Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Saturday, September 02, 2006

THE REBUILDING WILL BEGIN WITH PITCHING

After his most recent loss, Curt Schilling -- the Sox best pitcher -- is now 14-7. The veteran righty dropped his third straight decision and hasn't won in five starts since beating Tampa Bay on August 4.

The Sox ace was out-dueled by Oakland's ace, the 28-year-old Barry Zito, who improved to 15-8 and is undefeated in his last three starts.

The one bit of good news was that Schilling became the 14th pitcher with 3,000 career strikeouts. But after his recent performances, Schilling appears to be in the twilight of a great career, one he intends to end after next season. Though Schilling isn't always the dominating pitcher he once was, remove him from the rotation and the Sox suddenly look like a basement dweller.

Knowing that, and that pitching has been their achilles heel all year long, the Sox will have to make some significant moves this offseason. The starting rotation needs to get younger in a hurry.

The Red Sox have used 27 different pitchers this season -- a new club record -- including 13 starters. The last time the team used 13 different starters was the 2000 season. The Cleveland Indians hold the AL record with 32 different pitchers, set in the 2000 season, and the ML record is 37, set by the San Diego Padres in 2002.

Going forward, and until Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling are able to return, the Sox rotation looks like this: Josh Beckett, Julian Tavarez, Kevin Jarvis, Lenny DiNardo, Kason Gabbard, and Kyle Snyder. That won't inspire confidence in the rest of the team, or instill fear in opposing hitters.

Josh Beckett has proven himself to be anything but a potential ace in his first year in the AL. David Wells is gone. Tim Wakefield is 40 and coming off a significant injury. Matt Clement has been inconsistent, unreliable and expensive; the Sox may have to cut ties with him at any cost. The up and down Kyle Snyder has reminded everyone was he was released by the woeful Royals earlier this year. Jon Lester may be a bright spot for the future. Though he's young and still has some rough edges, he's shown potential and even moments of brilliance. Unfortunately, his latest health scare could possibly jeopardize his promising career. Jarvis, DiNardo, and Gabard are, at best, number five starters and really don't belong in the Sox rotation.

The end result is that the Sox, like many other teams, will have to turn to the free agent market this offseason to upgrade was has been an old, injured, and unproductive staff.

Some of the big-name free agents this fall will be: Barry Zito, Jason Schmidt, Mark Mulder, Jason Marquis, Greg Maddux, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Vicente Padilla, Brad Radke and Mark Redman.

Zito, the 28-year-old lefty, is the cream of the crop and will be the prize free agent this offseason. The former Cy Young winner is 15-8 this season with a 3.57 ERA. His best season was 2002, when he went 23-5 with a 2.75 ERA and won the award as the league's top pitcher. Since that time, Zito has struggled, going 14-12, 11-11, 14-13. This year is shaping up to be his best since 2002. Zito is not a power pitcher and has only passed the 200-strike plateau once, notching 205 in 2001. But his career 3.51 ERA, all in the AL, make him highly coveted and will earn him a top dollar, multi-year contract. One of Zito's most appealing qualities is that he's been injury free throughout his career, likely the product of not being a fireballer.

Jason Schmidt will be another hot commodity this offseason, but unlike Zito he comes with a history of injuries. He had elbow surgery in 2003, which may have caused the shoulder strain that forced him to the disabled list in 2004. He also missed a total of 14 games with a shoulder injury, as well as 15 games with a groin injury, in 2005. But the hard-throwing righty has made at least 29 starts every season since 2002, and is poised to do so again this year. A strike out pitcher, Schmidt fanned 196 batters in 2002, 208 in 2003, and 251 in 2004. He has a career 2.90 ERA, but that has to be viewed through the lens that it was accomplished entirely in the NL. The three-time All Star relies on a mid-to-upper-90s heater and a hard slider for outs. He also throws a change-up that helps to keep hitters off balance.

In 2001, Schmidt turned down a four-year, $32 million offer from his home-state Seattle Mariners, the team he'd grown up rooting for. Instead, he opted for a four-year, $30 million deal with the Giants that had a $10 million option for this season. Many feel that he won't turn the Mariners down again this year and will finish his career at home if given the chance.

At the time Schmidt said the decision was, "one of the hardest decisions of my life," especially after "thinking back to when I was 8 years old and going to Mariners games, knowing this is what I've wanted to do all of my life." "When you get that opportunity, and to think you're not going to take advantage of it, that's hard."

He's already proven once that money isn't his sole motivation, and it may be difficult for the Red Sox, or Yankees, to persuade him otherwise this time. It also worth noting that Schmidt, who will be 34 at the start of next season, has never been a 20-game winner in his career.

There have been red flags with Mulder this year. After spending time on the DL due to shoulder problems, Mulder has been rocked in his last two stars and may be shut down for the rest of the season. He underwent an MRI which was very similar to the first one taken in June when he went on the DL with impingement and rotator cuff fraying.

After undergoing extensive rehabilitation without success, surgery is a viable option. Mulder is now 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA after entering the season as the winningest pitcher in the majors the previous five seasons.

The Sox faced those same problems with Wade Miller last year and that didn't fare too well. With that experience, they'll be unlikely to go down that road again, especially since Mulder will be a considerably more expensive investment.

After that the talent gets a lot thinner, or a lot older.

Jason Marquis has won 15 games just once in his career. Furthermore, his 4.48 career ERA is uninspiring and doesn't exactly seem tailor made for the AL. Greg Maddux is 40 and is finally pitching closer to home on the West Coast. Assuming he continues playing, he'll likely remain with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old Andy Pettitte is home in Houston, and seems determined to stay put. He's also suffered injury problems and is just 13-13 this year with a 4.44 ERA. After losing Pettite, the Yankees aren't likely to give up on the still able Mussina due to an absence of depth in their rotation. And after that, the pickin's are slim. Padilla, Radke and Redman aren't the answers to the Red Sox problems.

The Red Sox need two solid, front-line pitchers to join their rotation. Anything short of that will be a failure and will lead to more of the same next year. Red Sox fans pay the highest ticket prices in baseball and expect a winner year in and year out. The organization has its work cut out for it, but the money saved on Pedro and Johnny can now be spent on the rotation.

With Lester's health problems, and future unknown, the Sox will enter next season only able to rely on the 40-year-old Schilling, the underwhelming Beckett, and the 40-year-old, and inconsistent, Wakefield. That won't get it done.

While Wakefield is a model citizen and teammate who says and does all the right things in the clubhouse and off the field, he is a mediocre, and old, pitcher. Whenever he pitches, the Sox are constantly undermined by the threat of passed balls/wild pitches. And any pitcher who needs his own personal catcher had better be an ace. On top of that, his personal catcher needs to be younger than Doug Mirabelli (36 next month), and has to at least hit his weight (Mirabelli weighs 220 and is batting .188).

Once again, as in each of the past couple of years, the Red Sox entire pitching staff needs a major overhaul, and that is a monumental task indeed. Considering management's past history, rebuilding the bullpen will be especially tricky. The Sox won't be the only competitive players in the free agent market this offseason. But luckily for them, they have deep pockets and resources that many of their competitors don't have.

Copyright © 2006 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

No comments: