Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Red Sox Rotation Still Has Major Gaps

It's late January. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. Yet, incredibly, the Red Sox still have just three proven starters on their big league roster; Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

The Sox have signed veterans Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla to minor league contracts in recent weeks. The absence of a big league deal means that each of them comes with assorted questions and there is no assurance that any of them will make the team out of spring training.

Cook and Padilla are both reclamation projects returning from injures and both are hoping to get their careers back on track.

Silva, presumably the healthiest of the lot, was cut by the Cubs during spring training last year and promptly signed a minor league contract with the Yankees. However, New York quickly released Padilla in early July after just two months. The fact that he couldn't even cut it at the Triple-A level is not encouraging.

Obviously, the Sox are hoping for a better outcome this year.

Each of the three last pitched in the National League and each of them struggled there. That does not bode well in the AL East.

So, even after these signings, the Red Sox are still in need of fourth and fifth starters. Above all, they need innings eaters who will take pressure off the bullpen.

The Sox will audition both Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves for a rotation spot in spring training. However, neither of them can be reasonably expected to carry a heavy workload during the upcoming season.

Last year, Aceves threw a career-high 114 innings. Meanwhile, Bard threw just 73 innings in 2011. How can anyone realistically expect these two former relievers to toss anything close to 200 innings in 2012?

Simply put, you can't. And that could pose a big problem for the Sox' three primary starters, as well as the bullpen. A lot of responsibility will rest on their shoulders.

Beckett has thrown 200 innings in just one of the last four seasons. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2002, he has been afflicted with assorted injuries. Over that lengthy period, the righty has never finished better than ninth in innings pitched. He is not what you would call a workhorse or an innings eater.

Buchholz has never thrown more than 173.2 innings in his career and, after suffering a stress fracture in his back, managed just 82.2 last season. Since there is no precedent for it, Buchholz clearly cannot be counted on for 200 innings this year.

Until last season, when he threw 191.2 innings, Lester had thrown at least 200 innings for three straight years. He is the only one of the three who seems capable of enduring the rigors of a six-month season in which he will be relied on for a minimum of 30 starts.

This makes the four and five spots in the Sox rotation critical. The Red Sox require a combination of talent and depth. They need tough, durable starters who will remain healthy and give them lots of innings, taking pressure off the bullpen.

Given his back issues, Roy Oswalt is not that guy. Due to the degenerative disc problem that afflicts his spine, even a one-year deal with Oswalt would be very risky.

But this late in the offseason, the pickings are quite slim.

Perhaps the best free agent starer still available is Edwin Jackson.

On Wednesday, ESPN's Jim Bowden reported on Twitter that the Red Sox have made an offer to the 28-year-old. Jackson's agent, Scott Boras, was reportedly seeking a five-year, $75 million to $80 million contract for his client.

Perhaps the Sox can get Jackson on a one-year deal at a more reasonable price.

The reality is that Jackson is a decent pitcher. Perhaps even a good pitcher. But he is by no means a great pitcher or one worthy of a frontline starter's contract.

Case in point: Jackson has a 1.476 lifetime WHIP and 4.46 ERA. Meanwhile, Aaron Cook has a 1.468 lifetime WHIP and 4.53 ERA.

However, Cook will earn just $1.55 million if he makes the major league club out of spring training.

With that in mind, how does Boras perceive Jackson's value to be anything near $15 million to $16 million annually? It seems likely that the Sox will offer a one-year deal at about half that annual value.

The upside with Jackson is that he has logged no fewer than 199-2/3 innings in any of the past three seasons. That's just the kind of guy the Red Sox are desperate for this year. They require a back-of-the-rotation starter who will give them at least 200 innings. Jackson fits that profile. And in Boston, there would be no expectation for him to be a star or to carry the staff.

Cook, Silva and Padilla may be able to provide the Red Sox with some depth at Triple-A this season, in case of an injury to a starter, But the chances of any of them breaking the Sox rotation out of spring training appear to be slim and none.

That's why, at this point, Jackson and the Red Sox appear to be a perfect match on a one-year deal.

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