Featured image courtesy of: (Oct. 25, 2018 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America)
Today marks the first of six notable Boston Red Sox free agents that will be previewed over the next two weeks. In this and other ensuing articles, Red Sox Unfiltered writers will be assessing the case for and against brining back of each Boston free agent. We will start with high-profile closer Craig Kimbrel and end with the lowest-profile in Drew Pomeranz.
Objectively speaking, Craig Kimbrel was one of the best relievers in baseball last season. Behind a 2.74 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 62 and 1/3 innings, he has been nominated as a finalist for American League Reliever of the Year. It is all the more impressive when you consider Boston’s closer had to miss most of Spring Training attending to his ill daughter. The 30-year-old did, however, take a big step down from last season’s performance. Plus, he struggled mightily in the playoffs, yet somehow avoided actually ever blowing a save. Regardless, Kimbrel is poised to be the premier relief pitcher on the market (sorry, Adam Ottavino). He will be receiving a handsome pay day, which might not make sense for a Red Sox team about to embark upon many handsome pay days in the next couple of seasons. Here is the case for bringing Kimbrel back to Boston:
Case For Bringing Kimbrel Back:
Since the perennial All-Star arrived with the Red Sox in 2016, he has been the fourth-most valuable reliever in the game. With a 6.0 fWAR over the past three seasons, he trails only Kenley Jansen, Edwin Diaz and Aroldis Chapman in that category. In 2017, he may have put together the best closer season in Red Sox history with a 3.3 fWAR. He sandwiched that all-time season with two well above-average seasons. In other words, Kimbrel is still one of the best relief pitchers alive.
If the Red Sox bring him back, they have the closer position locked down indefinitely. Though Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier each had breakout seasons, neither would give Boston the security of the right-handed Kimbrel. Dave Dombrowski had a reputation, heading into his Red Sox tenure, of never being able to find a shutdown closer. In fact, it was said to be the fatal flaw of many of his World Series caliber teams in Detroit. Bringing Kimbrel back would eliminate all concerns at the closer position. On the other hand……
Case Against Bringing Kimbrel Back:
The Alabama-native is going to cost a ton of money. He most certainly will receive close to the five-year, $86M contract Aroldis Chapman yielded two years ago, if not more. For a relief pitcher, which are generally more fungible than other positions, this may not best investment. Boston already has big looming free agents in the next two seasons that they need money in the bank to re-sign. These are a few of them: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley Jr.
It should be intuitive that, at least the first three, are more imperative to retain for the future than Kimbrel. For a team that broached the highest tax-penalty bracket last season, they are going to need to get financially creative to preserve the majority of this core.
Further, it should not be understated that Kimbrel did take a step back last season, specifically in the control department. In 2017, he posted an insane 1.83 BB/9. No one should have anticipated him to get back to that level, but his BB/9 fell all the way to 4.48. This is considerably above his career 3.46 BB/9. His homerun rate also notably rose in ’18 but, with actually weaker contact allowed than last season, this appears to be an aberration. The fact he favored his curveball more this year than in the past may have had something to do with his command struggles.
If the Red Sox had more financial wiggle room, it seems they would have more incentive to pull the trigger on a massive Kimbrel deal. He is going to command serious money, approaching the $100M threshold. Boston would be wise to pursue cheaper options on the free agent market to lengthen their bullpen.
Everyone thought the Red Sox were idiotic for opting to not attain a bullpen piece at trade deadline. Yet Boston’s bullpen was downright lethal in the postseason, outside of their stalwart in Craig Kimbrel. They presently have respectable reliever pieces in Barnes, Brasier, Heath Hembree, Steven Wright and perhaps Joe Kelly (if they bring him back) and/or Durbin Feltman (if he is deemed ready). This is already a solid group that should be able to stay afloat without Kimbrel.
They certainly should find a reliever or two but it should not be Kimbrel. Not at his price.