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The increasing murkiness of bullpen roles requires me to do an unfortunate amount of throat-clearing here.

While most teams indeed have a clear front-runner for saves, the number of relievers who remain in the closer mix is so high that they would gobble up the majority of this list if I included them, which would defeat the purpose.

You probably know all the candidates for saves already if you play in a league that rewards them. What I aim to do here is look beyond the save candidates at lesser-known relievers who could help with ratios, provide holds where necessary and, yes, enter into the saves mix at some point down the road. The goal is to introduce new names rather than rehashing familiar ones.

Still, just so we're all on the same page as to which relievers I passed over for this top 12, I feel like I should state them all upfront. So here we go ...

Josh Hader, Liam Hendriks, Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Diaz, Brad Hand, Trevor Rosenthal, Kirby Yates, Kenley Jansen, Raisel Iglesias, Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Greg Holland and Daniel Bard are expected to close for their respective teams, so they're obviously out. Let's also exclude Richard Rodriguez as Jose Leclerc since they're lacking in true competition. Meanwhile ...

That's the state of the closer role for all 30 teams. If you weren't already aware of any of those relievers, now you are.

In addition to known closer candidates, I'm also excluding multi-inning strikeout artists Michael Kopech and Freddy Peralta from this list. While they have Fantasy appeal and are expected to begin in the bullpen, they're liable to spend half their time in the starting rotation this year.

There. Throat cleared.

Top 12 non-closer relief pitchers
TOR Toronto • #68 • Age: 28
ERA
1.23
WHIP
0.89
IP
14.2
BB/9
3.1
K/9
12.9
Jordan Romano ascended to the closer role to some fanfare last August until a strained finger wiped him out almost immediately. His swing-and-miss arsenal makes him an easy fallback for the Blue Jays if Kirby Yates, 34, doesn't look right coming off last year's elbow troubles.
WAS Washington • #21 • Age: 29
ERA
2.66
WHIP
0.74
IP
20.1
BB/9
3.1
K/9
14.2
Some soreness in the collarbone area has held Tanner Rainey back in spring training, but manager Dave Martinez thinks he'll be ready to go. Martinez was originally talking about using the right-hander in the closer role before the Nationals brought in Brad Hand, who has had some health and velocity issues of late.
KC Kansas City • #63 • Age: 28
ERA
2.45
WHIP
1.40
IP
25.2
BB/9
5.6
K/9
13.0
Manager Mike Matheny was surprisingly non-committal about the closer role virtually all of last year, only settling on Greg Holland late. But Josh Staumont has the most electric stuff of anyone in that bullpen and could ultimately overtake Holland if he shows improvement with the walks this year.
STL St. Louis • #29 • Age: 27
ERA
3.20
WHIP
1.42
IP
19.2
BB/9
6.4
K/9
12.4
The Cardinals have confirmed Alex Reyes will spend this year in the bullpen, but they've also set a goal of 100 innings, which could potentially mean some vulture wins, some three-inning saves and a strikeout total that would rank alongside some starting pitchers.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #39 • Age: 28
ERA
0.96
WHIP
1.07
IP
9.1
BB/9
4.8
K/9
13.5
The White Sox of course plopped down tens of millions for Liam Hendriks this offseason, ending the Aaron Bummer closer hype before it even began. But relievers aren't known for their longevity, and seeing as Hendriks is already 32 ... well, we at least know Bummer is next in line and should be effective in the meantime.
MIN Minnesota • #21 • Age: 31
ERA
1.88
WHIP
0.79
IP
24
BB/9
2.3
K/9
11.6
Purely a ratios play, this one, given that the Twins already have two candidates to close (Alex Colome and Trevor Rogers). It's possible a disaster scenario opens the door for Tyler Duffey, but judging by his 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 12.5 K/9 the past two years, he'll be useful enough racking up holds.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #57 • Age: 30
ERA
3.51
WHIP
0.82
IP
25.2
BB/9
2.8
K/9
11.2
When it comes to save chances, Chad Green has never placed high in the order of succession for the Yankees, but that could change with Zack Britton sidelined to begin the year. He has longevity working for him, compiling a 2.90 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 12.3 K/9 over the past four years, often in multi-inning stints.
ATL Atlanta • #68 • Age: 31
ERA
2.79
WHIP
1.14
IP
29
BB/9
3.1
K/9
13.3
Though Mark Melancon was the Braves closer last year and Will Smith is shaping up to be this year, Tyler Matzek might actually be the team's best reliever. He had the best K/9 of the group last year and was asked to get more than three outs more outings than not.
NYM N.Y. Mets • #65 • Age: 32
ERA
3.86
WHIP
1.16
IP
23.1
BB/9
2.7
K/9
14.7
Trevor May escaped the Twins' bullpen glut this offseason and now looks to be next in line for saves with the Mets, at least until Seth Lugo is healthy. And given how non-committal manager Luis Rojas was with Edwin Diaz last year, even with Diaz throwing well, that's a good place to be.
LAA L.A. Angels • #21 • Age: 30
ERA
2.10
WHIP
0.90
IP
30
BB/9
2.7
K/9
12.9
A former starting pitcher in the Cardinals organization, Mike Mayers was valued mostly for his multi-inning ability last year but eventually did start claiming save chances. Naturally, the Raisel Iglesias acquisition ended any talk of him closing, but if those ratios hold over 75-80 innings, you'll be in business.
OAK Oakland • #35 • Age: 35
ERA
0.42
WHIP
0.94
IP
21.1
BB/9
5.1
K/9
13.1
Jake Diekman looked set to become the Athletics closer before the late Trevor Rosenthal signing, and with Rosenthal now nursing a strained groin, it's still possible Diekman gets the first save. He was awesome in 2020, but walks have long been an issue for him. They weren't any better last year.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #48 • Age: 23
ERA
3.09
WHIP
0.90
IP
23.1
BB/9
1.2
K/9
5.0
Brusdar Graterol is one of those pitchers who earns high marks for his stuff even though it manifests mostly as ground balls. You want strikeouts to go with a low ERA and WHIP, but he's here mostly because he's next in line if the end has finally come for Kenley Jansen, who again lost his job in the postseason.