Closer Koji Uehara was a major part of that success, posting one of the most dominant seasons by a reliever in history, but could he dropped from the spot in 2014?
Uehara signed with the Red Sox as a free agent last offseason after spending the first four years of his major league career with the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers as a middle reliever. Prior to that, he had spent extensive time playing professional baseball in Japan.
The 38-year-old right-hander began this past season as a set-up man but graduated to the ninth-inning role in late-June after injuries to closers Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, and youngster Junichi Tazawa proved he wasn't ready for the responsibility.
To say Uehara was nearly unhittable would almost be an understatement. He went 4-1 with 21 saves and a 1.09 ERA in 73 games. He struck out 101 batters in 73.1 innings, and his 0.565 WHIP was the lowest in major league history in a single season for any pitcher with 50 or more innings.
He went on to save seven more games in the playoffs and was named the ALCS MVP, slamming the door time after time in pressure-packed situations.
Despite his historic production and the accolades, he is not a complete lock to close games in Boston next season.
Red Sox manager John Farrell told MassLive.com's Ron Chimelis, "Without adding any closer or other reliever next year, we are completely comfortable with Koji as our closer.'' He added that there was a "98 percent" likelihood of the veteran returning to the role. It wasn't a lukewarm endorsement of his amazing reliever, but may have been an indication that the team is exploring all options.
At first glance, it may seem foolish to consider moving a pitcher out of a role where he enjoyed such success. But there are two reasons why it may be worth exploring.
First, Uehara will be 39 next year. He appeared in just 37 games in 2012 because of injury, so his health should always be a concern going forward. Having thrived on depth this year, the Red Sox might think it too risky to simply hand the ninth inning over to the veteran again.
Secondly, a closer is really just a title. There is no need for the position if a team can't get to the ninth inning with a lead. The Red Sox may decide it's wiser to move Uehara back to middle relief, where his ability to throw multiple innings and have equal success against right-handed and left-handed hitters would be more of an asset. Pitching at the end of games may be a more sexy identity, but Boston didn't bring home the World Series trophy by concerning itself with such trivial things this year.
If the Red Sox did elect to go with a different closer, they would likely need to go outside of the organization. Only Bailey, who will attempt to come back from shoulder surgery that cut his season short, and Ryan Dempster, who has started the past six seasons, have previous closing experience among the pitchers on the current roster.
One closer that might intrigue Boston is free agent Joe Nathan. The right-hander just hit the market after the Rangers declined to extend him a qualifying offer after a 2013 season that saw him go 6-2 with 43 saves and a 1.39 ERA in 67 games.
Nathan will also be 39 next season but has been one of the most dominant closers in baseball throughout his 13-year career, with a combined 2.76 ERA and 341 saves to his credit.
A respected player and clubhouse guy, he would fit very well in the chemistry-first climate cultivated in Boston this year. Because of his age, he wouldn't command a lengthy or overly expensive deal. Since he didn't receive a qualifying offer, there will be no draft pick compensation required of any team that does end up signing him. These are all factors that could make him a very attractive target for the Red Sox.
Uehara may very well be Boston's closer in 2014. However, if he is asked to handle another role, it will be because of the anticipated value he will bring, not because he has done anything wrong. No matter where he pitches in the bullpen, another strong performance will be imperative if the team hopes to contend for another title.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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