BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing:
BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.
With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing: a proven closer.
While the uncertainty in the ninth inning is unsettling to fans, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora both expressed confidence that the team will be fine regardless of whether it acquires another reliever before the season starts.
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It seems obvious that payroll concerns have prevented the Red Sox from being aggressive, while the likes of Andrew Miller, Player Page for David Robertson, Zach Britton, Kelvin Herrera and Ottavino have found new homes is payroll.
"Sometimes you have to evaluate where you're going to spend your dollars," Dombrowski said prior to Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner. "We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal, and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. We'll see what takes place in that regard."
The Red Sox already have a projected payroll of close to $240 million and would like to avoid going over the luxury-tax penalty for the second straight year. That threshold this year is $246 million.
"Well, I'd love to [avoid the penalty]," Dombrowski said. "I mean, we don't have any mandate to do that, but again, it really hasn't changed. There is a reason why they call it a penalty, and the higher you go, the penalty is quite significant. Ideally we'd like to stay there, but that was really our goal last year before the season started, and we did end up going over."
There are three scenarios left for Dombrowski. One would be to promote someone internally. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the top options.
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There's always the possibility of a trade, which is how the Sox got Craig Kimbrel three years ago.
And the least likely scenario would be to bring back Kimbrel, who remains on the market and is going to come at a substantial cost.
"Again, there's a lot of players that are out there at this point. It could [come from within]," Dombrowski said. "But that's also one decision that we don't have to really make that decision until March 28, which is our first game."
When asked directly about Kimbrel, Dombrowski maintained the stance he has taken since the Winter Meetings.
"I wouldn't really comment on individual situations other than to say I still don't expect us to have a high expenditure in our closer situation," said Dombrowski.
If you go by the numbers from 2018, Barnes (96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) at least has the potential to be a strong option in the ninth inning.
Brasier came out of nowhere last year, but he is heavily in the team's plans this season to the point that he could compete to be the closer.
And don't forget about Tyler Thornburg. Though his first two seasons in Boston have been almost a complete loss due to injuries or recovering from them, the righty could at last be healthy enough to resume being the major weapon he was for Milwaukee in 2016. Dare to dream?
Knuckleballer Steven Wright can also be an important factor in the late innings, though it would be unorthodox but not unheard of for him to close.
"I mean, we've got some capable guys," said Cora. "We can maximize the guys that we have."
If the bullpen doesn't stack up on paper with the Yankees -- and right now it clearly doesn't -- Cora thinks the Red Sox can accentuate their other strengths.
"People get caught up obviously in what New York is doing. We knew that they were going to make moves," Cora said. "They have a great bullpen, obviously. But we have a great rotation. It balances out. Our strength is the rotation. If that's the only question mark we have, so be it."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.