"Don't Pay for Saves" is a common refrain among fantasy baseball experts, but now that you've emerged from your draft without splurging on the bullpen, what do you do next?
Obviously, you don't want to trade your best players for help at closer, that would defeat the purpose of skimping on saves in the first place.
The owners who paid for saves won't be in a hurry to give them up, and the owners who didn't will provide plenty of competition on the waiver wire.
Aw, come on. Buck up buddy. Your situation isn't unique, and it's really not all that bad.
Picking up saves in-season is like shopping at a thrift store. Some of the options may look ugly, but with a little bit of time and an opportunistic approach, you'll eventually bring home a bargain.
Forget About Saves
Yeah, I know it doesn't make much sense at first, but stay with me for a minute. At this point in the season, the top of the saves leaderboard is the last place to look for closer trade targets.
Most teams have played about 15 games, not even a tenth of a full season. It'd be silly use such a tiny sample to make a sweeping judgement about a stat that depends almost completely on opportunity.
Still, it's likely that some of your leaguemates will take this approach. With that in mind, train your trading binoculars on established closers who haven't converted many saves yet.
Jordan Walden is a perfect example.
His Los Angeles Angels have stumbled out of gate (obviously no surprise since they blew $250 million on some talentless scrub named Pujols) and as a result, Walden has been presented with exactly one save chance through his team's first 16 games.
He converted that chance, and he'll convert at least 30 more.
Walden is an elite closer. Everything we knew about him before the season is still true.
He's fanned nearly 30 percent of the hitters he's faced, and although his ERA is a bit ugly, his 2.93 FIP shows that he'll be just fine.
Still, with only one save under his belt, Walden can be had for a discount. It'll take a quality player, but certainly not a superstar.
Somebody like Josh Willingham or Jhonny Peralta wouldn't normally return a top-10 closer, but in Walden's case, that's a good place to start.
Look for Ugly ERAs
Just like saves, a closer's ERA can fall victim to small sample bias early in the season. Just one or two misplaced ground balls leading to just one or two runs can quickly wreck a reliever's ERA.
Let's take a look at our old friend Frank Francisco.
He's converted three saves for the surprisingly decent New York Mets, but his 8.31 ERA seems to portend unavoidable ugliness down the road.
However, a closer look at his peripherals reveals harbingers of forthcoming fantasy goodness.
Francisco has faced 32 batters this season, and he's struck out eight of them. That's good for a K/9 of 11.37, his best mark since 2008.
I know, I know, his sky-high ERA is still staring you in the face, but his 1.83 FIP proves that Francisco's struggles have been the fault of bad luck as much as anything else.
If you're in a shallow league, someone may have made the mistake of dropping him. Grab him now if you can.
If you happen to be in the 79 percent of leagues in which Francisco is still owned, offer to take him off his owner's hands. I imagine they won't need much coaxing.
Follow Up a Meltdown
No matter how reliable he is, every closer is going to blow at least a couple of saves (Jose Valverde's fluky 2011 season notwithstanding). We all know it's coming, but having to stare at "INF" in the WHIP column and an 81.00 ERA has a way of putting patience and logic out of reach.
However, you can take advantage because you approach your fantasy team with a perfectly rational outlook.
Right? Of course you do.
If you're targeting a particular closer in a trade, keep your eye on his box scores and make an offer immediately after he has a meltdown.
Assuming that he isn't making implosion a regular habit, that one outing shouldn't change your opinion of his skills as a closer. However, I'd wager it'll definitely have an impact on his owner's willingness to talk trade.
The key is to move quickly.
Your initial offer can be a bit on the low end, but make sure it's realistic. A long haggling process is not what you want in this case. In order to maintain your advantage, you'll need to agree on and execute the trade while the blown save is still fresh in your trading partner's mind.
Take your rival's supposed lemon off his hands as fast as you can. Once he sees that Carfax, er FanGraphs, report, it'll already be too late.
Take Advantage of a Timeshare
If trading isn't your cup of tea, don't despair, there are always options on the waiver wire.
Most free agent save sources will be part of some kind of a timeshare. My revolutionary advice is this: Pick a side.
If you have enough roster space to grab all of the save contenders on a particular team, that's great, but don't feel like you absolutely need to do that.
This early in the season, I'd rather spread out my risk and pick a horse in as many bullpen races as possible.
In a situation without an established closer, take skills over experience. The Washington Nationals are a perfect example.
Brad Lidge has closed before, but Henry Rodriguez is clearly the better pitcher. Rodriguez has a superior strikeout rate, walk rate, ERA and FIP. Yet somehow, he's still available in 44 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Pick him up! Now!
Don't worry, the rest of the article will still be here when you get back.
Predict an Injury or Trade
There have already been quite a few injuries to closers, and more are inevitable. It's an unfortunate reality of life in a major league bullpen, but it's one that you can capitalize on.
Current closers like Joe Nathan and Jonathan Broxton have missed significant time in recent years, which makes Mike Adams and Greg Holland immediate adds for any owner speculating for saves.
Those two players not only hold the keys to saves later in the year, but they'll help your ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers in the short term.
In addition to injuries, midseason trades shake up bullpen roles every year. Although it's very early in the season, the writing is already on the wall for a few current closers.
Grant Balfour has been outstanding for the Oakland A's this season, but with the team going nowhere (except maybe to a new ballpark in San Jose), Billy Beane will absolutely look to move his closer prior to the trade deadline.
Unfortunately, there's no clear successor in place, but if you're desperate for saves and have a bench spot to burn, a player like Brian Fuentes or Fautino De Los Santos is certainly not a bad investment.
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