Red Sox closer Matt Barnes is in the midst of a career year at the perfect time, with free agency looming just a few months down the road. However, while many free-agents-to-be set an Opening Day deadline for extension talks with their current club, Barnes made clear this week that he’s “absolutely” open to talking about a new contract during the season (link via Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com). Barnes added that while the two sides talked during Spring Training and even exchanged numbers, the Red Sox haven’t made an offer since.
Barnes, 31 next week, has the second-highest strikeout rate among all qualified relievers at a whopping 49.5 percent, trailing only division rival Aroldis Chapman for the MLB lead. He’s worked 26 1/3 innings for the Sox this season and notched a tidy 2.73 ERA but with an even better 1.36 FIP and 1.33 SIERA.
Barnes has long been a solid late-inning option with well above-average strikeouts, but he’s taken his game to new heights in 2021. The breakout isn’t accompanied by a major uptick in fastball velocity or spin rate — both are actually down a bit from 2019 — or by the implementation of a new pitch.
The biggest change for Barnes looks attributable to the best command the right-hander has ever had. His 7.4 percent walk rate is far and away the lowest of his career. Barnes walked 12.7 percent of his opponents from 2018-20, but he’s slashed that this season in large part by emphasizing strike one; he’d thrown a first-pitch strike at just a 58 percent clip in his career prior to 2021, but that number has skyrocketed to 72.6 percent this season — a mark that ranks fourth-best among 182 qualified relievers. He’s inducing chases on pitches out of the strike zone at a career-high 37.6 percent, and his opponents’ 46.5 percent contact rate on those chases is the second-best mark of his career (trailing his 44.4 percent mark in 2018).
This is the best version of Barnes that the Red Sox have seen, and his breakthrough has no doubt played a role in the Red Sox beating virtually all preseason expectations with a 37-25 record with nearly 40 percent of the season in the books. Barnes is tied for fifth in Major League Baseball with 14 saves, has only blown two opportunities this season, and has only been scored upon in five of his 26 appearances.
All of that positions Barnes quite nicely as the open market looms. There’s no established, dominant presence among this winter’s group, which leaves Barnes looking like a candidate to hit the market as the top name available. Fellow breakout right Kendall Graveman could give him some competition in that regard, but Barnes is undeniably well-positioned for the time being.
Barnes is earning every bit of a $4.5MM salary thus far in 2021, but he’d obviously be in line for a sizable raise on that rate over a multi-year deal in free agency. This past offseason wasn’t a great year for relievers as a whole. Only Liam Hendriks topped two years in length or $9MM in annual value (on a multi-year deal). His $54MM guarantee from the White Sox is one of the largest sums ever promised to a reliever, but Blake Treinen’s two-year, $17.5MM deal was the next-largest contract for any bullpen arm.
A year prior, the top bullpen arms on the market were lefties Will Smith (three years, $40MM) and Drew Pomeranz (four years, $34MM). In 2018-19 we saw each of Joe Kelly, Adam Ottavino, Familia and Zack Britton score three-year pacts with average annual values ranging from $8-13MM.
If Barnes can sustain this output, history suggests he’d be able to target seeking a contract of at least three years in free agency. An annual salary approaching or even exceeding $10MM — perhaps by a decent margin — wouldn’t seem outlandish if he continues punching out nearly half of his opponents. Barnes’ track record of this level of dominance is relatively short, but that was also true of many of the relievers who cashed in over the past three offseasons (Hendriks and Pomeranz chief among them).
There’s no indication that the Red Sox are planning a run at extending Barnes just yet. Luxury-tax concerns have underscored nearly every move the team has made for the past couple years. That said, Sox are under the line this year and could structure any contract as a new deal beginning in 2022 so as not to impact their 2021 bottom line (as they did when extending Chris Sale a couple years back). The Red Sox have about $127MM in luxury-tax obligations on the 2022 ledger, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Critically, we don’t know what the luxury barrier will be in 2022 or if the luxury-tax system will even exist in its current state. That, of course is dependent on the ongoing collective bargaining talks. Whatever happens, Barnes made clear the ball is in the team’s court.
“We haven’t had any discussions since spring training,” said Barnes. “If the Red Sox want to make an offer and they want to start those conversations… I’ve always been a firm believer that listening to information is always free.”
Down with OBP
I think it’s smart practice for relievers to have in season extension talks because there is more volatility in their performance than lineup regulars or established starters.
