The Boston Red Sox will miss reliever Joe Kelly and maybe Craig Kimbrel, but it is certainly not the demise of the 2019 season.
My offseason morning routine is quite predictable as I will get a newspaper and check social media and the various news drops regarding anything baseball. The usual abundance of rumors – potentially real – but mostly unsubstantiated. Then there is the player movement via trades and free agent signings and among that group – front and center – was former Boston Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly signing a three-year deal with the recently vanquished Dodgers for $25 MM.
The first issue of a Kelly departure – and I certainly wish him well after his spectacular pitching in the 2018 playoffs – is an examination of Kelly’s body of work with the Red Sox. Kelly’s Red Sox career was checkered with time in the rotation that certainly did not remind any of Roger Clemens despite Kelly’s wonderous fastball.
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I do not wish to minimize, but realistically that is a path I will take. From what I have seen as a response to Kelly’s signing elsewhere, it is a baseball version that falls somewhere between an Ebola plague and an 8.1 earthquake on the disaster scale. I tend to dismiss that. Kelly was good, but Kelly was not great.
In 2018, Kelly took home the title of Mr. Inconsisitency with the disparity between the first and second half of the season. In 2017, Kelly appeared on the cusp of legitimate late-inning brilliance and that took a hit in 2018. Nonetheless, Kelly will be missed since he could assume multiple bullpen roles, but a replacement is relatively easy depending on a willingness to open up the coffers at Fenway Park.
The second issue is just how this loss will impact the Red Sox in 2019? This means a replacement part is needed and that could be internal or external. Names will surface for both and the fiscal bar has been set for a free agent such as Zach Britton or David Robertson. Both will – or their agents will – look at Kelly’s contract as the possible basement with their clients moving up the fiscal elevator and not down.
The coffers also represent another possibility and that is the exit of Craig Kimbrel who was just the opposite of Kelly in the playoffs. Kimbrel was a real test for the patience, mental health, and sanity of Red Sox nation. With a contract demand that borders on the outrageous, I expect the Red Sox to hold firm and wish Kimbrel well unless he suddenly looks at a more friendly offer from Boston.
A loss of Kimbrel would be a double-whammy to the bullpen and the Red Sox efforts for 2019, but again, I will not take a Chicken Little approach since there is value on the market. The previously mentioned Britton and Robertson come with some question marks – especially Britton and not as much with Robertson.
Other names have been bandied about as possible bullpen depth, but depth is now a sidebar as it is being clear that replacement has taken the place of depth. I could give the link version and let one and all check the free agent options or the trade options. Both have been discussed extensively on this site and elsewhere, but my focus is and will remain that management will step up.
The loss of Kelly and even the loss of a stellar reliever like Kimbrel is not an end-all for the 2019 season. The Red Sox will simply move forward and seek replacements. If they fail in that endeavor then the 2019 season could be a real step backward.