Over the course of his three year stint with the Boston Red Sox, closer Craig Kimbrel has compiled a 2.44 ERA over 184.1 innings. He converted 108 out of 119 save opportunities during his tenure in Boston. Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated as his numbers remain elite, and after all, he has been named to the American League All-Star team all three years he’s been on the Red Sox. Ultimately, there is no denying Craig Kimbrel’s greatness. He truly is one of the best closers not just of our generation, but of all-time.
This is the same man that Red Sox fans across New England have no problem letting walk this winter. While his postseason performances have been shaky, he did not blow a single save in the Red Sox 2018 playoff run. People should not be telling the best closer in baseball to head for the hills.
IF the Red Sox plan to make a legitimate run at back to back World Series Championships in 2019 then they need a bonafide stud closer recording the last three outs of their games. 2019 could be the last year with the Red Sox young core intact. Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello are all hitting free agency after this season.
In the defense of Red Sox fans, the team does have a few options as to what direction they’re going to go in for the closer role in 2019. Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski publicly expressed a great deal of confidence in potential in-house options such as Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes at the Winter Meeting last month in Las Vegas. The free agent market also includes several relievers who remain unsigned, with the Red Sox being most closely linked to right hander Adam Ottavino. He shined last year in hitter friendly Coors field, posting a 2.43 ERA in 77.2 innings with Colorado. There are also a couple of potential reclamation projects available, as Cody Allen and Greg Holland are two free agent closers who were some of the games best just a few years ago. But, with David Robertson and Andrew Miller coming off the board recently, the Red Sox may be running out of time.
Perhaps one reason why Red Sox Nation isn’t rioting down Jersey Street just yet, is because the last time the Red Sox went into the season unsure of their closer, Koji Uehara emerged as one of the better relievers in the game, posting a miniscule 0.565 WHIP and coming in 7th place in the American League Cy Young voting. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that the Red Sox won the World Series that year (2013) as well. But for every star closer who emerges out of nowhere, one “can’t miss” guy falls flat on his face. Historically, relief pitchers have been the most inconsistent position on a year to year basis. One has to look no further than the year prior (2012), when Daniel Bard failed miserably despite being dubbed the closer of the future after the departure of Jonathan Papelbon. This is why a consistent closer is someone you should want to keep around, as they truly are as rare as it gets in baseball.
Red Sox fans should want Craig Kimbrel back as their closer not just this season, but for years to come. In my opinion, recency bias is very much the biggest factor in why supporters of the team are saying good riddance to Kimbrel. Sox Nation will point to Kimbrel’s 5.90 ERA this past October as their defense as to why letting the 30-year-old go is the right move. They’re so quick to forget that he has a 1.91 career ERA in nine seasons. The flamethrower is a more than solid bet for an ERA under 3 (his career high is 3.40, a massive outlier) and is a lock for over 30 saves every single year. Craig Kimbrel is a future Hall of Famer, and is about as consistent as it gets in baseball in terms of the closer position. Shouldn’t Red Sox fans want him wearing a Boston hat when that inevitable day in Cooperstown comes for Kimbrel?
Yes, the reports that Kimbrel wanted a six-year-deal north of $100M were almost laughable, but that’s how free agency works. A player and their agents typically shoot for the stars, while owners and general managers lowball. They usually will meet somewhere in the middle. The market for Kimbrel now seems almost non-existent, as the other team with the clearest need for a closer, the Philadelphia Phillies, just inked David Robertson. So the Red Sox now appear to be the only team in the running for Craig Kimbrel, which bodes well for them as a return to Boston for Kimbrel seems more likely with each passing day. It is not impossible that the Red Sox sign Kimbrel to a more team friendly four, or even three-year-deal.
Ultimately, Dave Dombrowski has his job because he’s great at what he does. Just like he did with J.D. Martinez last offseason, he will be patient and wait out the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes, if you can even call it that. I predict that Kimbrel will return to Boston on a four-year-deal in the $60-$70M range in the coming weeks.
Danny Salguero – Contributor – WTF Sports
Editor – Scott Neville