Red Sox Craig Kimbrel Should Now Be His Own Man

Feb 24, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) throws during the workout at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Craig Kimbrel (46) throws during the workout at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel may have learned from Jonathan Papelbon how to be a reliever, but he should also learn how not to act on a new team.

Scott Lauber of ESPN did a report on Kimbrel, stating how the two men have crossed paths and impressed each other: “In December, three weeks after the Red Sox traded four prospects to pry Kimbrel away from the San Diego Padres, Papelbon attended slugger David Ortiz‘s charity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic and called the 27-year-old right-hander ‘a younger version of me.'”

Papelbon “prides himself on working with younger relievers in whom he sees potential. It’s Papelbon’s way of paying it forward to the closers who come behind him,” like Kimbrel.

Kimbrel, in return, has learned from Papelbon, as well as many other relievers in the game, by watching from across the dugout or on television. “And the thing Kimbrel has tried to glean from Papelbon? ‘His aggressiveness,’ he said. ‘He’s always been a guy who’s going to go after you, and you’ve got to respect that.'”

Papelbon is a six-time All-Star, four of those years playing with the Red Sox. In his seven years with Boston, Papelbon made a name for himself by being a tough and imposing pitcher in the last frame, closing out the side for victories, including a World Series championship in 2007. He made 219 saves, with 509 strikeouts to only 115 walks, for the Red Sox.

Sounds like a predecessor with a great deal for Kimbrel to learn. Papelbon pitched in Fenway Park, one of the biggest markets in professional sports for scrutinizing their own players, let alone the opposition. If anyone was to teach Kimbrel how to do it, it would seem like Papelbon would be the man.

However, Kimbrel has done just fine so far, without having any embarrassing moments caught on national television.

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After well-documented troubles brewing at the end of Papelbon’s time in Boston as well as for the Philadelphia Phillies, Papelbon’s anger got the best of him when he joined his new team and attacked Bryce Harper, the 2015 National League MVP and arguably the most talented player on the Washington Nationals’ roster. Papelbon missed the end of last season by serving two suspensions: one for the Harper incident and one for throwing at Baltimore Orioles slugger Manny Machado.

James Wagner of The Washington Post reported that “Papelbon is not easy to trade. He is 35. He’ll earn $11 million this season. He’s rubbed people the wrong way while playing for three teams. And he isn’t the power pitcher he once was.” While Wagner’s report touches on Papelbon already wearing out his welcome with some of the Nationals’ fans, he also shows how members of the team seem to have put it in the past and have welcomed him to the club.

It’s good to be aggressive in any sport, but aggression can be a tool for failure as well.

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The 27-year-old Kimbrel has already played five full MLB seasons with the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres before coming to Boston’s spring training, so it’s not like Kimbrel is some rookie, either. Kimbrel is already a four-time All-Star with 225 saves, leading the National League each time in those years for that category. He has 563 strikeouts to only 130 walks, 127 of those strikeouts coming in his first full season when he won the Rookie of the Year Award.

When Papelbon put his hands on Bryce Harper, after getting on the young man’s case for not running out a fly ball hit, he showed how not to be a leader. Papelbon may have been right, as everyone is told to run out every ball, regardless of what happens; however, to grab him in the dugout in front of millions of people watching showed the lack of forethought that has been his problem for a number of years since he left Boston.

Kimbrel is now being asked to lead a strengthened, yet unproven, bullpen in Boston. Does anyone expect Kimbrel, or any of the veterans, to publicly grab Mookie Betts or even a Yoan Moncada by the scruff of the neck if they do not run out a guaranteed out? Should Kimbrel publicly vent any frustration on the relievers if they do something against ‘the code’?

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Kimbrel, as well as Red Sox Nation, should respect Papelbon’s aggression, as it has helped him accomplish a great deal in professional baseball. Papelbon has done well to pay it forward and help the younger talent come up as well as provided an example of a winning work ethic. Yet, as there is only grey in the real world, not black and white, Papelbon has also shown the young talent how not to let aggression get the best of you. The best thing you can do to teach someone is not to have them take care of you when you get older, but to be a good leader for the next generation. Kimbrel has learned from Papelbon, so now what does that mean for the young talent in Boston?