In mixed leagues, it's nice to have three closers to open the season, but it's by no means a requirement. Actually, rather than paying for that third stopper, my formula for addressing the saves category is usually to draft one top-tier closer, one closer who isn't exceptional but faces very little job competition and one high-end setup man who has a legitimate chance to take over the closer role at some point during the first half. This worked out rather well for me in Mixed Auction Tout Wars last year as I purchased the trio of David Robertson, Addison Reed and Mark Melancon. Robertson was outstanding from start to finish. Reed was tough to watch at times but he did manage to hold onto the ninth inning gig for the entire season, saving 32 games while whiffing well over a batter per inning. As for Melancon, he replaced Jason Grilli as the Pirates closer in mid-May and never looked back.
Can I repeat this feat in 2015? I sure hope so. But the key will be the third part, that is identifying the right setup man. Blowing out your FAAB budget on speculative or short-term closers during the season can be damaging, so getting 30-plus saves out of a $1 or $2 draft day investment is huge. Here are some of this year's top candidates. Note that all of these relievers have already been drafted in my 50-round NFBC Draft Champions league, and we're roughly halfway complete. I've included their draft position along with the draft position of their team's expected Opening Day closer.
Brad Boxberger (13.10), Jake McGee (13.08) - Boxberger was the first non-closer relief pitcher selected, and for good reason. The 26-year-old is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.37 ERA and 0.84 WHIP while striking out more than 14 batters per nine innings. McGee was no slouch either, registering a 1.89 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 11.4 K/9. Although he figures to open the season as Tampa Bay's closer, the leash won't be too long with Boxberger waiting in the wings. Still, McGee did rack up 19 saves last year, so he's already proven he can handle the role. Boxberger might offer the best ratios of any setup man on this list, but it also would not be surprising if he receives the fewest number of save chances.
Joakim Soria (21.03), Joe Nathan (17.03) - The overwhelming majority of owners seem to have completely given up on Nathan, and that's understandable. Yeah, he did improve in the second half last season, but his first half was so horrendous that an improvement isn't saying much. I wouldn't mind Nathan as my third closer, but I won't be going out of my way to draft him either since taking him necessitates using another pick on Soria to provide a handcuff (a la fantasy football). The owner of 178 career saves, Soria certainly boasts the kind of ninth inning track record that any owner would be looking for in a late-round flier. I'm surprised he fell to the 21st round.
Sergio Romo (22.05), Santiago Casilla (12.07) - This is a Lawr Michaels Zen thing, because I have no convincing data to suggest that Casilla is bound to lose his grip on the closer job. He's been a highly effective big league reliever for quite some time now, regardless of which inning he pitches. But I just have a feeling that Romo will be saving games before the 2015 campaign is through. He was a top-10 fantasy closer in 2013 before a few poor outings doomed him last year. And he quickly rebounded, recording a 1.80 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in the second half. I think the Giants prefer Romo as their closer, but again, this is strictly a Zen thing.
Adam Ottavino (24.08), LaTroy Hawkins (20.04) - Hawkins cannot possibly survive another full season as a closer, can he? It's possible, but I don't think any of us can confidently predict the performance level of any Rockies pitcher, let alone a 42-year-old. Well, Ottavino (70-to-16 K/BB ratio last season) is the guy to own if you're banking on a Hawkins demotion. Honestly, I'd rather avoid this situation entirely.
Bobby Parnell (25.01), Jenrry Mejia (14.03) - Mets Manager Terry Collins was quoted over the winter saying that the team would like to reinstall Parnell as their closer once he proves to be healthy. On his way back from Tommy John surgery, Parnell is expected to miss the first month of the season and Mejia was solid in the closer role last year, so he will probably need to struggle in April to open the door for Parnell. But as you can tell from the 11-round draft position discrepancy, the market isn't taking Collins' comments too seriously. Parnell's progress is worth monitoring closely throughout the spring. He makes for a sneaky late-round lottery ticket in deeper leagues.