With seven starting pitchers coming into spring training, the Red Sox never imagined that they'd be left with only three of them by June. Such is the improbability of baseball.
But just three months later, David Wells is unlikely to return, Matt Clement is a huge question mark, Lenny DiNrdo an unproven commodity, and all three of them are on the disabled list. The Red Sox have had to get creative, and resort to flotsam, to find their replacements.
GM Theo Epstein was able to acquire yet another castoff on Wednesday when he picked up right-handed sinkerballer Jason Johnson from the Indians. While the terms were reportedly a player to be named or cash, Theo Epstein indicated that the compensation to the Indians would simply be cash. Despite this, the Indians will still pay the bulk of of Johnson's remaining $4 million salary.
Cleveland designated Johnson for assignment on Tuesday and the Sox acted immediately to shore up their hobbled rotation. Johnson will make his debut for the Sox in a July 1 start at Florida, when the team will need a fifth starter once again. However, he was immediately added to the 25-man roster, and the newly acquired Kyle Snyder -- another unwanted and released pitcher -- was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket.
A veteran who's pitched in parts of nine Major League seasons, the 32-year-old Johnson was 3-8 with a 5.96 ERA in 14 starts for the Indians this year. He is third in the American League with a 2.85 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio, and should only benefit from the Sox impeccable, and Major League leading, defense.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Johnson is 55-94 with a 4.95 ERA in 229 Major League appearances, 213 of which have been as a starter. Last season, Johnson led the Tigers with 19 quality starts, going 8-13 with a 4.54 ERA.
Johnson's lackluster record may be a bit deceiving; the early years of his career were played for a weak Orioles team that never won more than 78 games in any of his five years there -- and as few as 63. Johnson's next stop was a two year stint with Detroit, pitching for a Tigers team that won 72 and 71 games, respectively. And this year, Johnson's Indians team was a disappointing seven games under .500 and fifteen games out of first place when he was designated.
The point is that bad teams don't just have bad pitchers -- they usually have bad defense and bad offense too. Yet Johnson may be as unimpressive as his ERA, or worse, his record. That remains to be seen, but it won't take long to find out.
One way or the other, with both Snyder and Johnson now in the organization, the Sox have inexpensively sought to improve their overall pitching depth. Epstein managed to preserve the farm system by not doling out the organization's talented prospects, and the trade deadline is still over a month away.
But we shouldn't hold our collective breath. With six AL teams in striking distance of an AL playoff spot, and nine in the NL, lots of teams will seeking to upgrade their pitching via deadline trades. The competition will be stiff, and the pickins' will be slim. There are no guarantees that Dontelle Willis, Barry Zito or Jason Schmidt will be available or obtainable. And if any of them are, the price will be steep. No one in Red Sox Nation would react well to a trade involving Jon Lester (especially after tonight's remarkable 6 inning, three hit, one run, 10 K outing) or Craig Hansen. And with the bullpen in such disarray, who really wants to part with hometown boy Manny Delcarmen at such an early stage in his career? Mike Timlin, Rudy Seanez, Keith Folke, and Julian Tavarez all could be gone next season and will need to be replaced. Delcarmen could be a part of the Sox bullpen for many years to come.
Expect Dustin Pedrioa and or David murphy to be traded before any of the young pitching talent. Until then, let's hope that a combination of Johnson and or Snyder can fill out the fifth spot and help the Sox win some games every fifth day against the competition's impotent bottom-of-the-rotation starters.