My strategy for how to approach closers in 2021 Fantasy Baseball drafts was more a strategy for how to avoid closers in 2021 Fantasy Baseball drafts. Coming off a shortened season in an era where saves are spread among more players than ever, it just didn’t make sense to invest much in the position this season — not when you needed to draft more starting pitchers than usual and still had to figure out a way to balance your hitting needs. Sacrifices had to be made, and for me, that was usually ignoring closers almost entirely. 

And, as we head into the season, you can see why. I broke down every team’s save situation into tiers based on one simple standard: Do we know who their closer is? By my count, there are 13 teams whose closer is definitely known, and another seven or so with a pretty obvious presumptive closer — not even close to enough for every team in a 12-team league to have two. And, those 19 include plenty of guys with potentially tenuous holds on their jobs anyway — I would say there are only around 12 teams where I think the closer is both secure in their job and actually a good pitcher.

If you did invest in the position and have two of those guys, you’re in a good spot, but for most Fantasy managers at this point, there are real questions about where your saves are going to come from. The good news is, plenty of saves will become available on the wire before long — hence my lack of concern about locking them in during the draft — and we’ll be here all season long to help you track them down. We’ll have daily waiver-wire column focusing on the best players to target from that day’s action, and we’ll be regularly looking at changes in bullpens around the league every week, too. 

We’ll get answers to many of the question marks within the first few days of the season, though surely some others will pop up when teams surprise us with their ninth-inning usage, too. And, it’s always worth remembering that, while managers can talk a big game about not naming a closer or going with a committee during spring training, when the games actually start to count, nearly all managers will default to the guy they trust most. We just don’t know who that is in many cases yet. 

Here’s what the closer landscape looks like entering Week 1 of the Fantasy season. 

The “For-Sure Closers” Tier

  • Liam Hendricks, White Sox
  • Josh Hader, Brewers
  • Aroldis Chapman, Yankees
  • Edwin Diaz, Mets
  • Raisel Iglesias, Angels 
  • Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
  • Trevor Rosenthal, Athletics 
  • Brad Hand, Nationals
  • Ryan Pressly, Astros
  • Craig Kimbrel, Cubs
  • Matt Barnes, Red Sox
  • Daniel Bard, Rockies
  • Hector Neris, Phillies

Here’s the list of guys who have been named closer — or didn’t even need to be named closer at all. The most interesting names here are probably Kimbrel, Diaz, and Jansen, who are likely viewed by many Fantasy players as having an especially high risk of losing their jobs. I think that’s true for Kimbrel especially, while the Mets have shown they will move Diaz out of that job if he struggles — though I happen to think he’ll be dominant, so it isn’t much of a concern. For Jansen, however, it seems like wishful thinking on the part of some Fantasy analysts or players that he’s at risk of losing his job. While the Dodgers have been flexible with his usage in the postseason the last few years, Julio Urias is the only pitcher on the team besides Jansen to record more than three saves in a season over the last three — and three of his four were multi-inning outings. 

This tier is ranked by how I value them, but it’s worth noting that Hector Neris, Matt Barnes, and Daniel Bard are definitely not among my top-13 closers entering the season, despite the job security. Around half of all closers end up losing their jobs every season, and those three seem like the most likely to falter. That being said, Bard has something going for him that the other two don’t: The Rockies don’t have an obvious alternative to replace him. Whereas, Adam Ottavino might be a better pitcher than Barnes, while Archie Bradley and Jose Alvarado are probably both better than Neris. Which means their respective margins for error are much slimmer. 

The “Presumptive Closers” Tier

Here are the guys we feel pretty comfortable assuming they have the job heading into the season, even if we haven’t really received much confirmation. Romano was named the closer in Ken Giles’ absence in 2020 (before an injury of his own), while Smith’s experience makes him the logical choice for the Braves — especially given the presence of multiple other lefties in the bullpen. On the whole, this isn’t a particularly exciting tier, especially once you get beyond Romano and Smith, and the bottom five names could all either end up being used in a committee or lose the job very quickly. If you need saves and any of them are on the wire, go ahead and add them, but don’t expect much. 

The “Potentially Elite If He Emerges With The Job” Tier

  • James Karinchak/Nick Wittgren/Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland
  • Jordan Hicks/Giovanny Gallegos, Cardinals
  • Amir Garrett/Lucas Sims, Reds
  • Emilio Pagan/Mark Melancon/Drew Pomeranz, Padres
  • Alex Colome/Tayler Rogers, Twins
  • Diego Castillo/Peter Fairbanks, Rays

This tier is, on the whole, much more exciting than the previous one, and I would rather have literally any player named here ahead of all but Smith and Romano from the previous tier if they were named the closer. Of course, that’s the problem: They all have so much competition, and we really don’t have any sense of who will be the primary option in most of these bullpens. 

Of course, given the fact that I’ve named just 13 for-sure closers and just seven other “presumptive” closers, you should be able to tell that this season more than nearly any other in the past makes the non-closer relievers even more valuable. Even if Karinchak or Pomeranz aren’t closing for their respective teams, they could provide elite ratios and tons of strikeouts, and in a season where many starters may have limited innings, they could be even more valuable. 

I took a flier on nearly all of these bullpens in drafts because of that, and if any of these pitchers are named the closer, they would immediately jump into the discussion for the top tier. 

The “He Wasn’t Named The Closer, But …” Tier

The Diamondbacks haven’t named a closer, and The Athletic reported earlier this week that they are expected to go with a committee, so Soria isn’t the presumptive closer here. And, I don’t think any of the potential closers here — including Stefan Chrichton, Kevin Ginkel, or J.B. Bukauskas, along with Soria — are likely to be elite if they do get the job, so they don’t fit in the previous tier. So, I’ll just create a one-player tier for Soria, who seems likely to be the closer, even if it may take a little while for anyone to acknowledge it. He could be solid enough to hold on to the job and be worth starting regularly if that happens, but it’s not clear yet. 

The “Well, Someone’s Gotta Get Saves Here, Right?” Tier

Yuck. Bad teams, unproven pitchers, with no clearly defined roles. I can’t tell you nobody here is worth taking a flier on just in case they are named the closer, but I wouldn’t drop anyone from the “Potentially Elite” tier for any of them. At least not until we get confirmation one of them is named the closer. And even then, these seem like situations where the title could be passed back and forth several times before anyone earns the job for good — if that ever happens. I’m not saying there is a total lack of upside here, but it’s just hard to get excited about any of these guys right now.