BOSTON (CBS) — As the Red Sox continue their World Series victory lap, the front office has shifted their focus to defending their title.
One of Dave Dombrowski’s biggest decisions this offseason is what the Red Sox do with closer Craig Kimbrel, who is about to hit free agency for the first time in his career. Boston extended Kimbrel a one-year qualifying offer for $17.9 million, which the 30-year-old will be declining sometime within the next 10 days.
Kimbrel should make at least that much annually in whatever long-term deal he signs on the open market. What Dombrowski and the Boston brass have to determine is if Kimbrel will be worth that much when he is closing games at the ages of 31, 32, and 33 years old. While he has a Hall of Fame resume and is one of the best in the business during the regular season, Kimbrel struggled during Boston’s World Series run, sporting a 5.91 ERA as he gave up nine hits, eight walks and seven earned runs in 10.2 innings. He did, however, finish a perfect six-for-six in save opportunities.
The Red Sox are usually willing to dish out a hefty contract to bring in an all-world talent, but Dombrowski may balk when it comes to Kimbrel, who has over 550 high-pressured innings on his right arm. Kimbrel’s upcoming contract will be more of a reward for past accomplishments rather than future outlook. It may sound crazy, but the defending World Series champs may actually let their talented closer walk this winter.
If that’s the case, who would control the ninth inning for Boston next season? They have a few in-house options in relievers Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, as well as free-agent-to-be Joe Kelly. There is also a bevy of potential closer on the free agent market, including Zach Britton, David Robertson and Kelvin Herrera.
Joining Dan Roche for WBZ-TV’s Sports Final on Sunday night, the Athletic’s Steve Buckley had an interesting suggestion if the Red Sox part ways with Kimbrel: Bring back Andrew Miller.
“Never assume a guy can play in Boston,” said Buckley. “Andrew Miller re-made himself [in Boston]. He was comfortable here and made his bones here. He went on to greatness with other ball clubs, but he can pitch in Boston. That in and of itself makes him intriguing to me.”
The 33-year-old lefty transformed his career when he was in a Sox uniform from 2011-14, turning himself into one of the most-reliable relievers in baseball. The injuries have piled up a bit over the last two seasons, and Miller struggled down the stretch for the Cleveland Indians in 2017. His 4.24 ERA for the regular season was the highest for Miller since 2011, and he walked three and hit five batters (five!) in two ineffective appearances in Cleveland’s ALDS loss to the Houston Astros.
But if healthy, Miller can still be a dominant force out of the bullpen. If the Red Sox deem Kimbrel too expensive of an investment, Miller could be a cheaper alternative for the defending champs.