The Red Sox needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster in order to make the signing of outfielder Adam Duvall on Tuesday. They did so in surprising fashion by designating reliever Matt Barnes for assignment.
Barnes, 33, briefly held the distinction of being the longest tenured member of the Red Sox after Xander Bogaerts left for the Padres in free agency last month. The right-hander was originally selected by Boston with the 19th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft out of the University of Connecticut.
After starting in college and in the minor-leagues, Barnes broke in with the Red Sox as a reliever towards the tail end of the 2014 season. It took the young hurler some time to find his footing at the big-league level, but he established himself as a consistent presence in Boston’s bullpen by leading the team in relief appearances (62) in 2016.
Barnes made 62 or more appearances per season from 2016-2019. During Boston’s run to a World Series title in 2018, the righty yielded just one earned run over 8 1/3 innings of relief that October.
On the heels of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Barnes got his 2021 campaign off to a scorching start. Through the end of July, he owned a 2.30 ERA with 66 strikeouts to 11 walks with 23 saves in 27 opportunities. By that point in time, he had already played in his first All-Star Game and had signed a two-year, $18.75 million contract extension that included a club option for 2024.
Barnes began to struggle down the stretch, however, as he posted a 9.26 ERA from August 1 through the end of the season and lost the closer’s role. He was also left off Boston’s American League Championship Series roster. Those struggles carried over into 2022 as well. In his first 20 appearances (17 innings) of the season), Barnes got shelled to the tune of a 7.94 ERA with 14 strikeouts and 12 walks.
The Red Sox placed Barnes on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation on June 1. He did not return to the big-league club until early August and proceeded to put up a far more encouraging 1.59 ERA (2.80 FIP) with 20 strikeouts to nine walks over 24 outings (22 2/3 innings) to close out the year.
Despite those improved results, some within the Red Sox organization “believe Barnes’ late-season showing was not as impressive as the numbers show,” according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. While Barnes was initially expected to have an important role within Boston’s bullpen in 2023, Cotillo reports that the club “plans on prioritizing flexibility when it comes to its bullpen,” meaning pitchers with minor-league options — such as Kaleb Ort or Wyattt Mills — now take precedence over Barnes.
Barnes, who turns 33 in June, currently ranks second in Red Sox history in both career relief appearances and relief strikeouts. Boston will have the next seven days to either trade, release, or waive Barnes, who has the ability to reject an outright assignment since he has already accrued more than five years of major-league service time.
If the Red Sox are unable to find a trade partner for Barnes, they will be on the hook for his $7.5 million salary in 2023 as well as the $2.25 million buyout that is attached to his club option for 2024. If Barnes clears waivers and becomes a free agent, he could be had by another team for only the prorated league minimum.
With Barnes’ anticipated departure, Ryan Brasier, Rafael Devers, and Chris Sale are now the only three players remaining from the Red Sox’ 2018 World Series championship team.
(Picture of Matt Barnes: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)