A Boston Red Sox team looking to add depth to their bullpen could take a look at free agent right-handed reliever Kelvin Herrera.
The Boston Red Sox will be getting most of the band back together to defend their World Series title next season. The only aspect of the roster yet to be solidified is in the bullpen, where the club could lose Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly to free agency. While both remain options to re-sign, the Red Sox need a backup plan in case these relievers leave town.
One potential option available on the free agent market is right-hander Kelvin Herrera. Once a member of the vaunted Kansas City Royals bullpen that carried the franchise to a championship in 2015, the two-time All-Star comes with the “proven closer” tag and an electric fastball that reaches the upper-90’s on the radar gun.
Herrera owns a career 2.82 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9. He’s not as dominant as Kimbrel but he’s been nearly as successful in the closer role, converting 86 percent of his save opportunities over the last two years.
An excellent first half made Herrera one of the most sought after trade targets last summer. He posted a 1.05 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and 11.00 K/BB ratio over 25 2/3 innings with the Royals. The Red Sox were rumored to have interest in acquiring Herrera before he was ultimately dealt to the Washington Nationals.
As it turns out, missing out on Herrera was a good thing. He struggled in Washington, producing a 4.34 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. After walking only two batters with the Royals prior to the trade for an impressive 0.7 BB/9, Herrera walked eight in fewer innings with the Nationals for an unappealing 3.9 BB/9.
His season ended prematurely on August 26 when he tore the Lisfranc ligament in his left foot and underwent season ending surgery. Herrera only recently started jogging and was able to do some light tossing a few days ago. He seems to be on track for a full recovery but his availability for Opening Day remains unclear, muddying the waters of his free agency.
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The injury and uncertain timeline make Herrera a risk but one that may be worth taking for the Red Sox as a fallback plan to potentially losing Kimbrel. He has as much upside and ability to fill the closer role as anyone on the market outside of Kimbrel and will cost significantly less. Herrera may be willing to settle for a one-year “prove it” deal coming off the injury, which would fit Boston’s needs for a short-term solution.
Kimbrel is rumored to be seeking a six-year deal with an average annual value that could exceed $17 million. That’s a lot for a pitcher who will only give you about 70 innings each season. Boston may be uneasy about committing that much to their long-term payroll with Chris Sale hitting free agency next year and a mega-contract for Mookie Betts looming a year later.
The Red Sox also have an enticing young prospect on the farm in Durbin Feltman, who many believe has the potential to be a stud closer. Giving Kimbrel a long-term deal blocks his path, depriving Boston of a potential elite closer at a bargain price.
If the team projects Feltman to be the closer of the future then they can’t pay up for Kimbrel. Instead, they need a short-term solution until Feltman is ready and Herrera could be the perfect stopgap.
Dave Dombrowski will patiently wait out the market with Kimbrel to see if other teams are willing to meet his steep demands. The Red Sox could be inclined to stick with the known commodity if the price tag becomes more reasonable. If another team is willing to hand Kimbrel a record deal, Boston will be forced to pivot to a cheaper option.
They won’t find a reliever in the bargain bin with more upside than Herrera. The longer it takes Kimbrel’s market to develop, the more time we have to gather insight on Herrera’s recovery. He’ll still be a bit of a risk but that’s why they’ll be able to sign him for short money, allowing the Red Sox more flexibility with their payroll and roster spots in the years ahead.