For them, yes. Barnes is literally saying here “Yes, lets talk extension right after I pitch in a whole bunch of games vs the Orioles, Tigers, Mariners and Twins!” lol
Love what he’s doing but remain scared long term. An extension now depends on the cost. if he’s looking for top closer dollars, pass or wait for more of a sample size. if he wants to stay, perhaps the Joe Kelly Dodgers’ deal as a framework.
The wrong Will Smith is linked in this article
Thanks! Fixing that now.
Extending relievers after career years doesn’t typically turn out well unless they can get him for closer to what he was money vs. this season’s production money. I’d also be very careful about checking whether or not he’s using anything to grip the ball better this year to increase that command if MLB is serious about cracking down on that.
Its barely mid-June, so he could regress. Also the whole “foreign substances” thing might be inflating any pitchers career years this season and all of those should be put under a microscope for legitimacy. 3/21 at most.
The foreign substance issue is why I made sure to mention Barnes’ spin rate and velo actually being slightly down since 2018. It’s a small sample right now, but this genuinely appears to be a product of him hammering the zone and working ahead in the count at levels he’s never previously managed.
Is there a coaching trope that says “An 0-1 or 0-2 count is the best performance enhancer for a pitcher”? If not, can I coin it right now? Ha.
It’s not just spin rate that grip helps though, haven’t numerous pitchers commented about how that helps them command/control their pitches better?
Agreed Steve. I’ve been yelling at my TV for years, screaming for him to stop finessing. Get control of your two pitches and make the batter hit it.
Yes! I hate it when pitchers nibble at the corners. Throw strikes and magical things happen.
Barnes is a guy who I’d really like to see extended if it can be done for a reasonable sum. There are certain players that just fit in Boston, over and above the analytics behind it. Relievers who can handle the enormous pressure of playing for the Sox are especially difficult to come by, and even with Barnes’ control issues in earlier years he never had that Mark Melancon problem where pitching for the Red Sox was just scary. Plus his curveball nasty.
He’s been a consistently good reliever who is having a career year. The Red Sox may feel comfortable paying him for being a good reliever, but not what he’s doing in 2021 if they don’t believe it’s repeatable.
It might be to their advantage to let him go to free agency and see what the market rate is.
He’s been consistently inconsistent. Until 21,; he would walk the ball park.
I think now that the Luxury Tax has been reset after the Betts/Price moves put them below it for a season. There area few arms on the farm that they are grooming for the pen. They also need to lock up Devers and Verdugo and Boegarts as an out option. I think that would be more concerning than going over the tax.
I wouldn’t sign or trade for any pitcher until MLB shows whether it is going to crack down on Spider Tack.
Darn good point.
The team knows if he’s using or not.
Tough decision for Bloom, Barnes has been great this year but this really is his first year of being in that elite category.
Closets are such a crap shoot. We’ve all seen the cautionary tales: Melancon/SF, Jansen/LAD, Kimbrel/CHC, etc where it seems they’re toast, and then they essentially recapture the magic. Bloom definitely had a tough decision to make.
Reliever decisions must drive GMs crazy. Unlike Barnes, those other three guys you mention at least have extensive track records of success. Generally, I think it’s unwise to dole out multi-year deals for relievers. I’d pass on doing that with Barnes, who turns 31 in a week and is just 26 innings into his breakout season. There will be closers available in the winter, maybe even all three guys you mentioned (Jansen will be a FA, the other two have buyout scenarios). It’s not like Barnes is irreplaceable, even if he winds up being an all-star caliber RP the entire season. Get a good season from him and worry about the contract stuff later.
Id say he gets at least 4 years, 38 million. Will the Red Sox be the ones to pay him though.
When I see Matt Barnes I think Becky with da good hair.
Unless he’s willing to take a home team discount, 3/21-ish) it makes no sense to extend him now. Let’s see how he finishes the year and then see what he and his agent are asking for in free agency. He’s having a great year, but they can’t overpay for him, nor can they afford to offer him a QO. The Sox have more important people to lock up (Devers, Verdugo, E-Rod, Xander with his opt out) so they can’t jump the gun with Barnes. Also, they already have other options who can close next year (Sawamura, Whitlock, Hernandez) so they won’t be ‘held hostage’ by Barnes and his agent. With that said, it would be great if he stayed in Boston on a reasonable contract.
Do NOT give this guy an extension now in midseason. I’m glad they didn’t extend him last winter. The reason he’s having such a great year is because, like many guys, it’s a contract year !!
