Opinion

Red Sox Free Agent Profile: Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly proved himself as a postseason hero, but was it enough to earn another contract in Boston?

Image via Zimbio.com (Oct. 27, 2018 – Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America) 

During his tenure as a member of the Red Sox, we’ve seen the ups of Joe Kelly and we have certainly experienced the downs of Joe Kelly. The fiery reliever has been a valuable member of the Boston bullpen for five years now. He even earned his right into rivalry lore, igniting the infamous brawl against the Yankees. As we head into the 2018 offseason, Kelly is likely to be one of the key question marks as to what the 2019 version of the Sox will come to look like. With his recent postseason success and other uncertainties surrounding the bullpen, should the Red Sox look to bring back Joe Kelly?

The Case For Bringing Back Joe Kelly

Kelly bolstered a shaky 2018 season by pitching lights out in the postseason. Kelly appeared 9 times in the postseason, including every game of the World Series. In those appearances, he gave up one sole run in 11.1 innings of work. He posted a 0.79 ERA and held opponents to hitting an abysmal .186 batting average. Kelly’s success as the postseason set-up man was indicative of the overall success of the bullpen in the playoffs, but Kelly stood out as the most reliable reliever in October. Perhaps the pinnacle of his postseason came in the final game of the World Series. He came on in the 8th and struck out the side to set up Chris Sale to close out game 5. Kelly was the key piece out of the bullpen once the playoffs rolled around. If the Sox were looking for a reason to bring back Kelly, he certainly proved himself with his postseason heroics.

Kelly’s postseason performance may have expanded the demand for the reliever in free agency. Despite this, Kelly’s contract could still be very affordable for Boston. Kelly is projected to earn around $16-18 million over three years during this free agency period. While this price is towards the higher tiers of reliever contracts, this figures to still be more affordable than another Boston free agent reliever: Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox offered Kimbrel a qualifying offer of $17.9 million. However, according to the Boston Globe, Kimbrel is more than likely to turn down the offer, as his market is likely to be a “deal in the Aroldis Chapman neighborhood of five years, $86 million.” If the Red Sox decide to let Kimbrel walk, Kelly could be a cheaper option to fill in the closer role. Kelly has stated his willingness to be a closer for a club. Kelly could be resigned by the Sox, but in a new role for the team

The Case Against Bringing Back Joe Kelly

As mentioned earlier, the 2018 postseason covered up some of what we saw from regular season Joe Kelly. To be blunt, Joe Kelly was bad in 2018. Going into the All-Star break, Kelly’s ERA sat at a 4.31. The second half of the season wasn’t much better. In fact, his ERA actually went up to a 4.50 in his final 30 appearances of the regular season. Kelly had his best stretch of the regular season in May. But, apart from that one month, Kelly just was not good out of the bullpen. This inconsistency wasn’t just a factor in 2018; we’ve seen this plenty out of Kelly during his time in Boston. If the Sox want to commit to Kelly long term as either a set-up reliever or a closer, his inconsistency would be one area of worry.

Kelly’s impressive postseason could also drive up his value on the market. Outside of Kimbrel, Kelly is one of the better options out there for teams looking. If the Red Sox decide to bring back Craig Kimbrel this offseason, they may have to move on from Kelly. If there is no closer role to fill, the team could easily bring another arm out of the pen to fill Kelly’s 8th inning role, such as Ryan Brasier.

The Verdict

Ultimately, this decision hangs on whether or not Kimbrel is resigned. Kimbrel, while not blowing any of his save opportunities in the postseason, did not look himself, especially against the Yankees and Astros. If we are going solely off of the playoffs, Kelly has been the better pitcher as of late. Obviously that isn’t the only factor going into the decision, but the value a high leverage postseason reliever holds is huge for a club.

The Red Sox could fill the closer role with a much cheaper, postseason proven reliever in Joe Kelly. Don’t be surprised if they do just that this offseason and bring back Joe Kelly for the foreseeable future.

Check out our other free agent profiles here:

Steve Pearce

Craig Kimbrel

Ian Kinsler

Nathan Eovaldi

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