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Dave Dombrowski all but closed the door on a return of Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel had 42 saves last season but faltered in the postseason.jim davis/globe staff file

LAS VEGAS — Dave Dombrowski didn’t say it directly, but it appears he’s made the call on Craig Kimbrel:

Thanks for the memories.

Judging by Dombrowski’s comments Monday at the Winter Meetings, Dombrowski emphasized that Boston’s payroll has pretty much topped out after the signing of Nathan Eovaldi.

Related: How Nathan Eovaldi’s agents handled the World Series and his free agency

“We’re not going to be overly aggressive with big expenditures for our relief closer at this point,” said the Red Sox president of baseball operations. “Our payroll is pretty high at this point. Without getting specific on him [Kimbrel], we’re not making a big expenditure in that area. Read that as you may.”


There aren’t too many other interpretations other than Kimbrel will not be part of the 2019 Red Sox.

“We like a lot of guys in our bullpen,” Dombrowski said. “’[Matt] Barnes did a good job. [Ryan] Brasier did a good job. We’ve got [Brandon] Workman, we’ve got [Heath] Hembree. We’ve got Bobby Poyner from last year. We picked up Colten Brewer, so we have people who can help us out there.”

Dombrowski and Alex Cora both said they didn’t think they had to have a closer in place by spring training, nor did Cora think he needed to name one by the time the Red Sox play in Seattle on Opening Day.

Related: Red Sox say Chris Sale is fine, will be handled differently in 2019

“I do caution, from a financial perspective, it’s not going to be possible to keep everybody that we have,” said Dombrowski. “Anybody you sign long term now they may have an effect on something you need to do later on. So we may be focused more on a short-term deal.

“We’re cognizant of a couple of really important guys that we want to keep long term who will be free agents in the next year or two, so they’ll be on our mind.”


Isn’t this incredibly risky? Not to have a closer named? To rely on Barnes and Brasier as the guys?

“It’s a risk,” Dombrowski conceded. “No question. But it’s a 162-game season. It’s not one of those things that if it’s something you need to look at later on that you can’t address it. Sometimes you need to give guys opportunity. There’s a risk attached.

“We brought [Nathan] Eovaldi back and we prefer that move rather than putting that money in the direction of financing a closer. It doesn’t mean we still can’t do something in that regard, but [Eovaldi] was our priority.”

Dombrowski will monitor the market for relievers and they are aplenty.

It doesn’t appear they will be in on Zach Britton or Andrew Miller, who both seemed like terrific fits.

Cody Allen has done a terrific job in seven years with the Indians, though he struggled last season. He could be a guy the Sox could take a chance on a one-year deal. Kelvin Herrera, whom the Sox coveted at midseason, probably won’t be available at the start of the season due to a Lisfranc foot injury. He’s someone they could monitor for a midseason pickup.

Jeurys Familia is a free agent the Sox tried to get from the Mets at the trade deadline.

And Joe Kelly, you ask?


He wants to return to the Red Sox, but, according to his agent, Seth Levinson, Kelly has received calls from about 15 teams — with some of those teams viewing him as a closer. It also appears Kelly will be out of their price range.

Could they consider adding someone such as David Robertson, if he’d accept a one-year deal?

This situation often brings us back to 2013 and the Koji Uehara story. Uehara was the Red Sox third or fourth choice for closer, but then Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both went down. Uehara, to his credit, was up for the challenge.

Dombrowski has had a long string of bullpen intrigue throughout his career. The Tigers bullpen was always a challenge to him. In the recently completed World Series, Dombrowski banked on the fact that his bullpen was good enough to win a World Series. But the Sox did so knowing they could use Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, and David Price between starts. It worked famously.

Dombrowski was given a nice gift when Steve Pearce elected to stay with Boston at the same salary for one year after winning the World Series MVP. Pearce could have cashed in more than he did, but he wanted to play for the Red Sox. Similarly, Eovaldi had a lot of interest. He had bigger offers elsewhere, Levinson said.

It’s hard to walk away from Kimbrel because he is a special talent. Yes, he was awful in the postseason, but those things tend to even out over time.


The Cardinals are said to have a lot of interest in him, but would they give him six years at $108 million, which seems to be Kimbrel’s asking price? The Braves also have a need and would love an Atlanta reunion with him. Kimbrel came up through the Braves system and played his first five years in Atlanta, where he was very popular. But the Braves don’t appear to be motivated to get into that deep of a commitment. Nor do the Nationals, who have money to spend, especially if they don’t re-sign Bryce Harper.

Losing Kimbrel and not replacing him with another established closer is indeed a risk. It is indeed a major reason champions don’t repeat, because there are defections and payroll issues, and, well, stuff happens.

Every team has a budget breaking point, and the Red Sox appear to have met theirs.

It’s higher than every other team’s, so you can’t blame them for having to walk away, if that’s what they’re going to do.

Maybe it is Barnes’s time to take that role. Maybe Brasier can be that guy. Who knows? The Red Sox don’t claim they know. There’s a long way to go this offseason, so perhaps they’ll find their answer.

But if they leave that one area unsecured, it may come back to bite them.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.