As Ben Cherington begins the unenviable, yet extraordinarily challenging, task of rebuilding the Boston Red Sox, he’ll be faced with a number of roster decisions over the next few months. Still, before he can even begin to think about making trades or signing free agents, he must first make decisions on those currently on his existing roster. In Part 1 last Friday, I started the dialogue by discussing their options with the position players. Today, in Part 2: Electric Bugaloo, I will discuss the much maligned pitching staff.
Let’s dive right in because this could be messy.
Jon Lester (9-14, 4.82 ERA, 166/68 K/BB, 205-1/3 IP) – Clearly, this isn’t what we expected from our ace. His strikeout totals dropped, his home run rate skyrocketed, and he had serious issues with command early on in the season. Still, at 28, he’s one of the cornerstone pieces to the team and the ace of the pitching staff. I see no reason why he shouldn’t bounce back to his 2011 form, if not his 2009/2010 form. Offseason Outlook: Lester has one more guaranteed season remaining on his contract with a club option for 2014. The temptation to deal him may exist, but I can’t imagine a realistic sceario where he’s traded. No, a Felix Hernandez trade is not a realistic scenario.
Clay Buchholz (11-8, 4.56, 129/64, 189-1/3) – His stat line might not show it, but Buchholz took a big step forward this season. After one of the most gruesome early season performances in recent memory, he turned it around in a major way. He pitched into the seventh inning or later in 15 of his final 20 starts, lowered his walk rate considerably, and rediscovered his ability to attack the zone. He might never be the ace we hoped for, but he could be a very solid number two behind Lester next year. Offseason Outlook: He’s going nowhere. He’s cost-controllable and signed to long-term deal. He will be an important piece to the turnaround.
Felix Doubront (11-10, 4.86, 167/71, 161) – Yet another pitcher who pitched better than his stat line. Doubront was huge for the Red Sox in the first half before hitting a brick wall in August and early September. Luckily, he finished off the season well with four solid starts against the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles. He’s not going to be an ace, or even a middle-of-the-rotation guy. He slots in best at the four or five. Offseason Outlook: Unless Cherington needs to include him in a larger trade, he’s staying. He won’t be actively shopped.
John Lackey (No 2012 stats) – Do you know what was the best part of the 2012 season? We didn’t have to watch Lackey take the ball every fifth day. I kid, I kid–sort of. Seriously though, if a torn elbow ligament was the major reason he pitched so poorly in 2011, we could be looking at a much more effective Lackey in 2013. We shouldn’t expect him to bolt out of the gate with success. It may not be until June before he gets his command back. Offseason Outlook: He has two more years left on his deal at $31.5M, and he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery. Unless we can fool Ned Colletti or Ruben Amaro into taking him off of our hands, he’ll be a prominent member of next season’s rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-7, 8.28, 41/20, 45-2/3) – The good news is that Dice-K finally learned to attack hitters. The bad news is that his stuff has declined so much that it got pounded every time he didn’t nibble. Dice-K’s season was brutal. He is the Nickelback of Red Sox starting pitchers. He’s been terrible, overpaid, and disturbingly popular–despite no one being willing to admit they own one of his jerseys or shirseys. Offseason Outlook: So long Dice-K. Good luck in Japan. I’m sure you’ll find a way to rise to the occasion in the World Baseball Classic, as per usual.
Aaron Cook (4-11, 5.65, 20/21, 94) – This was the last shocking stat line of the Red Sox season. I love Cook’s ability to induce ground balls, but the rest of his repertoire is sorely lacking. He can’t strike batters out, and he relies far too much on contact to ever be successful in the AL East. As a depth starter, he wasn’t a bad idea. Unfortunately, he made 18 starts this year–not five. Offseason Outlook: I can envision a scenario where Cook comes back, but only if he’s making the league minimum. Otherwise, Cherington will leave him to sign with an NL team.
Franklin Morales (3-4, 3.77, 76/30, 76-1/3) – Morales showed quite a bit of promise pitching in the rotation in late June and August. I’m not convinced he should be a full-time starter, but he’s heard the right to audition for a spot in 2013. Offseason Outlook: He is a 26 year old lefty with ace quality stuff if he can harness it. With two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining, Morales is exactly the kind of pitcher Cherington needs to keep on board. Odds on favorite to win the fifth spot in the rotation unless the Red Sox sign a free agent.
Daniel Bard (5-6, 6.22, 38/43, 59-1/3) – Oh, Daniel. You were perhaps the saddest of all casualties in 2012. Your move to the rotation, though very well considered, was a collosal disaster. Your command and control were so damaged that you were left to rot for most of the season in Pawtucket. We can only hope you figure out how to beat Steve Blass disease a second time. Offseason Outlook: Unless the Red Sox plan on releasing him (no chance), they’re stuck with rebuilding him. Who is going to take a chance on him at this point?
Andrew Bailey (1-1, 7.04, 14/8, 15-1/3) – Tapped to be the closer in Spring Training, Bailey unsurprisingly succumbed to injury just prior to the start of the season. A torn UCL in his right wrist kept him out until mid-August. When he returned, he alternated between looking outstanding and tragic. Considering his injury, we probably shouldn’t be surprised he struggled with consistency. Offseason Outlook: He isn’t going anywhere. He’ll enter the 2013 season as the team’s closer.
