As usual, the trade deadline was an instrument of massive closer turnover, leaving no less than one-third of the league looking at a new leading man for saves.
I'll assess the 10 such scenarios I feel capable of assessing, but one that I won't be assessing is the Rays. No freaking clue what they're going to do. Despite being in the thick of the playoff hunt, they dealt their bullpen frontman, Diego Castillo, to the Mariners. Meanwhile, Peter Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen and Jeffrey Springs, who have all been part of the save mix at some point this season. are currently on the IL, as is Collin McHugh, who has been their best reliever overall. There are indications that last year's saves leader, Nick Anderson, is gearing up to return, but he's coming back from a significant injury and still doesn't have a clear timetable.
That leaves only Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler and newly acquired JT Chargois to compete for save chances, and I seriously doubt the Rays settle on one of those three before some of those other options return. In fact, I'll predict here and now that not a single Rays reliever gets more than three saves the rest of the way.
Now then, for some closer scenarios that we could have some success in narrowing down ...
Note: "Pecking order" refers to rosterability in Fantasy and not necessarily who's first in line for saves (though it's usually one and the same).
Inning for inning, Craig Kimbrel might be the best closer ever. (Inning for inning, I said, so no, I haven't forgotten about Mariano Rivera.) And yet he may not be good enough to close for the White Sox, judging by the limited chances manager Tony La Russa has had to deploy him so far. Kimbrel worked the ninth inning in a narrow loss one day and the eighth inning in a tie game the next, with Liam Hendriks following him in the ninth.
Now, maybe La Russa goes back-and-forth between the two. Maybe he takes a second look at the numbers one day and changes his mind about who the top dog should be. It's why I don't think you can drop Kimbrel yet. But if La Russa is operating with the mindset that Hendriks hasn't done anything to lose the job, then it may turn out that Kimbrel is only the most overpowered setup man in baseball.
GM Jerry Dipoto confirmed after acquiring him from the Rays that Diego Castillo would likely slot into the closer role, and so far, that's how manager Scott Servais has used him. Of course, setup man Paul Sewald, who has a K/9 in line with Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, was already intruding on Kendall Graveman's save chances back when he was the closer, and Castillo isn't even as good as Graveman. Castillo did convert his first save for his new team Tuesday after blowing his previous chance, but I would keep Sewald close if you already grabbed him when Graveman was dealt.
There was some concern initially that Brad Hand could steal save chances from Jordan Romano, if not claim the closer role outright, given how reluctant manager Charlie Montoyo was to give it to Romano in the first place. So far, though, Romano has been the only one used in the ninth inning, both with the score tied and the Blue Jays leading. By virtue of throwing left-handed, Hand could still factor as a result of the matchups, but it's also worth noting he was melting down pretty hard prior to the trade and has struggled to miss bats all year.
So far, Ian Kennedy has allowed a two-run homer in each of his two appearances with his new team. The Phillies had a commanding lead both times, though, so I suspect the feeling is no harm, no fall. So far, Jose Alvarado has recorded the team's only save since the trade, but Kennedy was owed an off day Tuesday. I wouldn't say his work with the Rangers gives him an unlimited leash, but to this point, the only Phillies reliever to find any success in the closer role is Ranger Suarez, who's now in the rotation. If Kennedy falters before Suarez is fully stretched out, it's possible they just move the left-hander back.
I suspected the Nationals would struggle to fill the void left by Brad Hand, especially since setup man Daniel Hudson followed him out the door. But they immediately turned to Kyle Finnegan to fill the void and seem pretty set on him, giving him saves on back-to-back days and having him work the ninth inning of a tie game two days later. And while I don't think he's really closer material, he's clearly the most effective reliever they have left, unless of course Tanner Rainey can get straightened out in his return trip to the minors.
The most talented reliever in the Marlins bullpen is Anthony Bender, and he was the one we were all hoping would get the shot to close after Yimi Garcia was shipped to Houston. But instead, manager Don Mattingly has simply shifted setup man Dylan Floro to the role. The right-hander recorded his second save in as many days Tuesday. He doesn't really fit the closer profile in that he lacks big swing-and-miss stuff, but he keeps the ball on the ground and generally limits damage -- sort of like the Marlins' closer last year, Brandon Kintzler. You'll want to keep Bender close, though, in case things go sideways.
Spencer Patton has stepped into the closer role as hoped with Ian Kennedy now out of the picture and is so far 1 for 2 in it. His ascension was hardly guaranteed given that he's a 33-year-old nobody who only joined the big-league club in June, but he had secured setup duties prior to the trade. His overall numbers still look pretty good, but he has been spiraling of late, which is why you should also have Joe Barlow on your radar. The 25-year-old joined the big club even more recently than Patton but has been lights out so far and appears to have settled into Patton's former eighth-inning role.
Part of the reason the Diamondbacks closer role hasn't been deserving of discussion this year is because the team has been so bad, but another part is because their relievers all have, too. That changes with Tyler Clippard healthy again. The longtime leverage guy had a 2.86 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 between 2019 and 2020 and appeared to snatch up the closer gig even before the Diamondbacks traded Joakim Soria away. Clippard recorded his second save Tuesday and figures to get the bulk of those opportunities going forward (because who else would?). He's good enough for you to care about the Diamondbacks closer now.
Rookie David Bednar seemed a near lock to step into the closer role vacated by Richard Rodriguez given that was already the eighth-inning guy and had the best numbers of all the Pirates relievers. But the way manager Derek Shelton has managed the bullpen in the days since has left reason to wonder. The Pirates haven't actually had a save opportunity since the Rodriguez trade, but Bednar worked the eighth inning the next day, with Chris Stratton following him in the ninth. The roles were reversed Tuesday, with Stratton working the eighth and Bednar working the ninth and 10th with the score tied, so I'll stick with the Bednar recommendation for now.
This situation is pretty murky with Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera now both across town with the White Sox. Kyle Ryan has recorded the Cubs' only save since those two relievers were moved, with newly acquired Codi Heuer setting up for him, but no part of Ryan's track record suggests he's actually good. Newly called up Manuel Rodriguez has the stuff for the role but probably needs to prove himself in the majors first. I'm kind of thinking Dillon Maples, currently sidelined with a blister, gets a shot once he's activated from the IL, but it's just a hunch.