The Boston Red Sox need pitching — starting pitching — and most rumors about the Boston offseason have focused on who the Red Sox may acquire to spearhead their depleted starting rotation. But there is more than a slight chance that they will need to consider options for closing games as well.
Koji Uehara burst on the scene when he took over the closer’s in 2013, after a series of injuries knocked out both of the Red Sox intended closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. Uehara was always planned to be utilized in a 7th and 8th-inning set-up role, but pressed into closer duty, he suddenly became unhittable.
Uehara was easily the league’s most dominant closer in 2013, at one stretch between July 9 and September 17 retiring 37 straight batters — 10 more than required for a nine-inning perfect game.
While Uehara appeared to show some wear and tear in 2014, and was even briefly replaced in the closer’s role by Edward Mujica; his 26 saves, 2.52 ERA and brilliant 10-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio allowed the Red Sox closer to hold his position firmly ensconced among the elite closers in the game.
But now Uehara is entering free agency, and will turn 40-years-old on April 3, at the start of the 2015 season, and his six years in the Major Leagues follow a 10-year professional career in his native Japan.
Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington has stated that “it’s safe to say” Boston will “have interest” in keeping Uehara in 2015. Forty-year-old closers are rare — for a reason — and even a qualifying offer to Uehara would cost the Red Sox about $15 million, should the All Star reliever accept.
That payday would equal an eye-popping raise for Uehara of about $10 million — and is only about $11 million less that Uehara has earned in his entire Major League career.
Financially, it appears to make sense for Boston just to let Uehara walk. But then — who closes games for the Red Sox? There are only two in-house candidates, and Mujica proved shaky all year long, after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013-14 offseason, while Junichi Tazawa also appeared to wear down as the 2014 season went on.
The San Francisco Giants are sill battling the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series this week, as the Giants look to go back to the World Series and grab their third ring in five years.
But their onetime closer, Sergio Romo, will also become a free agent after the postseason. Romo would represent a gamble for Boston. His career-high 38 saves in 2013 slipped to 23 in 2014 as Romo was again moved back to a set-up role.
But with his late-season slide, and the Giants likely declining to make him that $15 million qualifying offer, Romo appears unlikely to fetch much more than his current $4.5 million annual salary when he enters the free agent market.
For the Boston Red Sox, that price tag might represent a high-reward, low-risk proposition that Cherington would be unable to resist. Look for Romo’s name to come up in Red Sox rumors as soon as the World Series is over.