By Sterling Pingree
According to Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox are completely fine with defending their most recent World Series championship with Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier as their closer. The hammer in the pen, could be a pitcher who a year ago was pitching for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Meanwhile, one of the greatest closers in baseball history is rotting away on the free agent market. Craig Kimbrel produced as many aneurysms this past post season as he did outs, but he’s a reliable closer, which in 2019 is not always the easiest thing to find.
I spent most of 2018 convinced that the bullpen was going to be the undoing of a historically great Red Sox team and for some reason, it wasn’t. The Sox pen became a dominant force in October. Joe Kelly went from being a fringe player on the postseason roster, to lights out October setup man, to overpaid relief pitcher for the Dodgers in a matter of 4 weeks.
Whoever came jogging out of the pen became Wild Thing Vaughn (after he found himself), but was this truly indicative of the Red Sox relief pitchers? Absolutely not, because Boston supplemented their bullpen in October with starters making relief cameos. Where would the Red Sox be if not for the emergency appearances by Nathan Eovaldi, David Price and Chris Sale?
Patriots fans love to complain about Stephen Gostowski, heck our very own Mark Paulette is the chairman of the IDTG club (I Don’t Trust Gostowski club). Does he miss kicks in big games? Sadly, yes, but would you take any kid out of college over him? Not a chance. Is there a better option sitting on the couch waiting for a call? No way. Can Morton Anderson come out of retirement and start booting balls towards the lighthouse? Probably not. (I stress probably, dude kicked until he was 57 I think.)
We’re critical of Gostowski because he’s set a remarkably high standard for himself and when he misses kicks, we are more stunned than anything. In 2018, Gostowski was perfect inside of 40 yards and only missed one extra point, which is among the best in the league. Craig Kimbrel had a down year and still featured a 5-1 mark with 42 saves and a 2.74ERA and struck out his third highest amount since 2012. Kickers and closers are more closely related than one would think, neither are much of a factor for long stretches, until they are and when they are (Tom Brady aside) nobody is more important in that moment.
Why wouldn’t the Red Sox sign Kimbrel? Money? They paid $85 million in luxury tax last year and didn’t seem to care when they were jumping in locker room beer tubs. Can you really go into the season with Barnes or Brasier as your closer? Forget for a moment your level of trust in either guy, but by moving both of them up into more prominent roles, someone has to then take their place in the 7th or 8th inning. Who would that be? The Red Sox haven’t added any relievers this offseason and lost the aforementioned Joe Kelly. Beyond dollars and cents, it is becoming a game of numbers, because the Sox simply don’t have that many pitchers on the roster.
So help me god if Dombrowski keeps using Tyler Thornburg’s name as if that’s a viable option. We went down this road last year with him and for the two years before that with Carson Smith, it won’t work. It didn’t work in Detroit with those Jim Leyland teams when their Achilles heel was a bullpen and it won’t work long term if you let your two best relief pitchers from last October walk and don’t make any effort to replace them besides the lost causes and lost trades made for the Thornburg’s and the Smith’s of the world.
Sign Kimbrel, pass out some rings and become the first team since the 1999-2000 Yankees to repeat. If not, I guess we’ll just kick.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live on DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.