Red Sox

Craig Kimbrel leaving might be rare moment where weakening team makes sense

Craig Kimbrel leaving might be rare moment where weakening team makes sense

LAS VEGAS — If it’s possible to both make a team weaker and act smartly at the same time, the Red Sox appear to be walking down that path. But boy, it'd be great to know how much money is really involved in the whole operation.

Paying Craig Kimbrel as a free agent this winter won't make sense by most measures. Signing him and ponying up for a legacy of saves is not an efficient use of money. The Sox have already spent a ton for 2019, and they’ll need to spend plenty to retain their stars in coming seasons.

To that end — and it is just one end — the Sox have a wise stance. On the first day of the winter meetings, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski tacitly acknowledged the team is looking beyond Kimbrel, when he said the team isn’t looking to make “a big expenditure” on a closer. 

“Read that as you may,” Dombrowski added.

Unless Kimbrel decides to take a short-term contract — and why would he? — he’s absolutely going to fall into the category of a “big expenditure” this winter.

“You’re in a position where, again, there’s so many dollars to go around as you proceed in the long term,” Dombrowski explained. “And we still have other things that we’re looking at for the long term that aren’t concluded. And there also might be the possibility to not have to do long-term to add a reliever].”

Efficient spending helps an organization. Realistically, we know there’s a boundary to what Sox ownership will spend, so it’s in the fan interest to see dollars spent wisely. But the limit itself is hard to parse. 

Teams don’t make their profits and revenues public, never mind what owners have in reserve or access to. If they did, might we sit back and say — hey, they should be able to afford Kimbrel, and also achieve their other long-term goals? 

The Sox owners outspent everyone in 2018, and they should be applauded for that. But the fact is, we really don’t know how much they’re raking in with all their Sox-associated ventures.

So, put efficient spending aside for a moment, and answer this: How else do the Red Sox improve this winter if not in their bullpen? Perhaps Matt Barnes, who had very similar peripheral numbers to Kimbrel in 2018 can step into Kimbrel’s role seamlessly. It could happen.

Yet, the Sox’ situation is exactly the one where efficient spending can sometimes be secondary. They have an elite team. How do you upgrade, if not spend inefficiently? How do you maintain the status quo, even, if not spend inefficiently? 

Losing Kimbrel, as the Sox seem prepared to do, probably means the 2019 team will not be positioned as well the 2018 version. The ’19 Sox will remain incredibly strong, a favorite, a powerhouse — all of those things. The loss of Kimbrel may prove negligible. There’s a chance he’s declining. He did not have his best year and was shaky nearly every time he pitched in the playoffs. 

The Sox also probably won’t need 108 wins to win the division again. (Expecting even the exact same group of guys to win 108 games two years in a row would be madness. Injuries, drop-offs — they’re bound to happen. Other teams rise up, and so on.)

So it is a loss, essentially, that they can live with. Plus, there are reasons to move on from Kimbrel beyond the money.

The righty's preference to be a traditional closer is not ideal in today’s game. Pitcher roles are being redefined in some organizations, where “openers” are used in place of traditional starters, and some elite relievers jump from situation to situation nightly. Of course, plenty of organizations still believe in carrying a closer.

Dombrowski and Alex Cora both said Monday they’d be comfortable without having a named closer to begin spring training. Barnes, Ryan Braiser, perhaps Joe Kelly — if he re-signs, and there’s no way the Sox can sign both Kelly and Kimbrel, a source said — could all compete. But there’d be an unknown quantity in a place where there once was a known quantity, even with some warts. 

Dombrowski said the team does want to add a reliever, be it someone with closing experience or just high-leverage experience. The Sox may not wait for Kimbrel to make his choice to add an arm, either, Dombrowski said.

Yet there’s a bottom line here that's inescapable: the Sox will likely be a lesser club without Kimbrel.

“There’s a risk associated,” Dombrowski said of potentially moving from an established closer to someone unknown. “I don’t want to say that there’s not. But is it a risk worth taking, we think’s worth taking? Yes, if it comes down to it. But we’re not at that point of making that decision.”

Sounds like the budget and concern for the future have already made the decision for the Sox. That's smart, if we take the Sox at their word when they imply they can't afford Kimbrel, and we don't really have a choice.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.


Why Pedro Martinez believes Mike Fiers was wrong to expose Astros' sign-stealing

Why Pedro Martinez believes Mike Fiers was wrong to expose Astros' sign-stealing

Many would argue Mike Fiers showed courage by going public about the Houston Astros' electronic sign-stealing system in 2017.

But Pedro Martinez is decidedly in the other camp.

The former Boston Red Sox pitcher called Fiers a "bad teammate" for exposing the Astros for cheating after he left the team, rather than taking a stand while he was still in Houston.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

"If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros I would say Mike Fiers has guts," Martinez told WEEI's Rob Bradford, Lou Merloni and Mike Mutnansky at the Red Sox' "Winter Weekend" event in Springfield, Mass. 

"But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don’t have you anymore, that doesn’t show me anything."

Fiers, who left the Astros following the 2017 season, admitted he wasn't on great terms with Houston after sharing its sign-stealing operation with his next two clubs, the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics.

That's where Martinez takes issue with the veteran pitcher for "selling out" his former teammates over a grudge with the organization.

"Whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse and Fiers broke the rules," Martinez said. "I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this, but at the same time, players should not be the one dropping the whistle-blower."

Martinez might be a little biased: He's on the Red Sox' payroll as a special assistant, and Fiers' whistle-blowing played a role in manager Alex Cora parting ways with Boston ahead of what should be harsh sanctions from Major League Baseball.

The Baseball Hall of Famer is adamant Fiers could have handled things differently, though.

"If you have integrity you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, ‘Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don’t want to be part of this.’ " Martinez said. 

"You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’ Or you tell the team, ‘Get me out of here, I don’t want to be part of this.’ Then you show me something.

"But if you leave Houston and most likely you didn’t agree with Houston when you left and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you because did have that rule."

Reprimanding a whistle-blower is a controversial stance, but Martinez isn't alone: ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza and former MLB pitcher LaTroy Hawkins have voiced similar opinions on Fiers since MLB punished the Astros.

MLB Rumors: Reds interested in signing Brock Holt

MLB Rumors: Reds interested in signing Brock Holt

Brock Holt still doesn't have a team, but he's garnering attention in free agency with spring training less than one month away.

The Cincinnati Reds are one of the teams interested in signing the former Boston Red Sox utilityman, according to Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

While Holt wouldn't be an everyday player, he'd be a valuable presence off the bench. The 31-year-old is a career .271 hitter and capable of playing virtually any position. In 2019, Holt played everywhere except pitcher, catcher, and center field.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

In addition to his versatility, Holt proved throughout his Red Sox tenure to be a fan favorite and beloved teammate. The 2015 All-Star undoubtedly would be a welcome addition to the Reds clubhouse.

Boston recently signed ex-Reds utilityman Jose Peraza, presumably Holt's replacement, to a one-year deal worth about $3 million.

Tomase: Roenicke the safest bet to replace Cora