FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The first question Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski received at his opening press conference of Spring Training on Wednesday had to do with one of the few players who isn't back from last season's juggernaut.
"How will you replace Craig Kimbrel?" Dombrowski was asked.
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It appears that the answer will not be by re-signing Kimbrel, who remains available to the highest bidder.
"Somebody internally," Dombrowski said. "We're looking to do that. We have some good arms. We just had a nice meeting in there with some of our pitchers. We have a talented group of individuals. Any time you say you're going to replace a player of Craig Kimbrel's caliber with the type of talent he has, you just don't -- it's not easily done. He's, to me, a future Hall of Fame reliever and one of the best closers in the game. But sometimes other guys get the opportunity and they step up."
With a payroll expected to be approximately $240 million, Dombrowski certainly sounds inclined to let someone "step up" as he put it, rather than making a big expenditure.
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Even if Kimbrel signed for one year, his salary would put the Red Sox over the luxury-tax threshold, which they are hoping to avoid for a second straight year.
"We feel we have some internal options to go ahead and do that," Dombrowski said. "Of course we'll still keep an eye on what's taking place outside the camp, but we think our answers come from within."
Manager Alex Cora and his staff will make their evaluations on a daily basis over the next several weeks.
Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the early favorites, but Tyler Thornburg could pitch his way into the mix and knuckleballer Steven Wright shouldn't be ruled out.
"I like the stuff we have," said Cora. "We have guys that as far as stuff, they're the guys we like. Hard-throwers with different type of breaking balls. We would love people to step up and claim the role. That means everybody is throwing the ball well. I have a pretty good idea where we're going to go. We still have to go through the meetings and let them know what the plan is. Everybody is going to be on board."
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Dombrowski has been around the game long enough to know you can't be certain someone can pitch the ninth inning until they actually do it.
"There's no question guys like Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, they have the pure stuff to pitch the ninth inning, but will they do it on a consistent basis?" Dombrowski said. "Time tells. Really, that's why in Spring Training you'll never find that answer out. It'll be the regular season when you find it out, because in Spring Training it's not the same game. That's one of the reasons why, because some people just don't feel comfortable pitching the ninth inning. I think that's why it hasn't necessarily evolved into that."
As long as Kimbrel is still out there, Dombrowski is going to be asked about him. Did the Red Sox and Kimbrel agree they would definitely part ways?
"I can't get into conversations with free agents," Dombrowski said.
What about a one-year deal for Kimbrel?
"I don't think we're going to have a big expenditure at closer. My statement would really be the same," Dombrowski said.