Boston Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has no plans to retire despite being on the verge of turning 41 years old.
Age is only a number.
There are a number of trite phrases that those battling the effects of time use to cope with the aging process, but Boston Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara isn’t concerned about slowing down as he approaches his 41st birthday. You are only as old as you feel and right now Uehara feels great.
The former Red Sox closer has been supplanted in the 9th inning by Craig Kimbrel, but Uehara remains determined to help his team in a setup role. His surgically repaired wrist, which was fractured by a line drive back to the mound last August, is now fine and he has already started throwing off a mound, reports the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.
Despite entering the year as one of the league’s oldest players, who also happens to be coming off of a season-ending injury, Uehara has no plans to retire yet. He is entering the final season of the two-year, $18 million extension that the Red Sox handed him prior to the 2015 season. Barring another late extension, he is likely to hit the free agent market at an age where most players are already kicking back in their rocking chairs.
Except Uehara isn’t quite ready to leave the mound yet.
"“I will keep pitching unless I am terrible and no team wants me,” Uehara said with a laugh."
You can’t really blame him for his desire to keep going, not when he continues to pitch at an elite level. While injuries limited him to only 40.1 inning last season, Uehara remained among the top closers in the league, collecting 25 saves while posting a 2.23 ERA and 10.5 K/9 that are both in line with his career averages.
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Uehara came to Boston as a middle reliever in 2013, only moving into the closer seat after the first two options the Red Sox pegged for the role fell to injury. In his three years in a Red Sox uniform he’s racked up 72 saves while posting a spectacular 1.86 ERA, 11.46 K/9 and 1.31 BB/9, putting him near the top of the league in each category. He played a vital role in helping deliver a World Series title in his first season with the franchise during a historic season that saw him finish 7th in Cy Young voting and inside the top-20 in the MVP race.
How much does the veteran have left in the tank? It’s hard to say, considering he showed signs of fatigue that limited his effectiveness in the second half of 2014, forcing the team to give him a brief break late in the season, then failed to finish last season due to injury. Making it through a full season will only get harder as he gets older, so even if he remains effective on the mound at this age, how often he will be available to take the mound remains a concern.
Adding Kimbrel to a vastly overhauled bullpen will ease the burden on Uehara. Without the expectation of being called from the pen whenever a save situation arises, manager John Farrell can be more flexible with his usage of the 41-year old. A stronger starting rotation, led by David Price (always a threat to go the distance), should help keep the bullpen from being overtaxed, thereby also ensuring that Uehara remains fresh.
The future of Uehara remains cloudy. A down season riddled with more injuries could push him to change his mind about furthering his career, while another strong season could entice the Red Sox to talk him into coming back for at least one more.
We’ll find out more about which way Uehara is leaning after the season, but the important take away for now is that he’s healthy and ready to go for 2016. As Uehara joked to reporters, don’t worry about the fact that he’s about to turn 41, worry about getting him a present for his birthday instead.