Well, while there’s a team–your most hated rival–battling through the American League Championship Series, the Red Sox are already coasting through another day of golf on vacation.
We’re going to be having a lot of the same conversations this winter that we did last year. There are two massive storylines surrounding one of the game’s best today, Mookie Betts, coupled with the potential for one of the American League’s most impressive bats to hit the free-agent market should he choose to in J.D. Martinez. And I guess you can’t forget about the human Swiss Army knife, Brock Holt, searching for a new deal too.
Regardless, don’t allow these few winter chores for–insert new Red Sox GM here–blind you from the fact that this team once again needs to fill a crucial role that they failed to last offseason. This team needs a closer.
We understand the philosophy that they entered 2019 with. They’d go with the dual closer situation and rotate between the hard-throwing Matt Barnes and the 2018 relief sensation, Ryan Brasier. No need to rehash what we already know. This gameplan went down in flames and it didn’t take too long for the team and the fanbase to realize that it was going to be a long summer should Dave Dombrowski not address the closer situation. Spoiler; he didn’t.
Funny, didn’t it seem like every soul who paid remote attention to the team’s offseason plans appear to understand that the need to fill the hole left by future Hall of Famer Craig Kimbrel, was an absolute necessity? Everybody except, well, the Red Sox themselves?
And sure, Brandon Workman did prove to become a strong closer near the back end of the season and saw some success. In fact, Workman was one of the most outstanding pieces to the team in a season that was decidedly underwhelming.
Workman finished off 2019 with 16 saves and an impressive 1.88 ERA in 71.2 IP. He also prevented the long ball allowing just a single home run on the year.
But what did we learn from this season? A season that all you could truthfully do was learn from. You can’t enter the upcoming season without addressing clear needs. Which seems alarmingly obvious, right? And as impressive as Workman was once he settled in and became the de facto closer, he’s not the guy to take over that position for the long term.
One flaw that came out of the previous offseason was a failure to look at the depth of the bullpen. If the plan was to slide Brasier and Barnes back to replace Kimbrel–which the Red Sox claim it was and it’s your choice whether or not you believe them–then what was the plan in filling their respective roles? Was there one?
Can we all agree on one thing? This team got exceedingly lucky that Marcus Walden became a key component to a bullpen that ended up being slightly better than expected (4.40 ERA, .238 Opponent’s BA). Because if Walden didn’t rise to the occasion and at least begin the season as this 30-year-old rookie phenomenon, could you imagine how weak the Red Sox relief pitching would have been?
But their decision to simply take Brasier and Barnes and slide them back into that rotating role while ignoring the need to then bring in someone to take over their spots in the ‘pen was a critical mistake.
One of the key components to the Red Sox 2018 World Series run came from Ryan Brasier, again, becoming the ultimate lucky, and let me emphasize lucky, revelation of the season. The Red Sox decision to take a chance on the then 30-year-old, who sent out handwritten letters to Major League teams begging for another chance while he played baseball in Japan, paid off. It paid off because they found a guy who could, wait for it, rotate with Matt Barnes–who is known to be incredibly streaky–in the 8th inning slot as a setup guy. Brasier excelled and would allow Kimbrel to enter a clean 9th inning rather than forcing situations for the then closer to enter the 8th inning which, as Red Sox fans came to find out, was his absolute kryptonite.
But once you remove Brasier and Barnes from the setup role and attempt to form them into closers, well then again I ask, what was the plan for their previous spots?
It was a poor decision to not make a full-blown, aggressive attempt at a closer last winter. For the Red Sox, it became obvious that they were more hoping rather than guaranteeing that Brasier and Barnes would find success in the 9th inning. And after it became exponentially evident that they couldn’t handle the title of closer, there appeared to be no backup plan. And while this wasn’t the only blackeye of the 2019 Red Sox, it reared its ugly head relatively early and often as they led the league in blown saves with 31.
The front office has made it crystal clear that their wish is to stay under the $208 million threshold in 2020, avoiding any luxury tax penalties. And make no mistake, there’s no need to expect that the Red Sox won’t be contending in 2020, especially if they can manage to hold onto either J.D. Martinez and/or Mookie Betts.
Frankly though, unless they start shipping some guys out of town, that $208 million target is going to be difficult to avoid as they sit on $197 million right now in guaranteed contracts and estimates regarding their arbitration-eligible players.
So if they somehow become comfortable with taking another year of penalities, expect them to go out and sign a true closer, or someone who could at least comfortably hold that title. Perhaps a guy on my wish list such as 30-year-old lefty, Will Smith who is coming off of a 34 save season with a 2.76 ERA. Or maybe even, wait for it, New York Yankees Dellin Betances who may take something on the short term side, along with a cheaper or potentially incentive-based deal due to his recent battle with injury throughout the entirety of the 2019 season. It is important to note though, the market is a little slim this year.
The fact is that with the position that they’re in now contract wise, they would be going after someone who is on the cheaper end of things which in turn would mean, well, someone mediocre.
Could there be someone who is already on the roster who could successfully become their permanent closer? Sure, I guess so. The only name that I’d be intrigued with there is 22-year-old Darwinzon Hernández. Perhaps they’d even consider bringing Andrew Cashner back on what should be small money.
For a team that will be in contention again in 2020, they need a closer. If their number one priority is their J.D. Martinez/Mookie Betts situation, then their need at closer should then be priority 1A.