Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider the options in the starting rotation and the bullpen, specifically evaluating if the Red Sox should have traded from their starting pitching depth and how the new-look bullpen will shape up in front of Craig Kimbrel. Then we bask in the innings totals the top-three starters could post, examine the decision to keep Blake Swihart out of any trade, wonder if Sam Travis could make the jump to the big leagues this year, and get ready for another fun year with Hanley Ramirez. And oh yeah, we say goodbye to Clay Buchholz, too.
After yesterday’s trade of Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox appear to be left with six viable candidates for the five starting rotation spots: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright. Those first three are locks to be in the major league rotation, Rodriguez will be in a rotation, whether Boston or Pawtucket remains to be seen, and the last two have potential as bullpen options or even trade pieces; although after the Buchholz trade I don’t think they will be trading any more of these guys. Pomeranz is reportedly a target of the Seattle Mariners and due to his clearly high upside, Rodriguez would likely bring a substantial return, but these guys will be in-house projects for the foreseeable future. At MLB.com, Ian Browne weighed the pros and cons of keeping and trading each of Rodriguez, Pomeranz, Wright and Buchholz. Browne’s case for dealing Buchholz was largely the salary related advantages, which appears to have been the factor that made it happen.
While there were certainly positive aspects of trading one or more of these guys, I think the best move was to hold onto the depth – at least for now. It would take some juggling, as only Rodriguez has options remaining, but seasons tend to present circumstances that require having more than five (or even six) major league caliber starters. Brian Johnson, who will likely start the year at Pawtucket, is another player who is looking to join the major league rotation, but he is working his way back from issues related to anxiety and there remain questions about the health of his elbow. The other options at Pawtucket are Henry Owens and Roenis Elias, but neither has shown the consistent effectiveness required to engender confidence in them. So keeping the depth would have proven useful, and if not, one or two of these players (even Buchholz) could be dealt in the Spring, or even in-season to improve the club in other areas. I don’t understand the rush to get it done now.
Behind the starting rotation, the Red Sox’s bullpen will look quite different from what it did in 2016 and previous years. Koji Uehara, who Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe wants us to remember was so important to the team over the last four seasons, is now a Cub, and Junichi Tazawa signed a multi-year deal with the Marlins a day before short-lived, but really effective, Red Sox Brad Ziegler did. That means the bulk of the 2016 high-leverage relief group is gone. Craig Kimbrel is still lurking at the end of games, but the path to him will be different. For 2017, the high-leverage group in front of Kimbrel will feature newly acquired Tyler Thornburg, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and eventually Carson Smith. The rest of the bullpen will be a flexible group: one (or more) of the guys that does not get a spot in the rotation, Heath Hembree (as a righty-specialist, now saved from being DFAd by the Buchholz trade), Fernando Abad (as a lefty-specialist), and Robbie Ross Jr. (as a multi-use guy). Peter Abraham has more on the depth the Red Sox have built in the relief corps. All in all the bullpen looks, at least on digital-paper, to be a strength of the team.
As the Red Sox consider trading from their starting pitching depth and how such trades could impact the final form of the bullpen, they should keep in mind the trickle-down effect that Chris Sale will have on the pitching staff. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal notes that with the acquisition of Sale, the Red Sox now have three of the 15 pitchers who threw 200+ innings in 2016. That sort of length from the rotation should make John Farrell’s bullpen decisions easier.
Adding Sale to the rotation makes it stronger than it was in 2016, however there are concerns about it being too left-handed (Sale, Price, Rodriguez, and Pomeranz). This could be especially problematic for the Red Sox given their home park, which tends to be unfriendly to lefty pitchers. Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal digs into the numbers, specifically those of current (and potential) AL East foes. It could be a unique Red Sox rotation in terms of handedness, but two of the four (Sale and Price), have shown they can consistently get anybody out, so things should be fine.
Blake Swihart’s top-prospect status and bumps in the development path have kept him in the forefront of trade rumours. Being a top-prospect means other teams want him, and the bumps in development suggest the Red Sox would be willing to part with him. But Peter Gammons reported that Dave Dombrowski refused to include Swihart in any deal. At MassLive.com, Christopher Smith details how Swihart’s age, performance at the plate in the second half of 2015, and uncertainty surrounding Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez, likely contributed to Dombrowski’s reluctance to trade Swihart.
In 2016, as the Red Sox fought to win the division they relied on a rookie, Andrew Benintendi, in left field. This led Christopher Smith to wonder if a similar situation will happen in 2017 with first baseman Sam Travis. Travis is returning from an ACL tear but if he gets back on the track he was on before the injury, it is reasonable that he could make his major league debut this summer. As Smith notes, Travis could platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base and push Hanley Ramirez to full time DH duties. There are many moving parts to this and a lot has to break right for it to happen, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.
Speaking of Hanley, Ian Browne has a nice article detailing how the slugger is excited for the 2017 season and looking forward to taking over the DH role from his buddy, David Ortiz. Hanley is so much fun, especially when things are going well for him on the field, so here’s hoping he builds on his strong 2016 season.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images