Red Sox: Preparing for life with or without closer Craig Kimbrel

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox stands on the pitcher's mound in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros during game two of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox stands on the pitcher's mound in the eighth inning against the Houston Astros during game two of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park on October 6, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

The champagne has dried, the confetti swept up, and the duck boats are now covered in snow. The World Series has come and gone for the champion Boston Red Sox and now it’s time for business to begin.

With several free agents on the books, this offseason one player will garner the most attention–Craig Kimbrel. The fire-throwing right-hander is a free agent and free to sign where he pleases. Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski made a qualifying offer early this month but it was declined. Kimbrel turned down the one-year $17.9 million offer and will test the open market.

This isn’t all doom and gloom for the Red Sox as they can still sign Kimbrel, but now they’ll have to compete with the rest of the league for his services. Anyone that followed the Red Sox this season knows that as good as Kimbrel was during the regular season, he was equally a liability in the postseason. It seemed whenever he came in it wasn’t his usual quick night of work. He labored multiple times in close games during the historic Boston World Series run.

I, like many other Boston fans, found myself frustrated with Kimbrel as we worked our way through October. I often pleaded with Alex Cora through my television screen to bring in anyone else when the games were close. If Kimbrel does come back, I’m hoping that he has his edge back and is slinging that heat like before. But I also won’t lose any sleep if he decided he wants to bring his fastball somewhere else.

The benefit of retaining the services of Kimbrel is that we’d have a strong closer set for the next handful of years. We wouldn’t have to worry about someone new coming in and getting used to the Boston sports media microscope either. He has not only succeeded but also failed with the lights shining the brightest. Kimbrel is battle-tested and I’m sure more than eager to defend the title.

World Series heroes need to be the priority in replacing Kimbrel

With that said, let’s have some fun here. The scenario is that Kimbrel has gotten an offer he can’t refuse from another organization and is leaving. Who will be the closer for the Red Sox in 2019 and beyond? My ideal pick would require some other free agent dominos to fall into place. My first choice replacement would be none other than Joe Kelly.

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I’ve always liked Kelly’s attitude during his time with Boston and what he did this postseason was something of mythic lore. It didn’t matter what point of the game, where the game was being played or what the situation was; he came to do his job. Now Kelly is also a free agent so this would require the Sox signing him back, and I could see a reasonable dollar figure and a closing spot is just the thing to entice ol’ Jimmy B.

This is where we get to the second part of my plan to replace Kimbrel. Another hero of our World Series squad was starter turned bullpen hero, Nathan Eovaldi. Boston acquired Eovaldi during the trade window this season and he paid off in spades. Not only with dazzling performances as a starter but as the heart and soul of our relief corps. Eovaldi is also a free agent this offseason and I think he is someone Dombrowski absolutely needs to sign. After his gutsy performance in Game 3 of the World Series, he earned the respect of everyone that supports this team.

If we could tie up Joe Kelly and Nathan Eovaldi, that would allow us to not only replace Kimbrel with Kelly but move Eovaldi to the bullpen to be a long reliever/setup man/closer option. As I sit here with my red yarn connecting the dots, I’ve now created a gap in the starting rotation. Don’t you worry, Fenway Faithful! I’ve got a plan for this as well because the free agent market is full of starting pitchers this year.

The free agent market pieces that could solve the pitching puzzle

Two of the marquee names that are available are Astro’s ace Dallas Keuchel and Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin. Corbin is a someone that will garner a lot of attention at the Winter Meetings as he’s young and carried a 3.15 ERA/1.05 WHIP/246 K over 200 innings in 2018. Sadly, as much as I’d love to add Corbin to our squad, I think he may get swept up quick. Keuchel, on the other hand, had a weaker 2018 with a 3.74 ERA/1.31 WHIP/153 K over 204.2 innings.

I feel that with a less mesmerizing 2018 campaign, Keuchel may be the easier get for the Red Sox. My only worry with both of these starters is it would give the Sox at least three southpaws in the starting lineup. But with a healthy Chris Sale and a confident David Price, a third lefty may actually be a gamble that will pay off. A three-headed dragon of lefthanders could be a force of a starting rotation.

Red Sox free agency: Looking at potential bullpen options. dark. Next

While it doesn’t get better than winning the World Series, it’s time to go back to work. Before we know it, Spring Training will be right around the corner. The Red Sox won’t get a long rest with plenty of free agents on the board and some pieces of our own in play. With the MLB Winter Meetings just a few short weeks away, I’m more than confident Dave Dombrowski is preparing his war room to bring another title to Boston.