In a year full of uncertainty and in the ninth inning, it's safe to expect the heavy amount of closer turnover to continue throughout the year.
With established veterans (Heath Bell, J.J. Putz and Jose Valverde) struggling and the almighty Mariano Rivera out for the year, the list of sure-bet closers is dwindling.
While teams such as the White Sox, Reds and Dodgers have likely already found their long-term solution, save chances are still up for grabs for many clubs. Fantasy owners who missed out on Addison Reed, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are unlikely to find another high-impact reliever capable of emerging as a top-10 closer, but some people will take saves anywhere they can get them.
Here are some relief pitchers who may not all be all-stars, but can earn a chance to accumulate saves this season.
According toMLB.com's Bill Ladson"> MLB.com's Bill Ladson, manager Davey Johnson plans to implement a closer-by-committee approach to replace the struggling Henry Rodriguez.
Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett appear in line to benefit most from the change, but Clippard received the first shot, retiring the side against the Phillies to record his first save of the year. Considering Clippard's success as a middle reliever in Washington, it's not hard to picture the 27-year-old running away with the job.
In 20 innings this year, Clippard has fanned 24 batters with a 3.15 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He has served well as a workhorse in Washington's bullpen, striking out over 100 batters in each of the last two seasons and earning an All-Star appearance in 2011.
Burnett may get a few chances, especially if they're facing any tough left-handed hitters in the ninth inning, but Clippard looks prime to run away with the job that he, according to Amanda Comak of The Washington Times, wants badly.
The Angels have not provided their relievers with many save opportunities in May, so it will be interesting to see how they handle the late innings when they eventually need to hold on to a close lead.
Scott Downs, who has yet to allow a run in 13 innings pitched this year, has done nothing to cause a change in Los Angeles. He is however, a 36-year-old lefty with a career 6.9 K/9 ratio, so he does not quite fit the traditional closer archetype. The ninth inning is usually associated with a young flamethrower, and manager Mike Scioscia might feel inclined to use Downs earlier in the game if the situation calls for a lefty.
Jordan Walden should not be forgotten as a candidate to reclaim his job, but Ernesto Frieri is dominating the competition. The 26-year-old sports a 1.33 ERA and 0.93 WHIP, and his dazzling 17.22 K/9 ratio should intrigue fantasy owners. In 8.2 innings since relocating from the Padres to Angels, Frieri has yet to yield a hit. Keep an eye on Frieri, who is owned in only 22 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
So you might be thinking right now, "Who?" He's certainly not a household name, but Tom Wilhelmsen could poach the closer's job in Seattle from a slumping Brandon League.
As League frustrates the Mariners and fantasy owners with three blown saves, a 1.50 WHIP and 10 walked batters in 18.1 innings while only striking out 10, his leash will continue to shrink. Wilhelmsen may not set the world on fire if he gets a crack at the ninth inning, but he is quietly producing at a very solid level.
His 3.63 ERA and 1.34 WHIP aren't going to lead anyone to snatch him off the waiver wire, but his 27 strikeouts in 22.1 innings should raise a few eyebrows. The peripheral numbers also suggest that Wilhelmsen has pitched better than the traditional stats suggest. According to FanGraphs, he has pitched to a 2.79 FIP with a high .333 BABIP. If he continues to pitch with the same effectiveness, expect his ERA and WHIP to adjust accordingly.
If League continues to falter, fantasy managers across the world will need to learn (and figure out how to spell) the name "Wilhelmsen."
Even though Frank Francisco appears to have turned the corner, managing four straight scoreless outings, how can the Mets not consider a possible change when the closer needs a hot streak to drop his WHIP below 2.00?
Francisco looks much better of late, but his ERA still stands at 6.75 with a 1.82 WHIP, so it's hard to completely forgive him for such a disastrous start. It's even harder when they have a young reliever often labeled the closer of their future waiting for his shot.
After befuddling Mets fans and fantasy owners speculating for saves with his inconsistency last year, Parnell is off to a hot start. In 19.2 innings, he has fanned 21 batters while only walking three. Considering control issues ailed the young hurler in the past, his newly found precision is surely a good sign.
While Parnell may allow a surprisingly high amount of hits (he's given up 23 this year) for a pitcher who can hit 100 miles-per-hour on the radar, he looks on his way to eventually dethroning Francisco as the new closer in Queens.
With an injured (and wildly ineffective when healthy) Carlos Marmol out of the mix, the Cubs do not have many valuable arms in their bullpen.
Rafael Dolis received the position, but it seems like only a matter of time before he loses it. In 24 innings, Dolis has only struck out nine batters (giving him a horrid 3.38 K/9 ratio) while distributing 11 free passes. So his 3.75 ERA and 1.17 WHIP aren't too bad, right? Maybe the 24-year-old will get a prolonged chance to prove his merit.
Eventually, Dolis will fall back down to earth, or the minors. He has a 4.80 FIP and a .205 BABIP, according to FanGraphs. Those balls will eventually find open grass, and the Cubs will need to find another guy to close out games.
Okay, so they don't have too many other exciting options. In the first two months, Shawn Camp has been a bright spot in a mediocre bullpen. The 36-year-old holds a 3.09 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with a usable 7.71 K/9 ratio. Camp is a dull pick with no upside, but he could get an opportunity if nobody else steps up, and saves are saves.
Discussing the chances of a Yankees reliever stealing the closer's role just feels wrong.
This scenario is an unlikely one anyway since Rafael Soriano has past experience in the ninth inning and David Robertson should eventually take back the position he briefly held before landing on the disabled list. It's still one worth contemplating, because Cory Wade has quietly pitched really, really well for the Bronx Bombers.
In 20.2 innings pitched, Wade sports a sparkling 2.18 ERA and 0.92 ERA, punching out 23 hitters and only walking three. He pitched just as well in a short stint last year, earning a 2.04 ERA in just 39.2 innings. Those numbers are almost as good as that other guy who used to close games for the Yankees.
So Cory Wade is of course no Mariano Rivera, but right now he is better than Rafael Soriano. While Soriano has got the job done so far in the ninth for the Yankees, he's walking on thin ice with a 1.57 WHIP. Soriano is in for a rude awakening if he thinks the Yankees will show any patience with him. One or two blown saves is likely all it would take for New York fans to call for Soriano's head, or at least a new closer.
This could be a moot point if Robertson returns soon and stays healthy, but you never know.
The Astros confused most baseball fans when they decided to move one of their most reliable starting pitchers, Brett Myers, out of the rotation to the bullpen this year.
While Myers has smoothly handled the transition and shined as Houston's closer, the change still seems like a bad fit. As the rotation suffers from a lack of depth behind Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez, their bullpen leading to Myers has flourished. Perhaps the best of the bunch is Wilton Lopez, who has provided the Astros with quality innings for more than two years.
Lopez has submitted his finest work early in 2012, walking only one batter with a sparkling 1.75 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. This is nothing new for the pitcher who only allowed five free passes throughout the 2010 season.
Even if Houston fails to shift Myers back to the rotation, the Astros could shop him and Brandon Lyon to contending clubs looking to add a veteran to their bullpen for the stretch run. That could clear up Lopez to handle the closing duties in Houston during the final months.