What does Matt Barnes think of the possibility the Red Sox could bring back former teammate Craig Kimbrel, who is almost certain to be dealt by the Cubs before Friday’s trade deadline? He broached the topic recently with manager Alex Cora and pitching coach Dave Bush.
“I jokingly told Bushy and A.C., ‘It’s going to be a super-awkward conversation when you tell Craig he’s going to throw the eighth now,’” Barnes revealed.
The remark was offered in jest. Barnes views Kimbrel both as a close friend, one of the most important mentors he’s ever had (the two were throwing partners during their three-year overlap with the Red Sox), and a future Hall of Famer. He’s also well aware that Kimbrel is once again performing at peak levels. In 39 games for the Cubs, Kimbrel — in the final season of a three-year, $43 million deal that has a vesting team option for 2022 — has a 0.49 ERA with the highest strikeout rate (46.7 percent) by a reliever this year.
Barnes, of course, is amidst a career year as the Red Sox closer. He has 22 saves, a 2.36 ERA, and a 41.7 percent strikeout rate that ranks fifth in the majors. As much as he’s enjoyed his ninth-inning role, however, the 31-year-old would unfurl a red carpet if the Sox move to bring back Kimbrel.
“Selfishly, would I love to still be the closer? Absolutely,” said Barnes. “But if I go back to throwing the eighth because the guy throwing the ninth is Craig Kimbrel, I’m totally fine with it. “I would welcome him with open arms.
“He’d make our bullpen deeper. He’d make our team better. It’s about winning as many ballgames as possible and bringing home championships. Obviously I would love to have him. He’s a great person and he’s an absolute stud on the field.”
That interest in improving the odds of a Red Sox championship could potentially come at some financial cost for Barnes. Kimbrel’s $16 million team option becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games this season. He currently has 35 games finished.
If the Sox were to acquire Kimbrel and either pick up his option or have it vest, Barnes would presumably become the team’s setup man not just for the rest of this season but also next. That, in turn, could impact his earnings over the life of the two-year, $18.75 million extension Barnes signed with the team. The Sox hold an $8 million option for 2024 that can escalate by as much as $2 million based on his games finished over the next two years.
But Barnes shooed away those potential monetary concerns.
“Our chances of winning the World Series with Craig are greater than without him,” said Barnes. “I think anybody who’s a contender, who’s going to make the playoffs is going to say that. I think it’s just an obvious statement. If we win the World Series, I get a bonus, too. There’s two sides to that story. I’m fortunate enough to be in the position now where I get to go out and don’t have to worry about any contract stuff. I get to go out, just have fun, play baseball, and honestly I don’t know that I’ve thought about the implications of games finished or lack thereof if Craig is here.”
Instead, his focus is simply on the excitement of the position in which the Red Sox find themselves and the possibility of adding to a team that resides in first place at the end of July. A year ago, Barnes wondered if he’d join an exodus that included longtime teammates Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Mitch Moreland, who were dealt at the deadline. This year, his concerns are drastically different.
“Last year I was out here with my phone every day, every hour looking at it leading up to [the deadline]. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to be a Red Sox at the end of last year,” said Barnes. “I’m super fortunate and obviously happy that I still am, but it’s nice not to worry that I could be traded in the next two days — or at least I don’t think I’m going to be. I’m worrying a lot less about it now than I was last year, for sure.”
Whether through a trade for Kimbrel or someone else, the possibility of reinforcing the Red Sox roster for a push towards — and through — the postseason is on the minds of the Sox.
“You can always get better. You can add arms, you can add bats, you can add position player guys, guys who mesh well with the team,” said Barnes. “I’m sure that they’re talking to a bunch of people. [Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom] has done a great job not only of building the farm system back up but putting together a quality team, a really good team at the big league level here … If there’s positions and pieces that they think will make us better, it would be really hard not to trust that wholeheartedly after the success he’s had putting this team together.”