The Red Sox's rotation has suffered its fair share of injuries over the past few seasons. If any of the starters go down early on this season, who will step into the role?
Most players in professional sports will refuse to use injuries as an excuse after a poor season. Much of that, I'd imagine, is because of pride. Every athlete believes they are good enough to overcome any problem that arises over a season. Failure is never an option. While it's an admirable stance, and one that is probably essential to making it to the highest level of any sport, it's a flawed idea. Injuries can certainly derail a season. In baseball, it's obviously a huge advantage for a team to be able to send out one of its five best pitchers every game.
Over the past couple of seasons, the Red Sox have not had that luxury. In each of the last two years, the team has suffered injuries to its starting pitchers at an alarming rate. In 2012, Boston used nine different starting pitchers, seven of which started at least ten games. In the season prior, they used ten total, with six reaching double-digits. With mostly the same rotation coming back in 2013, it wouldn't be a stretch to believe that there will be some injuries to the staff at some point, and probably sooner rather than later. The question then becomes: who will provide the depth and take the open spot in the rotation?
If I had to make a guess, Morales will be the first arm called upon if a starter went down in the first month of the season. After being converted into a full-time reliever in 2009, Morales got back to the rotation last season, when the Red Sox were in the midst of an especially troublesome injury spree to their starters. In total, he started nine games, and posted a 4.14 ERA in 45-2/3 innings with a 2.61 K/BB ratio. He showed the most promise in his first three starts, in which he allowed just five runs (four earned) in 18 innings, with a great 24/3 K/BB. Those three starts came against the Cubs, Braves and Mariners, and he struggled more as he went up against better lineups, but the strong start is still in everyone's minds. Since he'll already (assumedly) be on the 25-man roster to start the year, and a few good starts could really boost his trade value, he seems like a safe bet to get any early spot starts.
Rubby De La Rosa
Acquired in the Nick Punto trade this past season, De La Rosa has the most upside of any of the in-house options. The 23-year old has just enough major-league service time that he's no longer considered a prospect. If he were, though, most evaluators say they'd have him in the system's top-5. After impressing at every level through the minors, he was called up in 2011 by the Dodgers, and appeared in 13 games (ten of which were starts), throwing 60-2/3 innings. In that time, he had a 3.71 ERA, 100 ERA+, and a 1.96 K/BB. Unfortunately, he tore his UCL in July of that season, and missed virtually all of last year with the injury. If he wants to remain a starter for the rest of his career, he'll need to work on the control that's plagued him so far in the majors. Of all the options, De La Rosa is the one who is most likely to stick in the rotation long-term.
Wright is another minor-league pitcher acquired through trade last year, coming over from Cleveland in exchange for Lars Anderson. Wright's most intriguing quality as a pitcher is probably the fact that he's a knuckleballer. After having Tim Wakefield on the roster from 1995-2011, we have become used to having someone throw the knuckler every year. In 2012, Wright spent most of his time in AA with Cleveland, starting 20 games and posting a 2.46 ERA and 4.08 FIP over 117 innings. He will be 29-years old next August, and has spent at least part of every year since 2009 in AAA, so 2013 could very likely be the year he finally gets his chance at the sport's highest level.
As we move onto the options outside of the organization, Vazquez is the name that has come up the most as of late. According to reports, the team has been scouting the former-Yankee, and his velocity has been impressive. Multiple sources have indicated to various beat writers across the city that he's been throwing as hard as 93 MPH. He hasn't pitched in a major-league game since 2011, as he took last year off, but he's ready for a comeback and the Red Sox seem to be one of the contenders to land him. If he's fine with coming in as purely depth, he could be a huge boost for this team. He's a prototypical fly-ball pitcher, which has hurt him in the AL East before, but they could do a lot worse than Vazquez with the remaining free agents.
One free agent pitcher who I've heard virtually nothing about this offseason is Braden, another pitcher who hasn't thrown in the major-leagues since 2011, and only threw 18 innings that season. He's had some shoulder problems, which is obviously concerning, but is ready to get back to action. Because he's missed so much time with a significant injury, it would be likely that he'd accept any deal that affiliated him with a major-league team. This would give him a chance to build his confidence back in AAA, and could hopefully turn back into a something close to what he was in 2009-2010. In that time, he made 52 starts over 329-1/3 innings, posting a 3.66 ERA (115 ERA+) and a 2.28 K/BB. It may be kind of a longshot that he could get back to that level, but in a disaster situation where many starters go down, Braden could be a real asset.
There are a bunch of other options on the free agent market, such as Brandon Webb and Carl Pavano, who could replace Braden on this list. Regardless, the Red Sox have some options in place, and others readily available, in case one or multiple starting pitchers go down in the first couple months of the season. Morales and De La Rosa represent the most likely options to succeed, but they also have some other readily-available options to avoid a situation where guys like Zach Stewart are starting games and Aaron Cook is starting a whopping 18. In an ideal scenario, none of these players would have to start and the current rotation would stay both healthy and effective all season. Unfortunately, things rarely break that way. The Red Sox find themselves with some acceptable "Plan B's", though.