2014 Outlook: Signed as the Houston Astros' four-month "Rent-a-Closer" for the 2013 season, Veras might do that dance again this year, but this time for the Chicago Cubs. He notched 19 saves last season for the Astros, then two more following his trade to the Detroit Tigers, along with a career-low WHIP fueled by personal bests in terms of his walk and strikeout-to-walk ratios. Veras becomes the most natural choice to close for the Cubs, but again might be a candidate for a midseason trade, something fantasy owners fear due to the prospect he'd no longer garner save chances for his new team. He's a worthwhile second- or third-tier closer ... well, for so long as he's closing.
2014 Outlook: Until the Cleveland Indians inked John Axford in December, Allen appeared the odds-on favorite to close for them, and considering Axford's two-year pattern of struggles in the role, Allen is a smart handcuff or speculative AL-only save candidate. Though a fly-ball pitcher, Allen has a high strikeout rate and fairly balanced splits -- traits that make him every bit as likely to succeed in the role as Axford. Allen's WHIP is a tad high to be a ratio helper in shallow mixed leagues, but he has an ERA/K's/holds combination that would be attractive in deeper formats that count them.
2014 Outlook: An innings-eating, late-in-the-game relief dynamo, Clippard is one the rare pitchers with both the track record and volume to drive your ERA, WHIP and strikeout categories. Consider that from 2011-13, he has the third-most saves plus holds in baseball (116), making him a prime choice in holds leagues and a wise handcuff to Rafael Soriano if your team is afforded an extensive bench.
2014 Outlook: Wood's career got off to an impressive start, albeit aided by a low home run-per-fly ball rate. On the other hand, his hit rate was high, even for a ground-ball artist. The lack of a reliable baseline makes Wood a pretty big risk, despite the optimistic outlook. The league should catch on to his deceptive motion, and then it will be up to Wood to adjust back. Then there's the issue of a crowded Braves rotation, though Wood should get his chances. Especially compared to the other young arms that debuted the past couple of seasons, Wood is flying under the radar, so the cost to see just how good he is seems worth the risk, especially if you can stash him in the event he begins the season in the bullpen.
2014 Outlook: What is it with the Seattle Mariners and unearthing relief gems? First came Tom Wilhelmsen, who saved 53 games combined in 2012 and 2013. Then came Farquhar, who subsequently took the job from Wilhelmsen and saved 16 games with a 2.38 ERA and 33.0 percent strikeout rate from Aug. 1 to the end of the season. Considering Wilhelmsen's short stint in the closer role, fantasy owners might shy away from trusting Farquhar, noting his lack of an extended track record. But those owners might be missing out on a high-ceiling strikeout artist: Farquhar's success was directly related to his abandoning multiple arm angles; he decided upon a conventional overhand delivery that helped add ticks to both his fastball velocity and K rate. Among the lower-tier fantasy closers, Farquhar has a high ceiling, though he's understandably ranked there because of the short track record.
2014 Outlook: After a one-year blip in Boston, Melancon rebounded as one of the game's top setup men in Pittsburgh, posting the ninth-most holds (26) and 30th-most saves (16) last season, the latter accrued as a late-season fill-in for the injured Jason Grilli. That alone is compelling evidence to make him one of the top saves handcuffs on draft day, although Melancon's value is greater than that: He's an outstanding holds getter, and he's skilled enough in ERA/WHIP/K's to bolster those categories even in shallow mixed leagues. Melancon's command only continues to improve with experience, and he should be one of the first setup men off your board.
2014 Outlook: Hawkins has been anointed the Colorado Rockies' closer and many are comparing this to last year when Brandon League was named the Los Angeles Dodgers' closer, even though it was a foregone conclusion that Kenley Jansen would take over sooner than later. Hawkins is tasked with fending off Rex Brothers. The concern surrounding the 41-year-old Hawkins is he doesn't miss nearly as many bats as he did in his younger days. The Rockies are banking on his ground-ball tendencies to keep the ball in the yard. In his favor is the fact Hawkins is stingy with the free passes. The bottom line is Brothers is indeed better suited to handle the role and water always finds its level. But that doesn't mean you can't pick up Hawkins on the cheap, get a handful of saves and be ready to bail if necessary.
