Important Seasons Upcoming for Bowden and Lowrie
For all the talk about 2010 being a “bridge” year, it looks more like the team is building a new Boston skyline than a bridge over troubled water. With three big free agent signings already in the books and more expected to come, the team might as well be jumping cannonballs off the ledge with the huge splashes we’ve seen so far.
Still, the “bridge” that we’re seeing is really quite interesting in what it says about the team’s upper-level prospects and players ready to contribute on the major-league level.
In particular, this upcoming season will be crucial in the careers of Michael Bowden and Jed Lowrie. Though Bowden may have dug his own grave with his ineptitude on the mound last season (much of which was bad luck, i.e. a .377 BABIP) and Lowrie’s season was cut short by unfortunate injuries, the team’s “bridge” may not be built to the next group of prospects – per se – but, rather, it is a bridge over the current failing batch, Bowden and Lowrie.
Once expected to be the long-term, homegrown solution to the #3 rotation slot behind Lester and Buchholz, Bowden has seen his prospect status diminish quite a bit in recent months – bombing in a short stint and the big leagues while his gaudy strikeout rates failed to translate at AAA and the majors.
If the Sox are able to squeeze a solid 4th or 5th starter out of Bowden at the league minimum for the next few years, it would be quite the upgrade over using free agent dollars to plug the back of the rotation. This upcoming season will be all the more crucial for Bowden’s career with the Red Sox. As the entire 2010 rotation – except Beckett – is under team control through 2012, Bowden will become expendable very quickly.
Daisuke likely won’t be going anywhere, as his significance to the team and his contract tie him tightly to Boston until his tenure expires in 2012.
Lester is signed to a very affordable contract through 2014. Buchholz still has less than one full season of major league time to his credit. And Lackey, well, he’s the new toy signed through 2014 with an option for 2015. Barring a big trade or injury, there’s little that will change this rotation for the foreseeable future.
However, if he is able to prove himself worthy of a rotation spot, he will give the team a considerable edge in free agent negotiations next winter, as the team will decide whether to re-up it’s ace or use the money to bring in upgrade at the bat.
If anything, Bowden’s best value to the club stands as a trade candidate to a team looking for inexpensive major-league ready talent. Given his solid peripherals and good command, he should be able to entice many clubs as trade bait in the upcoming year. A few starts to make an impression on potential suitors would be great for Bowden and Boston, paying immediate dividends. The requisite playing time shouldn’t be too hard to come by.
Though he is doubtful to break camp in the rotation, he will, again, provide a bit of crucial organizational depth as the #7 starting option behind Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Daisuke, Buchholz, and Wakefield.
Despite a rotation full of premium hurlers, the team still requires additional manpower past its front five. As seen last season, it is an absolute necessity for a contending rotation to be backed up by worthy arms.
In 2010, however, organizational depth may be needed more than ever before as three of the top six options lost significant time to injury this past season.
On the bright side, the team’s best pitchers were the healthiest, as the team’s dueling aces, Beckett (212.1 IP) and Lester (203.1 IP), both threw over 200 innings. Buchholz, too, was rather healthy, tossing 190 innings between AAA and the majors, with over 30 starts on the year.
After those three, however, the situation gets dicey.
Lackey has missed significant parts of the last two seasons due to arm injuries, topping out at 176.1 innings last year. (Troy Patterson had some eye-opening words on the relative health of Lackey’s arm in a recent podcast.) As a number three starter, Lackey will be asked to fill the lineup card for about 32 starts. However, he is more likely to hit the 27 mark, leaving 5 more for the team to pick up.
Daisuke is an even bigger question mark, as he may burden the rest of the rotation with upwards of ten missed starts, as he made just 12 last season. Though it is unclear how he will respond to his revamped off season workouts – and since projecting for injuries is always a dicey proposition – the team should plan accordingly.
And even though Buchholz, Lester, and Beckett have put up relatively healthy seasons over the last couple years, the team would be prudent to stay ahead of the injury curve by budgeting for misses from each of these three.
Wakefield should go a long way toward this objective, though his ability to fill in during a pinch is a bit precarious seeing as he made just 21 starts himself last season – leading one to believe that a good deal of the spot starting duties will fall on Michael Bowden’s shoulders come 2010.
While this, at first glance, may seem like a bad thing considering all the troubles Bowden had last season, this may be the best way to get Bowden assimilated onto the mound at the big league level. If he is, in fact, the seventh starter on the team’s depth chart, then will see a good amount of time next season – around 5 starts; 10 at most – this should be enough of a sample size to see if Bowden can be a dependable cog in the seasons to come or to build his trade value for a mid-season acquisition.
Lowrie is in a position comparable to Bowden, in that he is a young player heading toward ex-prospectdom who is blocked by expensive, entrenched veterans.
Marco Scutaro’s signing with the Sox through 2012 effectively ended Jed Lowrie’s future with the team. Though he will likely be an effective option as a utility infielder, he, too, could be put to better use via trade. One season or one partial season of good health and performance could go a long way toward improving his trade value for mid-season. Quality major leaguers with very little time on the arbitration clock are a sought-after commodity. When they become available on the trade market, teams often fall over each other in an effort to snatch them up. Lowrie could be just that.
Still, he has some significant question marks that – even surpassing Bowden in that regard.
Bowden, in many ways, has already proved that he is capable of handling major league batters due to his decent strikeout and walk rates. Though his overall line was poor, he succeeded in these repeatable, crucial success factors – which teams will take note of. As he also comes without significant health problems, Bowden merely needs a few starts in 2010 to show that ’09 was a fluke. This does not seem to be a signiciant challenge for the young pitcher.
Lowrie, on the other hand, still needs to prove that he can stay healthy, that he can hit for some power after his wrist injuries, and that he can translate his impeccable batting eye to the major league level. Having lost almost all of 2009 to injury, teams will be very wary of committing valuable resources towards acquiring him. In addition, they will be scared off by his outlandish strikeout rates (29.4 % in ’09) and abhorrable triple-slash line (.147/.211/.265). Without enough time to allay these fears, Boston will have trouble finding a suitable offer for their shortstop.
However, on a positive note, Lowrie does have encouraging indicators that point to a rebound this upcoming season.
For starters, his batting average should climb quickly, as he posted a horrendous .174 BABIP last season. In addition, his strikeout numbers were much higher than his indicators suggest. His walk rate of 8.1 percent is right around where it was expected to have been last season. His strikeout rate, however, was far higher that one can expect, as his plate discipline indicators are more indicative of a batter who strikes out in around 15 percent of his at-bats, not 29.4 percent. Should he be able to make these adjustments, Lowrie post an OPS around .800 with double-digit homers and a batting average around .280. That is quite the asset – and one Boston could even consider keeping around at Scutaro’s expense.
However, Lowrie has time working against him, as he will have to prove himself in a very limited role as a utility infielder – and will also have to show some more power, to boot. With limited opportunities at the plate, timing will be critical with him and Lowrie will have to get off to a good start early. Still, there’s a lot to be excited about.
Though some of the shine has worn off of Jed Lowrie’s and Michael Bowden’s star, the players still represent two great opportunities for the team to cash in on the fruits of the farm system. Hopefully the pair can reclaim their prospect status and make the current “bridge” to the next crop as pleasant painless as possible – doing their part to turn this team into a contender.