There are a few incontrovertible truths in life. The vast majority of people consider themselves good people. They believe that they’re good drivers, and good listeners. And they all believe they can pick saves up off the waiver wire.
The commandment “Thou shalt not pay for saves” is omnipresent, and there’s plenty of truth to it. Of the relievers ESPN ranked in its top 25 in 2012, less than half finished the year in the top 25 in saves. And not even the handcuffs were always predictable: the Athletics went through their entire bullpen twice before settling on the guy they’d tabbed in the first place. It’s easy to throw up your hands at the crapshoot that is the closer position, and let others take the risk on saves.
But before you blindly follow a universal law, you should make sure it applies to your particular situation. Closers are risky, but that level of that risk changes from person to person. Before you fix yourself on the opportunity/talent spectrum of relief choices, ask yourself: will you have the time and opportunity to keep on top of your roster?
Your daily life plays a factor in how you build your roster. I can speak of this from experience: as a young naïve college student, I was once free to scour the internet for changes in the wind, and kept myself on top of all the latest rumors. In my twenties, from my cubicle, I could still check every once in a while when I knew the boss wasn’t wandering the halls. Now, my vocation keeps me away from the computer, and baseball essentially dies for eight to ten hours at a time, long enough of a span for both my closers to lose their jobs and get traded for each other as long relievers.
Those in the latter situation are better served to sacrifice some talent and lean toward more conservative, less exciting closers, guys who are more likely to keep their job through a slump.
Of course, there’s always handcuffing, which is valuable if inexact. It’s often just as difficult to figure out who the handcuff is as who needs the handcuff. For every David Hernandez, the obvious student more talented than his tutor, there’s a Scott Downs. By all means, handcuff, especially if you’re AFK most workdays. But don’t draft just any reliever in the belief you’ll be able to get (and correctly identify) his potential replacement ten rounds later.
Saves are often the most frustrating and most arbitrary element of fantasy baseball. But unless you can find a league that cuts them out entirely, you need to learn to live with them. Examine your own life, calculate your own level of risk-acceptance, and devise a plan accordingly.