Don't take the headline to mean this is Felix Doubront's last chance to win a job in the major leagues. The lefty will be all of 24 years old in 2012; given the slow development path of many southpaws, his career is just getting going. He is, however, out of options, and the Red Sox will need to either keep him on the 25-man roster or attempt to pass him through waivers.
As a starting pitching prospect with a career 3.65 ERA and 2.5 K/BB over 614 minor league innings, the Venezuelan-born left-hander would be snagged by one of the other 29 teams with the room to grab him immediately. It's in the best interest of the Red Sox to find a job for him in 2012, if only to avoid losing him before they know what they have in him.
In his 107 innings at Triple-A Pawtucket, Doubront owns a 3.86 ERA and 2.3 K/BB. Those numbers are brought down a bit by the injuries he struggled with in 2011 -- a sore elbow, forearm inflammation, groin and thigh strains -- so it's likely a healthier Doubront would be a more productive Doubront.
You can't just guarantee health, but pitching coach Bob McClure wants to get as close as he can to doing so when it comes to Doubront. His mechanics have seen some tweaks, so that he lands on his foot differently. The reasoning and goal, as McClure puts it:
"They're getting to release the ball, then the toe comes down, but they kind of get underneath the ball and it puts a lot of stress on your elbow and shoulder. So I'm trying to get [Doubront] to be more accurate and healthier if he can just land flat."
Doubront has been landing flat during his spring training appearances, so all that's left to do is wait and see if it results in a healthier season.
Pitchers don't get a whole lot of innings to prove themselves results-wise in the spring, and a lot of what informs the decisions of the manager and front office building the roster has to do with the scouting side of things, as well as the team's needs. Doubront has pitched well, but not great, in his six frames: five strikeouts, four walks, two runs allowed. But he's repeating his mechanics, landing on his toe rather than his heel, and that should make him more accurate and more healthy in the long run. On a needs basis, Doubront winning a job allows them to keep him in the majors for an extended trial run that the brevity and lowly competition of the spring doesn't allow, rather than risk losing him on waivers.
The Red Sox want him for the long run, even if he's just a league-average pitcher -- after all, he's under team control for another six years, in an organization that lacks much in the way of significant pitching depth in the upper minors. The success of Doubront would solve some 2012 problems, and his inexpensive salary would also make life easier in 2013 when the team attempts to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Both Doubront and Daniel Bard succeeding as starters would do a whole lot for the Red Sox of 2013 and beyond while the likes of pitching prospects Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, and maybe even Drake Britton make their way through the minors.
It's not a given Doubront succeeds, but the Red Sox can always stash him in relief if he fails to make an impact as a starter. This spring represents possibly his last chance to be worth something to this organization, though, and given the impact Doubront's presence could have down the road, we should all be rooting for him to do well over the last few weeks of the pre-season.