Dave Dombrowski is in a position in which he hasn’t found himself in quite some time, coming off a World Series championship. For his entire tenure in Boston before this winter, as well as his entire tenure in Detroit, he never got to the ultimate goal and always had some work to do to improve. This year, the goal is different. He wants to repeat rather than simply win, and that can mean different things for different teams. For the Red Sox, it has essentially meant bringing the band back together. Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce are back, and to this point Joe Kelly is the only key piece who will be wearing a new uniform in 2019. Craig Kimbrel could be another.
On Wednesday, Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY published a long conversation with Dombrowski about a number of different topics, but Kimbrel did come up. The last remaining item on the Red Sox to-do list is to add to their bullpen, and Kimbrel continues to come up as the most logical choice. Despite all of the speculation and logical connections, there still haven’t been any reports linking the two sides of late. Sure enough, Dombrowski poured some cold water on the idea in his conversation with Nightengale, saying “Craig did a great job for us, he’s a Hall of Fame reliever, but we have not anticipated having a large expenditure for a closer.”
So, that’s something! It’s no surprise that this quote has drudged up some reaction from the fanbase. We’ve been sitting around since early December waiting for the next shoe to drop, and with every top option coming off the board it looked more and more likely that a reunion with Kimbrel — who is clearly the top option on the board based on pure talent — was becoming inevitable. Dombrowski’s comments are obviously in opposition to that idea, and it has people (including me!) reeling.
Of course, it is obviously worth noting that we shouldn’t be taking anything a front office employee says in public as gospel. Dombrowski and others are always thinking about leverage when they speak to reporters, and he would be doing himself no favors if he said he believed the team needed someone like Kimbrel in 2019 to get back to where they want to be. It is why he has said multiple times he is comfortable with the idea of Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier handling closer duties next year. It is why he spent all of last winter saying he was comfortable with the lineup as it was while it was obvious they needed someone like J.D. Martinez inserted into the middle of the order. That is how GM-speak works.
On the other hand, this is different than those other two quotes. When Dombrowski says he’s comfortable with the internal options at closer or when he was saying he was comfortable with the lineup last winter, he never really came out and ruled out any options. With this quote to Nightengale, he isn’t explicitly ruling out a Kimbrel signing, but he is specifically poo-pooing the idea. That is a major difference, and it has me feeling differently about this entire situation. Before these quotes, I was of the mind that there was something like a 70 percent chance the Red Sox would end up with Kimbrel. At this point, I’m down around 50 percent, and even that may be high. It’s disappointing if they don’t pony up for him, but it goes to show how much of an effect the luxury tax is having on the game now.
If the Red Sox do decide not to sign Kimbrel, my assumption is that it would be because they don’t want to sign a multi-year deal with a reliever. They are almost certainly surpassing the top tax threshold again this year, so the focus would be on the coming years. Signing Kimbrel would obviously affect more than just the 2019 salary. That would presumably take Adam Ottavino off the board as well, and leave them with choices like Cody Allen, Sergio Romo and Brad Brach, among others. This would be the right move for the Red Sox’ payroll, but the wrong choice for the product on the field. With the team having a legitimate shot at repeating, I know which side I’m on.