Boston Red Sox: My three least favorite players this decade
On November 13, 2015, the Red Sox acquired four-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres. Four prospects were sent the other way in the trade, none of whom were Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, or Mookie Betts.
The Alabama native was controllable for the next three seasons, including the option. Boston fans hadn’t had a long-term closer since the departure of Jonathan Papelbon to the Philadelphia Phillies following the 2011 season.
In 2012, the Red Sox bullpen was in complete shambles after Alfredo Aceves proved he did not have the capability of holding down the 9th inning. Koji Uehara had perhaps one of the most dominant seasons as a closer in MLB history in 2013 with an astonishingly low 1.09 ERA but battled through injuries the next two seasons. Not to mention the team floundered miserably with back-to-back last-place finishes.
Kimbrel had the benefit of the team finishing in first place atop the AL East in all three seasons he pitched for the Red Sox but failed to live up to the hype that preceded him.
It was immediately apparent that the former Padre might not have the temperament to pitch in a pressure-packed environment like Fenway Park, where the crowds are often hostile. Mark Melancon was a good recent example of a reliever who had a solid track record of success prior to arriving in Boston only to fail miserably and be traded in the middle of his first season.
2016 was a rollercoaster at best for Kimbrel. He scuffled out of the gates and posted a 6.00 ERA for the month of September. During the final week of the season at Yankee Stadium, he was pulled off the mound in the 9th inning leaving the bases loaded, and was responsible when three of those runs came home on a walk-off grand slam hit by Mark Teixeira.
Kimbrel had his best season with Boston in 2017 and was lights out going down the stretch. He carried that momentum into the playoffs against the Houston Astros in Game Four of the ALDS. “Dirty Craig” entered the eighth inning with the game tied at 3-3. The bases quickly got loaded, which eventually resulted in two runs coming across the plate, ultimately sealing the choke job and ending the season for the Red Sox.
One of the big knocks on the Boston closer was his lack of versatility. He struggled mightily to record outs in non-save situations and was also prone to giving up runs. This wasn’t a sporadic occurrence, but a steadily agonizing pattern.
Throughout the second half of 2018, Kimbrel posted a 4.57 ERA. He was unable to locate his off-speed pitches, and opposing batters stopped swinging at his rising fastball. This led to the leadoff hitter continually getting on base, and constantly having to pitch out of jams.
As the Red Sox forged into the playoffs, Kimbrel still could not come up with any solutions to get batters consistently out. He went on to post a 6.18 ERA during that playoff run in which he was the raging definition of a “heart attack closer.”
In fact, he became the only Boston closer in the World Series era who was not handed the baseball to record the final three outs of the clinching championship game.
When all was said and done, the Red Sox simply did not value Kimbrel on a multi-year deal. He never proved he could handle the pressure of Boston. Nor did he ever seem to embody what it meant to play at Fenway.
I personally always got the sense that Kimbrel was a player who was more concerned with racking up saves to elevate himself on the all-time list. And simply biding his time to reach free agency to potentially cash in on a huge deal.
As it turned out, none of the 30 MLB teams thought he was worth a six-year deal north of $100 million, nor the draft pick it also would have cost them. He remained unsigned until after the June draft and was eventually signed to a three-year deal worth $43 million. He wrapped up the 2019 season with a 6.53 ERA.
Kimbrel never showed up in the big game while he pitched in Boston. And makes my top three.