Will Red Sox Nation See the Return of Joe Kelly In 2019?

He's not always the most consistent pitcher but Kelly remaining in Boston just makes sense for both parties.


Despite his ups and downs during his time with the Red Sox, fans have always seemed to embrace the hard-throwing right-hander, Joe Kelly.

Coming over during the 2014 trade that sent John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals, fans didn’t really know what to expect with Kelly. He put together some strong seasons with the Cardinals during the first two years of his career. In 2013, Kelly put together a record of 10-5 with a 2.69 ERA.

However, during his 2014 season, he was struggling a little bit and wasn’t having the type of season that would get Red Sox fans jazzed up for his arrival. By the end of the road for him in St. Louis, Kelly had an ERA of 4.37 and a WHIP of 1.457. Those aren’t exactly numbers that are going to get anyone excited when the trade was announced, especially when this guy was locked in to be a starter on a staff that was being torn apart at the seams at the time.

The best word to describe Kelly as a starting pitcher in Boston would be mediocre. The problem for him always seemed to be how severely flat his fastball was. There were times where it had absolutely no movement and true, while it is a fastball, it needs to dip, break, fall, do something if it stood a chance at not being clobbered.

In 2016, he began the year in Boston’s five-man rotation. But it became a year of more of the same. Kelly was sitting on an ERA over eight by June 1st, and that’s when the plug was pulled on his starting career.   

Kelly was moved to the bullpen where he has found success. He’s become a weapon entering the game late. His usage out of the bullpen has become a key asset to the Boston Red Sox success, especially throughout the 2018 postseason.

Through this past season, he became one of the more reliable arms, at times, out of a Red Sox bullpen that continuously faced harsh criticism throughout the year. The questions and comments became louder as the summer rolled on. “Who would be the eighth inning setup man” was a common one and it was completely justified. It seemed that all successful teams had that reliable guy to setup their shutdown closer.

While he did have a rough go of it through the months of June, July, and September, Kelly earned his spot on that playoff roster.

We know what happened then. Kelly flipped a switch and became everything that you needed him to be in the postseason. He brought a certain intensity that you can’t teach and looked like a completely different pitcher.

He’s never seemed like the type of pitcher who feared any batter and that is an essential key for a capable postseason pitcher.

Kelly, like Nathan Eovaldi who just earned his own payday, most likely earned himself some more cash due to his tremendous playoff performances. Because of this, that brings up the question. Will the Red Sox bring Joe Kelly back to Boston?

During his nine appearances through the 2018 postseason, Kelly had allowed just a single run and again, displayed immense electricity on the mound.  

Kelly has already made it known that he doesn’t even feel like a free agent. In an interview with Jim Rome, he further explains that Boston is the place where he wants to finish his career.

I think the real question that has to be answered is this. Does Dave Dombrowski want to bring the fiery right-handed pitcher back? It seems simple but the fact of the matter is, if he does want Kelly back, he can most likely have him.

During this free agency period, Joe Kelly is projected to earn something around $18M over a three-year period. Doing the simple math there that comes out to be about $6M per season. In fairness, this is a deal that you would expect someone like Kelly to land.

As previously mentioned, while Kelly was absolutely lights out during this postseason and during I would say, half of the regular season, we experienced the classic rough spots of the reliever.

When Joe Kelly is on his mark he is an absolute terror to opposing hitters. But the flipside of that can be a very, very dark place for both himself and Red Sox nation.

And something else worth noting, the Red Sox essentially have endless amounts of money to spend meaning that $6M is literal pocket change to the organization.

I haven’t read too much about other ball clubs making a run at Kelly. I’ve seen murmurs about the Los Angeles Dodgers needing a couple of new bullpen arms – fill-in Joe Kelly there – and the possibility that the Cubs are sniffing around the free agent too.

Whether or not that causes a bidding war is something that could cause concern for the Red Sox. The team absolutely needs to be cautious about the amount of money they spend this offseason. As I said in my previous column on Nathan Eovaldi, the Red Sox have a lot of heavy decision-making coming up in the next couple of offseasons with Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. But regardless, if the bid doesn’t exceed $8M per season, the Red Sox should pull the trigger and get this deal done.

The reason that this question had risen for me personally is because of the timetable that it’s taken to get any type of deal done. If Joe Kelly is so willing to come back to Boston, and the projections call for a relatively cheap contract, what are we waiting for?

Could it be the lack of consistency that is scaring the Red Sox front office? Or do they have another plan up their sleeve for other possible big free agent targets that they could be saving their money for? Maybe somebody like free agent reliever David Robertson?

Will we see Joe Kelly back in a Red Sox uniform at the end of the day? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Once the offseason began and the World Series hangover wore off, I think it was clear who the team should bring back with new deals, and who they shouldn’t.

One of those moves has already been made in Eovaldi, while Craig Kimbrel still sits on the market in search of a six-year contract. Thank you for your time here Kimbrel but there’s no part of me that wants this team to sign that deal.

Joe Kelly is going to be a cheap option, keeping stability in your championship bullpen and is someone who also has shown that he has a love for this organization.

Plus, as a side note, I believe that he has an intangible that isn’t spoken about enough. It appears at least from an outsider’s perspective that the clubhouse loves Kelly. Bringing him back would only keep that positive energy rolling into next season when their campaign to repeat begins.

Aside from talent and the heat he brings to the table, Kelly is somebody who would be a smart decision to sign.

A $6M deal is nothing to this organization and with all of the money that has already come off of the books with the removal of the Hanley Ramirez constraint; it just makes sense to give this playoff warrior the money he wants to come back to Boston, as long as it’s reasonable.

On top of all of this, who else are you going to have when the Yankees start acting up again at Fenway Park?