I was hoping the same for Eduardo Rodriguez and was glad he was pitching in a walk year but it hasn’t quite worked out the same. Eduardo has been decent but he’s had some crummy outings.
Barnes is pitching well.., don’t give him a fat stack of cash to rest upon and change his mind set from, “I need to pitch well to get a good contract this offseason,” to, “well, I’ve got my money, I can let off the gas a little.”
I’d rather we overpay a few hometown favorites than cheer against them like you seem to have no problem doing smh
Come on, you don’t even believe that. Fans always say that during the off-season and then when the season starts turn quickly, Everyone was complaining about Boston letting JBJ go, haven’t heard much talk about that being a mistake lately for whatever reason… And if they had resigned him, everyone would be trashing Bloom for not realizing this is who Jackie is. Of course if given the option you’d prefer to win with the home grown guys vs mercenaries, but fans ultimately just care about winning.
I was a huge JBJ supporter. in truth, I had no idea what a great RFer Renfroe was and he’s the reason I’m not missing JBJ. I wonder what it would cost to extend him now.
Ditto exactly dewey.
I’m not certain why I think this isn’t a good look for Barnes but it just feels that way. Of course, the price you are worth now compared to the beginning of the year is better so it is very understandable to want to lock up a better rate while you can. But it isn’t so simple.
The Red Sox don’t have Dumbrowski desperately trying to hold together the roster. In fact, this Chaim guy comes from a franchise that typically sells high. The Red Sox are in a quasi rebuild because they don’t have money to make the long-term work out so they don’t experience trading away someone like Betts. I guess that is what makes Barnes’ request seems a little tone-deaf.
Maybe not. Maybe, he knows he figures to be a crucial piece for next year when Sale gets back. However, I won’t hold my breath for that. Considering how volatile relievers can be, the value they could get for moving him is quite considerable especially relative to when the front office thought about it last summer…
Either way, the Red Sox have some nice options =)
ClevelandStreetEngines – You wrote very wise words! The Red Sox strategy needs to be to figure out their future now by determining who they want long-term at each position. Unlike anything Bloom has done so far, the next two months need to be about getting value higher than the worth of assets. It also needs to be about fixing the payroll issues so Red Sox fans don’t have to hear the crap about not having enough money after 20 years of raking in money hand over fist by the owners.
First, the Red Sox are not going to make the playoffs so they need to align their ducks to move them at the trade deadline to clear payroll and find long-term solutions at each position. Example – Barnes is not a closer so he must go at the deadline and the fans need to hope his inevitable blow-up doesn’t happen before the trade happens. Next, JD is back to being JD.so he needs to be dealt. Many thought in 2018 JD was getting old at 30. He’s now 33 so his future is drastically diminished from 3 years ago. It’s only a one year savings but that money could go to fixing the rest of the line-up or his value could bring a young player that will start for the next decade. Either way, the Red Sox are better off with JD gone as much as I love the guy. This moves Devers to his proper spot at DH and provides the Red Sox with an opportunity to decide whether Dalbec or Casas will be the 3B of the future (maybe even Potts). If they want Casas as the 1B of the future and they don’t like Dalbec to the 3B of the future then package him in a deadline deal as well. So, with Devers, Bogarrts, Verdugo and Vazquez as four of the locks for the future Boston line-up, take the money available after the trades to get a permanent power hitting left fielder with speed, plan on Duran in center field and Verdugo in right field. With Casas at 1B a REAL 2B for the future needs to be targeted, someone other than Downs who needs to be included in trades so maximum value can be obtained. That fills out the defensive side of the team and with Sale, Houck, Pivetta they need to decide on who pitches in the 5 hole and they need to procure a TRUE #2 SP. E=Rod should be packaged in the trades along with Richards if teams are willing to give up anything for two mediocre SPs to help them make the playoffs. Last thing that needs to be done is to make a deal with an organization who has depth at closer. St. Louis comes to mind. Since Reyes is closing both Gallegos and Hicks are available along with several others. SD has depth at reliever as well so there are many sources for an inexpensive closer that can last a few years. Ottavino is a good set-up person along with Taylor and Hernandez who are experiencing some difficulties this season but it is to be expected that their initial level would fall back and then jump forward again next year.
Your comment that the Red Sox have some nice options is 100% right. Let’s hope Bloom actually does his job right for the first time since he arrived. I’m not holding my breathe that he knows what he’s doing but I know many on this website feel strongly in favor of him so this is his shot to prove his worth or as I expect prove his lack of worth.
