Apparently, the Boston Red Sox are moving away from Craig Kimbrel. That presents a great opportunity for others for future success or failure.
There is a dimmer switch in operation by the Boston Red Sox and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. At one point the switch was rather bright, but as the offseason has progressed it is now barely a flicker. That is my poor analogy regarding the closer situation for the Red Sox. Light is fading on our previous closer.
The prospect of re-signing Craig Kimbrel is now clearly in the doubtful column. The Red Sox and most certainly the fans would love – baseball love – to see Kimbrel back in the fold, but the confluence of contractual demands, team payroll concerns, and age have created a perfect storm for moving on.
A player of significance going elsewhere is often viewed as fatal and this would certainly apply to the strategic position of closer. That said it also creates an opportunity for others. The competition is wide open to a batch of other arms with the financial carrot being the potential for a significant salary windfall, but to do that you must produce.
The frontrunners are a former number one draft choice (2011) in 28-year-old righty Matt Barnes and world traveler right-hander Ryan Brasier. Barnes has the more proven bona fides. That, however, is rather limited with just two career saves and three blown saves. What stands out for Barnes is his strikeouts (14.0 K/9), stinginess with hits (6.9 H/9), and generosity with walks (4.5 BB/9).
Brasier was a very pleasant surprise for 2018 gathering in 13 saves for Pawtucket (AAA) before getting advanced to the Red Sox. The now 31-year-old kept runners off base (5.1 H/9) and the ball in the ballpark (0.5 HR/9). The edge in the selection process would go to the more MLB experienced Barnes, but with a boatload of money available for success expect Brasier not to roll over.
The Red Sox second tier has most notably knuckleballer Steven Wright, hard-throwing Heath Hembree, and Brandon Workman. Workman had an under the radar season going 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA. Then there is a third tier.
The investment in righties Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith has been a total disaster and failure only emphasized when examining the performance of Travis Shaw who went to the Brewers for Thornburg. The motivation for Smith and Thornburg goes far deeper than money – both are on the very fringe of being gone from the game.
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The Red Sox minor league system offers little substance but does have a bright spot for the future in right-handed Durbin Feltman. Feltman sparkled in the minors in 2018 (1.9 BB/9, 13.0 K/9), but that was the low minors. Let the kid move slowly as we do not need another Craig Hansen.
Do not rule out a return of Kimbrel since the closer landscape for his demands is rather sparse. Maybe an agreement will be reached? The Red Sox had already set aside an $18.7 MM qualifying offer that Kimbrel could have taken. If that happened I would expect pigs to fly.
There are still free agents available with the most notable being 33-year-old righty Adam Ottavino who is attempting to parlay his outstanding 2018 (6-4, 2.43) into a very generous contract. Cody Allen (27 saves) is the other noteworthy arm available and may be willing to take a nice one-year contract plunge to establish value.
The real issue is an opportunity and opportunity for a closer is either ignominity or a pile of dough – all dependent on performance. For the Boston offerings, it is the chance of a baseball lifetime since the money will be on the table all linked to success.