USA Today Sports

Free agent-to-be Joe Kelly open to closing or starting

Rob Bradford
November 02, 2018 - 12:45 pm

Joe Kelly's free agent existence would seem to be a complex one.

The 30-year-old is hitting the open market on a high note, having dominated throughout the Red Sox' postseason run, punctuating his playoffs by striking out the side in the eighth inning of the World Series-clinching Game 5. In nine appearances he allowed just one earned run, striking out 13 and not walking a single batter.

It was the kind of performance that made the idea of Kelly serving as a team's closer actually plausible. It's a role he certainly has entertained thoughts of since becoming a reliever.

But there is also that itch to try his hand once again as a starting pitcher, something the righty hasn't lived life as since 2016. And with the evolution of his changeup and curveball, to go along with the high-90's fastball, such a thought might not so far-fetched for some team looking for such a skill-set in its rotation.

"Would I want to close? Yeah, that would be the ultimate goal for a guy in the bullpen," Kelly told "I wouldn’t say I need to close. That would probably limit my number of options. Some teams might want me to start. You never know. I’m open to anything."

So, which would be the priority for Kelly, going to a team that wants him to close or start? He insists neither will be the first to sway his decision.

"Winning. I want to be on a winning team. A team that is trying to win instead of not," he said when asked what his top priority will be. "The last three years we’ve been in the playoffs and the other two years were miserable. I’m not going to an organization where I know they aren’t putting their heart and soul into winning a World Series."

When it comes to the upcoming free agent market, there are few sure things in either the starting or closing categories. That would seem to work to Kelly's advantage. Despite his roller-coaster existence, his case isn't that much more unappetizing then many of the other players he will be vying for years and dollars against.

The final three months of the regular season (5.52 ERA) wouldn't seem to necessitate a leap of faith from interested teams. But then you have that final impression which the Red Sox insist was a product of identifying pitch-tipping and pitch selection alterations. The last image was Kelly walking off the Dodger Stadium mound having appeared in more games than any pitcher in baseball while punctuating his season with a third-straight strikeout and celebratory scream.

"Who knows? I don't have an answer for you, bro," said Kelly when asked if he would be leaning toward the desire to start or close on a winning team. And regarding a return to the Red Sox? "It’s a better chance from their side of things. The organization, because I pitched well, they might want to bring me back more than a year ago."

Related: The strong case to invest in Nathan Eovaldi