Adam Ottavino

Russel Lansford/USA Today Sports

Scouting possible replacements for Joe Kelly in Red Sox bullpen

John Tomase
December 14, 2018 - 12:25 pm

Joe Kelly is gone, taking his weird mustache and his Jim Buchanan getup and his penchant for postseason dominance to the Dodgers for $25 million.

That leaves the Red Sox with a need for another late-inning arm, preferably one with some closing experience, since they're unlikely to retain close Craig Kimbrel.

So who's out there? Kelly's deal, along with the $30 million the Mets gave Jeurys Familia, is bringing the market into focus. Only two other relievers have signed -- the Rangers gave middle reliever Jesse Chavez a two-year, $8 million to return from the Cubs, and former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal received a one-year, $7 million contract from the Nationals after spending 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Tons of arms remain, and it's a safe bet that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will engage with at least one of the following pitchers before the winter is done.

The first name linked to the team is right-hander Adam Ottavino. The Northeastern product had a breakout season in Colorado, going 6-4 with a 2.43 ERA and striking out a career-high 112 in 77 2/3 innings. Strictly a right-on-right option through his first seven seasons, Ottavino limited lefties to a .560 OPS last year. The Red Sox' interest will likely hinge on how convinced they are that success can be duplicated.

If they prioritize closing experience, then they'll likely choose from Yankees righty David Robertson, Yankees lefty Zach Britton, and Nationals righty Kelvin Herrera.

Robertson owns a home in Rhode Island and would like to stay in the Northeast. The Red Sox' interest has been described as "heavy" by the New York Post, and he'd check multiple boxes. A former All-Star with the Yankees, he averaged 37 saves a season from 2014-16. He's reliable and durable, with at least 60 innings pitched in each of the last nine seasons. And he's experienced in the American League East, thanks to parts of nine seasons in New York.

He has also made an average of $11.5 million annually over the last four years, so he won't come cheap.

A more affordable option with a greater risk/reward disparity would be Britton. A groundball machine with the Orioles, he authored one of the greatest relief seasons in history in 2016, saving 47 games with a 0.54 ERA en route to a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young voting. Oblique and forearm injuries derailed his 2017, and then an offseason Achilles rupture delayed his 2018 until June.

He blossomed after being traded to the Yankees and looked more like his old self by September, pounding ground balls and limiting his walks. If the 2016 Britton is still in there, he'd be worth a gamble.

Herrera is in a similar boat after a freak Lisfranc injury ended his season last August, and he also battled shoulder fatigue that knocked 1 mph off his fastball. A two-time All-Star with the Royals who tossed three scoreless innings of relief against the Mets in the clinching Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, Herrera drew interest from the Red Sox at this year's trade deadline before the Nationals decided to keep him.

From there, a couple of former Indians with a lot of wear and tear could still draw interest. Old friend Andrew Miller finally succumbed to attrition last year, posting a 4.24 ERA in 37 appearances with the Indians. That downturn came after a four-year stretch that saw him post a 1.72 ERA in over 260 innings of relief.

Teammate Cody Allen, who at his best featured a spike curveball on par with Craig Kimbrel's, walked a career-high 33 in 67 innings and saw his ERA soar from 2.59 over the previous five seasons to 4.70.

And finally, if the Red Sox want to go the short-term route, then one possibility would be former Rockies closer Greg Holland, who signed in spring training with the Cardinals last year, was a disaster, and then finished the season strong in Washington.

Another possibility is former Royals closer Joakim Soria, who remained effective between the White Sox and Brewers last year, and turns 35 in May.


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