Red Sox Closer Situation Needs an Immediate Resolution

With the departure of one of the great closers of all-time, the Red Sox had a plan. But it just isn't working.

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The number of blown saves for the Boston Red Sox in 2019 is nine. Yupp, you read that right. The Red Sox have blown their chance at winning a ballgame nine times so far this season and as of right now, there doesn’t seem like a solution is in sight for the back end of the bullpen.

Not to rehash what everyone’s already mentioned thousands of times by this point, but the obvious question through the offseason coming off of another World Series title was the bullpen. For the most part, minus a few familiar faces such as Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, the Red Sox bullpen looked to have most of the same weapons. But with the departure of one of the greatest closers in the history of the game, Craig Kimbrel, the question was clear. Who’s going to fill that massive void left in the ninth inning to finish up tight games while you cling to a one-run lead?

Despite his refusal to answer the question through the winter and even spring, the general consensus was that second-year manager Alex Cora was going to go with two of his most dependable arms through their World Series campaign–Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. It would be something we really haven’t seen much of in Boston and that’s a shared closer role. And honestly, at least to start the season, it appeared to be working.

Barnes helped finish off the Seattle Mariners in the second game of the season–also the team’s first win–clinching the first save of the year. Brasier latched on to his first save of 2019 five days later. As April wore on, it became evident though that the plan was developing into making Brasier the more, I guess you can say, regular closer.

The first month of this experiment with the surprise of 2018 was overall, pretty encouraging. He’d given up just two earned runs in 13.2 IP and grabbed six saves in seven opportunities exiting April with a strong ERA of 1.42.

The month of May though has been a totally different story. The unraveling began on May 2nd while the team was in Chicago battling the White Sox. Up one with two men on and one out, Brasier allowed a three-run bomb to Nicky Delmonico in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Chicago the walk-off victory. I know I’m supposed to be unbiased and treat every team equally, but that one stung to watch.

As the month has continued, things haven’t exactly worked themselves out. And the most recent disaster in the ninth inning came on Tuesday, May 28th when Brasier was handed an inning any closer would love to have. He took the mound in the top of the ninth inning at Fenway Park with a three-run cushion. He proceeded to surrender three earned runs on two long balls.

So here we are. It’s May 31st and the reigning World Series champions sit 7.5 games out of first place behind the freight train that is the New York Yankees, and the very, very legitimate Tampa Bay Rays. If the Red Sox have blown nine opportunities to take home wins, they’ve blown nine opportunities to be right there at the top of the AL East standings.

So what does Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora do?

Let’s start with the manager. He’s caught some criticism recently over some in-game decisions he’s made because we were spoiled last year watching every little thing he touched turn to gold. One of those things turned to gold in 2018? A relief pitcher who was buried in Japan the year prior named Ryan Brasier.

While he certainly isn’t immune to criticism, my main question is, what can he do with the weapons that he has at his disposal?

To start the season off, the bullpen was seeing great success. Roles actually appeared to be ironing themselves out and if there was one concern with the ‘pen, it was depth. Marcus Walden has been the team’s breakout star thus far, Brandon Workman, for the most part, has been one of the best middle relief weapons in the game, Matt Barnes was holding down the seventh or eighth innings and Brasier was finishing things off. But now that Brasier is struggling mightily, the options of what to do are slim.

You could potentially swap Barnes and Brasier. Baseball is a game of mental gymnastics, and there’s a legitimate possibility that if you slide Brasier back into a role that he saw more success in last season, he could turn things around. Barnes has seen his own troubles this month, but not like his counterpart. And again, with what’s sitting in the bullpen now, the question really becomes, what’s the other option? Frankly, you’re not going to close out games with Workman, Walden or Hembree because their clear value derives from middle-inning work. In other words, they’re long relief guys.

So truthfully, that narrows things down for you right there and gives you the solution–and I use that term incredibly loosely–for the current moment.

But if you elect not to go that route, of course, there’s a prospect that you have on your Double-A affiliate’s roster right now in Durbin Feltman. But truth be told, he hasn’t proven, at least to this point, that he is a viable option. His time in Portland has been good, not great and he’s had a few nights on the infant season where he’s been roughed up pretty substantially. In 18 IP, your presumed closer of the future has surrendered 13 earned runs and is currently sitting on an ERA over 6.00. So in lamens terms, Feltman’s nowhere near ready.

And this is where the President of Baseball Operations with a severely weak history of building bullpens enters the fold. What can he do?

Well, let’s be hesitant with making any big market trades right now in what would be a panic move. The season’s slipping away, yes–whether that’s an overreaction or not–but frankly, your farm system’s already a barren wasteland and trading away what, in all likelihood, would be more prospects isn’t something I’d recommend. Eventually, if you’re still in the mix come the end of July, that might be the move you’re forced to make though. That is if you don’t sign anybody first or find a surprise closer, Koji Uehara style, sitting in the shadows.

Want a real panic move that truly could end up being a realistic option if the team continues to see these same faults? Dave Dombrowski picks up the phone and calls an old friend that we spoke about earlier. The main cause for heart attacks around New England in the month of October, Craig Kimbrel.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 9: Craig Kimbrel #46 and Eduardo Nunez #46 of the Boston Red Sox celebrate after clinching the American League Division Series in game four against the New York Yankees on October 9, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

I understand how asinine this sounds at the moment. If the Red Sox wanted to bring Kimbrel back, wouldn’t they have at this point? At the start of the offseason, the rumored deal that Kimbrel was seeking was astronomical. For the most part, we’ve heard 6-years, $100 million. This sought after deal was then reportedly lowered to 3-years. Each of those contracts are something the Red Sox should never consider with the massive deal that could be on the horizon for Mookie Betts. The length also worries me with a flame thrower who’s over 30-years old. Are you telling me that arm isn’t destined to blow out one of these seasons? But in a dream world, at the end of May with Kimbrel still unemployed, don’t you think these demands have dropped?

In the end, it’s a pipe dream. You hear people constantly scream on Twitter and in passing, “Why don’t the Red Sox just sign Kimbrel to a 1-year deal!?”. Something that a lot of people choose to ignore is that the players themselves have to agree to a contract too. Nuanced thinking, right?

So would Kimbrel sign a 1-year or even a 2-year deal at something around $15 million a year? If this were the case, get him on a plane and fly him to New York tonight to suit up against the Yankees. Because the closing situation for this team is getting more and more desperate with every passing mark in the loss column. And the desperation level will only increase with greater speed depending on how this weekend’s now three-game set in the Bronx goes.

If you can bring Kimbrel back on a short-term contract with affordable money in the fold–and let’s be honest with ourselves, the Red Sox can afford it–pull the trigger. Because frankly, the ninth inning debacles have been a primary cause of death for this team thus far in the standings.

In reality, Kimbrel most likely goes immediately after the conclusion of the 2019 MLB Draft on June 5th because at that point, whichever suitor makes the deal won’t be forced to subsequently surrender a draft pick.

An even crazier pipe dream? Nathan Eovaldi, upon his return, is slotted in the closing role. The only problem that then opens up is who would fill his spot in the starting rotation because Ryan Weber isn’t somebody to rely on much longer going every fifth day.

This situation at the end of ballgames is rapidly becoming one of the sole reasons why this team is falling out of contention within the division. And if Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski don’t resolve this quickly, things could turn really ugly here in Boston, fast. Truthfully, they’re lucky the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup Finals and the attention’s off of them, or the fans could have already turned.