By Matt Citak
Congratulations to the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox.
After finishing the regular season as Major League Baseball’s best team with 108 wins, Boston went 11-3 in the postseason to take home the franchise’s ninth championship and fourth in the last 15 years.
With the season now in the rearview mirror, we must immediately turn our attention towards the offseason.
In one week, the general managers from across the league will gather in Carlsbad, California for the league’s annual GM Meetings. While these meetings don’t garner the same level of buzz or headlines as next month’s Winter Meetings, it is still a great chance for teams to begin shaping up their offseason plans.
This winter will not be a crucial one for the World Series Champions, as the Red Sox will be returning most of the roster that racked up 119 total wins this season.
Veteran infielder Eduardo Nunez has already exercised his $5 million player option for 2019, while World Series hero David Price announced he will not be opting out of his contract. These two decisions help Boston shore up its depth in the infield, as Nunez can play second, short and third, in addition to keeping most of the team’s starting rotation intact (Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez are all slated to return).
The one area that the Red Sox will have to address this offseason is the bullpen. Closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Joe Kelly are both set to become free agents, while Nathan Eovaldi, who was stellar out of the bullpen throughout the playoffs, will also hit the market.
Kimbrel was fantastic for Boston this season, earning a 2.74 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 42 saves and 96 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. This will be the elite closer’s first time testing the free agent waters, and the 30-year-old is expected to fully explore the market before making a decision.
While the Red Sox would love to have him back, it remains to be seen if they are willing to pony up the money to sign Kimbrel given the fact that their payroll is already above $200 million.
Kelly and Eovaldi both boosted their free agent value by putting together strong postseason campaigns. Eovaldi may prove too expensive to retain, but if Kimbrel signs elsewhere, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski could look to re-sign Kelly and make him the team’s closer.
World Series MVP Steve Pearce will also be a free agent, although his role in the team’s postseason run could lead to him re-upping in Boston. Pearce is a perfect candidate to form a platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland due to his strong performance against left-handed pitching. If Pearce returns, the Red Sox will have its entire starting lineup, along with just about every key player, back with the team next season.
The only other free agent of note is second baseman Ian Kinsler. While a reunion is always possible, Boston is planning on having veteran leader Dustin Pedroia back in time for spring training. With Nunez and Brock Holt both under contract and serving as insurance for Pedroia, Kinsler may no longer have a spot in Boston’s crowded infield.
If Kimbrel and Kelly both leave, Dombrowski will have a solid group of bullpen arms to choose from on the free agent market. Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, David Robertson, Kelvin Herrera, and Cody Allen are among the FA options with some closer experience, while a trade for a reliever is always possible as well.
The Boston Red Sox are in the fortunate position of having almost its entire World Series roster under contract for next season, leaving the front office with only a few issues to address this winter.
Assuming Dombrowski is able to add a solid arm or two to the bullpen, there is no reason to believe the Red Sox won’t be among the 2019 World Series favorites.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.