The Boston Red Sox will open their 2012 season on April 5 in Detroit. At that time there will be--I think we can say with confidence--twelve pitchers on their active roster. The number of starters will in all likelihood be five, the number of relievers seven. Manager Bobby Valentine and general manager Ben Cherington have over a month now to determine who the pitchers will be. Let's look at their options and guess who they'll choose.
Seven frontrunners exist for the twelve spots, namely Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves, and Daniel Bard. The first three are definitely starters; the last two are trying. Only injury, it seems, could prevent one of these seven from making the opening day roster.
[One scenario exists in my head whereby Bard, in order to gain a bit more experience as a starter, is optioned to Pawtucket to start their season the same opening night before returning to the big league rotation the following week (because of an extra day off in the schedule, Bard would not miss a turn). But that is unlikely.]
On the 40-man Roster
So after the seven frontrunners, five spots exist. Coincidentally there are five other pitchers on the 40-man roster who are out of options (link)--which is to say, if one of them is not to be placed on the active (25-man) roster, he must be placed on waivers and could be claimed by another team with room for him on their active roster. These five pitchers are Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, and Michael Bowden.
Elsewhere on the 40-man roster, Junichi Tazawa, Clayton Mortensen, and Chris Carpenter have options left and can safely be placed in the minors this year without escaping team control. For this reason, these three are less likely to make the active roster on opening day.
(Remaining on the 40-man roster are Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill, who are known to be starting the season on the disabled list, as well as Drake Britton and Stolmy Pimentel, who are only on the 40-man for protection from the Rule-5 Draft.)
Meanwhile, not on the roster, but invited to Spring Training and competing to join the team are several pitchers. Of them three have built into their contracts the ability to opt out and become free agents if not placed on the roster by a certain date (link). The three consist of two starters and a lefty reliever:
Aaron Cook - can opt out if not on the 25-man on May 1 or again on June 1
Carlos Silva - can opt out if not on the 25-man on April 15
Jesse Carlson - can opt out if not on the 40-man on April 1 or 25-man after 60 games
Of the other non-roster invitees, worth mentioning are the following four:
Vicente Padilla (strongly prefers starting to relief and came to the Sox with this in mind - link)
Scott Atchison (was recently removed from the 40-man and cleared waivers)
Alex Wilson (2011 Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year)
Ross Ohlendorf (he's Ross Ohlendorf!)
Default Pitching Staff
So that is the gamut of candidates, Ben Cherington having told us not to expect any further acquisitions (link). For the twelve-man staff, it is easy to pick a default base from which to start predictions. The laziest roster construction would include the seven frontrunners and the five out-of-options pitchers. One must wonder, however, if the opening day staff will include all of Albers, Morales, Miller, Doubront, and Bowden.
Bowden has found success in AAA since converting into a reliever, but I think he will have to make way for others and be put on waivers or traded (we do owe a PTBNL to the Cubs). Doubront, a candidate for either fifth starter or bullpen, is a question mark health-wise (link). Valentine and pitching coach Bob McClure have shown signs this spring that they will have difficulty avoiding the temptation that is Andrew Miller (link), at least to start the season. I think Morales will be in good condition to make the club. Ditto Albers if he's in good shape; the problem is I've heard no reports about him so far this spring. Given his uneven track record and girthy body type, it's perfectly imaginable to me that he could make a poor showing this spring and lose his roster spot amidst a lot of competition.
Well, the object of this post was to find out other people's predictions for the opening day pitching staff, but I can't very well weasel out of making my own. I'll go with a rotation of Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Bard, and ... sigh ... Miller. Miller will be on probation for a month while Cook waits in AAA. As Cook's first opt-out date comes around, May 1, there will be much reassessing.
Padilla, because he can be kept in the minors, I think will be kept in the minors, in case he is needed later in the season. Silva can opt out of his contract or not; I do not think he will have an impact on the big league club either way. Alex Wilson will stay in the minors so he can stay stretched out as starter depth.
For the bullpen I'll predict the frontrunners Bailey as closer, Melancon as set-up, and Aceves as superreliever/vulture winner/second half of all Voltron starters. I think Morales will show enough to maintain his spot. Doubront will earn a place with the team as the spot starter stashed in the bullpen (previously Wakefield's role). You know someone's going to injure himself in Spring Training sometime, somehow. I'll hazard that Albers starts the year on the disabled list, and Clayton Mortensen holds his spot come April 5. Rockies fans will watch Morales, Mortensen, and Cook succeeding in Boston and come to realize anew what they should already know about pitching in altitude. As for Bowden, maybe because he is out of options he will start the season on the team, but I don't expect him to last. Maybe I'm just being lazy. But I do know that Cherington is slow and methodical, and he may put off the hard choices on the out-of-options guys until his hand is absolutely forced.
Looking past opening day, I expect Rich Hill will come back strong in May and push out the bullpen's weakest link. My pick for surprise contributor down the stretch is Junichi Tazawa. Maybe in May Cook will replace Miller. It would be great if Miller didn't need replacing, but ... well, you know.
Matsuzaka will replace Bard in the rotation mid-season. Bard will briefly go on the DL as he transitions back to the 'pen; when he returns, Albers will be traded with cash for a PTBNL. If one of the top three starters goes down late in the season, maybe Bard will return to the rotation. A few fears concerning the Bard-as-starter experiment will be realized, but nonetheless, he will have effectively converted into a starting pitcher by year's end. But both the supporters and the doubters will continue to have ammunition for or against the transition.
Such a scenario allows for one of Beckett/Buchholz/Lester to go down. If a second goes down as well, or if Matsuzaka's season doesn't pan out, we see Padilla. It all could very well happen. Here's to hoping it's a memorable year of baseball for better reasons than than the past few.