2014 Outlook: Acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in July, Strop was a sensation for the Chicago Cubs last season, posting a 2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 14 holds in 37 appearances for his new team, fueled by a 7.7 percent walk rate that was a substantial improvement upon his 13.4 percent number up to that point in his career. He put himself firmly in contention for a future closer role, though the Cubs signed successful 2013 closer Jose Veras as a stopgap, albeit perhaps for the early stages of 2014. Strop should begin 2014 as Veras' primary setup man and handcuff, and while his WHIP is a tad risky, he should be of service helping your ERA/WHIP/K's while filling the holds column.
2014 Outlook: Putz has been one of the more successful late-inning relievers in baseball the past four seasons -- his 2.56 ERA and 1.04 WHIP during that time rank 17th and 12th, respectively, among the 70 relievers with at least 200 innings pitched -- but injuries have cost him considerable time, and he has been unfortunate in that his fill-ins have pitched well in his absence. The Arizona Diamondbacks, perhaps tired of needing contingency plans, acquired Addison Reed this winter to close, rendering Putz either a setup man or trade bait. This will be the first of his four seasons in Arizona that Putz won't begin as closer, the tables turned, as he'll be the likely fill-in should Reed need one. NL-only owners might find use in Putz's ratios, and he's a handcuff in the deepest of formats.
2014 Outlook: O'Day is a puzzling statistical case: He's a sidearm sinkerballer who you might expect would have a wide platoon split and a high ground-ball rate, but who in actuality has experienced occasional success against lefties and has a high fly-ball rate. The reason is his increasing reliance upon a slider, which gives him a fighting chance against lefties and makes him enough of a swing-and-miss reliever to be an ERA/WHIP/K's helper. He's a candidate for the Baltimore Orioles' wide-open closer role and one with a bit less risk of statistical collapse than the favorite, Tommy Hunter. At the bare minimum he'll be an excellent AL-only or deep-mixed ratio supporter, and a prime pick in leagues that reward holds.
2014 Outlook: If you're looking for an off-the-radar choice as next in line for saves, think about Hoover in the event that Aroldis Chapman suffers an injury. That said, beware that Hoover's ERA cannot be viewed in a vacuum. A .229 BABIP is sure to regress, and when it does, his ERA should be sucked up a bit toward a career 3.38 FIP and 4.11 xFIP. Better control would help counter that, and his minor league history suggests it could be coming.
2014 Outlook: An extreme ground-ball pitcher who for years experienced wide lefty/righty platoon splits, Ziegler has made tremendous strides in that regard of late, 2013 representing the third consecutive season he lowered his OPS against left-handers (his .647 was a career best). It's that skills bump that earned him a brief stint in the closer role, although entering 2014, Ziegler might stand third in the Arizona Diamondbacks' pecking order for saves, behind Addison Reed and J.J. Putz. Ziegler's more complete game should result in enough holds to matter in leagues that count them, as well as a low-enough ERA and WHIP to be of use in NL-only formats.
2014 Outlook: Ross is one of the more popular breakout candidates in 2014 coming on the heels of a stellar second half last season. His 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings was the 11th-best mark of any pitcher tossing at least 40 post-All-Star break innings. Combined with walking only 2.6 batters per nine innings over that stretch, Ross was one of the league's best second-half hurlers. However, since the post-break strikeout and walk rates were both so superior to career norms, some regression should be expected. The breakout potential is there, just be cautious about chasing a little more than two months worth of data that is so different from the previous body of work.
2014 Outlook: McGee didn't pitch as poorly as his 4.02 ERA indicates, as his 3.11 xFIP was right in line with his career 3.28 ERA. A high home-run-per-fly-ball rate chased a few extra runners home, elevating his ERA. Despite throwing fewer innings than other middle relievers, an exceptional strikeout rate puts him on the radar in deep leagues to protect ratios. With Grant Balfour back, saves are not likely, but McGee has a good chance to be among the league leaders in holds.
2014 Outlook: Since his three-year run as one of fantasy baseball's best closers from 2009-11, Bell has passed through two organizations, accruing some closer time with each despite ERAs north of 4. He'll join his third team in as many years, and before the Tampa Bay Rays signed Grant Balfour, it appeared Bell might be the Rays' latest ninth-inning reclamation project. Bell might still be a "fix" candidate even in a setup capacity, so there's some holds and handcuff appeal in his arm, but until we see evidence of it in the spring (or early season), he cannot be trusted for ratios help.