ROTISSERIE: Profiting from middle relief

The closer market in fantasy is continuously volatile and unpredictable. Last season 91 pitchers earned at least one save, and nearly 40% of that group earned double-digit saves. While there are good reasons to utilize one or two roster spots for prospects in the high minors who may get a roster spot via spring training battles, there is an argument to make for rostering high upside middle relievers with those spots. As Jock Thompson recently outlined in his Dynasty Reload column, rotation shortage and closer volatility will continue to become a bigger part of baseball moving forward.

Rostering middle relievers may be the lowest risk-to-reward move you can make in terms of profitability. Middle relievers are typically the lowest cost assets you can invest in, even if your league uses holds as a category. However, hit on the right middle reliever and you can turn a double-digit profit by the end of the season, a la Chris Devenski (RP, HOU, $17). Considering the relative lack of competition to roster an unknown middle reliever over a starting shortstop, for example, who returned unexpected profit (think: Jonathan Villar, SS, MIL, $40), there is no harm in taking a chance. Should the reliever falter, you've lost nothing by investing such a small amount. The reward, however, could be significant.

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Spending on a middle reliever can be an added edge in trade talks. With more managers having to roster closer handcuffs—Tony Watson (LHP, PIT) and Daniel Hudson (RHP, PIT); Jim Johnson (RHP, ATL), Arodys Vizcaino (RHP, ATL), or Mauricio Cabrera (RHP, ATL)—it pays to have players who can be used as added incentives to close trades with managers. Peruse other teams' rosters in your league and look for holes. Chances are there are relievers that you can roster as closer insurance to make available when the need arises.

Speculating on saves, though hardly easy to predict, can make a team competitive in saves if one knows how to target their search. First, closer-by-committee scenarios are not necessarily opportunities for investment. COL, for instance, had seven different pitchers earn save opportunities in 2016. Instead, find a team with a set closer who may have chinks in his armor. While Shawn Tolleson (RHP, TB) posted a 132 BPV in 2015, no one expected a repeat, which was confirmed when he posted a 92 BPV last season. Meanwhile, Sam Dyson (RHP, TEX) proved to be the beneficiary, turning a nice $17 profit for astute owners who invested early.

Second, find a rebuilding team with a veteran closer or a closer without a great skill set. The aforementioned Jim Johnson (RHP, ATL) will most likely be shipped elsewhere by the trade deadline, leaving Vizcaino and Cabrera as legitimate second-half investments. Jeanmar Gomez (RHP, PHI) was the team's third choice to close last season, and despite garnering 37 saves he only managed a 6.2 Dom (8% SwK) to go along with a putrid 63 BPV. Recently acquired Joaquin Benoit (RHP, PHI) is on a one-year deal (age 39), and seems like a perfect candidate to flip at the deadline, making Hector Neris (RHP, PHI) a nice late-round flier (11.4 Dom, 16% SwK).

Regardless of saves, middle relievers can buoy other pitching categories (K, ERA, WHIP) and vulture wins as well. Kyle Barraclough (RHP, MIA), Michael Feliz (RHP, HOU), and Juan Nicasio (RHP, PIT) all managed to post at least 12 Dom, 42–52% GB%, and a BPV range of 120–175 while garnering 19 wins between them (and zero saves). There is value to be had on the cheap outside of saves. In fact, a quick scan finds that the aforementioned Devenski ($17) along with Brad Brach (RHP, BAL, $15) were nearly as valuable as Buster Posey (C, SF, $20) and J.D. Martinez (OF, DET, $18) to name a couple of highly regarded hitters.

Depending on league-specific rules middle relievers can also provide some added positional flexibility by garnering SP/RP designations. Former starter-turned-relievers like Raisel Iglesias (RHP, CIN), David Phelps (RHP, MIA), or Mike Montgomery (RHP, CHC) offer managers opportunities to extract maximum value out of every roster spot. Scour your league for potential back end starters who could get demoted to the bullpen and whose arsenal and velocity would play up in late-inning relief (Zack Wheeler, RHP, NYM and Robert Stephenson, RHP, CIN both come to mind).

The degree to which your team is in contention (or out of contention) directly corresponds to how much speculation you do in this group of players. Playoff contenders will want sure things fronting their lineups for saves. However, for rebuilding teams in dynasty/keeper formats this is the low-cost way to invest while mitigating the risk via trading for closers. Given the volatile state of the ninth inning and managers eschewing traditional closers for matchups, there are worse ways to invest in the final spots on your roster for the upcoming season.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.