“If spring training opened tomorrow we would be comfortable where we are with our pitching depth.” ~General Manager Ben Cherington
Spring training will bring many decisions. The Yankees have to decide between Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, and Freddy Garcia to be their fifth starter. The Rays have to decide whether to open the season with phenom Matt Moore in the rotation, or stick with Jeff Nieman. The Red Sox? Well, they’re still looking for a fifth starter, hoping that Daniel Bard turns into a legitimate starter, all while hoping that Clay Buchholz stays healthy and that Josh Beckett doesn’t regress from his stellar performance last year.
If that’s what Ben Cherington considers comfortable pitching depth, I’d hate to see what he’s uncomfortable with.
Cherington has spent all offseason scouring the market for low cost starters, hoping that one of these low risk pitchers turns to gold. When he refers to pitching “depth”, it’s to the number of starting pitchers Boston has in its minor league system. Now, the quality of these players is another thing entirely.
The pitching options can be broken into two groups, low risk and cheap starting pitchers acquired via free agency, and young pitchers that have actually been drafted and developed in Boston’s system.
From the veteran group, former Rockie Aaron Cook seems to be the most legitimate option. His groundball tendencies bode well with the strong infield he’ll have behind him. Cook’s best year was in 2008, when he pitched 211.1 innings and posted a 3.76 FIP. The guy used to be a pretty durable starter, going at least 158 innings for four straight years (2006-2009), but he’s been hampered by injuries ever since. He’s never been a swing and miss type pitcher (career 3.83 K/9), but this is a pitcher who was a very reliable starting option for a number of years.
Carlos Silva, on the other hand, has been less reliable. He’s only had a FIP less than 4.00 in two of his nine seasons, and both of those came in years in which he threw less than 113 innings. He’s never struck out many batters (career 4.02 K/9) and he gives up a fair amount of long balls (1.11 HR/9). He’s suffered heart problems over the last two seasons, and hasn’t pitched over 150 innings since 2008, and even those innings were resoundingly mediocre (4.58 FIP).
Recently signed Vicente Padilla is a fairly intriguing if only because of his versatility. He has shown the ability to be a starter, a middle reliever, and a closer. Granted he hasn’t posted a FIP below 4.2 since 2002, but his K/9 of 6.33 is much better than most of the other options, and while he may walk too many batters (career 3.17 BB/9), his ability to pitch out of almost any spot is valuable. He has pitched a combined 103.2 innings in the last two years, but all seems well in terms of his health now, at least according to reports.
Other veteran options include knuckleballer Charlie Haeger (career 6.40 BB/9 and 1.41 HR/9), Brandon Duckworth (hasn’t pitched over 100 innings since 2002), and Greg Smith (pitched 39 innings in 2010 and posted a 6.23 ERA).
Andrew Miller is a pitcher somewhere in between the two groups. Boston picked him up last year knowing he would be a reclamation project, and needless to say, he didn’t show much last year to make people believe that he should still be around. He made 12 starts, walking 5.38/9 and giving up a fair amount of home runs with 1.13 HR/9. Sure, he got a little unlucky with a .332 BABIP against him, but even so, his numbers were nothing like what Boston was hoping for when they took a flyer on him.
Most of the young candidates for the rotation have been discussed at length in past weeks of this column, but there are a few obvious choices. Felix Doubront has a chance to redeem himself for the disaster that was last spring training, and with Franklin Morales sticking around, it seems like the Sox don’t need another lefty in the bullpen, leaving a prime spot for Doubront in the rotation if he can perform. He had a very solid 2010 in the minors, and if he can revert back to that form, then he certainly deserves a chance.
Junichi Tazawa continues to return from a Tommy John surgery that ended his season last spring. He pitched 65 innings in the minors last year, and while he put up a 4.61 ERA, he did strike out 9.4 batters per nine innings. If he can regain some of his control (2.5 BB/9 last year), he could be a solid contributor.
On top of those two, Boston has a few solid young arms who project well but aren’t ready for the majors. This group includes Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Alex Wilson, Drake Britton, and Brock Huntzinger. While all these players may show promise in the minors, Boston would be foolish to ruin their development by bringing them up early, in a similar fashion to what happened to Kyle Weiland.
Ultimately, the Sox are still in dire need of another starter via free agency. While their minor league system may be stocked with pitchers who are technically “starters”, none of them stand out as being able to pitch a full season out of the fifth spot in the rotation. Yes, it’s smart to go out and acquire low risk players like this, but it is foolish to count on them to actually contribute . They should be used as depth in case of injury, not depth in case Cherington can’t find a solid starter for the right price. Losing Kuroda to the Yankees was a big deal, let’s hope someone like Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson doesn’t slip away as well, because it would be a bleak day in Boston if Carlos Silva was being counted on in August.
Categories: Boston Red Sox