The last and biggest task remaining for the Red Sox this winter is to add some new talent to the end of their bullpen, nominally replacing Craig Kimbrel as closer. Dave Dombrowski has said many times that he is comfortable with guys like Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier as a closer, and he reiterated that on Monday. I don’t think that’s too crazy, particularly with Barnes, but adding more relief talent is necessary whether you call them a closer or not. Dombrowski talked to the media about this process, and specifically about Kimbrel himself. Based on these comments, it sure seems like the Red Sox are going in another direction in their bullpen.
Dave Dombrowski on closer position/Craig Kimbrel: "Our payroll is pretty high at this point. So without getting specific on him, we're not looking to make a big expenditure in that area. So read that as you may."— Christopher Smith (@SmittyOnMLB) December 11, 2018
That sounds like Dombrowski is explicitly telling people that Kimbrel is going somewhere else without actually having to say the words. I don’t think that’s a major surprise, as Boston is willing to take some minor draft pick compensation and look for a cheaper option. Depending on the option, this is certainly not necessarily a bad move. We know the downsides with Kimbrel, and we mostly saw them in October. His velocity started to trend down this past year, and his command was rough all year and especially rough in the postseason. He’s also reportedly looking for a six-year deal, and while he’s almost certainly not getting that five years isn’t out of the question. You can see why the Red Sox would want to move on.
All of that being said, it seems to me that people are far too willing to move on from the clear best reliever on the market and still one of the elite relievers in the game. October was a mess, obviously, but even with walk issues all year Kimbrel finished with a 2.74 ERA, a 3.16 FIP and a 2.58 DRA. And that’s a down year after a spring training for which he was mostly absence because of health issues in his family. Again, I’m not saying the Red Sox should absolutely bring Kimbrel back. I’m probably more on that train than most, but I fully acknowledge there are other options who could provide more bang for your buck and less risk down the road. That being said, Kimbrel isn’t necessarily going to be an awful contract for whoever gets him. He’s still outstanding, and whoever gets him will get a Hall of Famer in his prime. That ain’t nothing.
As for potential replacements, we’ve talked about a whole lot of them in free agency to this point, but there have been reports connecting the Red Sox to Adam Ottavino, David Robertson and Joakim Soria to this point, and Joe Kelly remains a possibility as well.