BOSTON -- Craig Kimbrel isn't the answer.
The Red Sox decided not to devote major resources to their All-Star closer this winter, and I don't blame them. He showed the early stages of decline in 2018 and spending $50 million on that position is bad business.
While there's an argument to be made that the stars have aligned for an imperfect reunion -- Kimbrel remains unsigned, and if you haven't noticed, Shelley Winters is currently breast-stroking through their capsized bullpen -- the Red Sox should be able to do better through the trade market than take a chance on a reliever who hasn't pitched since October.
That they need legitimate relief help is officially impossible to ignore. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski seems to have a blind spot for that part of the roster, which cost his Tigers back in 2013 when DavidOrtizDavidOrtizDavidOrtiz! was hitting an ALCS grand slam, and probably should've cost his Red Sox last year, except the starters raced to the rescue in October.
The "reliable" quartet of Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Marcus Walden, and Ryan Brasier suddenly feels more like the Barnes-Workman duo, and even that depends on the day. On Tuesday, Brasier took the heat for a 7-5 loss to the Indians that's easily the worst of the year. The Red Sox blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth, which may leave some fans wishing for a Kimbrel reunion, but which hasn't shaken the confidence of manager Alex Cora in his closer by committee approach, to exhume a ghastly phrase.
"No," Cora said. "We feel we've done an outstanding job so far, so nothing is going to change right now."
Perhaps the "right now" leaves an opening, because his bullpen is floundering.
David Price deserved the win after six shutout innings, but Walden scuffled in the eighth, which necessitated the use of Barnes a frame earlier than Cora would've preferred. Walden allowed two runs and left the tying run on second, but Barnes stranded it there in the exact kind of outing Cora had noted in his pregame media session that he hoped to avoid.
"When we had to bring him in for two outs, that was it," Cora said after. "Like I've been saying all along, we've got to take care of him."
Walden recorded the save vs. Houston in his last appearance, but he's only a week removed from blowing a save against the Blue Jays in a game the Red Sox rallied to win after virtually every reliever handed back the lead.
They weren't so lucky against the Indians. Brasier went homer-walk-homer to lead off the ninth while exhibiting negligible command, in a clear departure from last season. Particularly dismaying: the tying blast to Greg Allen, who stepped to the plate batting a robust .087.
"You guys see it. Obviously, I see it," Brasier said. "I've just got to get back to almost the basics. I'm not used to throwing a lot of pitches and getting behind in counts. That's a big part of my game, getting ahead of guys and trying to get weak contact. I had a little stretch where I was starting to get it back, but didn't have it tonight."
The limitations of pitching without a last line of defense became apparent when rookie Travis Lakins was asked to staunch the bleeding. Making just his fourth appearance in the big leagues, Lakins could not throw a strike in a 5-5 game. He walked three and allowed a hit to the right-field fence that Mookie Betts probably should've caught, but it scored the winning runs.
And that brings us back to Kimbrel. For him to rejoin the Red Sox at this point would feel like a capitulation by both sides. The Red Sox are the one team that could've signed him all winter without forfeiting a draft pick, and they declined. Kimbrel, meanwhile, will be free to sign with anyone without compensation once the draft starts on Monday. For either side to blink now would be an admission that they screwed up the last seven months.
If Kimbrel's only going to command a one-year deal at this point, he'd probably prefer it be elsewhere just out of pride.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, would need to execute an abrupt about-face if they suddenly decided to commit multiple years to him when they've been intent on not blowing past the highest $246 million luxury tax threshold.
They're better off pursuing trade candidates like Sean Doolittle, Will Smith, or Jake Diekman than reuniting with Kimbrel, though at this point we shouldn't be picky, because they need to do something.
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