Where to Find Saves Mid-Season

Three closers to trade for now, and three to add for later.

Particularly with recent trends by some teams to deploy their top ninth-inning options in high-leverage situations earlier in games, saves have arguably become fantasy baseball’s most finite resource.

Or rather, consistent sources of saves, have become that most finite resource.

Sure, you can find occasional ancillary saves almost at will waivers, but the fact is that real-life teams are spreading saves around more than ever. At least in recent history that is, thus emphasizing the honus on fantasy teams to find deploy consistent closing options

Take the Tampa Bay Rays for example. Tampa Bay entered play Wednesday tied for the fourth-most saves in the league, yet outside of regular closer Pete Fairbanks, seven different relievers already have a save. And in fairness, Fairbanks did miss time this season with a stint on the injured list, but since his return on May 11, the Rays have spread around the five non-Fairbanks saves (the veteran reliever has 10) to five different relievers.

In a way, it makes it all the more challenging for fantasy managers who prefer to punt on saves in the draft and play the waiver wire with secondary options. Of course, that route isn’t entirely non-existent. Jeff Hoffman and Griffin Jax (to name a couple) offer viable options in that regard. But with saves being dispersed more regularly around baseball, it makes it a much more difficult needle to thread.

As fate would have it, now’s the ideal time to actually improve your fantasy team’s save options. What with it still being early enough (relatively speaking) that some closers’ rostered rates aren’t quite where they should be and have yet to catch up to their performance and effectiveness? Furthermore, baseball’s real-life trade deadline could provide a significant shakeup in terms of fantasy closers.

After all, the biggest luxury on a not-as-good real-life team is a good closer.

That could create an influx of potential ninth-inning options being widely available in fantasy leagues.

In other words, now’s the time to start making moves, whether that be for a potentially undervalued closer via trade or a waiver wire move for a pitcher who might step into a more fantasy-friendly ninth-inning role later in the season.

(The rostered rate of each player, per FantasyPros data, is in parentheses for each closer or potential future closer.)


Trade For (Or Add) These Closers Now


Trevor Megill (51%)


Finite, there’s that word again, is probably best used to describe both Megill’s fantasy value and the potential for consistent trade work moving forward.

Devin Williams will return at some point this season. For fantasy managers in saves+holds formats, Williams’ return shouldn’t impact Megill’s fantasy value too much.

But it’s a slightly different story in more standard-scoring leagues.

Whenever Williams does come back, it might limit Megill to purely ancillary save chances. This isn’t ideal for fantasy purposes for a pitcher with a 1.59 ERA, a 2.21 FIP, and 94th or better percentile rankings in chase rate, whiff rate, and xERA.

Table. Megill’s percentile rankings.

In years past, Milwaukee has generally operated with one primary closer and not much in the way of ancillary save totals, at least compared to the rest of the league. Of course, that’ll happen when you have Josh Hader or Williams pitching in the ninth inning on a regular basis.

In 2019 and 2021 (with Hader as the closer) and 2023 (with Williams as the closer), no other Milwaukee reliever logged more than four saves in a full season. Hader amassed 13 of the team’s 14 saves in 2020.

Williams did log six saves to Hader’s 27 in the first half of the 2022 season, though it’s worth noting that the latter struggled at times that year. Perhaps there’s a chance Megill could still see a few save chances in the second half. And while it remains to be seen just exactly how he’ll be utilized, one thing is for certain, you should probably trade for him now.

Not with the thought of him being a long-term option, and not with the notion that what you’d give up in a trade would merit that of a long-term ninth-inning option, but as short-term save options go (particularly in Roto leagues), there are perhaps none better than Trevor Megill.

The surface-level numbers are all good. The aforementioned 1.59 ERA, the 2.21 FIP. 32 strikeouts in 28.1 innings compared to just seven walks and one home run allowed. But it’s the underlying stuff here that really vaults Megill into impact fantasy territory for the time being.

Among relievers with at least 10 saves this season, the Brewers hurler is one of just five who ticks both of the following boxes: a whiff rate above 30% and an xwOBA against below .260. The other four? Kirby Yates, MLB saves leader Ryan Helsley, Andrés Muñoz, and Mason Miller.


