Difficult Decision To DFA Matt Barnes, Highlighting Fickle Nature Of Relief Pitching

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The world of closing games can be a fickle and yearly consistency can be elusive for many due to various reasons.

Perhaps the latest example is what unfolded Tuesday when the Red Sox designated Matt Barnes for assignment to clear room on the roster for new outfielder Adam Duvall along with Adalberto Mondesi.

It was not long in real life but perhaps ancient times in July 2021 when Barnes inked a two-year, $18.75 million extension shortly before his All-Star game debut. The deal was signed while he was in midst of producing a 1.12 ERA in July but the following month, he pitched to a 13.50 ERA and only produced one of his 24 saves.

Last season was a continuation of the nightmarish end to 2021. He had a 7.94 ERA before missing two months with right shoulder inflammation and then returned to what appeared on the surface to be effective with a 1.59 ERA. Except the pitcher who produced strikeout rates of 36.2 in 2018, 38.6 in 2019 and 37.8 in 2021 was down to 19.3 percent last season.

While Barnes could certainly regain some of the past success as many pitchers do the further, they get away from injury, the Red Sox felt otherwise, and the signings of Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin seem to their illustrate viewpoint.

“The conversation itself was one of the more difficult ones that I’ve had,” Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom told reporters.

Barnes is expected to clear waivers and become a free agent assuming a trade can’t be worked out and how the Red Sox said they agonized about the decision illustrates the human side of daily transactions.

“More than anything, this is just a function of where we’re at in the offseason and with our 40-man roster,” Bloom said. “There are no easy decisions and, you know, regardless of recent accomplishments, regardless of what they have under their belts in their careers, everybody on our 40-man roster has real value.”

“And so that forces tough choices, and it’s obviously something we’ve been working through all offseason. And today we landed on Matt, but beyond that, it’s certainly nothing negative about him. I think it’s more a statement of where we’re at with the 40-man roster, and beyond that I want to see the process play out first before saying more.”

Still, Barnes being cut may be viewed as a surprise. He is owed $7.5 million for 2023 season and on the surface for fans seemed like someone worthy of keeping over Ryan Brasier.

Unlike the Yankees making no effort to retain Aroldis Chapman, this was not a no-brainer, which explains the tone Bloom spoke with when addressing the move to reporters in Boston.

In the context of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, Barnes final act was among the handful of pitchers who faced Aaron Judge and were hoping to avoid becoming the answer to who allowed his 61st or 62nd homer. Barnes actually came close when he retired Judge on a warning track flyball in the ninth inning that landed 404 feet away into Hernandez’s glove in center field.

“He’s a great person and he’s having an unbelievable season, I’m trying to get him out,” Barnes said on Sept. 22. “I frankly don’t care about history. We got a ballgame to win. If I give up a homer, the game’s over, right?

“So, I’m sure he does it at some point this season and I’ll congratulate him and everything. If I go out there and get caught up in the history of what he could potentially be doing and I start tiptoeing around the at-bat, I’m probably going to hang something and I’m probably going to miss middle and my stuff’s going to get worse and I’m probably going to give up a home run.”

And against the Yankees, Barnes owns an unsightly 7.15 ERA in 41 appearances and that includes the 8.31 ERA in 2018 when he continued to emerge as an effective bridge to Craig Kimbrel.

After not retaining Xander Bogaerts, Barnes was the longest tenured Red Sox. His 429 appearances are third in team history behind the 590 Tim Wakefield pitched in and 637 Bob Stanley appeared in.

Two years ago, it was easy to anticipate Barnes pitching beyond 2022 season but struggles and subsequent injury show how things can reverse course, though it seems likely the right-hander will get a new team and pitch this season.

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