Photo Credit: boston.com
With all the criticism that a portion of Sox fans have given Dombrowski, one can’t fault him too much as he gave us the pleasure of watch Chris Sale start games and Craig Kimbrel finishing them out. This is the 3rd & final season under Red Sox control for Kimbrel, who is coming off such a powerful 2017 (5-0, 35 saves, 1.43 ERA, 126 Ks in 69 innings) campaign that he ended up 6th in the Cy Young voting. Since 2011, he leads MLB in saves with 290. The next behind him is the dominant Dodger closer Kenley Jansen with 226.
He has recently come out to say that he’d be open to extension talks, but there’s been no public interest by Red Sox brass to work a deal out. The 2018 free agent class is looking like a blank check bonanza, and he very well could net the first $100 million contract for a reliever. With all of their pending needs beyond this season, I can see why they might be hesitant if that is what he is eyeing.
With that being said, who can Boston look to in an effort to solidify the closer spot beyond ’18?
The top in house candidate would be Carson Smith, who after a long layoff from Tommy John surgery returned to the mound on September 5th vs the Blue Jays. He was a key reliever in the stretch run, warranting a spot on the playoff roster. In 10 appearances including the postseason, he collected a save with a 1.13 ERA over 8 innings (1 ER, 2 walks, 7 K’s). With his 95mph fastball being paired with a slider that hits the corners, he certainly shows All-Star stuff.
Staying within the organization Tyler Thornburg is the dark horse. This is the one trade that Dombrowski presently deserves criticism for, after sending Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, and two other low level prospects for Thornburg. With Shaw busting out with the Brew Crew to the tune of 101 RBI and a .513 SLG%, this only exacerbates the need for Thornburg to have a productive 2018 as he works his way back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. He is expected to join his Grapefruit League brethren when pitchers and catchers report to the Fort, where he’ll let his arm do the talking.
If Dombrowski and the brains decide to seek an external option in free agency, there are a plethora of options; one being old buddy Andrew Miller. Over the last five seasons, he has easily been one of the best relievers in baseball. His highest ERA in that span is 2.64, during the 2013 season with the Red Sox (cut short due to injury).
Miller’s teammate in Cleveland who is racking up saves, Cody Allen, is also hitting free agency in November. With Allen turning 30 right around Thanksgiving, he looks to cash in on a nice payday. Over the last three years he’s racked up 96 saves while striking out 278 batters in 204.2 innings of work. If both depart Cleveland, that Indians bullpen is going to have an unfamiliar look come Opening Day, 2019.
A third option could be Mets closer, Jeurys Familia. Also hitting the free agent market, the 28 year old is looking for a bounce back season, as he only appeared in 26 games due to a blood clot that required surgery. However, in 2015 and ’16 he was a force. The Dominican native compiled 94 saves, 170 punch outs, and a 2.20 ERA.
Familia’s teammate AJ Ramos is also set to hit free agency alongside him. With Familia sidelined, Ramos took over closing duties, with previous experience doing the job with Miami. The prior 3 seasons he has 99 saves to his credit, and batters have to earn the right to get a base hit off of him. He currently holds a career opponents batting average of .200.
And last, the most talented of the bunch (yet once again sidelined to injuries) is Zach Britton. The Oriole had a season for the ages in 2016, as he earned his second consecutive All-Star nod after converting 60 consecutive save opportunities spanning from September of 2015 to August, 2017.
While Kimbrel could set new franchise marks in many a category if he does re-up with the Sox, we should be confident with whomever they choose from 2019 on. From Flash Gordon to Foulke, and Pap to Koji, Boston certainly has moved on from the 2003 bullpen by committee fiasco. They have a number of solid routes to go to close games out in front of the Fenway Faithful.
*Stat of Note: Kimbrel is 34 saves away from his 100th career save with the Red Sox. That would put him at 4th most in a Sox uniform behind Papelbon, Stanley and Radatz.