Tampa Bay closer role is Nick Anderson's to lose

Nick Anderson split time with the Marlins and Rays last season, striking out 110 batters in 65 innings. Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

Ah, the fragile nature of closer jobs.

In trading Emilio Pagan, their closer who totaled a team-leading 20 saves in 2019, to the Padres on Saturday in exchange for outfielder Manuel Margot and catcher/outfield prospect Logan Driscoll, the Rays significantly altered the fantasy values of at least two relief pitchers regarded as top-40 options at the position at the time. In fact, Pagan and Nick Anderson, who both finished among the top 40 relief pitchers (pure relievers) on the Player Rater as well as in fantasy points, saw their values shift in dramatically different directions.

Anderson takes over as the odds-on favorite to replace Pagan in the ninth inning in Tampa Bay after a breakthrough 2019 that saw him post 41.7% strikeout and 19.5% swinging-strike rates, both of those second best among qualified relievers behind only Josh Hader's 47.8% and 22.9%. That swing-and-miss ability goes a long way to neutralize the risks involved in Anderson's extreme fly-ball leaning, and by all rights he has earned a chance to close after he delivered the team a 2.11 ERA and nine holds in 23 appearances following his midseason acquisition from the Marlins. It's an easy case to make to put Anderson in the top 10 fantasy closers in any format following Pagan's departure, but as Kevin Cash's Rays like to mix and match everywhere, especially on the pitching side, it's possible Anderson will be looking at only 20 saves of his own.

Behind Anderson, former finishers Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado could factor into the mix, and left-hander Colin Poche also flashed skills that can be called closer-worthy. Any of the quartet warrants a bump of a couple of spots in the fantasy relief rankings, but Anderson is the prize, now my No. 18 reliever.

Pagan, unfortunately, sees his value plummet as a member of the Padres, though he'll have his utility in certain fantasy leagues. He broke through with similar traits to Anderson, with 36.0% strikeout and 17.6% swinging-strike rates but a fly ball leaning of his own, so there's every reason to think he can remain helpful in K's, WHIP and ERA (in that order). The problem is that the Padres already have a top-shelf closer in Kirby Yates, and they also have a stockpile of late-inning arms that could include Drew Pomeranz, Andres Munoz and Jose Castillo, with Craig Stammen also there to fill the late frames. This is a holds-happy team, and that might be all Pagan gets, but since most fantasy leagues highly value saves, he's now my No. 38 reliever (excluding the five ranked ahead of him who are really starters).

Margot's stock also plummets with the move to the Rays, who already have a better center fielder in Kevin Kiermaier, for whom perhaps he'll merely be the team's insurance policy. It's possible Margot will be traded again, but as the Rays' fourth or fifth outfielder he'd be merely an AL-only late-rounder.