Steve, I would love to hear a update on Red Sox draft pick Noah Song, I believe his required service time in Navy flight school is up this summer? Thanks
No one is going to give Barnes a huge contract. He is a good, not great late-inning reliever who is having a very good year.
Barnes is not a closer type pitcher. 12 to 6 curve balls have historically ended in passed balls and base runners advancing without hits or walks late in the game. Letting Benny go but keeping Barnes would be more documentation of why Bloom needs to go.
Cora cheated in Houston and they won, Cora cheated in Boston and they won. Now Boston has Cora back and they are competing with a sub standard skill set to compete. I’ve been asking myself how Cora might be cheating this year to help the team play over their heads and I think we now have an explanation for the pitching success. No matter what this team does with Cora as manager it will always be tainted because of his history of cheating.
The laughable part about all this is that the one team that Boston can’t beat this season is Houston, the original source of cheating. Maybe there is now a hierarchy of cheating in baseball and Houston is in first place and Boston is in second!!
It makes sense that the new generation of metric oriented individuals would start yet another stat to rank cheating by organization, managers and players. Think of all the things stat cast could do with this information. They could add to pitching stats of spin rate and perceived velocity with ST factor (Spider Tack factor), CSR cheat spin rate (the difference between the normal spin rate and the heightened spin rate thanks to Spider Tack). Then they could compare Spider Tack with other effective substances being used by pitchers to evaluate which one cheats the most. These are all opportunities that didn’t exist when the impact of steroids was supposedly happening 20 years ago.
Next, I’d like Stat cast to come up with ball measurements. Not how far or how fast but how juiced the ball is since the manufacturing and distribution of the baseball is so varied each ball would have a fly quotient that reflects distance off the bat. A new record for Home Runs per Game was set in 2019 at 1.395. 2020 saw the number drop to 1.283 (the second highest of all time) and 2017 remains the third highest at 1.256. Since the juice in each baseball varies Stat Cast needs to come up with a juice factor based on the reaction of the baseball to the velocity of the pitch, the arc of the swing when contacting the baseball (similar to barrels) and the density of the bat used by the hitter.
Growing HRs by measuring bat speed, barrels and exit velocity is a result of the actions taken by the math-world side of baseball. Now, rather than ruining the game they could do something that better documents why HRs are growing, not just now but in the past.
Like the discovery of new substances helping pitchers, the baseball police need to check out what substances are being consumed by the hitters with respect to strength because people firmly believed steroids made players stronger and that led to more home runs. It’s a faulty argument still believed by many today so why not evaluate whether some players have found new ways to get stronger, with better stamina? Then, with the new tests they could evaluate how much of the increase in home runs is from additional strength versus the make-up of the baseball. This would go a long way toward exonerating the last generation of baseball players who got stronger and had more stamina and more home runs were concluded to be the result. That result was faulty when you consider the changing construction, storage and raw materials of the baseball.
The bigger question after all the cheating in baseball is how do you pay players who are improving their stats using illegal substances. Barnes is an example but players like Cole seem far more relevant to the issue since Bonds and McGwire were chosen to be the poster boys of steroids. Likewise, Cole and others should be vilified in a similar fashion.
Would it be fair to ban them from the HOF like the steroid users? Since sign stealing was disguised to be fairly meaningless offense (despite impacting the outcome of more games and World Series than any other cheating) compared to building strength and stamina in hitters, what degree of cheating is concluded when pitchers are caught cheating like the steroid guys? Will they get a gentle slap on their hands and a wink by the commissioner like Cora, Hinch and Beltran? Or will they get clobbered like steroid users for changing the stats of current players making them appear to be better than players in the past, just like steroids.
That leads to the ultimate question – How do you measure cheating and punish it appropriately? The Black Sox got clobbered, the Steroid scapegoats got clobbered, the Sign stealing parties got a mild slap on the hands even when they were suspected of doing it twice and impacting two world series. What will be the punishment for the pitchers doing exactly what the hitters did 20 years ago? They enhanced their performance through the use of illegal substances being applied to be baseball but not ingested or inserted into their bodies. Is this modern day cheating also a minor deal to the public and the commissioner like the sign stealing or because this cheating impacted the numbers that are used to evaluate the careers of players it’s no different than steroids?
Curtisrowe – TSTM = Too short to matter. Get an education and responses over 5 words won’t be so cumbersome to read!! The mind is a terrible thing to waste..
Bring l ong-winded and sensitive must be a horrible way to go through life.