MLB's projected closers for 2020: Bullpen rundown for all 30 teams

By Thomas HarriganMLB.com

Special to Yahoo Sports

Closers have long been the most volatile entities in fantasy, and they've seemingly become even more unpredictable in recent years.

In 2019, 199 players had at least one save, topping 2018 (165) for the all-time record. Meanwhile, just 11 players finished with 30-plus saves, and only six of them were cemented as the closer during fantasy draft season.

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Building a winning fantasy bullpen could be more difficult than ever in 2020, as many closers will likely have short leashes during the 60-game schedule, when the impact of a blown save will be magnified.

• Stay up to date on MLB's closer situations

Here's a look at the current closer landscape, with teams broken down into three categories and organized alphabetically.

Elite closers

Athletics: Liam Hendriks
Next in line: Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria

The A's also had an elite fantasy closer to start last season, but it wasn't Hendriks; it was Blake Treinen. Oakland turned to Hendriks when Treinen went on the injured list in June, and the club never looked back. Hendriks will now try to prove his career year (1.80 ERA, 37.4% K rate) was no fluke.

AstrosRoberto Osuna
Next in line: Ryan Pressly, Brad Peacock

Osuna is only 25 years old, but he already has three seasons on his resume with at least 35 saves. He led the American League with 38 saves last year, while recording a 2.63 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 65 innings. He could rank among MLB's saves leaders again in 2020.

Blue Jays: Ken Giles
Next in line: Anthony Bass, Wilmer Font

If not for a recurring bout of elbow inflammation last July, Giles probably would have been dealt before the Trade Deadline. As it stands, the right-hander is still Toronto's closer, and the shortened schedule makes him less likely to be traded before this year's Aug. 31 deadline.

Brewers: Josh Hader
Next in line: Corey Knebel, Brent Suter

After deploying Hader as a flexible relief ace in 2018, the Brewers used him in a more traditional manner last season, turning to the left-hander as their primary closer after Knebel underwent Tommy John surgery in March. It's possible manager Craig Counsell will revert to his previous strategy with Knebel now healthy, but Hader, who owns a 47.2% strikeout rate since the start of 2018, is still worth drafting as a top-three fantasy reliever.

Indians: Brad Hand
Next in line: Nick Wittgren, Adam Cimber

Hand has recorded 30-plus saves with a K/9 over 13.0 in each of the past two seasons, posting a 2.99 ERA in that span. Although he had a 5.40 ERA with four blown saves after the All-Star break while battling elbow problems last year, the left-hander has a firm grasp on the closer role.

PadresKirby Yates
Next in line: Emilio Pagán, Drew Pomeranz

After a breakout season at age 31 in 2018, Yates raised his game again last year, posting a 1.19 ERA with a 101-to-13 K/BB ratio and a Major League-leading 41 saves over 60 2/3 innings. The right-hander should be one of the first relievers off the board in 2020 drafts.

Kirby Yates was at the very top of his game in 2019. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Kirby Yates was at the very top of his game in 2019. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Twins: Taylor Rogers
Next in line: Sergio Romo, Trevor May

The Twins opened last season with a closer tandem of Blake Parker and Rogers, but the latter proved to be the superior option and had the role to himself by June. With a career 144 ERA+ and a 9.8 K/9 mark, Rogers could continue to excel in that spot.

Yankees: Aroldis Chapman
Next in line: Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino

Chapman tested positive for COVID-19 during Summer Camp, leaving his status for Opening Day in question. If the hard-throwing lefty isn't ready, the Yankees will likely turn to Britton to close.

Stable situations

Angels: Hansel Robles
Next in line: Ty Buttrey, Keynan Middleton

The Angels signed Cody Allen to be their closer last season, but he was released after posting a 6.26 ERA over 25 appearances. The club found stability in Robles, who racked up 23 saves with a 2.48 ERA and 75 K's in 72 2/3 innings. The ninth-inning job appears to be his to lose.

Braves: Mark Melancon
Next in line: Will Smith, Shane Greene

When the Braves acquired both Melancon and Greene on July 31 last season, the latter was expected to step in as the team's closer. However, it was Melancon who grabbed the reins, recording 11 saves in 11 chances. Melancon is set to hold onto the role, even after Atlanta signed veteran left-hander Will Smith (34 saves in 2019) to a three-year deal in November.

