Alex Colomé will open the 2019 season as the White Sox closer, as announced by manager Rick Renteria on Friday. "It does suit him pretty well," Renteria said. "He's done a nice job." Colome, 30, topped the American League with 47 saves for the Rays in 2017. He served primarily as a setup man in 2018 after being traded to the Mariners, but he prefers the ninth-inning adrenaline rush with the game on the line. -- Scott Merkin

Cleveland Indians

Much is unknown regarding the Indians’ bullpen, but Brad Hand is the one guarantee. After spending the second half of 2018 bouncing between different roles, the Indians informed Hand that he will officially be able to settle in as the closer. The path that the Tribe will take to get the ball to Hand has yet to be decided, but it’s likely that Oliver Perez or Adam Cimber, depending on the batter, will serve as the setup man. Although he has a more defined role this year, Hand has been clear since the beginning of Spring Training that he’s ready to take the ball in any situation and is more than willing to record the four- or five-out save. -- Mandy Bell

Detroit Tigers

While Joe Jimenez is still the Tigers’ closer of the future, Shane Greene remains their closer of the present. A strong first half could propel him into trade discussions near the July Trade Deadline. Though Greene finished fourth in the AL with 32 saves, closing out exactly half the Tigers’ wins for the season, he suffered from the home run bug with 12 homers over 63 1/3 innings. None of them cost the lead, but four were tiebreaking shots. -- Jason Beck

Kansas City Royals

After years of having a set closer, whether it was Greg Holland or Wade Davis or Kelvin Herrera, the Royals won’t have one in 2019, manager Ned Yost said. While right-hander Wily Peralta was 14-for-14 in save situations filling in for Herrera in 2018, Yost said he will think mainly of his relievers as “high-leverage” guys. That would include Peralta, left-handers Jake Diekman and Tim Hill, and right-hander Brad Boxberger. “I may use Peralta in the sixth inning or Diekman in the eighth,” Yost said, “it depends on what the situation is.” -- Jeffrey Flanagan

Minnesota Twins

When asked about their ninth-inning plans throughout the offseason and spring, manager Rocco Baldelli and Twins leadership have instead spoken more broadly about high-leverage situations within the final three innings. Blake Parker, Trevor Hildenberger, Trevor May, Taylor Rogers and Fernando Romero will likely be featured in those situations, but Baldelli has yet to offer any specifics on what that might look like. -- Do-Hyoung Park

AL WEST

Houston Astros

The Astros acquired former All-Star closer Roberto Osuna last July from the Blue Jays, giving them their most reliable closer option in years. Osuna, who saved 104 games in four seasons in Toronto, served an 80-game suspension in the middle of last season but was solid after coming to Houston, posting a 1.99 ERA and 12 saves. -- Brian McTaggart

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels signed veteran Cody Allen to a one-year deal worth $8.5 million this offseason to serve as their closer. Allen is coming off a down year that saw him post a 4.70 ERA with the Indians, but over the last five seasons he's averaged 29 saves per year with a 3.03 ERA. -- Rhett Bollinger

Oakland A’s

The A’s have one of the game’s best in Blake Treinen. The 2018 All-Star reliever totaled 38 saves and 100 strikeouts while posting a minuscule 0.78 ERA over 80 1/3 innings -- the lowest ever among pitchers with 80 or more innings since at least 1912. Along with his devastating sinker-slider mix and the occasional four-seam fastball, Treinen also introduced a cutter last season, and it’s already considered elite. -- Jane Lee

Seattle Mariners

Hunter Strickland, a free agent who saved 14 games last season for the Giants, will try to fill Edwin Diaz's considerable shoes. Strickland is the only Mariners candidate with more than five career saves. And while he only has 19 to his name, the 30-year-old is a right-handed power arm who has pitched late in games and was serving well in the closer's role last year for the Giants until breaking his hand against a window after blowing a save in mid-June. -- Greg Johns

Texas Rangers

Jose Leclerc became the Rangers’ closer after the Trade Deadline last season and he did not allow a run in his last 16 innings. During that stretch, he allowed three hits and six walks, while striking out 29. Leclerc hits 95 mph, but with a wipeout changeup that allowed him to strike out 13.37 batters per nine innings, seventh highest among Major League relievers with at least 150 batters faced. -- TR Sullivan

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Atlanta Braves

The Braves are hoping to lessen concerns about Arodys Vizcaino’s durability by having him share the closing role with A.J. Minter, who will likely not be available before the regular season’s second week. To remain Atlanta’s closer, Vizcaino will need to prove his right shoulder is healthy and also be more consistent than he’s been while producing a 81.6 (40-for-49) save percentage over the past three seasons. -- Mark Bowman

Miami Marlins

Closing will be a collective effort, with Drew Steckenrider, who saved five games as a rookie, projecting to get the most opportunities. But if matchups are more favorable for Adam Conley, the left-hander will get a shot. A third option also is available -- Sergio Romo, who has 109 career saves. -- Joe Frisaro

