Red Sox reliever Carson Smith unlikely to begin 2019 season on time

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Carson Smith
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 08: Carson Smith /

Carson Smith reportedly isn’t close to pitching in games as he works his way back from injury, making him a long shot for the Red Sox Opening Day roster.

It was a bit unexpected when the Boston Red Sox brought Carson Smith back this winter. It would be even more of a surprise if the right-hander is available by Opening Day.

Smith is recovering from shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his season last May, a freak injury that was the result of slamming his glove in frustration. Rather than take responsibility for his actions like a mature adult, Smith bizarrely tried to pin the blame on manager Alex Cora for the way he utilized him leading up to the incident.

That seemed to close the door on Smith’s tumultuous tenure in Boston. Until the Red Sox decided to re-sign him to a minor league deal. Despite the disappointing results, the temper tantrum, the audacity to throw his manager under the bus. Smith is coming back – just not anytime soon.

Dave Dombrowski revealed that “It’ll be a while” before Smith is ready to pitch in games. The team hopes to have him start a throwing program during spring training but that doesn’t invoke confidence that we’ll see Smith on the mound for Grapefruit League action.

If Smith doesn’t make an appearance during the exhibition schedule, it’s highly unlikely that he would be added to the Opening Day roster. Dombrowski’s comments suggest that Smith may not be available for the early part of the season, a vague timeline that could place his return date anywhere between the first few weeks of the season and the All-Star break.

The last three seasons since he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners have been a disaster for Smith. It’s not that he’s pitched poorly. He owns a 2.66 ERA and 10.3 K/9 in a Red Sox uniform, which is exactly the type of production this bullpen depleted by free agency needs right now. The problem has been that injuries have limited Smith to only 23 2/3 innings over those three seasons.

Smith underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2016, costing him the rest of that season and most of the following one. He returned last year with mixed results but only lasted 14 1/3 innings before going back on the shelf in the wake of the infamous glove hurling incident.

The Red Sox outrighted Smith off the 40-man roster in November before signing him to a minor league deal. Now he can work his way back without taking up a roster spot. If he fails to return to form, Boston isn’t obligated to call him up to the big leagues.

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Barring a change of heart regarding their stance on paying up to re-sign Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox will enter 2019 without a proven closer. Smith once held that mantle during his time with the Mariners and his 14 career saves are more than any the reliever on the current roster has on their resume. Smith was never a serious candidate to take on the role to begin the season and the update from Dombrowski essentially takes him out of consideration.

However, if Smith gets healthy and pitches as well as he did early in his career, there’s a chance he could emerge as a candidate by mid-season. If Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier struggle to claim the role, Smith could be given an opportunity to step up rather than trade away more prospects at the deadline for a closer.

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It may be a long shot and the Red Sox certainly aren’t counting on it but it’s not unrealistic to believe Smith could play a significant role in the bullpen this season. Just don’t count on him being in the mix when the season begins.