The Boston Red Sox need a new closer, and Matt Barnes just might be the man for the job.
Technically speaking, there’s a chance the Red Sox re-sign Craig Kimbrel, but Boston has been adamant all offseason a reunion with the All-Star closer is unlikely. Furthermore, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Monday said that Boston won’t be signing any more bullpen arms before the start of the season.
That leaves the likes of Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg and maybe even Heath Hembree or Brandon Workman to handle closer duties. Alex Cora has floated the idea of a closer-by-committee approach, but that’s an entirely different conversation.
Barnes primarily has served as a middle-innings reliever and occasional setup man for the bulk of his four-plus seasons in the majors. And while taking over ninth-inning duties is an entirely different animal, Barnes believes he’s up to the task.
“Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about the league and about myself and how to best utilize myself,” Barnes recently said on the Rob Bradford’s “Bradfo Sho” podcast. “I’ve continued to improve every year and there is definitely room to continue to improve. I feel comfortable in a late-inning role. I’ve done it quite a bit over the last few years. I have no idea what my role is going to be but if it is ninth inning I feel comfortable and confident in it.”
Added Barnes: “I always thought I could be closer, but in Boston, the line of closers when I first got up here it was Koji (Uehara) and Koji was a stud, and then when Koji left we signed Craig and Craig is a Hall of Famer if he never pitches again.
“And Craig is still young, so pitching behind those guys and those guys have the ninth I don’t know how much you can actually say, ‘I’m going to be a closer here,’ because the two guys who had the ninth locked it down so I don’t know how much you can actually say I’m going to be a closer. I always thought I could be, or I that I had the stuff to be a closer.”
This time last year, Barnes hardly looked destined for closer duties. But his performance during the 2018 regular season — 3.65 ERA in 62 appearances — and emergence in the playoffs — 1.04 ERA in 10 appearances — helped flip the narrative. Furthermore, his high-90s fastball and sharp curveball certainly are closer-worthy.
His biggest hurdle? Control. Barnes always has had issues with walks, including a career-high 4.5 walks per nine innings last year. If the 28-year-old can command the plate and hit his spots with consistency, he might take the job and run with it.