Matt Barnes has long been interested in remaining with the Red Sox past the 2021 season, when he is set to hit free agency for the first time.
Originally selected by Boston in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft out of UCONN, Barnes has spent the first 11 years of his professional career and first eight years of his big-league career with the Sox after debuting for them in 2014.
As he prepared for his eighth season in the majors this past spring, the right-hander and his camp were approached by the Red Sox about signing a potential contract extension with the club. The two sides also discussed an extension last spring before the COVID-19 pandemic-induced shutdown in March.
While contract extension talks are typically reserved for spring training and tabled as soon as the regular season starts, Barnes would be all for continuing those conversations with Boston in the coming weeks.
“I would be open to it,” Barnes said prior to Wednesday’s game against the Astros. “But I can tell you firmly nothing has happened. We haven’t had any discussions since spring training. So if the Red Sox want to make an offer and they want to start those conversations… then I’m sure that’s something that my agent and I can discuss and see if anything comes of that.”
In conversing with the Red Sox throughout spring training, Barnes did say that the talks were more than just those of the preliminary variety. Put another way, dollar figures were involved.
“There were numbers exchanged,” he said. “It was definitely serious enough. It wasn’t just a one or two phone calls and, ‘Hey, we’re interested,’ ‘Hey we’re interested,’ and that was the end of it.”
Barnes, who turns 31 next Thursday, is putting together a career year at just the right time. Through 26 relief appearances this season, the Red Sox closer has posted a 2.73 ERA and 1.36 FIP to go along with 47 strikeouts to just seven walks over 26 1/3 innings of work thus far.
One reason as to why Barnes has been so effective in 2021 is simply because he is throwing more strikes and is punching out more batters and walking less as a result of doing so.
Among qualified big-league relievers, Barnes comes into play Wednesday ranked second in strikeout percentage (49.5%), 49th in walk percentage (7.4%), ninth in batting average against (.136), first in expected ERA (1.33), first in xFIP (1.50), and first in fWAR (1.5), per FanGraphs.
“One of the things that he has done is actually throw more strikes this year,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora in regards to Barnes’ success. “Stuff-wise, very similar. His fastball is actually playing in the strike zone. I do believe the biggest adjustment that he has made is actually throwing competitive pitches.
“There were a lot of pitches whenever he went out there [before this season],” added Cora. “Now he’s more efficient — there’s quick innings. The fact that he can bounce back from that is a testament to where he’s at physically. We’re very happy with the way he is performing.”
If Barnes continues to impress with the way he has been pitching out of Boston’s bullpen, the 6-foot-4 hurler will certainly be in line for a hefty payday.
Whether that payday comes courtesy of the Red Sox or another team has yet to be determined. But in the meantime, Barnes is all ears when it comes to contract talks.
“Listen, I’ve always been a firm believer that listening to information is always free,” he said. “Whether that’s in baseball or life. Listening is free. … But as of right now, nothing has happened.”
(Picture of Matt Barnes: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)