Red Sox closer Koji Uehara examines his future: 'Every year I consider my last year'

Rob Bradford
June 10, 2014 - 8:15 pm

BALTIMORE -- How long will Koji Uehara be doing this for the Red Sox? When the reliever signed a one-year, $4.25 million deal (with a vesting option for 2014), it was thought that the acquisition wouldn't mean anything more than seeing a solid veteran pitch for a couple of years with the Red Sox before leaving town as a 39 year old on the edge of retirement. A complete calendar year of closing dominance has altered the conversation. Uehara is pitching in the final year of his current deal, and the way he's pitching living life without the Red Sox closer is difficult to fathom. Since becoming the team's closer (including postseason), Uehara has converted 39 of 41 save opportunities while limiting opponents to a .131 batting average. He's struck out 111 batters, walked six and still hasn't allowed any hitter in the majors more than three hits. Now he's cruising through life as a potential free-agent-to-be, the second time in his Major League Baseball career the reliever has experienced such a distinction. "I never think ahead," Uehara said through translator C.J. Matsumoto prior to his latest outing during the Red Sox' 1-0 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards. "It doesn'€™t really affect me. If I could change how I perform based on my free agent year, I would. But I can'€™t so I'€™m just going to pitch how I can pitch. "It doesn'€™t really affect me because I'€™m an older player. Every year I consider my last year." The conversation could get even more interesting when introducing the possibility of extending the righty a qualifying offer (which figures to be in the vicinity of $15 million). While taking the risk of paying a soon-to-be 40 year old reliever that kind of money for one year is unprecedented, so is this sort of scenario. If the offer is extended, it would be difficult to imagine, A. Uehara not accepting it; B. a team sacrificing a draft pick in order to ink the righty if he chooses not to agree to the one-year deal. And while it would seem like a huge overpay on the Red Sox' behalf to allocate that much money for any closer, the options to replace what Uehara would represent would seem to be uncomfortable. The argument that you could get two high-leverage relievers with that money might be true, but also offers no certainty (as the performance of a player like Edward Mujica might suggest). Other than Jon Lester, the Red Sox also wouldn't seem to be in line to offer any other player a qualifying offer, making such a chunk manageable for what promises to be an already very manageable '15 payroll. But how about the age? Uehara had a bit of a shoulder hiccup earlier this season, but has bounced back to at least come close to his dominance of a year ago. The closer notched his 13th save in as many chances Tuesday night, having allowed just two runs in 27 2/3 innings. He has obviously taken his prioritizing health to heart, as was evidenced when he immediately heading into the visitors' weight room after his team's Tuesday night win. And then there is the continued quest for what some think might be unattainable -- improvement. "I don'€™t feel like I'€™m pitching up to my capabilities," he said. "I know how the numbers look, but I think I can be better mechanically. I don'€™t feel like I'€™m mechanically there. There are certain mechanics I'€™m trying to achieve. Mechanically, I feel different every day, but there'€™s a mechanically fit way to pitch and I'€™m just searching for that. Then again, I'€™ve been trying to find the perfect mechanics for the past 16 years "Jon Lester has simple mechanics that he can repeat. For me, mechanic-wise I'€™m adjusting every day and I'€™m constantly searching. Last year wasn'€™t perfect. I'€™m always striving for more."