20. Jonathan Broxton, Cincinnati Reds
The Reds feel comfortable enough with Broxton to move Aroldis Chapman, who would otherwise be a top five closer, to the rotation. Broxton was excellent last season, but isn’t striking out anyone and has a track record of injuries and inconsistency.
19. Casey Janssen, Toronto Blue Jays
Everyone loves a closer on a good team, especially one coming off a year where batters hit under .200 against him. His stats have improved three years in a row. My biggest concern is that Sergio Santos was originally brought it to be the closer, making me wonder how long Janssen’s leash will be if he struggles. He’s also coming off shoulder surgery and will be pushing it to get back by opening day. What if Santos starts the year as the closer and doesn’t relinquish? That makes me uneasy, but he was very good last season and figures to be the closer for one of the best teams in baseball.
18. Addison Reed, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox would like to see the young (24) Addison Reed become their stopper for the years ahead, and he has the stuff to do it. Without other thrilling options, he will be given the first shot.
17. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers
With 39 walks, an ERA over 4.60, and the temporary loss of his closer’s gig, 2012 was not a pretty year for John Axford. On the bright side, he did record 93 strikeouts, an improvement from his two very successful prior seasons. So his stuff is still there, he just needs to improve his control. A bounce-back is likely.
16. Grant Balfour, Oakland Athletics
I originally planned on leaving Grant off the top 20 list due to his offseason knee surgery, however he has made an ahead of schedule recovery and is expected to be ready for opening day. The veteran Australian has been great for the last three seasons and was very effective down the stretch for the AL West champion Athletics. Oakland management typically has a quick trigger finger with their closer, but Balfour figures to be their best option.
15. Rafael Betancourt, Colorado Rockies
The veteran Betancourt has long been an elite set-up man and last year proved he could be a top stopper. He doesn’t get a ton of strikeouts, and they’ve been on a steady decline over the past three seasons, which is cause for concern. Nonetheless, he has a firm grip on the closer’s job and has been a steadying force for practically every bullpen he’s been in.
14. Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals
At 27 years old, Holland could be one of baseball’s bright young closers if he can improve his command. 34 walks was ugly, but 91 Ks was nasty.
13. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks
Putz, at 14th, is the last established closer off the board. If you haven’t grabbed your top closer to this point, grab Putz before he’s gone. J.J. has posted three consecutive strong seasons with Arizona and although he’s 36 and had a tendency to get nicked up, he’s got a track record of reliability. Putz is a solid #2 fantasy closer and the last acceptable #1 closer in my book.
12. Huston Street, San Diego Padres
I’m less concerned about him playing on a poor team (remember Soria racking up saves for a bad Royals team?) than I am his health. He is consistent though. He’ll pitch effectively when healthy – likely under 50 innings – and manage 20-3o saves.
11. Joel Hanrahan, Boston Red Sox
Minor struggles as he adjusts to the AL East and pitching in Fenway should be expected, but after back-to-back all-star appearances, Hanrahan is one of the more reliable players at a very volatile position. He’ll need to tame his walk rate, which got a little wacky last season to succeed in the American League.
1o. Tom Wilhelmsen, Seattle Mariners
He pitched like a top tier closer last season, is only 29 years old, and is on a much improved Mariners team. He has a firm grip on the closer’s job and is a great value pick for a #2 fantasy closer. Also in his favor is his nifty new change-up.
9. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
Johnson had 51 saves and 41 Ks in 2012. He is a ground ball pitcher unlike flamethrowers like Craig Kimbrel who we are more comfortable with in a closer’s role. His 2012 post All-Star Break numbers aren’t pretty: 4.02 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, .290 BAA. His ERA was only 2.49 last season. It may jump a whole run in 2013, but even so, he’ll be a worthwhile closer and is more of a sure thing than most.
8. Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
Three straight seasons with a sub-1.00 WHIP and the closers job is finally his. This should be the year he becomes a household name.
7. Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers
Nathan is just two saves away from 300 in his career. He is one of the great closers of our time – right behind Rivera and Hoffman – and has overcome the injury that caused him to miss 2010. Seemingly completely over the injury, two seasons later, the only problem I have with Nathan is his age (38).
6. Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
After an Eric Gagne-esque season, don’t pay for a repeat from a soon to be 36-year old closer who had an ERA over 4.00 every year of his career except 2005, 2006, and of course 2012.
5. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
ACL surgery, the long layoff since he last pitched (in May), and his advanced age (43) are risks, but may make the greatest closer of all-time a bargain.
4. Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals
Soriano had a great season after taking over the closer’s role from the injured Mariano Rivera. With the exception of 2o11, his first year in pinstripes, he’s been great since 2006. There’s no reason to think he won’t be very effective playing for one of the best teams in the National League.
3. Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Not the track record of Jonathan Papelbon, but his BAA has decreased three straight seasons and he was among the very best last season.
2. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies
Reliability is what you want when you draft a closer in the top 100 picks and Papelbon has seven straight seasons of 30+ saves and has never posted an ERA over 4.00. He also K’d 92 in 2012.
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves
The undisputed top closer in baseball, Craig Kimbrel is the only closer worth drafting in the first five rounds of a fantasy draft. With 127 and 116 strikeouts in 2011 and 2012 respectively, his contribution goes beyond just the saves category.
We hope this serves as useful guidance in your fantasy drafts, or just learning about the league’s best stoppers in 2013.
Ryan Kantor of “Reading Between the Seams”, for War Room Sports
Ryan Kantor is an author at Reading Between the Seams. He is a life-long Yankees fan and a proud Clemson alumnus, residing in North Carolina, where he works in marketing research. For more stories like this, you can visit his personal blog at RyanKantor.com and follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Kantor.