Why the Texas Rangers should strongly consider Joe Kelly in free agency
By Travis Koch
The Texas Rangers are in need of a set up man. They are also in need of an experienced arm within their youthful bullpen. Texas should sign Joe Kelly.
Don’t be fooled by the rather tranquil offseason thus far. Things are sure to pick up in two and a half weeks when the winter meetings take place is Las Vegas. Also, don’t be fooled by the Texas Rangers’ rebuild. Their front office may be more aggressive on the market than rebuilding organizations typically are.
One free agent the Rangers should give a look is reliever Joe Kelly. Kelly of course won a championship with the Boston Red Sox this past season. And he did his part, posting a 0.79 ERA over 11.1 innings, walking no one and striking out 13.
Kelly’s dominant postseason gives him the free agent momentum that he didn’t have after an underwhelming regular season. In the regular season, he pitched to a 4.39 ERA and posted a 1.355 WHIP.
It’s never been a matter of ability with Joe Kelly. He throws about as hard as any relief pitcher in Major League Baseball, as indicated by his average fastball velocity of 98.5 mph in 2018 (per Fangraphs). He also throws more pitches than most relievers, sporting a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. (There’s a reason he was once a starting pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals.)
Kelly’s kryptonite, however, is control. He allowed the 16th most walks (32) among relief pitchers last season and ranked in the bottom half in WHIP. Basically, when he commands his pitches, he’s lights out; when he does not, he struggles.
The Texas Rangers should monitor his value and see if they can sign him at a reasonable price. Texas could use an experienced arm in their very young bullpen. Plus, they lack options for the set up role, especially with the uncertainty of Matt Bush.
How much would Joe Kelly cost?
Looking at last year’s market, three comps stand out…
Brandon Morrow signed with the Cubs on a two-year, $21 million contract, Brandon Kintzler signed with the Nats on a two-year, $10 million contract, and Wade Davis signed with the Rockies on three years, $52 million.
All three were older than Kelly (30) at the time of free agency. Davis is an elite closer so he stands significantly more valuable than Kelly. In fact, Davis’ contract with the Rockies is the largest for a relief pitcher in MLB history.
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Kintzler was acquired by the Nationals as a set up man in 2017 before they resigned him in ’18. He’s had a solid career, but he doesn’t, or didn’t, hold the type of value that Kelly will hold this free agency. Moreover, Kelly is has more talent and he is a much bigger name.
Brandon Morrow was a set up man with the Dodgers prior to being signed by the Cubs as their new closer. He had a dominant 2017 postseason with L.A., leading to a healthy contract from the Cubs. Remember, Joe Kelly is coming off a dominant postseason.
Comparing Kelly to those three, his situation is most similar to Morrow’s. Two years, $21 million is in the ballpark of what Kelly will likely get this offseason. He made just $3.825 million with Boston this past season.
It’s uncommon for relief pitchers to earn contracts greater than two years because they are often seen as interchangeable. Relievers are similar to NFL running backs…great for a few years, but eventually a younger, fresher back will come along in the draft and takeover.
Could the Texas Rangers offer Kelly three years? I could see it. He’s still young and he’s shown no signs of regression. Again, it’s not a common move, but that may be what it takes to pull him away from the rest of the market.
Joe Kelly voiced his desires to return to the Boston Red Sox. You certainly can’t blame him, however, the desires would have to be mutual. The Red Sox might have to break the bank to re-sign Craig Kimbrel and Nathan Eovaldi; therefore, they might not have enough leftover to spend on Kelly.