ESPN Pinpoints Red Sox’s Biggest Offseason Question Heading Into 2019

Defending a title is one of the most difficult feats in sports, and the Boston Red Sox will have their hands full in 2019.

But the journey back to the World Series begins this winter when the Sox will be tasked with some hard choices.

The Red Sox capped a historic 2018 season by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win the World Series, but Alex Cora’s club will have a number of tough decisions to make this offseason, with Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, World Series MVP Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi slated to become free agents. The Red Sox also will have to look ahead to the impending 2019 free agencies of Chris Sale and Rick Porcello, as well as expected pay raises for Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. J.D. Martinez also could potentially opt out of his contract beginning next offseason which could further complicate the Red Sox’s future planning.

As the baseball offseason barrels toward the Winter Meetings, ESPN took a look at each team’s biggest question for the offseason and Dave Schoenfield tagged the backend of the bullpen as the Red Sox’s biggest offseason issue.

Per ESPN:

The Red Sox enter the offseason with two big gaps in the bullpen as Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly head to free agency. Kimbrel obviously had a rocky postseason, allowing seven runs in 10 ⅔ innings, but he was still solid in the regular season with a 2.74 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 62 ⅓ innings albeit with some control issues (4.5 walks per nine). Kelly was the opposite: inconsistent in the regular season (4.39 ERA), dynamite in the postseason (0.79 ERA, no walks in 11 ⅓ innings).

Both will be entering their age-31 seasons, but both still throw hard and have generally good health records. Kimbrel is certainly similar to Wade Davis, who signed a three-year, $52 million contract last offseason with the Rockies. Kelly probably earned himself a lot of money with his big October. Matt Barnes has the stuff to step in as closer, but that still leaves a couple slots to fill. The Red Sox also have to be thinking ahead to the 2019-20 offseason, when Chris Sale and Rick Porcello become free agents, so they may not want to pour $50 million into a reliever.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski expressed his desire to bring the whole club back, but with both Kimbrel and Kelly slated to get huge paydays, it’s hard to see Boston shelling out the money for relievers with all that sits on the financial horizon for the Sox.

Barnes and Ryan Brasier were good power arms in 2018, but neither seem like an ideal replacement as closer should Kimbrel and Kelly go elsewhere. The bullpen was seen as Boston’s biggest weakness entering the postseason, and while the group was dominant in October, the Sox can’t head into next season with a bullpen reliant on only Barnes and Brasier in the later innings.

Thumbnail photo via Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports Images

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