The biggest ninth-inning news this week comes to us from Miami, where the Marlins have removed Steve Cishek from the closer role after giving up five runs in back-to-back losses on Sunday and Monday. In last week's column, I listed A.J. Ramos the guy who most needed to be owned who didn't already have a clear path to saves (i.e., John Axford, Tyler Clippard, etc.). This week, Ramos is being snapped up around the rotosphere.
Ramos has been excellent this season, racking up 23 strikeouts in 18 innings while giving up just two earned runs and walking six batters. His main issue in the past has been a high walk rate, and he issued six walks per nine innings last season. He's cut that in half so far this year, but if the free passes start to pile up, it could be a short stay in the closing role.
Aside from the walks, there's a lot to like. The strikeout rate isn't quite on par with some of the elites at the position, but it's definitely high enough to put him in the top half of closers around the league. He hasn't allowed a home run this year and gave up just one homer in 64 innings last season.
Ramos needs to be owned in all leagues, as he looks like the type of pitcher who could run away with the closing job. However, manager Mike Redmond did indicate that he planned to use a committee in the ninth inning, so it's possible that the saves will be spread out among a few relievers in the next few weeks. Cishek could also be reinserted into the closing role if he gets his issues ironed out, so he's worth stashing if he's been cut in fantasy leagues as another potential long-term option.
Jake McGee has been activated from the 15-day disabled list, joining a Rays bullpen that has seen fine production from Brad Boxberger in the ninth inning. McGee certainly pitched well enough last season to not get Wally Pipped, as the lefty posted a 1.89 ERA and 90:16 K:BB ratio in 71 1/3 innings. However, he also wasn't the closer all year, managing just 19 saves, and he's never been the closer for new manager Kevin Cash.
Boxberger, like McGee, has pitched well enough to not lose the job. He's racked up 10 saves while delivering a 1.29 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 14 innings, clearly looking the part of major-league closer. So how does this get resolved? Cash hasn't picked a guy to fill the role exclusively just yet, so it appears that we could be headed for a committee. Both are worth owning and worth starting in fantasy leagues regardless of whether they're getting saves; they've been that good over the last few seasons.
Pick Him Up? Rankings
RPs owned in less than 50 percent of CBS leagues, ranked for save chasers
John Axford, COL
The go-to option in Colorado for saves. Axford has given up one run in seven innings while racking up four saves. He doesn't face any clear opposition moving forward.
A.J. Ramos, MIA
Discussed above. I like his chances of becoming established as the ninth-inning guy for the remainder of the season, so I'm going to be a little aggressive with the ranking and put him over safer picks for saves.
Jake McGee, TB
Discussed above. He's back, but his role is uncertain. He's still worth using whether he's getting saves or not, and you figure even if Boxberger remains the primary option, McGee can still be a matchup play throughout the season and collect a handful of saves.
Addison Reed, ARI
Reed was lit up for four earned runs in his previous outing, and he now owns a 7.20 ERA and just two saves this season. He's still the de facto closer in Arizona, especially since no one has been lights out like Ramos in Miami to justify making a switch, but Reed could still end up getting a break from closing soon.
Tyler Clippard, OAK
Doing a fine job as a fill-in closer for Sean Doolittle, though despite his strong ratios, Clippard has just three saves on the season. He's walked a lot of batters – eight in 16 innings, and I think he's only a saves option for the short-term, and considering his low save total so far, that may not even be true.
Deeper Speculative Adds
Jim Johnson, ATL
Jason Grilli has struggled and dealt with back issues in May.
Brad Ziegler, ARI
Reed hasn't been good and Ziegler owns nice ratios.
Carson Smith, SEA
Fernando Rodney has given up runs in three of last four; Smith has fantastic numbers.
Keone Kela, TEX
Neftali Feliz has been mediocre, and Kela looks like a future closer.
Joaquin Benoit, SD
Craig Kimbrel has really struggled lately; could he get a small break?
Ken Giles, PHI
Continuing to wait on that Jonathan Papelbon trade we expect.
Zach McAllister, CLE
He's been excellent as a reliever and Cody Allen has been shaky all year.
Yimi Garcia, LAD
He's struggled this week; Kenley Jansen could close sooner than expected.
Joe Smith, LAA
Huston Street has settled down over the last week.