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Should Joe Kelly Close in 2019?

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Almost as abrupt a stop as running head-on into Jason on Friday the 13th, the 2018 baseball season is over. The parade happened, pre-game ceremonies in other sports have honored the world champion Red Sox, and the obligatory social media posts of congratulations have been made by players and personnel.

One gets so hung up on the celebration that it never truly hits you that this past collection of 25 men will never see the field on the same team again. Retirements, free agency signings, and trades will cause a shakeup to the core of what once was a juggernaut for 176 games.

Among the handful of Red Sox expected to hit free agency are Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly—both instrumental parts of a Red Sox bullpen that was shockingly dominant in the postseason. However, with a big pay-day expected to be coming for Craig Kimbrel, and the Red Sox constantly treading around the luxury tax limit, it’s become increasingly likely that the two parties will part ways after three seasons.

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But a man who should come cheaper, and is one of the top priorities for the Red Sox to resign, Joe Kelly, would be returning under a new set of question marks. Should Kimbrel leave, is Joe Kelly next in line to be locking down the ninth inning for the Boston Red Sox?

It’s really an interesting question to look into—Kelly struggled at times to find the strike zone and miss bats throughout the 2018 regular season, but in the postseason he allowed just one earned run in 11.1 innings pitched and struck out 14 while walking zero. He was flat out dominant no matter what situation stood before him.

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But he never was given the ninth inning—as that job vested in Kimbrel who, even to his admittance, struggled in October. Of all the question marks entering the postseason about the Red Sox bullpen, Kimbrel garnered the least worry, and Kelly the most. Yet the roles reversed. But honestly, who knows why?

Kelly brings an interesting mix to the conversation in regards to the closing role. As an ex-starter, Kelly can go multiple innings and be used for more pitches than your typical closer. Add his electric fastball, wipeout curveball, and borderline insane personality to the table, and you’ve got the tools for a potential lights-out ninth inning man.

The 30-year-old out of the University of California has said that he calms himself down by imagining a gun to his head. If that doesn’t scream closer to you, it’s uncertain what will.

The Red Sox bid goodbye to another potential Kimbrel replacement on Thursday when Carson Smith elected free agency over a AAA assignment; but assuming Kimbrel signs somewhere else this winter, the stars are starting to line up for Kelly to be given the keys.

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