James McArthur (35%)


James McArthur won’t overwhelm with strikeouts in the way that Megill, Munoz or Miller will but he’s got more than enough going for him to make him a viable source of saves moving forward.

First and foremost is his place in the Royals bullpen and their place in the standings. The first one obviously goes without question, but with Kansas City sitting at 47-40 entering play Wednesday, the American League Central club seems unlikely to trade away veterans at the deadline.

That should ensure steady ninth-inning work, and thus a quality fantasy floor and ceiling for McArthur, who’s collected 14 saves, four pitcher wins, a 4.28 ERA, and a 3.90 FIP in 32 appearances spanning 33.2 innings.

The ERA isn’t the lowest number, and McArthur’s aforementioned strikeout tallies (which included 7.22 per nine innings and a 19.0% strikeout rate) could probably be better.

But, he’s also been excellent at limiting walks and inducing grounders so far, two things that should only help him as the season goes on.

McArthur is one of just seven pitchers in the league to rank in the 89th percentile or better in both walk rate (he is at just 4.9%) and ground ball rate (McArthur’s is currently 56.6%). Only one of those other seven pitchers, Emmanuel Clase, is a closer.

Furthermore, per FantasyPros data, the Royals’ closer is rostered in just 35% of leagues. Whether as a waiver wire addition or a trade target, he’s very much worth adding for the rest of the season.


Carlos Estévez (53%)


Estevez has quietly turned in a quality season pitching in the ninth inning for a struggling Angels club.

The veteran sported a 5.17 ERA through his first 15.2 innings this season, though that ERA was probably due for some positive regression, what with a 3.86 FIP, a 27.0% strikeout rate, and just a 3.2% walk rate.

If there was any concern about that positive regression taking a while to show up… well, let’s just say it didn’t take all that long.

After those first 15.2 innings, Estevez hasn’t allowed a run in his last 11.1 frames, recording nine saves and a pitcher win (in 12 appearances) in the process.

Like McArthur, he has been excellent at limiting walks this season. He gave up just one in that 11.1-inning stretch, thereby lowering his walk rate to just 3.0% on the season. Pair that with his 27% strikeout rate and you have the basis of plenty of fantasy success.

In other words, that’ll very much do.

In a way, his fantasy upside for the rest of the season is a bit like Megill in that he’s very much worth adding to your roster now, though his long-term fantasy ceiling isn’t quite as set in stone.

That’s where things differ a bit from Megill, but if the Angels trade away veterans this summer, Estevez would seem like a logical candidate to be moved, although that’s purely speculative on my part.

In the short term, Estevez could continue to see plenty of save chances as the Angels wrap up the first half with all but four of their remaining games against teams below the .500 mark.


The Best Waiver Wire Options To Stash


Fernando Cruz (7%)


As with many players you’d be stashing on your fantasy team in hopes of them stepping into a larger role, and thus more chances to produce, something generally happens for the stashed player to step into a larger role.

It could be a real-life trade, a role change, a promotion or demotion, an injury, you name it. Though sometimes it’s limited to only one of those occurrences.

For Cruz, his flowchart to closing in Cincinnati in the second half of the season isn’t quite as narrow.

Route A, or one of the options, rather, sees the 40-45 Reds trade away players some veterans at the deadline, notably closer Alexis Díaz.

That’s not to say that the Reds are guaranteed to turn to Cruz in that hypothetical scenario. Diaz owns 18 of the team’s 20 saves this season with Justin Wilson and Lucas Sims splitting the other two. Diaz has also dominated the team’s high-leverage ninth-inning looks with no consistent secondary option emerging based on appearances in those situations.

Reds Relievers This Season

Still, it’s hard to argue with Cruz’s effectiveness.

The second option, or route, to closing duties in Cincinnati, might be the Reds simply deciding to utilize Cruz in the ninth in place of Diaz regardless of their place in the standings or the team’s trade deadline plans.

