After a dizzying few days, we’re finally starting to recover from the chaos of the 2023 trade deadline. The landscape of the league has shifted dramatically over the last week — Justin Verlander is an Astro; Max Scherzer (and Jordan Montgomery) is a Ranger; the Dodgers, Rays and Orioles all found themselves a starting pitcher, the Angels are possibly regretting going all in while the Cubs definitely aren’t — and, like every year, the bullpen picture for several teams (buyers and sellers) has been flipped upside down.
So, as we do every week, we’re here to help sort through the chaos and help you navigate the saves market in your fantasy baseball league. How can you get an advantage down the stretch? Who was on the move, and who’s likely to replace them? Which closing situations look like they could be in flux? We’ll go through all that and more along with a full depth chart of every bullpen in the league.
Relief pitcher notes: Week 19
- After Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo Lopez, Joe Kelly and Keynan Middleton were sent packing as part of Chicago’s deadline fire sale, Gregory Santos is just about the only one left in that bullpen. He’ll slot into the ninth inning almost by default — at least until Liam Hendriks returns from his elbow injury — but he also has electric stuff, with a sinker that can touch 100 mph and a slider that batters are hitting just .192 against. He owns a 2.63 ERA on the year and converted the Sox’ most recent save chance back on July 28. While there don’t figure to be a ton of opportunities on a team playing out the string, this should be Santos’ job to lose.
- Most assumed that the closer’s role in Queens would go to Adam Ottavino with David Robertson departed for Miami, but instead it’s been the lefty Brooks Raley who locked down two save chances after the Robertson deal. Yes, he coughed up a game against the Royals last week on a wacky walk-off balk, but his ERA is still nearly a full run lower than Ottavino’s this year and he doesn’t appear to have lost the trust of manager Buck Showalter. The Mets are obviously a depleted team, but there’s still enough offensive punch here to give Raley some regular leads to hold over the last two months.
- Scott Barlow was Kansas City’s closer, but the team’s best reliever of late had been Hernandez, who has a 1.40 ERA over 18 appearances dating back to June 18. With Barlow now serving as Josh Hader’s set-up man in San Diego, this job is unquestionably Hernandez’s for the rest of the year, and the Royals’ lineup has been surprisingly frisky of late. Worst case, he’ll help smooth out your ratios while serving as a steady source of strikeouts.
- Much to everyone’s surprise, it’s been the lefty JoJo Romero — not Giovanny Gallegos — who’s handled the ninth inning for the Cardinals most often since closer Jordan Hicks was traded away. He nailed down a save on July 30, then protected a four-run lead in a win on August 2. Gallegos, meanwhile, has appeared in just one game this month, finishing up the ninth in a 6-2 win over the Rockies. And then there’s the health of Ryan Helsley to consider: Out for almost two months with an elbow injury, the flamethrower began a rehab assignment over the weekend and seems likely to return at some point in the next couple of weeks. Romero is a lefty, so the team might want to move him around a bit, but he’s been very good this year with a 3.08 FIP and 22 strikeouts in 21.2 innings. St. Louis is punting on the rest of the season, but there’s still more than enough talent to give whoever earns the closer’s role plenty of opportunities.
- Craig Kimbrel coughed up another save last week in Miami, and has looked awfully shaky of late amid reports that he’s tipping his pitches. Seranthony Dominguez has been throwing the ball well since coming off the IL in late July, and with Gregory Soto hard to trust and Jose Alvarado still on the shelf, the hard-throwing righty will be the only real option in the ninth should Kimbrel falter enough to lose his grip on the job.
- It appears that Toronto wants to use the newly-acquired Jordan Hicks in more of a high-leverage role, moving him around based on matchups. It was Erik Swanson who got the team’s first post-trade deadline save opportunity, converting with a clean inning and two strikeouts earlier this week. Jordan Romano should be back at some point this month, but back trouble can also be very tricky, and Toronto figures to not want to push him before he’s 100%. Swanson has the strikeout stuff associated with the ninth inning, and the Jays liked him enough to acquire him for Teoscar Hernandez over the winter.
- Unsurprisingly, the D-backs have used Paul Sewald as their undisputed guy in the ninth inning since acquiring him from the Mariners last week, and that figures to continue to despite serving up a walk-off homer in Minnesota over the weekend. In Seattle, meanwhile, Andres Munoz has taken the closer’s job and ran with it, with 100-mph heat that could make him a difference-maker in fantasy leagues down the stretch.