The Next Closer

World Series - Boston Red Sox v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three
Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America

After this past postseason, I think I (and many fans) feel comfortable in saying this: Craig Kimbrel should not be re-signed.

After the troubles and mini heart attacks he gave us all in October, I think an alternative is ideal.  Costs for this Red Sox team will soon become an issue, and I do not think the contract Kimbrel will warrant on the open market is one the Red Sox can dish out.  The Red Sox have over $156 million on the books for nine players on the 25-man roster, and this does not include a bevy of players contractually tied to the team through arbitration-determined salaries (meaning Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Eduardo Rodriguez, etc.)

In addition to Kimbrel, the following 2018 Red Sox are free agents: Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, Ian Kinsler, Steve Pearce, Drew Pomeranz, Brandon Phillips.

It’s not easy to pay everyone after winning a championship, and some fan favorites will not be back next season.  Since I hope Kimbrel is one, lets look at who I think should be considered to replace him.

Internal Options

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Boston Red Sox - Game Two
Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

Other than Kimbrel, Joe Kelly is the only reliever that is not under contract for 2019.  I know how much WE loved the bullpen in the regular season, but in all seriousness, the ‘pen became a weapon in October, and Joe Kelly was leading that front.  In 11.1 innings in the postseason, Kelly had a 0.79 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, ZERO walks, and 13 strikeouts.  It was a small sample size, but he was clutch, plain and simple.  We cannot forget his regular season, where it seemed like he was Wild Thing, but when the games mattered, Kelly looked like Mariano Rivera.

The front office and coaching staff clearly had enough faith in Kelly to still use him over an outside alternative (like Zach Britton), and the fact he made the postseason roster was a gamble, one that paid off.  Maybe Kelly has finally found it as a reliever, and is worth the risk in the 9th.

Two other current Red Sox I would consider to close: Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.

Brasier was a diamond in the rough, as 2018 was his first season in the MLB (and second overall season) since 2013.  In the regular season (33.2 innings), Brasier had a 1.60 ERA, 0.772 WHIP, and 7.8 SO/9.  He was efficient in October as well, giving up 1 run in 8.2 innings.  He could be a one hit wonder (as relievers sometimes are), but he gave no one any reason to doubt him all season.  The way he yelled at Gary Sanchez to get back in the batting box during Game 2 of the ALDS showed he has that edge that you need to close, but do we have enough of a sample size to trust him in such a high leverage role? Considering where he was a year ago (Japan), it took someone giving him a chance to prove himself before, maybe he’s worth the bet again

Ah yes, Matt Barnes (not that one).  Matt Barnes was the 19th pick in the 2011 MLB Draft, where he was picked as a starter.  He started all but one game in the minors prior to his MLB debut in late 2014, but since making the pro team, Barnes has been used as a reliever.

Like former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, Barnes is 6’4″ (Papelbon is listed at 225 lbs, versus 210 for Barnes).  Papelbon was a former starter, and his first appearances for Boston in 2005 were as such; it was not until 2006 when Papelbon was converted to the closer role, where he flourished for 6 seasons.  Barnes has been a reliever since 2015, and has progressed each season.  His ERA, HR/9, and H/9 have lowered every season, and his SO/9 has increased every season.  He gave up only 1 run this postseason.  I think he’s worked his way towards this role, and in terms of an ideal young and controllable replacement for Kimbrel, this could be his calling.  He’s talented enough to do the job, but has he improved enough to earn the role?

If I had to order my internal preferences to replace Kimbrel, it would be Kelly, Barnes, Brasier.

Free Agents

Milwaukee Brewers v Boston Red Sox
Credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images North America

Where did Andrew Miller become the greatest bullpen weapon this side of the Mississippi?  That’s right, in Boston.

Miller was a starter for the beginning of his career, but in 2012, he began being used solely as a reliever.  By 2014, he was good enough that he was traded to Baltimore for a top pitching prospect: Eduardo Rodriguez.  Miller then signed with the Yankees, becoming an elite closer.  Although he was replaced by Aroldis Chapman in 2016, Miller was still elite, and a trade to Cleveland made him the bridge reliever, pitching in every paramount moment prior to the 9th, a role he was dominant in.

Miller faced the injury bug last season, and maybe that – and his age (going into his age-34 season) – will lower his price tag.  He looks like if Randy Johnson became a dominant reliever, and I think he’s still got some juice left in his arm.  As someone who made the specialization of the reliever a reality of baseball today, could Miller return to his 2015 role and close games for Boston? Maybe far-fetched, but I would love to see him come back.

Three-time All-Star Greg Holland would be another interesting replacement.  He was signed for 1-year/$14 million in March by St. Louis, but was released in July.  He finished the season with the Nationals, with only 2 earned runs in 21.2 innings, so maybe he’s recouped some of his prior value that seemed lost with the Cardinals.  If you could get him for less than $10 million, it would be a good deal, but his price tag could run high.

Some other options: Sergio Romo, David Robertson, Tony Sipp, Kelvin Herrera

I’d love to see Miller or Holland, but their price tags might be too high.

My Choice: Joe Kelly

Literally beating up New York Yankees? Yeah, that’s a legends club.

Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, that’s where the greatest of the great roam this Earth.  And guess who’s in that club? Joe freaking Kelly.

Realistically, I do think Joe Kelly is a talented pitcher.  He’s had control issues, but when he’s on, he is a solid pitcher.  In 2015, he was 10-6 as a starter, and looked viable in that role.  Although he’s moved to the bullpen, he’s had some success there.  He looked good in 2017, but just as quickly in 2018, he had his downs.

At 30 years old, you know what you’re getting in Kelly.  He can be rocky,  but when you put faith in him, he can give you a month like October, where he looks absolutely dominant.  Boston knows what Kelly is, and if the re-sign him, he’d be the lead internal option to close.  Boston could sign another player, or trade for one, but a lack of money and assets may make that easier said than done.

You will most likely not find someone with the pedigree of Kimbrel at a cheap price, but that’s okay.  Closers are interchangeable in my eyes.  Remember Mark Melancon?  He was acquired by Boston to replace Jonathan Papelbon, but in 2012, he was AWFUL.  He had a 6.20 ERA in 41 games with the Sox, and was traded in the offseason.

Well, it was a dream come true.  His next 3.5 seasons (in Pittsburgh), Melancon had an ERA of 1.80, and was a three-time All-Star.  It earned him a 4-year/$62 million contract from the Giants in 2016.

Closers are funky people.  You can find someone like Koji Uehara, who fills in the role and out of nowhere is dominant, or you can groom someone like Jonathan Papelbon.  Closers can be good for years and years like Mariano Rivera, or they can flame out like Bobby Jenks (I thought he’d be amazing for us behind Papelbon).  Billy Beane said they were overrated, but who knows.

If I’m Boston, I’d stay at home… but then again, I was the guy who said sign Eric Hosmer over J.D. Martinez, so what do I know.

My preferences, ranked:

  1. Joe Kelly
  2. Andrew Miller
  3. Ryan Brasier
  4. Matt Barnes
  5. Greg Holland

Time will tell.

Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)

Author: Nick Collins

Boston sports fan sharing his love for sports and perspectives as a fan

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