Help Wanted: Closer For Boston Red Sox

When you ask any fan right now where the Sox weakness lies, it’s almost unanimously on the bullpen, more specifically in the late innings.

It’s a common thought that the Sox bullpen is about as weak as possible, and this isn’t a new headline. As an example, one headline from September 2018 read “Will Bullpen Derail Boston’s World Series Plans?” We all know how that played out. A heart wrenching, anxiety-filled, roller-coaster ride was a nightly occurrence during the playoffs last year.

But what really changed?

They lost Joe Kelly to the Dodgers in free agency who, for the record, is posting numbers close to Tyler Thornburg. The Red Sox also lost Craig Kimbrel to free agency, and it’s still unknown how he will perform as he is still unsigned. But, what else?

The bullpen is being held together by one player: Matt Barnes. Barnes has been the consistent workhorse, pitching 20 innings of relief over 19 games with a solid 1.80 ERA. Couple Barnes with Ryan Braiser and they have a, not an ideal, but an effective setup man and closer.

Braiser has been placed into a team-high 13 high-leverage situations this year. The 31-year-old, who emerged in the playoffs last season, is serving as the club’s current closer and holds a respectable six saves in eight opportunities.

But are Braiser or Barnes true closers?

In my opinion, no. I think of Braiser as a middle reliever and Barnes as a setup man. What’s missing from this puzzle of a bullpen is a true closer. Someone that is lights out, close the book, turn the TV off and go to bed kind of closer.

A Koji, a Kimbrel, a Papelbon. Where we get said closer from, is still up for debate. However, we know what adding a closer will do. It will allow Cora to play more matchups in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings knowing he has the game locked as long as he has the lead in the ninth. He would be able to limit the times he has to use Brandon Workman as a closer one game and Marcus Walden the next.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us waiting ever so patiently for Dombrowski to make a trade or to sign Kimbrel. Kimbrel is the more obvious choice as of now, although I don’t expect him to be signed until after the MLB Draft. Only one thing is for certain right now, this bullpen is going to continue to cause anxiety and heartache for all of us.

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