LAS VEGAS -- As the Red Sox plot their various possibilities at the closing position for next season, the one thing that seems all but certain is that free agent Craig Kimbrel will be pitching the ninth inning elsewhere.With a payroll projected to be at close to $220 million for
LAS VEGAS -- As the Red Sox plot their various possibilities at the closing position for next season, the one thing that seems all but certain is that free agent Craig Kimbrel will be pitching the ninth inning elsewhere.
With a payroll projected to be at close to $220 million for the roster as presently constituted, Kimbrel is likely to be too expensive to remain with the World Series champions.
At the first day of the Winter Meetings on Monday, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was asked if he had a deadline to move on from Kimbrel. His answer was telling.
"No, not really. When I say that we're not going to be overly aggressive with big expenditures, I do not think think [we will] for our relief closer at this point," said Dombrowski. "Our payroll is pretty high at this point. Without getting specific on him, we're not looking to make a big expenditure in that area. So read that as you may. There are some rules and regulations in that regard, what you can say and what you can't say as far as free-agent players are concerned."
Dombrowski also said the Red Sox won't necessarily wait to see what happens with Kimbrel before filling the closer's spot.
If the Red Sox had not been successful in re-signing Nathan Eovaldi, there might have been more of a chance for Kimbrel to come back. But Dombrowski prioritized Eovaldi and signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal last week.
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Dombrowski will now try to find some more cost-effective ways to shore up a bullpen that is likely to lose one of the best closers in the game.
"Well, it's a risk," Dombrowski said. "There's no question. I can't say that it's not, but it's a 162-game season also. If it's something that you need to look at later, you can do that."
There are a plethora of relievers available on the free-agent market -- many who have prior closing experience. The list includes Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, Player Page for David Robertson, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Kelvin Herrera, Bud Norris and Brad Brach. There is also Joe Kelly, who pitched the last four-and-a-half seasons with the Red Sox and was a standout performer in the 2018 postseason.
"I think we're willing to see what happens," Dombrowski said. "It's the law of supply and demand. Again, there's a lot of guys. I know that there are clubs looking for relievers. We'll keep abreast of the situation. We talk to agents all the time. Talked to them today. [Assistant general manager] Brian O'Halloran talks to them all the time."
The possibility is also very real that the Red Sox will promote an internal candidate to the closer's role. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier have both been mentioned as possibilities.
"Sometimes you have to give guys opportunity, but there's a risk associated. I don't want to say that there's not, but is it a risk worth taking," Dombrowski said. "Yes, if it comes down to it. But we're not at that point of making that decision, too."
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The re-signing of Kelly would be significant for the Red Sox, given the way he proved definitively he can come through in the most pressurized moments. If Kelly does come back, he would probably return to his familiar setup role.
Where do things stand with Kelly and the Red Sox?
"We're aware of what's going on with his situation. That's really where we are," Dombrowski said.
How soon will the Red Sox know who their closer is for 2019?
It could happen in the coming weeks, or maybe even at the Winter Meetings. Or maybe it doesn't happen until late in Spring Training.
"I'm fine with the guys we have," said manager Alex Cora. "Obviously with Barnes and Brasier, we feel comfortable they can get outs late in games. I'm comfortable with the guys right now. We don't have to name a closer going into Spring Training."
The likelihood that Kimbrel will move on isn't just a reflection of Boston's 2019 payroll, but the fact that Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. can all be free agents within the next two years.
If the Red Sox do sign a closer, expect the deal to be of the short-term variety.
"It's not going to be possible to keep everybody that we have," Dombrowski said. "You have to realize that if anybody is signed long-term now, it may have an effect on some other things that you may do later on. Sometimes there may be some scenarios, but we're more interested in a short-term deal at this time.
"That changes, because some of our conversations with our own internal players change, too. But we're cognizant of a couple of really important guys that we want to keep for the long-term that are going to be free agents within the next year or two. That is in the back of our mind."
Aside from keeping tabs on the relief market, Dombrowski also acknowledged that the Red Sox could move one of their three catchers (Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart) in a trade. The club carried all three catchers on the roster throughout 2018, including in the postseason.
"We have talked to clubs about them," Dombrowski said. "You can see there are other catchers out there. There are big-name catchers out there, and usually when that happens a lot of clubs are talking about them first. But, yeah, there has been some interest in our guys. Our philosophy is the same way.
"Ideally we would rather, nothing against any of the three, but it's hard to carry all three on the big league club. But we're also not going to give them away to give them away."
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.