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Relief pitcher tiers show closer landscape, chase for saves, has changed

Chasing saves is, quite frankly, a major pain in the neck. But it’s part of the 5×5 Fantasy Baseball world we live in, so the relievers get their day in the car wash, like everyone else.

A few rules and disclaimers before we get to tiered rankings for the relievers:

• The more competitive your league is, the more important it is to get at least a foundation of saves on draft day. The less competitive your league is, the more plausible it is to plan on getting your saves off the waiver wire. “Don’t Pay For Saves” is not a +EV plan if you’re in a group of sharks; if it’s a casual league, you probably can pull it off.

• More than any other position, current form matters the most with relief pitchers. About six weeks from now you’ll find some waiver-wire options who have glittering K/BB ratios and advanced-stat profiles, and maybe that’s on the heels of a nondescript resume before 2023. Trust what’s in front of you. Relievers are constantly inventing and reinventing themselves, running hot and burning out.

• Save anxiety will vary from person to person, but I find the rise of MLB committee life to be somewhat liberating. It means more MLB saves will be unrostered in a fantasy league, and it means we need fewer saves to be competitive than we did in previous seasons. In theory, it eases some of the stress.

• This is the only position where I listed $0 players. That group is meant to illustrate players I don’t want to acquire now at any notable cost, but they’ll be good speculative pickups in deeper leagues or as IL-list replacements are allowed.

• There are several starting pitchers who also qualify at RP but will probably not be in the save chase. My feeling is they don’t belong on this list; look for them in the starting pitcher shuffle. I made an exception for Hunter Brown, whose role with the Astros isn’t clear yet. I want you to get Hunter Brown.

• If you’re going to be a strong player in a competitive league, you’ll learn how to identify skills and potential closers before it’s obvious to everyone else. That’s a big part of the game. If you must wait for proof in this fantasy world, you’re the deadest money.

• At the bottom of this list, I tend to focus on pitchers who might be the second or third closing plan for their teams. I didn’t try to necessarily identify ratio-smoothing dragons, the middle-relief heroes who also can hold mixed-league value, although a player could belong to both groups. Again, look at K/BB ratios in-season and you should easily be able to smooth your ratios, should your team need it.

Now onto your leads. What follows are my suggested salaries if you play in a Fantasy Salary Cap Draft format. Remember, this list is constantly changing, conspiring against us. It’s highly fluid and volatile.

[Tiered Rankings: C | Middle Infield | Corner Infield | OF | Starters | Relievers]

The big tickets

$24 Edwin Diaz

$23 Emmanuel Clase

$21 Jordan Romano

$21 Devin Williams

$20 Ryan Pressly

I’m surprised Diaz isn’t the overwhelming No. 1 closer on all boards, given how his strikeout rate runs past everyone else. He also had tidy control, and the winning infrastructure in New York. I’m not likely to pay top-of-market ADP for closers, but if I were, Diaz is the guy. . . Clase’s K/9 is merely 9.5, not elite for a closer, but his control is amazing and the Guardians generally defend well. . . Romano gets buoyancy from a Toronto team headed for contention and the new schedule, which will give all teams fewer divisional games than in recent years. Even with the Red Sox in a rebuild, I still prefer to work outside the AL East. . . Pressly will probably command Tier 2 closer tickets but can finish inside the Top Tier, which is one of my goals when attacking this position. Raisel Iglesias, who I ranked in the next group, also has that fit to him.

Legitimate building blocks

$19 Josh Hader

$19 Raisel Iglesias

$19 Ryan Helsley

$16 Camilo Doval

$14 Kenley Jansen

$15 Clay Holmes

$14 Felix Bautista

$13 David Bednar

$12 John Duran

$12 Alexis Diaz

$11 Scott Barlow

Hader was such a hot mess last year, I’ll admit to being spooked. If he’s not at least mildly discounted in my rooms, I’ll let someone else take the plunge. . . Bednar is likely to be in midseason trade discussions, but the Pirates also want something to take to market, so his ninth-inning work should be protected for three months. And heck, maybe he won’t be traded — he obviously wasn’t last year. But a full-time closer is generally an unnecessary extravagance for a non-contending club. . . Bautista is expected to be hale for Opening Day, but the current news flow chops a few bucks off his price. . . Jansen is a tricky bet in his mid-30s, but the Red Sox paid him to own the ninth and he’ll get plenty of security with the job.

What will Josh Hader offer fantasy managers after a down 2022?  (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

What will Josh Hader offer fantasy managers after a down 2022? (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Talk them up, talk them down

$10 Paul Sewald

$9 Andres Munoz

$9 Pete Fairbanks

$8 Hunter Brown

$8 Daniel Bard

$7 Jose Leclerc

$6 Kendall Graveman

$6 Carlos Estevez

$6 Evan Phillips

$5 *Liam Hendricks

$5 Gregory Soto

$4 Jorge Lopez

$4 Craig Kimbrel

$4 Alex Lange

$4 Brandon Hughes

$4 Trevor May

$3 Seranthony Dominguez

$3 Kyle Finnegan

Sewald and Munoz cap the upside of each other, but with Seattle expected to contend again, it also gives both of these pitchers a sneaky-sturdy floor, and part of a solid fantasy bullpen provided you have at least one ace running in front of them . . . Fairbanks is another player you draft because of skill and a reasonable floor, but you have to accept that Tampa Bay generally spreads the saves around. . . Perhaps I should be a little higher on Phillips, who looks like the clubhouse leader for the coveted Dodgers closing gig. Daniel Hudson is a journeyman, in his mid-30s, and coming off a torn ACL. I don’t see him as an immediate threat. . . Bard has security, per his contract, but the Rockies made a curious investment in a so-so veteran entering his age-38 season. Colorado closers have often had trouble holding up in consecutive years. He’s a clear fade for me.

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Bargain/speculation bin

$2 Dylan Floro

$2 Tanner Houck

$3 Mark Melancon

$2 Giovanni Gallegos

$1 Daniel Hudson

$1 Garrett Whitlock

$1 Aroldis Chapman

$1 Rafael Montero

$1 AJ Puk

$1 Brusdar Graterol

$1 AJ Minter

$1 Dinelson Lamet

$1 Jason Foley

$1 Lucas Sims

$1 Matt Barnes

$1 Michael Fulmer

$1 Scott McGough

$0 Taylor Rogers

$0 James Karinchak

$0 Adam Ottavino

$0 Bryan Baker

$0 Carl Edwards

$0 Cionel Perez

$0 David Robertson

$0 Garrett Cleavinger

$0 Hunter Harvey

$0 Jason Adam

$0 Jimmy Herget

$0 Jonathan Hernandez

$0 Matt Bush

$0 Robert Suarez

$0 Trevor Stephan

$0 Will Crowe

$0 Will Smith