In one of the last postgame press conferences at the end of a disappointing 2020 season for the Boston Red Sox, relief pitcher Matt Barnes expressed his interest in becoming the team’s regular closer.
Former manager Ron Roenicke had been using Barnes at the end of games throughout the season, helping the right hander realize the job was his for the taking. Less than a year later, he’s a first-time Major League Baseball All-Star, and on Sunday, the Red Sox announced they’d signed him to a two-year extension.
The contract runs through the 2023 season, with a team option for 2024. The deal, worth more than $18 million, is a team-friendly one. But both sides benefit from the structure it added to Boston’s bullpen.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora spoke to how Barnes made his decision making easier before the start of the season
“I think in ’19, he had an opportunity to go into that office and tell me, ‘I want to be the closer.’ But he just said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’ ” Cora said before Sunday’s series finale against the Philadelphia Phillies. “This year, he walked into the office and said, ‘I want to be the closer.’ That?s a lot different than ’19.”
Of course, actions speak louder than words, and Barnes mostly has lived up to what he manifested at the end of last season. The 31-year-old went into Sunday’s game with a 2.68 ERA with 19 saves and 62 strikeouts in 37 appearances with 37 innings pitched.
“If he would have told me in ’19, ‘I want to be the closer,’ probably he was going to be the closer from the get-go,” Cora said. “But he didn’t take that step. Nothing against him ? at that point he was thinking about just getting big outs whenever, which is understandable. But then, at the end, I think structure matters, as you guys know, from my end. I do believe that when you have capable guys throughout the seventh, eighth, ninth, structure really matters. It’s something that, when he walked in this year, I was like, ‘OK, cool. This is a lot different. This might be the route we go.’
“Understanding where we were, where we?re at as an organization, having a veteran just be genuine and honest about the whole situation, it made it easier in a sense, but I think this was the route we were going to take.”
Barnes expressed his gratitude to stay with Boston, making it crystal clear he wanted to stick around on a deal beneficial for both sides. After coming up through the Red Sox organization and breaking out as one of the better relief pitchers in MLB, that box now can be checked.