Cubs: Craig Kimbrel
Next in line: Rowan Wick, Jeremy Jeffress

After remaining on the free-agent market until last June, Kimbrel was unable to rebound from the long layoff. The right-hander posted a 6.53 ERA over 20 2/3 innings, allowing nine homers in that span and making a pair of trips to the injured list. Now, the 32-year-old will try to recapture the dominant form he showed from 2010-18 (1.91 ERA, 1.96 FIP).

D-backs: Archie Bradley
Next in line: Yoan López, Kevin Ginkel

Bradley had a 5.66 ERA over his first 32 games last season, but he was among baseball's most effective relievers thereafter, recording a 1.47 ERA in his final 34 appearances. Bradley took over as Arizona's closer on July 30 and led MLB in saves from that point forward, collecting 18 in 19 chances. The 27-year-old could be a top-10 fantasy closer if he keeps his walk rate (11.4% in 2019) in check.

Dodgers: Kenley Jansen
Next in line: Blake Treinen, Pedro Báez

Jansen leads all pitchers in saves (239) since the beginning of 2014, but he has started to show signs of decline. Last season, the right-hander recorded a career-high 3.71 ERA with eight blown saves. Five of those came in the second half, when Jansen posted a 4.44 ERA. The 32-year-old is still the Dodgers' closer, but his grasp on the role is more tenuous than ever.

Mets: Edwin Díaz
Next in line: Seth Lugo, Dellin Betances

Díaz's first season with the Mets yielded a 5.59 ERA with seven blown saves in 33 chances, but the righty has a chance to right the ship in 2020. Díaz was fantasy's top closer just two years ago, recording a 1.96 ERA with a 0.79 WHIP, 57 saves and 124 K's in 73 1/3 innings.

Nationals: Sean Doolittle
Next in line: Daniel Hudson, Will Harris

Doolittle has spent time on the injured list in each of the past six seasons, and he recorded career highs in ERA (4.05), WHIP (1.30) and FIP (4.25) in 2019. Meanwhile, Hudson served as the team's primary closer down the stretch and during its World Series title run. Doolittle, though, is expected to regain the ninth-inning job in 2020.

Phillies: Héctor Neris
Next in line: Seranthony Domínguez, José Álvarez

After losing the closer job to Domínguez in 2018, Neris re-emerged as the Phillies' stopper last season, when Domínguez and many other Philadelphia relievers went down with injuries. Neris, a 31-year-old with a lifetime 3.29 ERA and an 11.4 K/9, is the favorite to lead the team in saves again this year.

Rangers: José Leclerc
Next in line: Rafael Montero, Jesse Chavez

Leclerc began last season as the Rangers' closer and finished it the same way, but he lost the job for a long stretch as he battled inconsistency. The hard-throwing righty can be incredibly difficult to hit (lifetime 33.0% K rate, .596 OPS against), but he will likely need to trim his walk rate (13.0% in 2019) to avoid another bumpy campaign. If the 26-year-old struggles again, Montero could get a shot.

Reds: Raisel Iglesias
Next in line: Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett

Iglesias recorded a career-high 34 saves in 2019, but his ERA jumped to 4.16 (2.47 over 2017-18), and Lorenzen collected seven saves himself. If Iglesias starts poorly this season, the club could look to Lorenzen, Garrett or even free-agent addition Pedro Strop to close.

If Raisel Iglesias starts slow, the Reds could look to one of their other bullpen options to close. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
If Raisel Iglesias starts slow, the Reds could look to one of their other bullpen options to close. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

Red Sox: Brandon Workman
Next in line: Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden

Workman enjoyed a breakout season at age 30, posting a 1.88 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings and spending the second half as Boston's closer. Amazingly, the right-hander allowed only one homer, which helped to mitigate the damage caused by his lofty 15.7% walk rate. Workman should open 2020 as the team's ninth-inning man, but fantasy managers shouldn't expect a repeat of his sub-2.00 ERA.

