The Red Sox need to avoid a repeat of their closer blunder in 2020
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora was coy all offseason on naming his closer for 2019. It wound up being a big mistake that can’t be repeated in 2020.
During this past offseason, we were all wondering who the Red Sox would name as their new closer as they lost Craig Kimbrel to free agency. Well, we have four weeks left in the season and we still don’t technically know. There wasn’t a single point this season where it felt like Alex Cora was deadset and confident enough to name one person as the true closer.
Throughout the 2019 season, we’ve seen everyone from Ryan Brasier, to Matt Barnes, to Nathan Eovaldi, and now we’re on to Brandon Workman. All have had varying levels of success when it comes to shutting down the opposition late but only one has taken the opportunity and made the most of it.
Workman has been phenomenal this season and has finally grown into the reliever the Red Sox had hoped he would. It’s been awesome to watch Workman do his thing this year in an otherwise frustrating bullpen. No matter the game situation or when he’s called upon he’s had ice in his veins. If anyone has made a case for being the Red Sox closer going forward it’s been him.
This season has been marred by a laundry list of issues but the one thing that really seemed to put a damper from the get-go was Alex Cora’s desire to NOT name a closer. Then there was the lack of urgency from Dave Dombrowski and the gang in the front office to either sign a new closer or promote from within. Right off the bat, the season had this cloud over it that never seemed to go away.
If Boston does anything this offseason they need to have the confidence to name someone as the closer and have them preparing for that role all offseason. I have a hard time wanting them to go out and find some hired guns for the bullpen considering the number of arms on the roster right now.
Are they all good? No, but they do all serve a purpose. Workman has given not only Cora but all of Red Sox Nation enough of a sample size in 2019 to prove that he can close out games.
Workman has amassed a 9-1 record with 11 saves and a 2.14 ERA through 63IP this season but that’s just the start. He also owns a 90/39 K/BB ratio, a 12.9 K/9, as well as a 1.032 WHIP, the lowest of his career. The big negative against Brandon this season has been the high level of walks he’s allowed, luckily teams rarely capitalize on his mistakes.
I’m sure I’m in the minority though when it comes to not wanting another reliever or closer added to the roster. At this point when I look at the roster I see the guys that I think can give the Red Sox the best chance at victory. Workman tops that list, I’d also add in Barnes, Marcus Walden, and Josh Taylor. Darwinzon Hernandez also has a lot of positives especially if he can control that fastball.
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The key issue all stems back to not naming a closer, the rest of the relievers fell like dominoes. By not naming a closer nobody had an idea of what their true role was in the grand scheme of the game. When you don’t know your role then you can’t have a routine, and no routine means inconsistency. And that right there folks is what led us to the great Red Sox bullpen disaster of 2019.
So, that brings us back to my main point, Cora needs to have his cards in order well ahead of next season’s Opening Day. If Boston can go into the new season with the structure that led them to a World Series in 2018, then we may not be 16.0 games back the first week of September. But Cora is the one that gets paid to make those decisions, not me.
I think it’s safe to say though that what was done during this spring training cannot be repeated ahead of 2020. The starting rotation needs to get their work in and get it in from the start, and there needs to be a clear plan for the relievers. If the Red Sox can get the gameplan set for who enters the game, under which circumstances and at what time.
There are plenty of factors that go into these decisions but this caching staff is more than experienced enough to put the puzzle together. If we look at the Red Sox bullpen right now there are clear roles that these guys are filling all on their own, Cora and Dombrowski need to empower them going forward to further expand on their abilities.
With what we’ve seen this season I would feel comfortable with the duo of Walden/Taylor eating up those pesky mid-game innings. Then I’d follow that up with the Barnes as the setup man and then finally bring in Workman to shut the damn thing down. Granted there are a ridiculous amount of factors not taken into account because we only have so much time, but in the experiences we’ve had this year, this breakdown should work.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what set this season of the tracks so early but it’d be foolish to ignore how the bullpen was handled this offseason. The Red Sox don’t have any room for error going into 2020 as not only will free agency begin to strike but so may the layoffs. A World Series title can only buy you so much time, ask Terry Francona, he had two. Boston needs to go into spring training with a set plan for their staff and they need to execute it well ahead of Opening Day.