So, who’s going to close games for the Boston Red Sox this season?
At this point, it seems highly unlikely that Craig Kimbrel will return. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said as much Monday morning during a press conference at JetBlue Park. And despite balking on re-signing Kimbrel and watching Joe Kelly sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston did little in the way of upgrading its bullpen during the offseason.
That leaves the likes of Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and Steven Wright to battle for closing duties this spring. And those all are fine pitchers, but aside from Thornburg (13 career saves) the Red Sox don’t have anybody on their roster with legitimate closing experience.
If no one steps up and claims the job during spring training, don’t be surprised if Alex Cora uses a closer-by-committee approach, at least in the early portion of the regular season.
“I think we’re considering everything right now,” the Red Sox manager told Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam on Monday. “March 28 (the date of the regular season opener), people will be like, ‘OK, that’s what they’re doing.’ But we’ve got capable guys to get people out and we’ll maximize their talent.
” … When you have talent and you have options, anything is possible. I’m not saying that’s the way we’re going, but it’s something we’ll talk about.”
Closer-by-committee is a dreaded topic among baseball fans. The strategy rarely works (hello, 2003 Red Sox) and typically leads to a late-season trade for an established closer.
But there are benefits to such an approach, according to Cora.
“Options,” Cora told McAdam. “Options from the seventh inning through the ninth. More teams are doing it, like Houston. You hear A.J. (Hinch, manager of the Houston Astros) say, ‘Yeah, (Roberto) Osuna is my closer, but that doesn’t mean he’s always going to pitch the ninth inning.’ That’s just a title.
“But it’s too early (to know if this is the path we’re going to take) right now. It all depends who we have. If we have guys who can get people out and we’re comfortable with it, it might be an option.”
In a perfect world, the Red Sox would begin their World Series title defense with a solidified closer willing and able to handle ninth-inning duties. Sure, you can get creative and use “rovers” in the postseason, but first you actually have to make the playoffs.
That said, Cora is at his best when he takes the unconventional path, so fans shouldn’t panic if the bullpen lacks an anchor on Opening Day.
Thumbnail photo via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images