Are the Boston Red Sox preparing Koji Uehara for his next team?
Probably not. The Red Sox have made it clear they’d like to re-sign Uehara, who is set to become a free agent after this season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t meet the right-hander’s contractual demands. But the Red Sox still face a unique situation given Uehara’s impending free agency.
The Red Sox’s first notable decision with Uehara this season occurred before the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, when Boston opted not to deal the closer amid its flurry of moves. The door was left open for the potential returns of Jon Lester and Andrew Miller — two free agents-to-be who were traded — but the Red Sox balked at taking a similar approach with Uehara.
Perhaps the Red Sox felt their chances of retaining Uehara were far greater than retaining either Lester or Miller. Perhaps they felt that trading Uehara would prevent them from being able to re-sign the 39-year-old on the open market and thus weren’t prepared to gamble, even if it meant acquiring a few promising prospects. But for whatever reason, Uehara wasn’t viewed in the same context as Lester and Miller — players who, in theory, could be traded for talent and then possibly return in free agency after the season — and the Red Sox missed out on an opportunity to land a decent haul.
Now, the Red Sox are refraining from shutting down Uehara, who is stuck in a nasty slump, but have removed him from the closer’s role while he irons out his issues. The role change is designed to help Uehara finish the season on a positive note despite there being at least some level of uncertainty over his future in Boston.
“We take the view of every player, regardless of whether their contract status, that their health is first and foremost,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday when asked about the oddity of eyeing the future with regards to a player who isn’t under contract for the following season. “And we’re not going to do anything to jeopardize that.”
In short, the Red Sox are handling Uehara — both at the deadline and in their most recent decision — as if he’ll definitely be around for 2015. Obviously, it’s possible — perhaps very likely — he’ll be back, but it’s interesting, nonetheless. If nothing else, it speaks to how highly the Red Sox value Uehara as they retool for a return to contention.
“There’s no denying his total body of work here. It’s been elite,” Farrell said. “There’s been a couple of stretches within that two years where, like any good pitcher, they’re going to get challenged. And when you look back over the course of his career in the States as a reliever, he’s had these in the past. It just so happens it’s happening at this time of the year. It doesn’t deter our view and value of him by any means. That (free agency) situation will take care of itself.”
Uehara is slated to soon hit the open market, at which point any team in Major League Baseball can vie for his services and attempt to pluck him out of Boston. You’d never know it.