Dave Shovein examines the closer by committee approach the Phillies plan to employ & the Royals' addition of Aroldis Chapman in the Offseason Lowdown.
A Committee of Closers in Philadelphia
Phillies manager Rob Thomson made a bold declaration on Thursday which caused fantasy managers around the globe to groan collectively. Thomson indicated that he will not name a closer heading into the 2023 season and will instead navigate the season with a committee approach to the ninth inning.
Thomson elaborated, "Unless somebody steps up and is just completely dominant… But I think you're going to have to give guys days off, so having the depth in that bullpen is really big. I think it worked pretty well last year with the way we did it."
The Phillies certainly have the arms to make a committee work. Craig Kimbrel, Gregory Soto, Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado each have closing experience and all are capable of getting outs in the ninth inning. Some have struggled to maintain the “closer's mentality” when working outside of the ninth inning in the past though and may not necessarily buy-in to that committee approach.
In the 111 games that Thomson managed the Phillies during the 2022 season, he definitely adhered to that mantra. The Phillies as a club collected 31 saves during that stretch – split among 10 different hurlers. Dominguez (9) and David Robertson (6) led the pack with no one else converting more than four. If you're hoping that things got better as the season went on – you'd be wrong. Seven different hurlers combined to record the Phillies' final eight saves of the regular season – with only Robertson notching two. The same held true during the postseason, as the Phillies totaled five saves – each by a different pitcher.
So where does that leave us heading into 2023? Let's take a look at each of the four candidates and how they're currently perceived by the fantasy community.
Kimbrel has the longest resume by far in the closer's role – as he has amassed 394 career saves and has been considered one of the truly elite ninth-inning weapons for most of the past decade. The right-hander has also shown a propensity to struggle when used outside of the ninth inning. He was brought in on a one-year, $10 million pact this winter and it just feels like this bullpen would function better as a whole if the 34-year-old hurler is able to get a few saves under his belt and then run with the gig. In the month of January, Kimbrel has sported an average draft position of pick 247 in NFBC Draft Champions drafts, putting him just behind Dominguez.
Gregory Soto is another new addition – plucked from the Tigers in a five-player deal – who joins the Phillies' bullpen with previous closing experience. The left-hander has collected 50 saves over the past three seasons – including a career-best 30 during the 2022 campaign. He has had success in a setup role before though. Soto checks right at the same spot as Kimbrel and Dominguez in terms of average draft position in the month of January – at pick 248 overall.
José Alvarado has closing experience of his own – he has registered 22 saves in his career – but he seems to be on the outside-looking-in here. The 27-year-old southpaw logged just two saves during the 2022 season as part of Thomson's committee and any ninth-inning matchups that may have favored him in 2023 he'll now have to battle Soto for. Fantasy managers aren't buying into Alvarado, as his average draft position sits at just pick 471 during the month of January.
If we're being honest here, Seranthony Domínguez is probably the best pitcher of the bunch. He nabbed nine saves for the Phillies in 2022 while registering a 3.00 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and a 61/22 K/BB ratio over 51 innings of work. Like Soto though, he has also proven to be a valuable weapon in a setup role – both in years past and again during the 2022 season. In terms of average draft position in the month of January – Dominguez checks in the highest of the quartet at pick 244 overall.
All of Kimbrel, Dominguez and Soto can return mixed league fantasy value from their current draft costs – just know that if the committee plays out for the duration of the season that you're far more likely to see something like 10 saves and a handful of wins with solid strikeouts and ratios – rather than any of them racking up 30 saves. If you guess correctly though – and one of them does wind up with the lion's share of the chances – you could have a potential league-winner on your hands.
My personal take, is that I believe Kimbrel will be given the first couple of chances to see if he can gain traction in the role. Either he takes off and runs with it – or completely sputters outs. My money is on the latter. Ultimately, I think that Dominguez will end up with the highest save total of the bunch – likely finishing in the 18-22 range.
Royals add Aroldis Chapman
While we're on the topic of closers – and formerly elite closers – the Royals made a bit of a head-scratching move on Thursday when they agreed to a one-year $3.75 million contract with left-hander Aroldis Chapman.
The Royals' decision to sign Chapman is a bit perplexing given the presence of an established closer in Scott Barlow, who notched a career-high 24 saves last season, and the club's rebuilding process, which places an emphasis on developing young pitchers.
It's possible Kansas City could flip the veteran southpaw to a contender at the trade deadline for prospects. We'll see. Chapman compiled a lackluster 4.46 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 43/28 K/BB ratio across 36 1/3 innings (43 appearances) last season for the Yankees before being left off New York's postseason roster. He'll likely pitch in a setup role for the Royals, but will likely vulture the occasional save chance depending on matchups.
MLB Quick Hits: The Mets agreed to a one-year $6 million contract with free agent outfielder Tommy Pham. The 34-year-old outfielder has passed his physical and could earn up to an additional $2 million in incentives… The Red Sox signed outfielder Adam Duvall to a one-year, $7 million deal… The Brewers agreed to a one-year contract with BrIan Anderson… The Mariners designated former top prospect Justus Sheffield for assignment… They did so in order to make room on their 40-man roster for Tommy La Stella – who was signed to a one-year contract on Thursday… Tigers' skipper A.J. Hinch told reporters that he expects Spencer Torkelson to begin the season as his starting first baseman… The Cubs sent veteran right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. outright to Triple-A Iowa… The Reds sent Matt Reynolds outright to Triple-A Louisville… Astros outfield prospect Pedro Leon will be sidelined for 6-to-8 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia… Max Meyer (elbow) is expected to begin a throwing program in the next few weeks… The White Sox brought in right-hander Mike Morin on a minor league deal… The Rays bolstered their bullpen with a bunch of minor league signings – Trevor Kelley, Heath Hembree, Zack Burdi, Ben Heller and Elvin Rodriguez… The Athletics signed right-hander Joe Wieland to a minor league deal… The Giants brought in Ronald Guzmán on a minor league pact… Phillies team president Dave Dombrowski said that Bryce Harper (elbow) should begin swinging a bat by the end of March. He's still expected to be sidelined until around the All-Star break…The Marlins finalized their one-year, $8.5 million deal with right-hander Johnny Cueto… The Orioles signed Reed Garrett to a minor league contract… The Red Sox added outfielder Ramiel Tapia on a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp… The Twins finalized their three-year, $12.525 million contract extension with right-hander Chris Paddack… David Phelps announced his retirement from professional baseball… The Red Sox have received “significant” trade interest in right-hander Tanner Houck… The Rangers added right-hander Jacob Barnes on a minor league deal… The Braves signed Kevin Pillar to a minor league deal with a big league camp invite.