New York Mets

Perhaps the Mets’ most heralded acquisition in a splashy winter, Edwin Diaz enters the season as their unquestioned closer after saving 57 games in 61 tries for the Mariners last season. Diaz’s new team plans to use him traditionally, typically saving him for leads of three runs or less in the ninth. -- Anthony DiComo

Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler has said each of these right-handers -- David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris -- could pitch in ninth-inning save situations in 2019. He is not bluffing. Nine different Phillies earned at least one save last season, and Kapler’s mix-and-match setup is expected to continue. Robertson has the most experience of the three. Dominguez has the best stuff. And Neris, if his splitter is on, can be unhittable. -- Todd Zolecki

Washington Nationals

The ninth inning had been an issue in D.C. for years before Sean Doolittle arrived and turned the final frame into a near certainty. Aside from a foot injury that sidelined him for two months in 2018, Doolittle was one of the most automatic closers in the NL, converting 25 of his 26 save opportunities. -- Jamal Collier

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

What is known right now is that closer Brandon Morrow (right elbow) will miss about a month to start the season. His primary replacement for the ninth inning, Pedro Strop, is currently working back from a right hamstring issue, but has not yet been ruled out for Opening Day. With or without Strop, manager Joe Maddon plans on being flexible in the eighth and ninth innings. Relievers Steve Cishek, Brad Brach, Carl Edwards Jr. and Brandon Kintzler could see time in the ninth, alongside Strop. And, while free-agent Craig Kimbrel would make a lot of sense, the Cubs are not expected to get involved. The team has made it known that it has budget restrictions and, to date, nothing has changed on that front. -- Jordan Bastian

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ closer the previous two seasons, Raisel Iglesias signed a three-year, $24.1 million deal in November that replaced his previous contract knowing manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson won’t use labels that lock pitchers into specific roles or innings. Iglesias will be available to be used in high-leverage innings, no matter when. When he’s not available, the last three outs could fall to Jared Hughes, Michael Lorenzen or David Hernandez. -- Mark Sheldon

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are without both of their top two right-handed relievers: Corey Knebel, a 2017 National League All-Star, will join 2018 All-Star Jeremy Jeffress on the injured list after an MRI scan of Knebel’s elbow revealed what manager Craig Counsell referred to as “an issue with the UCL.” Josh Hader, coming off the all-time record for strikeouts by a lefty reliever, will be asked to close with Knebel and Jeffress sidelined. -- Adam McCalvy

Pittsburgh Pirates

Felipe Vazquez, the unquestioned leader of Pittsburgh’s bullpen, will pitch the ninth inning like a traditional closer, but the Pirates have shown a willingness to use him for more than three outs when necessary. Club officials have been impressed with Vazquez this spring, as he showed up strong and ready to pitch after overcoming some early struggles en route to his first All-Star Game last year. He has a deep setup corps in front of him featuring right-handers Keone Kela, Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. -- Adam Berry

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals will proceed without a designated closer, preferring instead to use matchups and workload to influence decisions. Andrew Miller brings experience and would be the fit if there is a key left-handed hitter to get out. Jordan Hicks offers the triple-digit fastball and an expanding repertoire. Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez could also factor into the ninth-inning mix. -- Jenifer Langosch

NL WEST

Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-backs took their closer decision down to the wire, with Greg Holland getting the nod over Archie Bradley. Holland’s velocity has been down a touch this spring, but the D-backs believe that the adrenaline of regular-season games will kick it back up. Bradley, meanwhile, missed one outing with neck stiffness, but looks like he’s regained the curveball he was unable to throw last year due to a nail issue. -- Steve Gilbert

Colorado Rockies

Closer Wade Davis accumulated a club-record and career-high 43 saves last season. His high ERA (4.13) came mainly in his six losses -- 20 earned runs and five homers in four innings. Righties Scott Oberg and Seunghwan Oh, both dependable down the stretch last season, replace Adam Ottavino (Yankees) as primary setup men in a conventional bullpen setup. -- Thomas Harding

Los Angeles Dodgers

With a repaired heart and hero Mariano Rivera’s Hall of Fame election as motivation, Kenley Jansen might be the most important player on the team. He has worked like a horse in Spring Training, a complete reversal of last spring’s vacation, which was followed by an erratic season. Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez set up. -- Ken Gurnick

San Diego Padres

The Padres weren’t always traditional in their closer usage late last season, often deploying Kirby Yates in the eighth when tough right-handed hitters were due up. That said, Yates, the franchise’s all-time leader in strikeout rate, is going to get the ball in save situations more often than not. Since he was claimed in 2017, Yates has been excellent, mostly because of a devastating splitter the club has encouraged him to unleash. -- AJ Cassavell

San Francisco Giants

Manager Bruce Bochy initially declined to name a closer at the beginning of Spring Training, making a point to mention Mark Melancon's improved health and promising form early in camp. But Melancon has done little to help his own cause so far, posting a 11.12 ERA in six Cactus League appearances. The leading candidate still seems to be Will Smith, who held the closer role for the second half of last season and has not allowed a run in three Cactus League innings this spring. -- Maria Guardado