With the official start of spring training this weekend came some surprising and unexpected news, as Ryan Dempster announced on Sunday that he would not be pitching in 2014, citing physical issues and personal desire to spend time with his family. By being placed on the restricted list rather than spending the season on the disabled list, his decision will save the Red Sox $13 million, giving them even more breathing room under the luxury tax.
Immediately after the 36 year old made his announcement, the natural reaction was that this would lead to a better chance of Boston landing Stephen Drew. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. His entire market this winter has been too strange to come to any real conclusions. The Red Sox can still just sit on the newfound money to give them more flexibility for an in-season move. Beyond Drew, though, yesterday's news will have an impact on a few players who are already with the organization.
The big lefty is arguably the biggest beneficiary of all this, as it was assumed he would be battling with Dempster for the final spot in the rotation heading into the season. Now, even before this weekend, Doubront was likely the favorite to land that last spot, since he is younger, has more upside, and is coming off a stronger season. Still, though, it has to be a lot easier for him without having to worry about dealing with a competition, and it could benefit him, too. It's pretty clear that Doubront would not have wanted to start the year in the bullpen, as he made it clear last September that he's not completely comfortable in that role. With this in mind, it's logical to think that he would push extra hard this spring to ensure that he wouldn't be outperformed by Dempster. Given his durability and fatigue issues the past couple of seasons, the less stress he puts on his arm in camp this year, the better. There will likely be some fabricated competition between Doubront and Brandon Workman at some point this spring, but I find it highly unlikely Farrell would take a rotation spot from a veteran in favor of a guy who is still prospect-eligible, at least to start the year. Doubront can rest easy now, knowing he won't have any real competition heading into the regular season, and can spend camp focusing on stretching out, and getting ready to contribute consistently for a full season for the first time in his career.
>Photo Credit: Jamie Squire
Speaking of Workman, he also gains a lot from this. As things stood with Dempster, the 25 year old figured to start the year in Pawtucket, waiting for an injury or poor performance to make way for him on the major-league roster. The Red Sox had done a good enough job adding depth to the bullpen - bringing in guys like Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica, as well as getting Andrew Miller back from injury - that they didn't have room for Workman, despite his impressive work in the World Series run last year. Because of this depth, it was likely he would start the year in Pawtucket, probably in the rotation. There is still a line of thinking that he should remain on that path, as there is still a chance he could stick as a starter and it's too easy to end that chance by keeping him out of the rotation this season. There's a way to keep him stretched out while having him on Boston's roster, though. Slot him into the swingman role, a la Alfredo Aceves in 2011. It's so easy to make fun of Aceves and his craziness, but he was really valuable that season, coming in for multiple innings when starters had to be removed early or other relievers needed a night off, and making spot starts. A role like this could keep Workman stretched out to start if necessary, while keeping him on the roster in favor of a less talented option, such as Drake Britton.
Rubby De La Rosa
This one is a bit of a chain reaction, as De La Rosa gets helped out by Workman's spot on the major-league roster, not Dempster's departure directly. Before this weekend, it was likely that Pawtucket's rotation would have been Workman-Allen Webster-Anthony Ranaudo-Matt Barnes-Steven Wright/Dalier Hinojosa, with De La Rosa taking a high-leverage spot in the bullpen. It's possible they would've had both Workman and De La Rosa in the rotation, but that's a lot of potential major-league help in the rotation, with none getting preparation in a relief role. Though the former Dodgers' prospect has a high ceiling, and could potentially be a highly productive starter, there's a good chance his stuff and command profiles better in the bullpen, and Boston's starting pitching depth could have allowed them to send him to relief this season. Now, there seems to be one more spot in Pawtucket's rotation, and De La Rosa could get one more chance at starting. Of course, there aren't any guarantees, and it's still entirely possible he'll be with the big-league club as a bullpen this year. Now, though, there is a much better chance of him staying in the rotation then there was before.
Ryan Dempster is going to be missed. Beyond the well-documented impact he had in the clubhouse, he wasn't a useless pitcher. Abnormally high home run and walk rates indicated the possibility of a bounce-back season if he had chosen to pitch. With him gone, however, the Red Sox lose a bit of depth, bumping a few other pitchers up on the depth chart. Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa all have opportunities to gain from Dempster's leaving, and it'll be their job to take advantage.