Red Sox outbid by significant margin by Dodgers for free agent Joe Kelly

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Joe Kelly
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Joe Kelly /

The Boston Red Sox reportedly fell well short in their efforts to retain free agent reliever Joe Kelly, who signed a three-year deal with the Dodgers.

The Boson Red Sox convincingly beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in a five-game series to win the World Series. When it came to competing for free agent reliever Joe Kelly, it was the Dodgers who squashed Boston by a significant margin.

The Dodgers signed Kelly to a three-year, $25 million deal this week, bolstering a bullpen that faltered in the Fall Classic. A steller postseason capped by six shutout innings in the World Series boosted Kelly’s stock in free agency and no team knows that better than the Dodgers team he stymied.

While Kelly had previously stated a desire to stay in Boston, his decision to leave was made easy by the Dodgers blowing away every other offer. According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Red Sox were never willing to go beyond two years for the 30-year old reliever and the average annual value of their offer was lower than the $8.33 million he received from Los Angeles.

Before we criticize the Red Sox for letting Kelly go because they drew a line in the sand over one extra year, we should note that they weren’t alone in that assessment. The Dodgers were the only team willing to give Kelly three years.

"“I don’t know if there was one moment besides this was the team I wanted to play for, this was the team that gave me a three-year deal $25 million,” Kelly explained on the Bradfo Sho podcast. “There wasn’t writing on the wall before that. It was, ‘Here’s a three-year deal’ and no other teams were at the three-year mark.”"

Any hesitance from the Red Sox and other suitors likely stems from Kelly’s frustrating inconsistency. He has the ability to dominate on the mound but sometimes fails to harness it, leading to extreme peaks and valleys. Kelly was lights out in May (0.63 ERA), August (1.42 ERA), and in the postseason (0.79 ERA) but had an 8.31 ERA or higher in three other months.

Holding firm on a two-year offer fits the notion that the Red Sox believe bullpen reinforcements will come from their minor league system in the near future. 2018 third-round pick Durbin Feltman and fellow right-hander Travis Lakins both rank among the top-15 prospects in the Red Sox system and have been mentioned as potential closer candidates of the future. Young pitching prospects are notoriously difficult to project yet it’s not hard to envision one of these hard-throwing right-handers ascending to the closer seat by 2020.

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The potential of these young prospects is part of the reason why the Red Sox won’t be shelling out a massive contract to retain Craig Kimbrel. We obviously can’t assume either of these prospects will have a better career than one of the all-time greatest closers but their projection over the next handful of years could be an improvement over what they expect from a reliever who turns 31 next season.

The same goes for Kelly. Boston should be able to replace his production in the near future with a younger, cheaper solution. Their high-upside prospects probably won’t be ready for the big leagues to begin the 2019 season, leaving the Red Sox looking for a short-term option to fill a late-inning role.

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Kelly could have been a fit if he were willing to stay for a year or two but the Red Sox weren’t going to give him more than that.