Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Koji Uehara will be embraced by Red Sox fans for as long as he lives, and long after that. The photo of him in Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s arms after he closed out the 2013 World Series is one of the team’s most iconic still images; until that moment, the Red Sox had not won a championship in Fenway Park since a year I can’t quite remember. It had been a long time coming, that’s for sure, and coming off the Bobby Valentine disaster in 2012 it came completely out of nowhere. No one represents that surprise team better that Uehara, who came into the year as a somewhat anonymous itinerant 38-year-old, albeit with career statistics that could win a starter a Cy Young Award over a single year:
Uehara got something better than a Cy. He got a title, free drinks for life and Red Sox immortality. But enough about the future: We are still living on Koji Standard Time for at least one more season, the second of a two-year, $18 million deal. He won’t be the closer, but he’ll still be Koji.
What went right in 2015
Uehara had been putting up a typically great year for a team that couldn’t do bumpkus for a few months before disaster struck (off the bat of Ian Kinsler). He actually improved on his 2014 campaign, moving his ERA+ from 159 to 194, albeit with a touch fewer strikeouts and a more walks. Like any closer, he was at the mercy of forces far beyond his considerable abilities, and a lot of his performance was ultimately filler for another bad season. The good part for the Sox is that they rebounded strongly over the last two months, thanks in part to the beast that was Jackie Bradley Jr., but Uehara wasn’t around to see it.
What went wrong in in 2015
After fighting through a Spring Training hamstring injury, nothing notable for awhile, and then this:
That play earned him a broken wrist and a slot on the season-ending DL. It was a play he could have maybe avoided, but he said such restraint is not in his nature. “I consider my whole body is a glove once I release a ball,” he explained, which is awesome. Also awesome: He threw the guy out at first with his broken wrist to finish the game and get the save. Short story shorter: this guy rules.
What to expect in 2016
Badassness, probably? Uehara has been productive for every season he’s pitched in MLB — he has never posted an ERA+ under 100, and never under 159 for the Sox — and there’s no reason to think next year will be different… except it’ll be happening in the eighth inning. Craig “Roster Recap on Thursday” Kimbrel is clearly a better 9th inning choice than Uehara, but what can he do that Koji hasn’t already done? The answer is nothing, and it’s not his fault. Uehara is a living legend not likely to live on house money in what be his swan song. Even now, he should earn his spot: now and forever, Koji Time is money.
Photo by Pat Aiken/USA Today Sports Images