Fantasy Baseball 2017: Top 5 Free-Agent Relief Pitchers

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The Winter Meetings are right around the corner and the results affect the landscape of fantasy baseball. Here are the top five free agent relief pitchers.

The relief pitcher, and more specifically the closer, position is a fickle one. At one minute a pitcher could be the closer and the next he is the set-up man. That makes the position the hardest to predict in fantasy baseball. There are the top-tier closers and then those that get the job halfway through the season and become a top-five option.

We’ve seen over the last couple of years teams sign a closer, even though there is already one in place. Looking at the teams left in the playoffs, you can never have too many good relief pitchers. Even some of the set-up pitchers have fantasy value, whether you use holds as a pitching category or not.

There are a lot of free agent relief pitchers available to teams this winter. Some can change the direction of a franchise and others can add to its success. The five relief pitchers I listed here have had a lot of success throughout their careers and have been fantasy superstars at one time.

Before I get into the top five, there are some others I want to talk about.

Sergio Romo – Between 2013 and 2014, Romo was the San Francisco Giants closer. He recorded 61 saves with a 3.12 ERA, 1.101 WHIP and 8.9 K/9 in that span.

While he did lose his job in 2015, he has still been a good relief pitcher, posting a combined 2.86 ERA and 1.068 WHIP in the last two seasons.

Whether he gets another chance at closing is unknown, but he will be a serviceable reliever in most leagues.

J.J. Hoover – The young Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher had a disappointing season. In 18 games, he finished with a 13.50 ERA and 2.196 WHIP with just one save. His last game pitched was June 28.

Things got so bad that the Reds decided to outright him to Triple-A Louisville. He entered the season as the Reds closer, but it didn’t last long as he blew his first save opportunity. I don’t think he’ll be any team’s  closer, but as a middle reliever seems more likely.

Santiago Casilla – Romo’s teammate is also a free agent this winter. He took the closer role from Romo last season and recorded 38 and 31 saves in the last two seasons, respectively. He has a combined 3.18 ERA, 1.233 WHIP and 9.9 K/9 in that span.

With some of the other options out there, I think Casilla stays in San Francisco despite being 36 years old. He had a dip in performance this season, but a bounce back doesn’t seem out of the question.

The five pitchers listed are outright free agents. I did not include pitchers who have club or mutual options as I cannot predict if the team will decide to keep them for the 2017 season.

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Aroldis Chapman is one of the free-agent closers still pitching in the playoffs. His performance could determine which teams go after him. His life outside of baseball may have some teams concerned.

Chapman started the season with the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers did not have to give up much for Chapman. They just had to wait out his 30-game suspension. With the other two relievers they had in the bullpen, it didn’t seem to matter.

With his impending free agency, the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs for top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres among others.

Between the two teams, Chapman posted a 1.55 ERA, 0.862 WHIP, 14.0 K/9 and 36 saves.

There are many reports stating that a reunion between the Yankees and Chapman next season could happen. If it does happen, Chapman will be a top-five closer. The Yankees traded Andrew Miller and have Dellin Betances as the only other option.

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Kenley Jansen is the other relief pitcher still playing.

Jansen was lights out during the regular season. He posted a career-high 47 saves with a 1.83 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 13.6 K/9. He finished as the No. 1 closer on the ESPN Player Rater, ahead of Zach Britton my 0.54 points.

With the season he had, I fail to see any situation where the Los Angeles Dodgers do not bring back Jansen for 2017 and beyond. While he did break down during Game 3 of the NLCS, it was a non-save situation.

I say that drafted an elite closer early is a mistake. There are plenty of others worth drafting late. However, in real baseball, a top-tier closer is necessary to win a division and beyond.

He is 29-years-old, but there have been other fantasy-relevant closers older than that. Jansen will re-sign with the Dodgers and continue to be a top-five closer in fantasy.

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Jonathan Papelbon‘s career has been a roller coaster to say the least. He was the game’s best closer with the Boston Red Sox and then was the biggest drama queen with the Washington Nationals.

Things got so bad between Papelbon and the Nationals that the team flat-out released him in August. He wanted to be the team’s closer, and he was for a while, but the team brought in Mark Melancon (spoiler alert) for the second half of the season.

There have been rumors that a return to Boston could happen. The current Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel had his own share of problems on the mound and the other members of the Boston bullpen are getting up there in age.

Papelbon is 35 years old, but his performance in his 30 to 34-year seasons prove that he can still be an elite option. I don’t seen any other team, like the Chapman situation, that would be willing to pay Papelbon what he would demand and deal with any extra baggage he may bring.

There also hasn’t been any news from the Papelbon camp, so he might not even pitch next season.

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The Nationals had enough of the Papelbon drama and traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Mark Melancon. On a half-year rental, Melancon was effective.

In 30 games, he had a 1.82 ERA, 0.809 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 17 saves. He isn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, but he doesn’t allow many base runners. He finished No. 3 among relievers on the Player Rater.

Of all the free agent closers, not relief pitchers, Melancon is the cheapest option because of the lack of overpowering stuff. A reunion to Pittsburgh could happen. The Pirates were a big disappointment and could use Melancon back in the ninth inning.

I don’t see why the Nationals wouldn’t try to re-sign him, either. The Nationals have other bullpen arms, but none as consistent as Melancon has been throughout his career.

He is one of those closers that you could find later in your fantasy baseball draft.

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This looks like a list of former Nationals closers. He spent six years with Washington before splitting time with the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. The Blue Jays traded for him in the offseason, and many thought he was going to be the closer, but the job ended up going to Roberto Osuna.

As the set-up man, Storen didn’t perform well. He posted a 6.21 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and 8.6 K/9. He recorded three saves, mostly because Osuna needed a day off. Storen was then traded to Seattle for Joaquin Benoit.

He had a better time in the Pacific Northwest. In 19 games, he had a 3.44 ERA, 0.873 WHIP and 7.9 K/9. While the Mariners had a closer in Edwin Diaz in the second half, Storen was a good hand out of the bullpen.

He lost a lot of fantasy value after leaving the Nationals. He is still a good pitcher, but had a hard time adjusting to pitching in the eighth inning.

The Mariners’ Steve Cishek underwent surgery and could miss the first couple of months, so the team could want to bring back Storen. However, I think he will look for a closing job elsewhere.

Storen won’t have much fantasy value in standard leagues, but in deep-team or league-only leagues, he is likely to be owned.

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The fantasy baseball value for these pitchers depends on where they signs. While relief pitchers don’t face the full lineup, pitching against the heart of the order in a pressure situation could rattle even the best closers.

Just look at the numbers between Kimbrel in the American League East and Jeurys Familia in the National League East. The two divisions had two completely different offenses and it showed in the pitchers’ numbers.

There are elite closers that will be drafted earlier than others, one even on this list. I still think building your starting rotation first and focusing on the bullpen later is the best bet for success. You can even punt saves and worry about the ratio stats with middle relief pitchers.

This offseason is going to be very interesting and, as always, there will be a lot of eyebrow-raising moves.

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