It's been a while since we've seen a formal changing of the guard at closer. These things tend to happen more gradually these days, through the observance of a trend rather than the abruptness of an announcement. But indeed, over the weekend, the Rangers announced they were removing Joe Barlow from the role, for reasons other than performance.
Per Chris Woodward today: Rangers will remove Joe Barlow from closing for time being. Still belief he can close, but Rangers want to take some stress off him— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) July 8, 2022
They didn't announce a replacement at the time, but in the days since, it's been made abundantly clear.
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).
Brett Martin, a left-hander, is the Rangers' choice to replace Barlow, and the clarity is a refreshing change of pace. It helps that the team has been inundated with save chances since the announcement was made Friday. We're talking three in four days, and Martin successfully handled all of them. Dennis Santana may have seemed like the more logical choice, being a right-hander who had already established himself as the eighth-inning guy, but he worked ahead of Martin in all three instances.
It doesn't mean Martin is a sure bet to keep the role. The strikeout rate is suspect, though he generates whiffs and keeps the ball on the ground. A dark horse alternative is former closer Jose Leclerc, who recently returned from Tommy John surgery.
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Emilio Pagan's removal from the closer role at the start of July seemed to signal the coronation of rookie Jhoan Duran, who has been the Twins' best reliever this year with numbers befitting a closer. But the Twins have continued to use him in high-leverage spots other than the ninth inning, most recently in the eighth Sunday to set up Tyler Duffey. Duffey has been far from reliable the past two years, and the save was only his second as compared to Duran's five. It still seems inevitable Duran will close eventually, especially since Pagan has continued to flounder in his reduced role.
This one has only gotten messier over the past week. Phillies manager Rob Thomson continues to flip-flop between Seranthony Dominguez and Brad Hand, with one working the eighth inning one day and the ninth the next, but then out of nowhere, he turned to ousted closer Corey Knebel for the save Saturday. Presumably, it was because Dominguez and Hand had each worked two straight, with one getting the save one day and the other the next, but Knebel does have eight straight scoreless appearances with a combined one hit allowed. Dominguez still stands out in terms of talent, but I wouldn't be surprised to see any of these three get the next save.
I'm thinking this week is the last time I'll need to feature Mariners for a while, and it's probably been a full calendar year (about the time they traded Kendall Graveman to the Astros) since I could say that. Manager Scott Servais hasn't made any official declarations or anything, but if actions speak louder than words, then his would suggest that Paul Sewald is now the Mariners closer, plain and simple. The right-hander has recorded six of the team's past eight saves, and the only two he didn't get were on days he was unavailable.
Any threat Ken Giles may have presented was effectively eliminated when he landed on the IL with shoulder tightness Saturday. Sewald has been the Mariners' most effective reliever the past two years, so you should feel confident he'll take this opportunity and run with it.
Over the past week, Craig Kimbrel has received a clean CT scan on his back and a vote of confidence from manager Dave Roberts, who said he's "not even considering" making a change at closer. The fact he had to say it, though, tells you how things are going. Once considered the gold standard among closers, Kimbrel has been plagued by inconsistencies the past few years and has failed to get the job done in two of his past four appearances (though only one was technically a blown save).
It's important, then, to know who the backup plan is, and Brusdar Graterol has emerged as such following Daniel Hudson's season-ending elbow injury. The 23-year-old with the wipeout 100 mph sinker has gotten two saves already this month, including the most recent one when Kimbrel was unavailable Sunday.
Kenley Jansen is expected back Tuesday, so his replacement may seem like a moot point. You never know when that irregular heartbeat could come back, though, given all the times he's had to deal with it already, and of course, any number of other health issues could come up. It's worth noting, then, that A.J. Minter got the final two save chances in his absence, with Will Smith working the eighth inning in the latest one Friday. Smith, who was the Braves' closer last year, got three saves of his own while Jansen was sidelined. Even without saves, Minter offers some value as a ratios standout, so he's clearly the one to hold onto.
Just when you thought David Bednar had entrenched himself as the Pirates closer, rookie Yerry De Los Santos jumps in to record three saves in the span of two weeks, including the latest Monday at Miami. In that instance, it was clear Bednar needed a day off. He had worked three of the previous four days. The other two were less straightforward, though. De Los Santos even bailed out Bednar in a ninth inning gone awry back on June 30. Bednar was just named to the All-Star team and isn't at real risk of being overtaken, but De Los Santos has emerged as the clear next in line.
Since returning from a lengthy absence for Achilles tendinitis, Aroldis Chapman has made four appearances, none in what anyone would consider a high-leverage spot. The velocity has been fine, but the control has been shaky. Meanwhile, Clay Holmes has registered two more saves during that stretch, and hey now, he's an All-Star. In leagues deep enough that every save comes at a premium, it still seems premature to drop Chapman, but Holmes appears to have a stranglehold on the closer role right now.
Dany Jimenez, who has been out since June 18 with a strained shoulder, is on the verge of a rehab assignment that's expected to be brief. He did a bang-up job as Athletics closer for about six weeks before unraveling toward the end of May, and it's possible health played a part in that unraveling. Would the Athletics consider going back to him, then, even though Lou Trivino has gone a perfect 5 for 5 in his absence? Trivino lost the job to Jimenez early on and still has a 6.66 ERA for the year. In leagues where saves are scarce, you at least have to consider the possibility.
Over the past three weeks, manager David Bell has treated Hunter Strickland as much like a conventional closer as any reliever he's had, going nearly as far as to name him to the role at one point. Of course, Alexis Diaz was sidelined by a biceps injury for most of that stretch, having only returned Friday. The brother of Mets closer Edwin Diaz has been far and away the Reds' best reliever and seemed to be emerging as a favorite for saves prior to the injury. He struck out three in a scoreless eighth inning Friday before turning the ball over to Strickland, whose ERA is still hovering around 5.00. I expect the cream to rise to the top here.