As reported late last night, Joe Kelly has signed a 3-year, $25 million-dollar deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. What does this mean for the Red Sox?
I know for many of you, myself included, this is very disappointing. Kelly was a fan favorite and a nice part of this ball club. For starters, Kelly single-handedly beat up 23 New York Yankees in a brawl last season, and later forced A-Rod to tap out to the rear-naked chokehold. Perhaps my fan bias is fogging my memory a bit, but Kelly’s fire and attitude was something fans admired.
Second, losing Kelly sucks because of the dominant postseason he just had with Boston. Despite an average regular season, losing a player that you know can perform in the playoffs really stings. Moreover, Kelly has very obvious arm talent that displays itself in inconsistent spurts. Not fully harnessing his potential is another reason losing him is unfortunate. However, this is not back-breaking for the organization. As much as we love Kelly, he was an average reliever in 2018. Kelly posted a 4.56 DRA and an adjusted DRA- of 102. For reference, 100 is an average score. With those numbers, Kelly ranked 5th among qualified relievers in the Sox bullpen, behind Kimbrel, Barnes, Brasier, and Hembree. While I argue that he’s a positive contribution to the bullpen, he is not worth $25 million, and he is quite replaceable.
What’s next for the Red Sox?
Personally, I was hoping that we would add to the bullpen this offseason, but financial restrictions have made that seem unlikely. Kimbrel looks certain to walk unless he drastically changes his contract demands. For Kelly in particular, his production can be replaced via a healthy Thornburg or any other average arm they bring in. The Red Sox do have Durbin Feltman in the pipeline and poised to become the next great Red Sox reliever; however, no one can project exactly where he’ll be next season. What concerns me the most is not replacing Kelly, but replacing Kimbrel.
The Red Sox bullpen ranked in the top 10 last year. While many, including myself, wanted to see Boston improve to an elite-status, it appears that the Red Sox will struggle to bring back just equal production. It is completely possible that Barnes can replace 100% of Kimbrel’s production as a closer (Barnes actually had a better DRA than Kimbrel last year). However, the problem then becomes finding a set-up man as effective as Barnes. No matter which way you look at it, Boston will be down an elite relief pitcher. There are rumors that Boston is in the market for someone like David Robertson. While this may not quite replace the production of losing Kimbrel, it would go a long way in ensuring that Boston’s bullpen doesn’t lose too much quality.
What is certain is that instead of using this offseason as an opportunity to improve the bullpen, Boston is now looking to just salvage a top 15 group of guys. Nevertheless, baseball is a very uncertain sport; players could see huge development and unknown names can become stars. The quality of Boston’s bullpen is not predetermined. What is for sure, though, is the fact that losing Joe Kelly is not detrimental. Given the contract he signed with LA, I’d even argue that GM Dave Dombrowski made the right move. Kelly’s production can be replaced internally or with cheap free agent solutions. I’m confident that Boston can find a cost-effective alternative to Kelly, and I’m sure that’s why Dombrowski did not give in to his contract demands. I really loved Kelly’s personality and the attitude he brought to the club – again, he was a fan favourite for a reason. I wish him all the best in LA.
Looking forward, what is concerning is the possibility of losing Kimbrel. While adding an arm like Robertson would limit the loss of production, the Red Sox would still need to find more arm talent if they wish to bring back a similar – let alone improved – bullpen. Let’s see how Dave Dombrowski navigates this tight circumstance; the salary cap situation does not make it easy for him. Red Sox fans should keep a close eye on this as the offseason progresses.