Team leader in saves isn’t on the Opening Day roster
The Red Sox enter spring training without an established closer. Craig Kimbrel remains a free agent but barring a last minute change of heart as it pertains to the budget, he won’t be returning to Boston. The role he vacates is up for grabs and performance from the remaining options in camp will dictate who earns the coveted closer spot.
Boston’s preference is to settle on one option to lock down the ninth inning rather than cycle through a committee. That doesn’t necessarily mean whoever starts with the job will keep it all season.
Matt Barnes is the frontrunner entering spring training, coming off a breakout year in which he posted a 3.65 ERA and 14.0 K/9. The strikeout rate is enticing but it’s matched by a discomforting walk rate (4.5 BB/9). His 2.71 FIP suggests he pitched better than his ERA suggests but his career numbers aren’t on par with what you expect from an above-average closer. He’s capable of building on his career year and thriving in a new role but that’s hardly a given considering we’ve never seen him do it before.
If Barnes falters, Ryan Brasier could be the next man up. The Cinderella story of last year’s bullpen owned a 1.60 ERA and 0.77 WHIP last year. This unexpected excellence has Brasier on the radar but let’s not forget that this production came in only 33 2/3 innings after four years of being out of the majors.
Tyler Thornburg is a dark horse candidate. He has some experience as a closer but injuries have prevented him from being a useful asset since the Red Sox acquired him from the Milwaukee Brewers. Carson Smith is even more of a long shot for similar reasons.
Any of these choices would be on a short leash, preventing them from racking up a high save total unless they dominate out of the gate. If none of them can cut it, Boston may be forced to trade for a proven closer at the deadline. Whoever they bring in could tally more saves in the second half than any single reliever from this patchwork bullpen manages before the deadline.