That doesn’t seem like the most likely option in the short term only because Diaz has pitched to a 1.72 ERA and a 2.65 FIP since May 19. But his penchant for allowing walks at a high rate and the fact that he pitches half his games in Cincinnati is a less-than-ideal combination for a closer, one that could leave the door open to a run of poor form.


Andrew Nardi (2%)


AJ Puk, not without good reason, is certainly a Marlins name to watch. Miami has already traded Luis Arraez this season and is at 30-55 as of the start of play on Wednesday, and if they trade away closer Tanner Scott as well, it could open up the ninth-inning job in Miami.

As with Cruz in Cincinnati, there’s no guarantee that the Marlins turn to Nardi (over Puk) in the ninth inning. They could even employ a committee of sorts with both.

However, as with Cruz, it’s hard to argue with Nardi’s effectiveness. And while Puk has been similarly effective, the former’s better bat-missing metrics this season could (in theory) tilt things in his favor, although that last bit is all purely speculative.

Andrew Nardi and AJ Puk This Season

*Puk’s numbers are since he moved back to the bullpen starting May 13.

The hold numbers, and the innings, both lean in Nardi’s favor due to the reliever pitching primarily as a reliever this season. Puk started the year in the rotation before moving back to the bullpen in the middle of May following a stint on the injured list. And while the former A’s pitcher has experience in the ninth-inning, this hasn’t been a case of him stepping back in and overtaking Nardi in the bullpen hierarchy.

Since May 13, Scott is (unsurprisingly) pacing the team with 15 high-leverage appearances. Puk is tied for second with eight, but Nardi isn’t far off with seven of his own. Perhaps most crucially, just one reliever in the Marlins bullpen has a high-leverage appearance in the ninth inning since May 13. That reliever? Nardi.

It’s a tiny sample size to be sure, but it’s worth keeping in mind as the coming weeks and eventual trade deadline play out.

Both Nardi and Puk (who is rostered in 12% of fantasy leagues per FantasyPros data) are worth watching, but it’s the former who ultimately might have more upside in the role.


Lucas Ecreg (1%)


Mason Miller has, in short, arguably been the league’s best relief pitcher this season.

That’ll happen when you have 100th percentile rankings in whiff rate (42.9%), K% (46.5%), xERA (1.44), and xBA (.120).

Overall, the 25-year-old has pitched to a 2.39 ERA and a 1.81 FIP in 31 appearances spanning 37.2 innings, striking out 66 batters while surrendering 14 walks and three home runs. The right-hander has also accumulated 14 saves on the season.

It’s been a breakout season, but if it weren’t for Miller, Ecreg’s breakout season might be drawing some headlines in its own right. Of course, the 29-year-old’s numbers don’t entirely resemble Miller’s all-universe metrics, but the 29-year-old has been excellent nonetheless for the A’s.

Erceg has pitched to a 3.30 ERA and a 3.63 FIP in 30 innings, accumulating 10 holds and a pair of saves to go along with 35 strikeouts compared to just 11 walks and three home runs allowed. The right-hander has allowed the same number of earned runs (11) as walks this season, and three of them came via a three-run home run by Seager on May 6.

Lucas Erceg In 2024

He’s already siphoned off a pair of saves this season, and could see more as the season moves forward, whether Oakland trades away Miller or opts to (speculatively speaking) limit his workload at times.

The A’s aren’t going to suddenly create an overwhelming number of save chances (though it’s worth noting Miller does have those 14 saves so far) but if Erceg were to step into the closer’s role for any extended amount of time in Oakland, he’d boast top 15-upside at the position, particularly with his ability to miss bats and limit quality contact.


Photos by Icon Sports Wire and Adobe Stock | Adapted by Carlos Leano.

Ben Rosener

Ben Rosener is baseball and fantasy baseball writer whose work has previously appeared on the digital pages of Motor City Bengals, Bleacher Report, USA Today, FanSided.com and World Soccer Talk among others. He also writes about fantasy baseball for RotoBaller and the Detroit Tigers for his own Patreon page, Getting You Through the Tigers Rebuild (@Tigers_Rebuild on Twitter). He only refers to himself in the third person for bios.

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