What team former Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel will join for the 2019 MLB season and beyond remains unknown, but it is almost certain by now he will not return to Fenway Park.
Which pitcher or pitchers Red Sox manager Alex Cora trusts to fill Kimbrel’s role remains unclear. The team opted not to replace Kimbrel by way of another free agency splash and will instead utilize an in house option, but whether Cora designates one pitcher as the team’s closer in 2019 or seeks an alternative method is also up in the air.
“We know who [the relievers] are. We know the stuff. It’s just about the plan. The plan will be out there on March 28th,” Cora told The Boston Globe‘s Alex Speier Sunday. “It’s just a matter of, see what we’re going to do as an organization, what plan we’re going to do, how comfortable are we with a closer or mixing it up, or getting people out in certain situations? We still have a lot of days to see how we feel about it.”
A Red Sox closer-by-committee approach would appear to fall further along the line with changing notions across baseball about pitcher usage. The Cleveland Indians utilized reliever Andrew Miller across the game’s later innings in 2016 rather than place him in a rigid closer role. The Rays experimented with “openers”, pitchers who throw the first one or two innings before bringing in a traditional starter, last season. The Brewers utilized an all-around deep bullpen as often as possible in 2018.
Who will Cora consider to take the closer’s role, in whatever form it takes, in 2019? Here are some potential options:
Matt Barnes, No. 32, RHP:
2018 stats – 62 appearances, 61.2 innings pitched, 3.65 ERA, 1.265 WHIP
Barnes did not give up an earned run in the 2018 playoffs until his eighth appearance and ended the postseason with 10.1 innings pitched and 0.87 ERA.
Ryan Brasier, No. 70, RHP:
2018 stats – 34 appearances, 33.2 innings pitched, 1.60 ERA, 0.772 WHIP
Brasier did not join the Red Sox bullpen until July of last season, but once he did, he excelled.
Tyler Thornburg, No. 47, RHP:
2018 stats – 25 appearances, 24 innings pitched, 5.63 ERA, 1.583 WHIP
Thornburg also did not pitch for the Red Sox until July after he fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Though his 2018 performance was sub-average compared to his career statistics, he will have a full season to carve out a spot in Alex Cora’s bullpen.
Brandon Workman, No. 44, RHP:
2018 stats – 43 appearances, 41.1 innings pitched, 3.27 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
Workman’s solid body of work after he was called up from Pawtucket in June means he’s like to have a more expanded role in the bullpen this season.
Steven Wright, No. 35, RHP:
2018 stats – 20 appearances, 53.2 innings pitched, 2.68 ERA, 1.248 WHIP
Wright is reportedly no longer considered a starter by the Red Sox coaching staff. While that sounds like a demotion, he proved a valuable bullpen asset last season. 12 of his 20 appearances in 2018 were multi-inning efforts.