The Boston Red Sox have several players hitting free agency this winter, all of whom have expressed interest in re-signing with the world champions.
Now that the Boston Red Sox have been crowned World Series champions, will they run it back with the same roster to defender their title next year? That will depend upon what happens in free agency but there appears to be mutual interest in reuniting with the players set to hit the market.
The Red Sox have seven players eligible for free agency this winter – Craig Kimbrel, Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, Ian Kinsler, Steve Pearce, and Brandon Phillips. According to Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, each of them has expressed interest in returning next season.
"“We have an abundance of free agents,” Dombrowski told reporters, per Masslive.com’s Chris Cotillo. “We have seven, so they’re in different categories. Some of the guys that we’d like to re-sign, they know that. But they’re also free agents. We’ll continue staying in contact with them and see what happens. They know we’re interested, but they also want to find out what the market is. All of them have expressed a desire to come back, but only time will tell.”"
Some of these players seem to be longshots to return, despite Dombrowski’s apparent optimism.
A change of scenery for Pomeranz may be what’s best for both sides. The lefty found himself out of the rotation by the tail end of a miserable season in which he went 2-6 with a 6.08 ERA. He was on the roster for a portion of the postseason but didn’t appear in a playoff game this year. Boston has enough rotation depth to move on without Pomeranz and if they do look to add another starter they should look to upgrade to a more reliable option.
Phillips signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox and appeared in only nine games following a September call-up. The 37-year old could conceivably retire. If not, he’ll likely look for another team that offers a clearer path to playing time.
If Boston brings back another second baseman, it will be Kinsler, the Gold Glove winner who solidified the infield defense following a mid-season trade. Interest in re-signing Kinsler depends on the status of Dustin Pedroia, who remains questionable for the start of next season. The Red Sox will certainly keep Kinsler on their radar as an insurance policy for Pedroia but his return seems unlikely unless he’s still hanging around on the market deep into the offseason.
The outcome for Kelly could go either way, which accurately describes his 2018 season in a nutshell. He wasn’t the most consistent bullpen option but there were stretches where he appeared dominant, including the postseason. Kelly may have a genuine interest in staying in Boston, where he became a fan-favorite this year, yet may also welcome the opportunity to transition back to a starting role if another team offers him the chance.
Eovaldi impressed in his second-half stint in Boston, going 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts). His postseason heroics, including a gutsy effort in the 18-inning marathon in the World Series, has left fans crossing their fingers he re-signs. His performance may also price him out of Boston’s budget. If another team offers him $20+ million per year on a multi-year deal, that may be too rich for the Red Sox to pay their number four starter.
Losing the World Series MVP would be a disappointing outcome. Pearce fits perfectly in a first base platoon with Mitch Moreland or as a right-handed power threat off the bench to provide some late lightning. The journeyman’s playoff production may have opened some eyes around the league but the 35-year old probably can’t expect a lucrative long-term deal at this stage of his career. That may make it easier to retain him.
The biggest question facing the Red Sox this offseason is what to do with Kimbrel. He’s been one of the game’s most dominant closers for nearly a decade. His numbers weren’t quite up to his usual lofty standards this year but he was still excellent compared to most closers.
However, Kimbrel was shaky in the postseason. Historically, he hasn’t performed well when asked to get more than three outs or be utilized outside of the comfort zone of a ninth-inning save situation, making him a less-than-ideal fit for how bullpens are trending in the modern game.
Kimbrel will command top dollar on the market as the closer with the best track record among the available options. He’ll also turn 31 in May and long-term deals are always risky for relief pitchers given the volatility of the role.
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Boston doesn’t have a proven option to replace Kimbrel internally if he leaves. Even if they are willing to roll the dice by handing the role to Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier, that still leaves them needing another setup arm – especially if Kelly also leaves. While the Red Sox bullpen performed well in the playoffs, they needed their starting pitchers to log key innings in relief between starts. That’s not a feasible plan to get them through the 2019 regular season. Upgrading the bullpen remains a priority and letting their best reliever go seems counterproductive.
The Red Sox will likely try to work out a new deal with Kimbrel but will also have their eye on cheaper alternatives as a fallback plan. Perhaps they can sign two quality arms for the price it would take to bring Kimbrel back. They would end up with a closer that isn’t at Kimbrel’s level, yet a potentially deeper bullpen.
Dombrowski indicated that “most, but not all” of these free agents are priorities this offseason. We can guess that Pomeranz and Phillips are counted among those he was excluding. Everyone else has a reasonable path toward remaining with the team and Dombrowski seems confident that the Red Sox will at least be given the chance to match any offer they receive from other teams. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will match if the price gets outrageous but it’s good to know their top targets appear willing to give them the chance.
Boston doesn’t have many holes on their roster. If they can bring back most of these free agents and perhaps add another bullpen arm or two to the mix, they should be in great position to defend their title next year.