AL East Closers and their Handcuffs


Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The position with the most turnover in fantasy baseball is undeniably the closer.  Most leagues require them, as Saves are a common statistical category.

A lot of varying strategies exist as how to handle drafting and bidding on closers but I happen to agree with the opinion that you should neither bid nor draft too high for saves.  One of the reasons I agree with said theory is the previously mentioned turnover.

Whether due to injuries the pressure of getting the last three outs getting to people, you will always be able to find a closer at some point on the waiver wire every season. In fact, in some deeper leagues where Saves and Holds are scoring categories, you may want handcuff your closer like you would a fragile running back in fantasy football so one of your opponents does not snipe your points.

Here are a list of AL East closers, along with their potential handcuffs along with the risk level of the closer losing his job on a scale set of Low, Moderate, High, and Extreme.

Baltimore Orioles

  • Closer: Tommy Hunter
  • Risk: High
  • Next in Line: Darren O’Day

Tommy Hunter has a high risk of being replaced as closer because he has never officially been a closer before. That title carries a significant amount of psychological weight and you need to be able to prove you can handle that pressure over the entirety of a season before anyone can suggest you have job security in that role.

I have faith in Hunter this year as I have all ready suggested, but basing your fantasy moves off bold predictions is no way to go through life. If Hunter proves unworthy, Darren O’Day  and a committee approach will be used, with the Orioles likely to deal for a proven closer if they remain in the hunt come the trade deadline.

Boston Red Sox 

  • Closer: Koji Uehara
  • Risk: Low
  • Next in Line: Edward Mujica

Koji Uehara doesn’t throw that hard, his fastballs average less than 90 MPH.  He has a splitter that sits just above 80 MPH.  Combined, these two pitches accounted for over 90% of his total offerings in 2013.  Despite the lack of velocity, Uehara generated some filthy numbers such as a K/9 of 12.23, a BB/9 of 1.09, a K% of 38.1, and a SwStr% of 18.5.

The silliest part of this, Uehara has been putting up numbers like this since 2010.  Uehara may be one of the oldest closers you ever draft, but he could be one of the safest you draft in 2014.

If Uehara somehow loses his command, Edward Mujica will be next man up.  Mujica did a respectable job as the Cardinals closer for most of 2013.  Mujica blew four saves last season, two of which were in September, a month where the Card posted an 8.31 ERA and was replaced as closer by Trevor Rosenthal.

New York Yankees

  • Closer: David Robertson
  • Risk: High
  • Next in Line: Matt Thornton

High risk for David Roberston?!  Yes.  Calm down Yankees fans. David Robertson is at high risk for the same reason as Tommy Hunter. Success as a set-up man does not automatically translate to success as a closer.

The fact he is following in the footsteps of one of if not the greatest closers of all time probably does not ease the pressure in a place like the Bronx. If Robertson folds under the pressure of being a closer, or being the closer to follow Mariano Rivera, or being the closer in a market that is known for creating a lot of pressure on their athletes, I am not sure what the Yankees will do.

I think they will have to consider Matt Thornton, but a lefty that has had struggles getting righties out doesn’t seem like the best option. Andrew Bailey if he can ever get healthy?

Who are we kidding, if Robertson can’t handle the new gig, I am sure the Yankees will do what the Yankees always do and go out and spend money as if they were drunken sailors on an established closer.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Closer: Grant Balfour
  • Risk:  Low
  • Next in Line: Heath Bell

Balfour has been a solid closer over the past two seasons.  He has successfully saved 62 games out of 67 opportunities in that time.  He was all set to be the closer for the Orioles this off-season pending a physical, but the Orioles did not like what they saw in his shoulder — or they got cold feet and then blamed it on Balfour’s shoulder.

Despite the Orioles concerns, Grant Balfour has not had any injury concerns over the past few years. He has pitched over 60 innings in each of the past three seasons and has actually seen an uptick in velocity as he averaged 93.9 MPH on his two-seamer last season compared to 92.1 MPH on that same pitch in 2012.

Perhaps the best thing going for Balfour owners is Heath Bell might be next in line if he falters.  I don’t trust Bell in the closer’s role any further than I can throw him, and if the laws of physics are still accurate, I can’t. Bell has blown more saves than any other reliever not named Axford over the past two seasons.  Manager Joe Maddon will allow Balfour a plethora of blown opportunities before he makes a switch.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • Closer: Casey Janssen
  • Risk: Moderate
  • Next in Line: Sergio Santos

When the Blue Jays traded for Sergio Santos, he was supposed to be their closer. He was effective in that role with the Chicago White Sox back in 2011. Unfortunately for the Jays, Santos has been unable to stay healthy and has been shut down for a majority of the past two seasons with various arm injuries.

On the bright side, the Jays found a worthy replacement for Santos in Casey Janssen who has delivered 56 saves in 61 opportunities over the past two years. Janssen himself was limited this spring with some minor arm issues, but he is expected to break camp as the closer.

If Janssen falters early, I think Santos could get a shot to reclaim the closer’s role because he has more of an ideal makeup for a closer. More specifically, last season Janssen, according to Fangraphs, threw his fastball at average speed of 89.9 MPH (a drop of almost 2 MPH from 2012) and had a modest SwStr% of 8.2%.  Santos on the other hand, averaged 94.6 MPH on his heater and had an impressive SwStr% of 17.7%.