Red Sox should go all in on Zach Britton for closer
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox bullpen drama continues with the focus on just who will close for 2019? Maybe it is time to go after Zach Britton and skip Craig Kimbrel?
The free agent closer shelve is getting a bit barren as notable signings continue to reduce available inventory. The Red Sox have one addition that is most noteworthy and that is Craig Kimbrel. Circumstances – in this instance money – have the Red Sox looking elsewhere for alternatives or hoping for a Wall Street like market erosion to bring Kimbrel’s demands into a more realistic budget position. Forget it – move on. Wish Kimbrel well and go elsewhere. Where is elsewhere?
Zach Britton is available. Britton is healthy. Britton is a far cheaper alternative. The projected figure for Britton is a three-year deal for $33 MM and that is a pile of dough, but compared to Kimbrel’s demands a Dollar General type bargain.
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Just how good is Britton? This is a three-part answer with the first being Britton the starter. Britton was pedestrian in that role (18-17, 4.86) which gives some insight about why the now 31-year-old lefty was sent to the bullpen. Sometimes failure becomes the pathway to success and baseball riches.
Britton the reliever was for three seasons (2014-16) arguably the best in the business at the closer craft. Britton topped off his three years run with a 2016 season that produced a 0.54 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. In 67 innings Britton allowed one home run. And that home run total reflects an 80GB%.
The third part is why Britton is a high-risk option – injuries. In 2017 it was a tender left elbow and tender and elbow are often connected to eventually having surgical intervention. Next up for the orthopedics was a biggie – a ruptured Achilles Tendon and that certainly put a performance damper on Britton’s 2018 season. The numbers were a big warning sign with his go-to pitch – his fastball down a tick and a half. But then came September.
Britton was on the way to recovery prior to September as each appearance built on the previous appearance. The track was positive and in September Britton tossed 9.2 innings of shutout ball. The downside is Britton issued more walks (4) than hits allowed (3). Is that enough promise to shovel money to Britton?
The risk-reward makes it – at least for me – worth taking. The Achilles injury is one that takes a long recovery period (I have had three ruptures) and it looks like Britton has turned the recovery corner. I have on my rose-colored glasses that have visions of ground balls dancing around.
The big issue is Britton himself. If reports are correct Britton has a reluctance to return to New York and the Yankees since he wishes to close. The Yankees have Aroldis Chapman and his five years and $86 MM contract to close. The high-profile bullpen position. Britton wants that and all the ego and money it entails.
Then comes Kimbrel. Will the price drop? Apparently, the Red Sox are playing their own version of free agent roulette and expecting Kimbrel’s demands to come down to a more realistic level and realistic means the contract matches a comfortable salary and years for the team.
I would go with Britton – did I already say that? – and use the money elsewhere. Other options for the bullpen still exist and those options are certainly not baseball flotsam as the market still has talent and talent that can close, set-up, and give solid innings.