There is probably no position that can inspire a sense of defeat and resignation on Draft Day the way that relievers do. Especially if this isn't your first time playing Fantasy Baseball, you already know there's a decent chance at least one of your relievers is going to be rendered with far less value than what you paid. For closers to survive the season unscathed, they have to avoid injuries, fickle managers and total meltdowns.
Despite those risks, some relievers manage to be reliable closers, not just for an entire season, but for season after season. Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen have pulled off a string of excellent campaigns. So has Aroldis Chapman, though he will miss the first 30 games of this season due to his suspension under MLB's domestic violence policy. Kimbrel and Jansen in particular will command hefty prices in many leagues, and based on his back-to-back dominant seasons, mostly as a setup man, so should Wade Davis.
However, the risky closers outnumber the safe ones, so the only thing that is close to certain when it comes to Fantasy relievers is uncertainty. The flipside of the hassle of having to replace relievers you drafted is that there is a steady stream of replacements on waivers. Even in some deeper formats, you can count on replenishing, or even building from scratch, your relief corps from waivers.
This year's cohort of closers promises to be as fluid as ever. Actually, it could be even more unpredictable, as teams with stud closers have recently shown little compunction about padding their bullpen with top relievers. The Red Sox had a perfectly good (though older) closer in Koji Uehara but sandwiched him this offseason with Carson Smith and Kimbrel to pitch the seventh and ninth innings. The Yankees, of course, picked up Chapman, when they already had Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. The Dodgers were on the verge of getting Chapman earlier in the offseason, even though, as their incumbent, Jansen was arguably the best closer in the majors.
Nonetheless, there's not much to fear when drafting your No. 1 reliever in a 12-team mixed league. Of the relievers going early, the only one who could be a source of concern is Ken Giles, but not through any of his own doing. Astros manager A.J. Hinch has not committed to a closer, even though incumbent Luke Gregerson has been dealing with a strained oblique. Should Hinch relegate Giles to a setup role, owners could be stuck with an expensive holds specialist. If you believe that skills eventually win out (and there is good reason to think so), you can be encouraged by Giles' superior strikeout rate and ability to limit extra-base hits.
It's in trying to target a second reliever where things get dicey. Everyone in this range carries more risk, but there are also bargains to be had. A.J. Ramos has been going in the latter portion of drafts, but with Carter Capps having Tommy John surgery, he should have the closer's job all to himself in Miami. Sean Doolittle has been going even later, but if he proves to be healthy, he could drastically outperform his draft position. Some owners are drafting Miller as a second reliever, even though he will likely close for the Yankees only until Chapman returns. Keep in mind, though, that in addition to a few saves, Miller could exceed 100 strikeouts while providing outstanding ratios.
Finding breakout closers isn't easy, because they typically don't get the chance to work through a difficult developmental process while in the role. Either they come to closing as a mostly-finished product or they struggle and lose the job. However, in getting his first chance to be a full-time closer, David Hernandez could fit the description of a breakout. He will not only have to pitch well enough for the Phillies so that he keeps the job, but also do a better job of keeping the ball in the park.
With elite-level strikeout rates, the Brewers' Will Smith profiles more as a breakout closer, but first he has to win the job, holding off Jeremy Jeffress. Arodys Vizcanio closed for the Braves over the last two months of 2015, and he thrived in the role. Jason Grilli is the team's presumed closer to start the year, but should he get injured or traded, Vizcaino would be a solid go-to option for saves.
What closer isn't vulnerable? Well, some are clearly more in danger of losing their jobs than others. Of those who are typically being drafted among the top 24 relievers, Brad Boxberger looks like one of the riskier plays. Rays manager Kevin Cash was reluctant to name a closer last season, and if he has similar qualms this year, Boxberger could give way to Danny Farquhar or Alex Colome. Over the final two months of 2015, Boxberger's control abandoned him and he got hit hard, and he will need to rebound to be trustworthy in Fantasy.
Tolleson followed a similar pattern to Boxberger, trailing off from mid-August forward. He stopped getting swings and misses at a high rate and starting allowing more hits. His results -- a 3.27 ERA with 20 strikeotus in 22 innings -- weren't horrible during this stretch, but it was enough to cause Rangers manager Jeff Banister to go with Sam Dyson in a save situation in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Blue Jays. If Banister didn't trust Tolleson then, how can we be sure he will trust him this season? With former Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen joining the mix, the worries for Tolleson are compounded.
Closing isn't usually a job entrusted to rookies, but last season, the Mariners turned to Carson Smith when Fernando Rodney floundered. The Blue Jays tried, not one, but two rookies -- Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna -- out as closers, and Osuna is competing against Drew Storen to retain the role. No 2016 rookie stands out as having a strong chance to close this season, but there are a few long shots. Because Steve Cishek is coming off a shaky 2015 season, he has more to prove than most closers, and he may not get the benefit of the doubt with a poor start for the Mariners. That could provide an opportunity for Tony Zych, who was impressive after receiving a September callup.
If Hernandez doesn't work out for the Phillies, they could give prospect Jimmy Cordero a try. Cordero was acquired from the Blue Jays in the Ben Revere deal and is generally considered to be the team's closer of the future. Damien Magnifico has much in common with Cordero. Not only is he capable of hitting triple digits with his fastball, but he could take advantage of a closer situation that is in flux. Magnifico's Brewers are going with either Smith or Jeffress to start the season, but neither reliever has been tested as a ninth-inning option. If neither one can stick in the role, Magnifico could fill the void after a little time in Triple-A. Headline writers are certainly rooting for this to happen.
The Big Picture
There may be new some new faces among the ranks of closers, but the overall picture hasn't changed all that much. Just about every owner in a 12-team mixed league should be able to get a reliable closer, should they choose to use their resources towards that end. However, almost everyone will have to absorb some risk in their pursuit of saves. Even established closers can fail or get hurt, so every owner has to be prepared to chase saves on waivers or via trades during the season.
For owners who like to emphasize hitters or don't mind being highly active on waivers or the trade market, there is no reason to rush to get a closer once the reliever run starts in your draft. Even if you're averse to taking risks with saves, it probably won't pay to go after one of the very top relievers, like Jansen, Kimbrel or Davis. Those who are slightly less popular, like Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia and David Robertson, should be more than adequate in providing saves, strikeouts and good ratios.