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The past week saw some major news stories break in bullpens all across major league baseball, and some of those stories are still “works in progress” as we head to cyber-press.

The big news, of course, came in New York, where the Yankees’ closer landed on the DL, and his formidable understudy was promoted to the ninth-inning role. Will this be a permanent change, or will the order be reset when the Yanks are again at full staffing in their ‘pen ?

We had some intrigue in the Windy City, with manager Joe Maddon yanking his closer after a leadoff walk, and basically casting doubt on who would get the ball in the ninth inning on any given day. He has since seemingly gone back to his former closer, but in a manner that does little to ease the minds of Fantasy owners.

The dreaded “Closer by Committee” appears to be in full swing down in St. Petersburg, as the Rays have deployed three different relievers in the ninth inning in recent games. While each pitcher in the mix can provide some level of Fantasy value, the mix-and-match approach continues to frustrate Fantasy owners.

From the “old faces in new places” department, a veteran closer has finally found a home on the (surprise!) North Side of Chicago; will he work his way into high-leverage situations?

Following bullpens around the league is truly a daily pursuit, so be sure to check out – and bookmark — our Bullpen Depth Charts, which are updated as news breaks… which means pretty much daily.

Who’s Out?

Andrew Miller has been one of baseball’s most dominant closers this season, but he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a forearm strain June 10, and General Manager Brian Cashman has stated that Miller could miss up to a month. Prior to going on the shelf, Miller had forged a 1.03 ERA and 0.68 WHIP, and he had fanned 43 batters in 26.1 innings – while holding opponents to a miniscule .090 batting average. It looks like Miller will be shut down entirely for two weeks, and it is quite possible that he will lose his closer’s job due to his DL stint. Park Miller on your bench for now, but be sure to stay abreast of any developments as he works through the rehabilitation process. Yes, our Bullpen Depth Charts are a good source of such information.

As we projected last week, Fernando Rodney finally wore out his welcome in Seattle’s closer’s chair…kind of. The Archer of CrookedHat lost his full-time closer’s gig, with manager Lloyd McClendon saying that he needed to “get it straightened out” and that Rodney would pitch in the eighth or ninth innings. McClendon is obviously very committed to the veteran as his closer, so chances are very good that Rodney will receive another shot at closing games someday soon. Meanwhile, current primary ninth-inning man Carson Smith should be rostered in every Fantasy league.

Who’s In?

The loss of Miller leaves a big hole to fill in the Yankees bullpen, but Dellin Betances has been one of baseball’s most dominant set-up men over the past two seasons. Betances did not allow an earned run in 2015 until June 5, and he is holding opposing hitters to a paltry .103 batting average. The ninth inning figures to be in good hands while Miller is on the shelf, and there’s a reasonable chance that Betances could hold on to the job even after his southpaw counterpart returns to the Yankee bullpen. Obviously, Betances should be owned in all Fantasy leagues. Justin Wilson will move into Betances’ former role as the primary setup man.

Whether Rodney’s demotion turns out to be permanent or temporary, the fact remains that Carson Smith has been pretty doggone good this season. Through his first 27 appearances, the 25-year-old had logged a 1.38 ERA and 0.73 WHIP, while holding opponents to a .154 BAA. and fanning 29 batters in 26 innings. Mariners’ manager Lloyd McClendon doesn’t quite seem ready to bring Rodney back to the ninth inning, so Smith should be owned in all Fantasy leagues – for now, at least.

Former Mets’ closer Bobby Parnell was activated from the disabled list June 11, and will attempt to work his way into a high-leverage role as he continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Parnell struggled to an 11.57 ERA during his rehab stint, but it’s possible he could be called upon to close when ninth-inning man Jeurys Familia goes on paternity leave.

Relievers on the Rocks

Luke Gregerson owned a 1.64 ERA at the end of April, but it’s been a bumpy ride for the Astros’ closer since then. Gregerson scuffled to a 5.91 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in May, and he was pummeled for three earned runs in just one-third of an inning June 7. Houston has two very capable set-up men in Chad Qualls and Pat Neshek, and either of them could step in and close games if Gregerson can’t turn things around.

Hector Rondon appeared to have the lost the full-time closer’s gig in Chicago, but this situation appears to be very fluid. Rondon was pulled from a save situation June 6 after walking the first batter, and manager Joe Maddon hinted that his former closer would be working in low-leverage situations at times, but stopped short of outright demoting him. Rondon worked the eighth inning the following game, with Jason Motte earning the save, but Rondon has since racked up his 10th and 11th saves – the latter with Motte warming in the bullpen. Rondon still looks like the Cubs’ reliever to own, but if you’re hurting for saves either Motte or Pedro Strop are worthwhile additions to your Fantasy roster.

Relievers on the Rise

We knew that Zach Britton was an outstanding closer, but the knock on him was his rather pedestrian strikeout rate. That has changed for the better in 2015, as Britton has fanned 33 batters in his first 25.2 innings of work. – while converting 17 of his first 18 save opportunities.

John Axford has awoken the echoes of his 2010-11 glory days, converting 11 straight save opportunities since taking over as Colorado’s closer back in late April. Axford has allowed just one earned run through his first 18 innings, and while it’s unreasonable to expect this dominance to continue, it’s clear that he has been one of the 2015 season’s biggest surprises.

Keep an eye on…

As if things weren’t already muddled enough in the Chicago Cubs bullpen, the team announced this week that it had signed former Braves, Rays, Yankees and Nationals closer Rafael Soriano to a minor league deal. Soriano had a rough second half of the season in 2014, but his 207 career saves shows that he’s no stranger to the ninth-inning pressure cooker. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon has said that Soriano probably won’t be in the majors until after the All-Star break, but this is absolutely a situation worth watching.

The Tampa Bay bullpen is still something of a mess, with both Kevin Jepsen and Jake McGee emerging as potential candidates to close in the wake of Brad Boxberger‘s recent bout with triceps stiffness. McGee was very effective in the ninth inning last year, and he recorded the save June 12, so give him a slight edge to sit in the head chair of this closer committee. Boxberger has encountered a bit of a bump in what had been a dominant season, but he has shown that he can get the job done in the ninth inning, so don’t count him out of the picture just yet. This looks like a true match-up based committee situation at this point; McGee and Boxberger should be owned in all leagues, while Jepsen is worth adding in deeper formats.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported this week that the Phillies are ready to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon, and that they were willing to eat a healthy chunk of his contract in order to get a deal done. The A’s Tyler Clippard is also rumored to be on the trading block; if either or both of these relievers were to move, it could set off a waiver-wire frenzy across the Fantasy Baseball landscape, so keep a very close eye on the news feeds as trade season approaches.

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Buck Davidson

Buck Davidson has been writing about baseball since the Internet was more a flight of fancy than a way of life. His Fantasy analysis has appeared on such websites as RotoExperts, RotoRob, Yahoo, CBS, MSN, FOXSports and KFFL.com, and he has hosted numerous Fantasy Sports podcasts over the years. For the past seven seasons, Buck has been a contributing writer for The Fantasy Baseball Guide magazine. Despite all of his years of experience, though, Buck seeks out the unique sports insight of his 95-year-old Granny Lil when the Fantasy chips are truly down.
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