Opening Day is less than a week away and the Boston Red Sox have yet to name their closer for 2019. Time has run out and they need to make a decision.
All winter long the Red Sox have played coy on who will be taking the mound to close out games in 2019. The departure of Craig Kimbrel to the free agent market left Manager Alex Cora without a guarantee in the ninth inning. With Opening Day less than a week away, Boston no longer has the time to play wait and see with the position.
When Kimbrel went to free agency and was asking for a ridiculous contract it was clear the Red Sox weren’t going to budge on the fireballer. But the free agent market had a wealth of pitching talent available that could’ve been signed to replace Kimbrel. Weeks went by with no signings and then one by one the pitching dominos began to fall, and none in the way of Fenway. Now with just days before the Red Sox take the field to defend their World Series crown, they’re left without a closer.
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The two names that have brought up all throughout spring training to be the heir apparent to Kimbrel are Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. Barnes was drafted by the Red Sox in 2011 and has been on the main roster since 2014. He’s seen his workload increase drastically over the last three seasons. Brasier has bounced around the majors between Oakland, Anaheim, and Boston as well as playing in Japan. As the 2018 season progressed Brasier really found his confidence even getting in a verbal spat with Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez in the ALDS.
Brasier has seen much of his spring training sidelined with a toe injury that didn’t heal as expected and cost him time. Barnes has had his chances in spring but has yet to find his groove as he’s posting a 7.20 ERA over just 5 IP. So with this golden opportunity, neither pitcher has had a chance to stake their claim to be the final pitcher of the night.
Between the injury to Brasier and the poor outings by Barnes are clear reasons why the Red Sox have been hesitant to name a closer for 2019. But Cora and his staff can’t play that game anymore as we’re about to hit meaningful baseball and things are about to get real and fast. And a bullpen by committee come the ninth inning is not something that should be desired by anyone, fan or club.
So then who does AC name as the go-to arm for when the game is on the line? For me, I want Barnes to get the ball in the ninth inning to close things out. Brasier grew on me over last season but I’m just far more confident in the ability of Barnes. Even with a rough spring training, there is just a far bigger sample for Barnes and what he’s capable of. He also did great in 2018 with a 3.65 ERA over 61.2 IP with a 96-31 K-BB ratio. That’s who I want coming in from the pen when it’s time to shut things down.
Brasier isn’t out of the conversation for me though as I’d like to see him be the setup man for Barnes. If the Red Sox can get a solid outing from the starter and then use someone for the seventh, possibly Tyler Thornburg or Bobby Poyner, and then move on to Brasier and Barnes. But the decision needs to be made and there aren’t many grains of sand left in the hourglass for Alex Cora.
When the Red Sox didn’t sign any arms during free agency I will admit I was a bit nervous, especially seeing that they weren’t going to budge to re-sign Kimbrel. But after looking over the roster and seeing who will be in the bullpen that anxiety has waned. Opening Day is here and it’s time to start the title defense. An important key to bringing the Commissioner’s Trophy back to Fenway Park will be a constant arm on the mound the end the night.