LAS VEGAS — The market for free agent relief pitchers heated up early Thursday morning when former Red Sox righthander Joe Kelly agreed on a three-year, $25 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Then Jeurys Familia returned to the Mets on a three-year, $30 million deal.
Other relievers are expected to reach agreements in the coming days based on what Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has heard.
The Red Sox seem determined to wait out the initial flurry, believing the large number of free agent relievers will depress prices. That Kelly received $8.3 million a year suggests it won’t necessarily be cheap. But the Sox could get more of a bargain by waiting.
“Even though it has started to move, there’s still a long way to go,” Dombrowski said as the Winter Meetings wrapped up. “We have our ears to the ground to see what’s going on. But I think philosophically our approach isn’t changing.”
Once the Sox signed Nathan Eovaldi for four years and $68 million, their strategy was to fill out the bullpen more economically.
“At this time of year, if you’re going to sign somebody, you’re going to be aggressive and try to make it happen with big dollars,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not at that point in the reliever market.”
Kelly was essentially an average pitcher in his five seasons with the Sox. He had a 4.33 earned run average and 1.39 WHIP despite a fastball that often hit 100 miles per hour. He had a respectable 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings but also 4.1 walks.
Once the Sox gave up on him starting, Kelly was better as a reliever but still inconsistent. After a dominant first two months last season, Kelly posted a 6.13 ERA and 1.74 WHIP after June 1 and had his role diminished.
But he was at his best in the postseason.
Over nine games and 11⅓ innings, Kelly allowed one earned run on eight hits with 13 strikeouts and no walks. His work in the World Series was particularly impressive as Kelly pitched in all five games against the Dodgers and threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts.
Now Kelly will come home to pitch for the Dodgers. Kelly was born in Southern California, played college ball at Cal-Riverside just outside of Los Angeles, and resides in Rancho Cucamonga, about 45 miles from Dodger Stadium.
Deals to be done
Assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran, who has contract negotiations among his many duties, is about to be very busy.
The Red Sox have 11 players under contract who are eligible for salary arbitration — Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. among them — and a relatively short time to get them signed.
The sides have until Jan. 11 to reach a deal. At that point, they would exchange proposals in preparation for a hearing.
A deal can be struck right up until the hearing, but some teams cut off negotiations once figures are exchanged. The Sox took the “file and go” tact with Betts last year and lost in the hearing.
Dombrowski said the Sox have not settled on a strategy for this season.
“We really haven’t focused on that. That’ll be a focus of our conversations after the first of the year,” he said.
Sitting out Rule 5 draft
The Sox did not make a selection in the Rule 5 draft. Nor did they lose any players. There was some speculation that first baseman Josh Ockimey would be taken, but he was not among the 14 selections.
The Sox grabbed two righthanded relievers in the minor league phase of the draft: Anyelo Gomez from the Yankees and Andrew Schwaab from the Tigers.
Gomez, 25, appeared in only seven games for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season because of a shoulder injury. He has averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his career.
“A power arm when he’s right,” Sox vice president of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum said.
The Sox feel their medical staff and the team’s shoulder strengthening program will benefit Gomez, who has a fastball in the upper 90s.
Schwaab, who turns 26 in February, was signed by the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and released last season. The Tigers then picked him up. In all, Schwaab had a 6.23 ERA over 41 games.
But prior to last season, Schwaab was a solid prospect for the Yankees. He played in the Arizona Fall League in 2017 after posting a 3.43 ERA during the season. Schwaab has a three-quarters sidearm delivery that makes his slider hard to pick up.
“It’s a deceptive fastball,” Quattlebaum said. “Can be a little erratic with his command, but historically has been really effective against righthanded hitters. Keeps the ball on the ground at a relatively high rate.”
The Sox also lost a player when Single A Salem outfielder Tyler Hill was taken by the Tigers. He was later traded to the Yankees.
Hill, 22, is a center fielder with speed but has a .724 OPS over five seasons and only 14 home runs, one last season in 426 at-bats.
Brad Sloan, a special assignment scout who has been with the Red Sox for three years, was named the 2018 Midwest Scout of the Year. Sloan has been in professional baseball since 1980. This was his first season with a World Series winner . . . Baseball America reported that the Red Sox re-signed Tony Renda to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old was outrighted off the 40-man roster in November. Renda appeared in only one game last season but it was memorable. He pinch ran in the 10th inning against the Yankees at Fenway Park on Aug. 5 and scored from second base on Andrew Benintendi’s single.