This is a controversial position, some fantasy players paying heavy for "proven" closers, some avoiding drafting closers altogether, assuming they'll get all the saves they need from the waiver wire. Then yet others remove saves as a category. Of all statistical changes in fantasy baseball from standard leagues, according to ESPN, the most alteration is done to the save statistic - combining it with holds, removing it altogether, changing it to games finished, etc.
1. Craig Kimbrel - Took one of the best years in recent closing memory, and did it one better. Arguably produced the greatest fantasy closing season ever in 2012. He could drop off 20% and still be heads and shoulders above the #2.
2. Jason Motte - Former catcher took forever to finally get out of LaRussa's doghouse and get a chance to close. Once he did, he's not let anyone else have the position. Solid strikeouts and a good bullpen ahead of him.
3. Jon Papelbon - Papelbon is grossly overpaid, so many fantasy owners see him as a poor value, but don't let his contract get in the way of his production. He had 11.8 k/9, led the NL in games finished, and posted a 2.44 ERA. He's absolutely among the elite.
4. J.J. Putz - Because he never missed a full season of games, many assumed Putz simply lost effectiveness and don't realize the struggles he has had recovering from surgery. He has been fully healthy for three seasons now, one as a middle reliever in Chicago and the last two in Arizona quietly putting up some of the best fantasy closing stats in the game. Don't be the guy who passes on him for lack of knowledge!
5. Mariano Rivera - The greatest closer in history missed nearly all of 2012, but is on track to start the 2013 season. Here's a few remarkable stats about Mo: He's had ONE season above a 3.00 ERA in 18 seasons of pitching, he has failed to strike out 50 batters only 3 times in 18 seasons, and since he turned 40, his average season has been 1.87 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 5.38 k/bb. Rivera is only here to hedge against his age (43 this season) and his recovery from injury.
6. Sergio Romo - He's taken over as the newest bearded, eclectic Giants closer, and he's got great stats to go along with the saves. His last three seasons, he's put up a 1.85 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and 11.1 k/9.
7. Ernesto Frieri - The next two both are based on the players winning the closing job, something they'll have to compete for. Frieri was a revelation last season. He posted a 13+ k/9 ratio and handled the Anaheim closing job well. He'll compete with Ryan Madson, but whether or not he wins the job, he's viable for fantasy because of his elite strikeout numbers.
8. Kenley Jansen - Jansen's only knock last year was his heart. No, not his desire for the game, literally, his heart. Jansen's heart condition led his team to acquire Brandon League, but Jansen, like Frieri, is elite with or without saves. He's a top-5 closer if he has the job. He has a ridiculous 14.6 k/9 in his career with a sub-1.00 WHIP. He's definitely rosterable in leagues with or without the closing job.
9. Huston Street - What is it with former Oakland closers and being as fragile as glass? Street has not pitched 70 innings since leaving Oakland, yet he did such 3 of 4 seasons as an A. Street's skills in San Diego predictably made him an elite option when he was healthy. Realize that he will miss some time, and you'll be very happy owning Street.
10. Joel Hanrahan - Hanrahan had a "down" 2012, yet struck out 10+ batters per nine and posted a 2.72 ERA. His major issue was his walk rate, which soared to 5.4 bb/9. Hanrahan will put guys on base, but he typically finishes out the game well. He'll also have more leads to protect in Boston.
Unlisted, underrated: Casey Janssen - Janssen isn't one to put up 10+ k/9, but he also rarely puts anyone on base with sub-1.00 WHIP and sub-2 bb/9 rates. He also isn't going to be a low-K guy, still striking out more than a batter per inning. He's got a much better club ahead of him this year, which should allow for many more saves.
Unlisted, overrated: Jim Johnson - He is a perfect example of the fallacy of the save stat. Johnson's 51 saves in 2012 came with a 5.4 k/9 rate, and that's not too far off his career 5.7 k/9 rate. If you did not have 51 saves to look at, would you draft Johnson?
Position strategy - This is a very deep position, as it is every season. Avoid paying heavily to chase saves, instead pick guys who can give you solid ERA/WHIP and good strikeout numbers that are in the closer role. Often, the best save guys are closers on poor teams as their leads are often minimal and the closer gets to be used in many close games. On the opposite, a closer on a team with a great offense may seldom have a lead for a closer to protect, keeping his save numbers low. Ignore save numbers when you draft a closer, but do be paying attention to who has the role. In-season pickups are huge as well. Many of the top saves guys in the league in 2012 weren't even drafted in fantasy leagues, but were waiver wire pickups that likely changed the course of a season - Johnson, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, to name a few.