Rockies: Wade Davis
Next in line: Scott Oberg, Carlos Estévez

Davis performed well early in 2019, recording a 2.16 ERA with eight saves in eight chances over his first 19 games, but his season went off the rails in June. In his final 31 appearances, the veteran had a 12.81 ERA with a 22-to-19 K/BB ratio over 26 innings. Davis is being given another chance to close, but manager Bud Black likely won't hesitate to turn to Oberg (five saves, 2.25 ERA in 2019) if the incumbent continues to struggle.

Royals: Ian Kennedy
Next in line: Tim Hill, Scott Barlow

After Kennedy posted a 5.06 ERA over 52 starts spanning 2017-18, the Royals opted to move the right-hander to the bullpen last season, and the switch worked wonders. Kennedy finished 2019 with 30 saves, a 3.41 ERA and the best K-BB% (21.0%) of his career. With free agency looming after this season, the 35-year-old could be a trade candidate in August, but he can be expected to receive the majority of Kansas City's save chances before then.

Tigers: Joe Jiménez
Next in line: Buck Farmer, Jose Cisnero

Jiménez took over as the Tigers' closer after the team traded Shane Greene on July 31, and he had success in the role, collecting nine saves and recording a 3.06 ERA in his final 19 games. Jiménez, 25, has been named Detroit's primary closer, and he'll likely be given a good deal of leeway, even if his home run problems (2.0 HR/9 in 2019) persist.

White Sox: Alex Colomé
Next in line: Steve Cishek, Aaron Bummer

A mediocre strikeout rate (22.1% in 2019, 22.2% career) keeps Colomé from the elite tier of fantasy closers, but as far as the mid-level options are concerned, the right-hander is as reliable as they come. Colomé has recorded 30-plus saves in three of the past four years, and he was on pace to get there in 2018 as well before being traded to the Mariners, who used him in a setup role.

Uncertain situations

Cardinals
Favorite: Ryan Helsley

After Jordan Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery last June, the Cardinals turned to Carlos Martínez as their closer, and the right-hander successfully handled the job. Martínez is an option to remain in that role, though he is also being considered for a rotation spot. With Giovanny Gallegos yet to report to Summer Camp and Andrew Miller coming off a 4.45 ERA, the closer role could fall to Helsley if it doesn’t go to Martínez. Helsley, a hard-throwing righty, had a 2.95 ERA over 36 2/3 innings as a rookie in 2019.

Giants
Favorite: Tony Watson

The Giants have a closer vacancy after Will Smith, the team leader in saves last season, departed as a free agent to join the Braves. Although he had a career-high 4.17 ERA and 4.81 FIP in 2019, Watson is the leading contender to fill the void.

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Mariners
Favorite: Matt Magill

Six pitchers recorded at least two saves for the Mariners last season; only two -- Magill and Erik Swanson -- are still with the team. With free-agent acquisition Yoshihisa Hirano on the injured list after testing positive for COVID-19, Magill could open the year as the team's closer, with Brandon Brennan and Carl Edwards Jr. also in the mix.

Marlins
Favorite: Brandon Kintzler

Sergio Romo led the Marlins with 17 saves in 2019, but he was traded to the Twins last July. Kintzler, who recorded 45 saves for Minnesota over 2016-17, Drew Steckenrider, Ryne Stanek and Yimi García could all be a factor in the ninth inning for Miami this year.

Orioles
Favorite: Hunter Harvey

The Orioles won only 54 games last season and had just 27 saves as a team, with Mychal Givens' 11 saves leading the club. Harvey, who finally debuted in 2019 after dealing with persistent injuries in the Minors, could receive a chance to close in 2020.

Pirates
Favorite: Kyle Crick

Keone Kela hasn't reported to Summer Camp for undisclosed reasons, opening the door for someone else to step into the closer role until he is ready. Kyle Crick is one potential option, and fantasy managers should keep an eye on flamethrowing righty Nick Burdi as well.

Rays
Favorite: Nick Anderson

The Rays used multiple closers in 2019, as Emilio Pagán (20 saves), Diego Castillo (eight) and José Alvarado (seven) combined for 35 saves. Pagán was traded to the Padres in February, putting Anderson at the forefront of the saves race for Tampa Bay. Anderson's performance after joining the Rays in a trade last July was staggering, as the right-hander recorded a 2.11 ERA with a 50% K-BB% over 21 1/3 innings.

Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.

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