Free agent reliever Joe Kelly remains on the radar for the Boston Red Sox with several of the team’s players reportedly lobbying for his return.
The Boston Red Sox have at least one hole to fill in their bullpen and the free agent market is flush with appealing options. While a reunion with closer Craig Kimbrel is starting to feel unlikely, right-hander Joe Kelly remains a possibility.
It doesn’t hurt that his teammates want him back. According to The Atletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Kelly not only remains a target for the Red Sox but players on the team are lobbying for his return.
While the report indicates that no deal is close, it’s encouraging that Kelly’s teammates are pushing for the team to bring him back. Perhaps some may even be whispering in his ear in an attempt to persuade him to stay.
Kelly is coming off an uneven season in which he alternated dominant stretches with abysmal slumps. This Jekyll & Hyde routine is highlighted by his drastic monthly splits. After opening the season with solid 3.09 ERA in March/April, his splits varied to the extreme for the remainder of the season. Kelly posted an 8.31 ERA or higher in three different months while owning a 1.42 ERA or lower in two other months.
The good version of Kelly showed up for the playoffs. He allowed only one earned run over 11 1/3 postseason innings. That includes six shutout innings in the World Series over which Kelly struck out 10 without issuing a walk and allowing only four hits.
Pitching lights out on the postseason stage will make anyone overlook a few bumps in the regular season road but Kelly endeared himself to his teammates and Red Sox Nation long before we reached October. His Jim Buchanan routine in Spring Training showed a sense of humor that helped lighten the mood in the clubhouse and his role in the bench-clearing brawl with the New York Yankees showed a willingness to have his teammate’s backs.
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Anyone who saw the difference between the 2017 Red Sox that fizzled out in the ALDS and this year’s club that won a World Series knows the importance of clubhouse chemistry. Kelly has a positive influence in this clubhouse and clearly has the support of his teammates. Those are factors the Red Sox can’t overlook when negotiating with Kelly.
There will be no shortage of suitors for Kelly this winter and his decision may come down to what role teams are offering him as much as the dollars tied to the offer. Some teams are rumored to have interest in him as a closer, although it’s unclear if the Red Sox see him as a fit in that role. It’s unlikely that anyone will give him the chance to be a starting pitcher again but we can assume he’d strongly consider it if the opportunity comes along.
Kelly played a significant role in Boston’s bullpen this year. While there are a number of other free agent relievers who could step in to replace him, there’s something to be said about sticking with a known commodity who is valued by his teammates.