The Red Sox have secured another member of the World Series team, but is their famed setup man next?

As many are aware, the Red Sox brought back Nathan Eovaldi while reaching a four year deal worth $67.5 million. It’s been made very clear that Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora would like to retain the core group from the championship team a season ago – a wise decision that should yield immediate benefit. If you look through any social media platform, the general fan consensus for the next Sox target should be Joe Kelly.

Any interest is certainly warranted as the Ricky Vaughn-type reliever featured a triple digits fastball, an ability to thrive in pressure situations, and of course the brawl against the rival New York Yankees. In total, Joe Kelly’s 2018 campaign was a bit of a rollercoaster. He finished the season with a mediocre 4.39 ERA, but shined during the World Series – allowing zero earned runs (1 ER in the entire postseason) and appearing in every single game. 

Despite ending the season on a high note, the Red Sox reliever is now a Free Agent and is free to sign elsewhere. How aggressive should the front office become to retain the services of the hard-throwing reliever?

Is Joe Kelly a viable long-term solution?

The Red Sox have certainly not ruled themselves out of the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes, but many believe that Kelly could be the heir to the closer role in Boston. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Sox reliever could net 3 years / $27 million on the open market, a stark discount compared to the expected 4 year / $70 million value for Kimbrel. Not to mention that Dirty Craig is interested in obtaining a six year deal.

From a pure pitch mix perspective, Kelly is an ideal closer. The combination of an overpowering fastball, lethal curveball & slider, and a surprise changeup is as good of a mix as any closer in baseball. However, this has never been a problem for Kelly. The concerning statistic is the BB/9 – a number that has not been below a 4 since 2015. As a closer, it’s imperative not to allow the free pass. It’s arguably one of the most infuriating things as a viewer to witness a closer, or reliever, struggle with. 

If Joe Kelly is able to consistently throw strikes, there’s little question that he has the ability to develop into an elite closer; however there has been no key point of improvement. Yes, there have been stretches within his career that it has improved, but long-term evaluations show very little improvement. If Kelly and Dombrowski are able to work out a smaller, team-friendly deal, it would be exciting to keep him in Boston.

The Red Sox would surely love to retain Kelly, but if negotiations stall it could complicate matters more. The rising reliever may seek “closer” money in a lesser reliever market in which Boston may be inclined to look elsewhere. If a deal is unable to be reached, it may be prudent to sign Kelvin Herrera to a one year “prove it” deal and continue to monitor the development of Durbin Feltman as the closer of the future.

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