Through all the ups and downs of the last two seasons, Matt Barnes had every reason to think he'd be a member of the 2023 Red Sox.
But then came a double shock. First, Barnes was designated for assignment last week to make room for outfielder Adam Duvall, and then on Monday he was traded to the Marlins for left-hander Richard Bleier. And so when Barnes discussed the move in a Zoom call with the Miami media on Tuesday, he was left with one description.
"It was a complete blindside," he told reporters, including Chris Cotillo of MassLive.
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It probably shouldn't have been. Since losing his closing job in August of 2021 during a disastrous series in Toronto, Barnes had experienced one setback after another. Though he pitched better at the end of last season after a lengthy stint on the injured list, it was hard to envision him returning to high-leverage situations in Boston.
"Probably single-handedly the most frustrating stretch of my career," Barnes said. "I go from being an All-Star closer to not making a postseason roster to being terrible for two months. And then on the IL for another two months. Like, you went from the highest to the lowest in the blink of an eye."
By trading Barnes and eating most of his $7.5 million salary, the Red Sox removed a source of uncertainty from their bullpen, a unit which chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has focused on improving this winter.
Though Barnes' upside is without question higher than that of Bleier, a low strikeout sinkerballer who relies on soft contact, the righty's likelihood of once again proving untrustworthy made trading him a worthwhile gamble.
Red Sox relievers simply couldn't throw strikes last year, which made a mess of the late innings and prompted Bloom to act. Whatever your feelings on the rest of his underwhelming offseason, his new bullpen looms as a potential upgrade.
To holdovers John Schreiber, Tanner Houck, and Ryan Brasier, the Red Sox have added All-Star closer Kenley Jansen, late-innings specialist Chris Martin, left-hander Joely Rodriguez, and now Bleier. Martin led all relievers – in fact all pitchers – by walking just 0.8 batters per nine innings last year, while Bleier ranked 13th at 1.8.
Barnes, meanwhile, fell back into bad habits, walking 4.8 per nine while pitching around the strike zone. He recently retweeted the @redsoxstats Twitter account making the point that he had been overworked, though he declined comment on Tuesday.
Instead, he's looking ahead to the start of a new chapter. The last member of the team's ballyhooed 2011 draft class that also produced fellow All-Stars Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., Barnes described the ending of his Red Sox career as bittersweet.
"I'm very fortunate for everything the Red Sox have given me and the opportunities they have provided me for the first 12 years of my career," Barnes said. "It's kind of a bittersweet ending. No matter where I go, nobody can ever take away the things I've accomplished with my teammates and what we've done as a whole in Boston, the relationships I've built and the friends I've made.
"I mean, we won a handful of division titles, went to the ALCS, and won a World Series," Barnes added. "So I don't look back on my time with the Red Sox with any animosity."