CARLSBAD, Calif. — The future of Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has been discussed quite a bit here at the GM Meetings this week.
There’s speculation as to whether the Red Sox will go all out to keep him, or whether they would prefer to spend the resources in a different way. The Red Sox did make Kimbrel a qualifying offer of $17.9 million. But they don’t expect Kimbrel to take it since he’s likely to get a multiyear deal in the Aroldis Chapman neighborhood of five years, $86 million.
Given that Kimbrel struggled during the postseason (10⅔ innings, 9 hits, 7 runs, 8 walks) in the Red Sox run to the championship, the question is do they think they’ve squeezed the most they can out of the 30-year-old closer? If they think the answer is yes, then moving on is probably the right decision.
Kimbrel did not close out Game 5 of the World Series against the Dodgers with the Red Sox leading by four runs. That may have been a forerunner to what the Red Sox are thinking.
Chris Sale pitched the final inning because Alex Cora wanted Sale to feel a part of the World Series victory after the Red Sox manager went with David Price as his Game 5 starter.
Kimbrel has expressed a desire to stay in Boston. He has made an impact with the team in his three seasons and developed a special bond with Boston Children’s Hospital this year after his infant daughter was born with a heart condition.
Kimbrel went through a lot in spring training. He left the team in March to be with his family during his daughter’s recovery, then was light’s out with seven saves in the first month of the season as the Red Sox bolted to a 21-7 start.
The 2018 postseason struggles aside, the Red Sox certainly have not regretted the blockbuster trade they made in November 2015 to acquire Kimbrel. Boston gave up four prospects, including highly touted center fielder Manual Margot, to get the best closer in baseball from the Padres. Kimbrel made $13 million last season — and $37.5 million in three seasons in Boston — but that contract is up.
There’s speculation Kimbrel might return to the up-and-coming Atlanta Braves, where he started his career. The Cardinals, Nationals, and Phillies also are reportedly interested.
Now, Red Sox officials usually shrug their shoulders when asked about Kimbrel’s future. If the righthander, who will turn 31 in May, would accept a contract of no more than three years in the neighborhood of his 2018 salary, the Red Sox likely would bring him back.
Working against Kimbrel are Red Sox needs in other areas. It appears that late-season acquisition and World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi is their No. 1 priority, and the 28-year-old righthanded starter may command at least four years for $60 million.
The Red Sox also know that Xander Bogaerts, Sale, Mookie Betts, and possibly Jackie Bradley Jr. will be due large raises in the near future. A healthy Sale, for example, could command something akin to Price’s $217 million deal.
Replacing Kimbrel would be difficult, but there are established closers on the market.
The Red Sox coveted Zach Britton before the Orioles closer was dealt to the Yankees in July. The lefthander regained his form in New York after rehabbing from an early-season Achilles’ injury.
Another lefty bullpen piece to keep in mind is Andrew Miller, who battled through leg injuries and pitched just 34 innings for the Indians in 2018.
The Red Sox may toy with the idea of pairing Miller, perhaps the best setup man in baseball when healthy, with free agent Kelvin Herrera to replace Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, also a free agent.
Miller, who has a long history with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski from his Tigers days, would give the Red Sox a lot of flexibility in the late innings to go along with Matt Barnes. And the Red Sox actively tried to acquire Herrera (who suffered a season-ending foot injury in August) from the Royals in July before he was traded to the Nationals.
If the Red Sox decide to go in a different direction, Dombrowski and his staff have a long list to comb through.
There’s Jeurys Familia (51 saves with the Mets in 2016), Dave Robertson, Adam Ottavino, Joakim Soria, Cody Allen, Bud Norris, Brad Brach, Jesse Chavez, and Adam Warren to name a few.
So despite their fourth championship in 15 years, the Red Sox bullpen could have a decidedly different look in 2019.