Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Red Sox Front Office Will Conduct a Balancing Act in July

The Red Sox have played 78 games and are nearing the season's midway point.

The Sox got off to a hot start, going 13-10 in April and posting a sizzling 18-10 record in May. But then things went downhill quickly.

Due to the failings of Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez, plus the loss of reliever Carson Smith to season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox struggled mightily. Quite predictably, the bullpen was overworked and faltered.

The beleaguered Red Sox went 10-16 in June. The team, which once looked so mighty and sturdy, is suddenly taking on water as it approaches the second half.

Though the Red Sox have slipped -- surrendering both first place and numerous games in the standings -- in the midst of their June swoon, they are still 42-36 (six game over .500), tied for second place in the AL East and would be the AL Wild Card team if the season ended today.

That's the bright side.

But given the absence of reliable No. 4 and 5 pitchers, and the stress that has created on the bullpen, this team appears to be in big trouble as it heads into the second half.

In my view, obtaining a starter is the top priority for the Red Sox right now. There is no justification for trusting Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Roenis Elias or Henry Owens in the rotation at this point.

As for Eduardo Rodriguez, all the Sox can do is keep their fingers crossed and hope that he can get it together quickly at Pawtucket. The organization must help the lefty rediscover the form that made him so effective last season.

Otherwise, the Red Sox problems are much bigger -- they'll need two starters, not just one.

Securing a mid-rotation starter in a trade shouldn’t be too costly in terms of the Sox top prospects (Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Anderson Espinoza). Additionally, it would also take stress off the withering bullpen.

John Farrell needs another option in the seventh and eighth innings because Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have been overused. But that sort of help could come from within.

While the Boston front office is surely exploring trades for bullpen pieces, Pat Light could prove to be an internal solution since he possesses a 100 mph fastball. The hard-throwing righty‬ was recalled earlier this week from Pawtucket. Prior to his latest promotion (his second this season), Light hadn’t allowed a run in any of his 10 outings with Pawtucket, posting a 2.05 ERA and .161 batting average against.

Despite his struggles as a starter, Kelly can be converted to a reliever once he recovers from his going strain. His 98 mph heater would play nicely out of the pen, where he would only have to pitch one inning per outing. Kelly hasn’t fared well the second (10.38 ERA) and third times (24.00 ERA) through the order. Though he prefers to be a starter, Kelly has a 3.25 ERA in 30 career relief appearances – compared to 4.13 as a starter.

Finally, Brandon Workman, who had Tommy John surgery on June 15, 2015 and hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since Sept. 18, 2014, hopes to see action with the Red Sox again this season. Though he can’t be relied upon right now, the 27-year-old’s presence could make a difference in the second half (likely August) for a team in desperate need of bullpen help.

Don’t forget, the right-hander pitched meaningful innings for the Red Sox during their 2013 World Series run, even completing a scoreless eighth in Boston’s series-clinching win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the Fall Classic.

The key is for the Red Sox to improve a ball club that looked like a World Series contender in May without giving away too much out of desperation.

They need to trade for a young, controllable pitcher if they are to make any trade at all (I don’t think that 36-year-old Rich Hill, who will be a free agent at season’s end, is the answer).

Let’s hope Dave Dombrowski can execute a trade or two that improves the club for the second half, without sacrificing its future.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Red Sox Pitching Woes are Rooted in Developmental Dysfunction

As every Red Sox fan surely knows, the Boston rotation is a mess. This is something I predicted before spring training when I said that David Price wouldn’t be enough of an addition to solve the Red Sox rotation troubles.

The Red Sox must continually look to trades and free agency because they can’t seem to solve their pitching problems in house.

The Sox haven’t successfully developed a major league pitcher since Clay Buchholz debuted in 2007, and even his career has been dicey.

The list of pitchers the Red Sox have failed to develop in recent years is lengthy and includes:

Michael Bowden
Felix Doubront
Rubby De La Rosa
Allen Webster
Anthony Ranuado
Henry Owens
Brian Johnson

Some may feel that the jury is still out on Owens and Johnson, but I think the ship has sailed on both.

Owens has regressed this year and his command is awful. The lefty can't consistently throw strikes and he no longer looks a big league pitcher. His confidence appears shot, and for good reason.

Johnson is on leave due to an anxiety disorder. Fenway Park is definitely not the place for him.

Even Eduardo Rodriguez has gone off the rails. The righty, who was viewed as a potential No. 2 before the season started, was mercifully demoted to Triple A after posting an 8.59 ERA over six starts this season.

Though Joe Kelly averaged 16 starts during three seasons with St. Louis before coming to the Red Sox, he has entirely regressed since arriving in Boston. Kelly has an 8.46 ERA through six starts this season.

What is going on?

The Red Sox generally draft multiple pitchers each year, through multiple rounds of the draft. While most minor leaguers never make it to the majors — much less become solid, every day players — the Red Sox inability to develop starting pitching is glaring.

Do they really draft that poorly when it comes to pitchers, or does their developmental system have structural failings?

Pitching coach Carl Willis replaced Juan Nieves just over a month into the 2015 season after the Red Sox staff posted the second-highest team ERA (4.86) in the majors. But Willis has not been successful in stabilizing the rotation this season.

Could his job now be on the line? It should be.

Let’s not forget that manager John Farrell was the Red Sox pitching coach from 2007-2010. So, in essence, the Red Sox having two pitching coaches on the staff, yet they still can’t right a ship that is dangerously listing.

The Red Sox inability to develop starting pitching has led them to sign high-priced free agents, such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, David Price, etc., and make trades that have netted the likes of Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello.

Needless to say, none of them have worked out as expected (or hoped), though Price is only in year one of his lengthy (and ridiculous) seven-year deal. There’s still time for Price to become a true ace in Boston, but that contract will surely become cumbersome after year four.

Even if Price does somehow manage to live up to his $217 million pact, it won’t solve the gaping holes in the Red Sox rotation this year, or next.

Because of the failings of Buchholz, Kelly and Rodriguez, the Red Sox will soon make some trades they’d rather not engage in and didn’t anticipate not so long ago.

Dealing the likes of Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers or Anderson Espinoza could haunt the Red Sox for years to come.

Then again, prospects are often a gamble -- a mere roll of the dice. The Red Sox once thought that Lars Anderson, Ryan Kalish, Anthony Ranuado and Will Middlebrooks would all develop into stars, but that never happened.

Not much has become of “can't miss" righty Casey Kelly or outfielder Reymond Fuentes, whom the Red Sox sent to San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez in 2010. Then again, the Sox would surely love to have back first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was also included in that deal.

With prospects, you just never know.

Dave Dombrowski needs to take a long, hard look at the Red Sox player-development system and figure out why they can’t solve their pitching problems from within the organization. After all, this issue has gone on far too long, and it affected his predecessors, Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington, as well.

The Red Sox future depends on drafting and developing their own stable of starters. They can’t simply trade away the best of their farm system -- their future -- to obtain big league-caliber starting pitching, nor can they solve their problems by signing a rotation full of free agents.