“He’s so offbeat, and witty,” a pair of hungover Boston interns bantered amongst themselves, in some light hearted morning scuttlebutt. They were referring to that zany Theo Epstein and his closing experiment, expertly dubbed Closer By Committee.
“I like it. I think they’re on to something.” Was the Toronto legend J.P. Ricciardi’s reaction to closer-by-committee.
“I think it’s great,” Billy Beane later chimed in, giving a vocal stamp of approval for old pal Theo. Well, it wasn’t. Jason Shiell, anyone?
Going a bit further back to 2002, a 27 year old Derek Lowe once led the American League in games saved. Before him, Tim Wakefield gave the role the old college try, with moderate success.
Currently, the road of former and aspiring Red Sox closers is littered with names that have been buried in Boston mediocrity. Brandon Lyons, Ken Ryan, and Craig Hansen represent a few. It is also dotted, luckily, with quite a group of All-Star hurlers including Dick Radatz and the flamed out Jonathan Papelbon. So, over the decades, the Fenway crowd has had plenty of 9th inning high fives to exchange, or miss, depending on how cool you were that night. That reason, paired with bigger story lines have allowed a lights out 2017 season by Dirty Craig to quietly creep in the shadow of Chris Sale’s MVP vote garnering campaign.
No stranger himself to the All-Star game festivities, Kimbrel has often found himself in the shallow end of the CY Young candidate pool, finishing between 4th and 9th in voting during his 185 save blitz on the Senior Circuit from ’11-’14. The Alabama native ranks 30th all time in saves with 288, the only pitcher on the good side of 30 with 230 or more. By this time next year, assuming he maintains his save per year average, the now 29 year old will crack the all time top 20’s.
Dealing for the Padre incumbent looks better every day, as the only surrendered prospects of the deal to make any noise at the major league level is Manuel Margot, with a .268 average through 437 at bats. Not bad for a 22 year old, but in a city that requires not just talent, but grit, Kimbrel has no hesitation coming into battle every night. Striking out exactly 50% of batters faced, the opposition rarely has a chance to put the ball in play, but when they do a 1 HR/18 AB rate ensures the rarity of any ball afflicting maximum damage. The eight year veteran has paired with Chris Sale as an invaluable 2017 bookending duo, that without, would have the Sox jousting the likes of Seattle and Minnesota for the right to a Wild Card playoff matchup. So will the 96th overall pick be here long enough to become Boston’s first 300 save pitcher, will he share a fate similar to Ugueth Urbina and Flash Gordon, or will the Sox president of operations ink Craig long term?
By 2003’s end, B.H. Kim was called to action via a Shea Hillenbrand trade to solidify the move that Epstein wrongly referred to as “not risky at all.” 15 years will pass from then, and a 2018 Dombrowski should look at questionable misdoings of Red Sox lore, to serve as a reminder; keep Dirty Craig in a Boston uniform, thus allowing the closer by committee to stay where Ricciardi and Beane like to keep their teams: buried.