By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Though his 2018 postseason was shaky, Craig Kimbrel has been among the most reliable closers in all of baseball for the past decade, and specifically the past three years with the Boston Red Sox.
But at 30 years old and entering free agency, Kimbrel is in position to sign a life-changing contract as a free agent. He’s likely to warrant a salary so high that even the deep-pocketed Red Sox may be forced to say farewell for the man who ranks third in franchise history in saves, despite only being a member of the team for three seasons.
That would seemingly leave the Red Sox with a significant void on their roster, but president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski spoke Thursday at Fenway Park and said the team does have a contingency plan in place.
“We do think that we do have a situation where internally we have a couple of candidates to do that – Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the top candidates,” Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski readily admitted that neither Barnes nor Brasier is “Craig Kimbrel at this point of their career,” but he showed no hesitation in backing the relievers to potentially fill the role of closer. He expressed confidence in both while saying that the team would not take on a “closer-by-committee” approach.
Brasier turned out to be quite the find for Dombrowski and the Red Sox’ scouting staff, after he pitched in Japan last season. The Red Sox signed Brasier in early March, and he started the year in Triple-A Pawtucket. But he was called up in July and performed at an extremely high level, posting a 1.60 ERA and a 0.772 WHIP in 33.2 innings. He struck out 29 batters while walking just seven.
Among AL pitchers with a minimum of 20 innings pitched, Brasier ranked second in WHIP and fifth in ERA. He blew two saves while recording 10 holds.
Brasier continued his excellence in the postseason, recording a team-high five saves while posting a 1.04 ERA and 1.385 WHIP in nine appearances.
Barnes was likewise excellent in the postseason, posting an identical 1.04 ERA while posting a 1.038 WHIP. The regular season for Barnes was a bit of a mixed bag. He recorded a 2.30 ERA and a 1.128 WHIP from the start of the season through the end of July, numbers that ballooned to a 7.98 ERA and a 1.705 WHIP in August and September. In total, Barnes recorded 25 holds and blew three saves.
Kimbrel recorded 108 saves for the Red Sox from 2016-18, posting a 2.44 ERA and a 0.906 WHIP. He’s struck out 305 batters and walked just 75 in that time, blowing 11 saves in 121 opportunities. His postseason, though, was shaky. He allowed six hits, walked five batters and hit two batters over his first 5.1 innings, allowing five runs (all earned) through his first four outings. It was after that stretch that the team claimed to have fixed something with Kimbrel regarding pitch-tipping, and he allowed just three total base runners over his next four outings (4.1 IP). He did, though, allow a two-run home run in his final outing of the postseason.