Alfredo Aceves (2-10, 5.36, 75/31, 84) – There was a stretch where Aceves looked very good out of the closer role. Unfortunately, that was bookended by two stretches of awful pitching, and punctuated with a couple of ill-advised outbursts that warranted suspension. In the right role, Aceves could be a very valuable pitcher. What that role is seems to change about as quickly as his demeanor. Offseason Outlook: It appears that Cherington is looking to change clubhouse chemistry in addition to clearing payroll. If that’s the case, Aceves has to go. He’s turning into a cancer.
Scott Atchison (2-1, 1.58, 36/9, 51-1/3) – Atchison was a revelation this past season. After two years of riding the Pawtucket to Boston shuttle like it was his job, he finally got a chance to show the Red Sox what he had. He did a great job before getting shut down in July. While he did come back in September, by that point the Red Sox were already out of the race. Offseason Outlook: As good as Atchison was in 2012, I’m not sure they’ll have the roster spots to bring him back. He’s a coinflip at this point.
Junichi Tazawa (1-1, 1.43, 45/5, 44) – With the exception of maybe Atchison, Tazawa was the best pitcher on the Red Sox staff. I don’t just mean the bullpen, I mean the ENTIRE STAFF. Just look at his 45/5 K/BB ratio. It’s so gorgeous…so sexy…so… Ok. You get the point. After what he showed this season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him named the top set-up man in 2013, and the heir apparent to Bailey–should he falter. Offseason Outlook: The Red Sox aren’t moving him. He’s going to be a big piece of the bullpen in 2013.
Mark Melancon (0-2, 6.20, 41/12, 45) – Brought in to be Bailey’s set-up man, Melancon struggled from the start. Despite solid strikeout and walk peripherals, his homer happy tendencies proved to be the death of him. While he pitched drastically better upon returning in June (4.19 ERA), he still didn’t get to a point where anyone felt comfortable pitching him in high leverage sitautions. Offseason Outlook: Considering he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2014, and then has four years of eligibility after that, Melancon is a slam dunk to retain.
Vicente Padilla (4-1, 4.50, 51/15, 50) – Padilla was brought in as rotation depth, and ended up as a key member of the bullpen. He did a fantastic job with stranding inherited runners, above all else. Offseason Outlook: I see the Red Sox letting him walk. He did a good job, but the Red Sox have other, more intriguing arms, to consider.
Andrew Miller (3-2, 3.35, 51/20, 40-1/3) – Miller was outstanding as the top lefty out of the bullpen. He showed great command of the strike zone, and exhibited significantly better control than he had in years past. After years of waiting, Miller finally proved he was worthy of a major league roster spot. Offseason Outlook: After righting the ship, they can’t let someone else reap the benefits. Luckily, he has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility.
Rich Hill (1-0, 1.83, 21/11, 19-2/3) – Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Seems to be the motif with Hill. He’s a talented lefty with a wicked curve. If only he could stay healthy long enough to see what he can do over a full season. Offseason Outlook: If he comes back, it’ll have to be on a minor league deal. Cherington can’t justify guaranteeing Hill a spot on the 25-man roster. He’s looked great when he’s pitched, but 31-2/3 innings over three seasons doesn’t justify it.
Craig Breslow (3-0, 2.70, 61/22, 63-1/3) – Another lefty! Breslow looked great for the Sox after coming over in a mid-season trade with the Diamondbacks. He seems to be a Ben Cherington favorite, so I expect he’ll be in the mix. Offseason Outlook: He has good stuff, shuts down lefties, and has experience. He stays.
Clayton Mortensen (1-1, 3.21, 41/19, 42) – Mortensen pitched very well for the Red Sox. He probably would have gotten several more opportunities to make appearances if he wasn’t blocked by a logjam of solid relief pitchers. His command still escapes him every now and then, but overall he’s a solid low leverage bullpen guy. Offseason Outlook: I believe he’s out of options, which complicates things. Still, he has a live arm, and he’s nowhere close to arbitration eligibility. I can’t see why the Red Sox wouldn’t bring him back; even if they have to cut him in Spring Training.
Alex Wilson (No 2012 stats) – The 2009 second round pick started out the season as a starter before moving to the bullpen early in the season. He seemed to take to it pretty well. He still needs to work on his command a bit, but he seems to be ready for major league action. Offseason Outlook: He could be shopped as part of a larger trade this offseason in a similar vein as Kyle Weiland after the 2011 season. If he stays, he’ll compete for a spot in the bullpen in Spring Training.
Rubby De La Rosa (0-0, 27.00, 0/2, 2/3) – A torn UCL in his right elbow forced the top prospect to undergo Tommy John surgery. While he should be ready by the time Spring Training comes around, it should be noted that the 2/3 innings he pitched last season in LA were the only innings he’s pitched above AA. He has great stuff, but don’t expect the Red Sox to jump right in with De la Rosa in 2013. Offseason Outlook: He was one of the key pieces received back in “the trade.” As such, they’ll probably take it easy with him in the early going. A bullpen spot is certainly possible, but I feel it’s more likely he spends some quality time in Pawtucket. There, he can refine his command and regain the feel for his pitches without much pressure.
Next up, I’ll examine the roster, and identify areas of need and concern.
This was my 300th post since joining Fire Brand of the American League back in February 2011. I’ve really enjoyed writing here, and I look forward to my next 300 contributions. Thanks for reading everyone!