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Don't Mess With The Rotation

BOSTON, MA:  Felix Doubront #61 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park  in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA: Felix Doubront #61 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The Red Sox of 2012 have been many things. Surprising. Good. Exciting. Bad. Utter inexplicable garbage. The list goes on. Another thing they've been: weird. Last season the team couldn't find a fourth or fifth starter to save its collective hind quarters and this year the back end of the rotation is the only thing saving it from oblivion.

OK, that's not quite fair. Jon Lester was pretty good the last time out and Josh Beckett has been pretty good since his awful first start against Detroit. But still, over the first month, the best starters for the Sox have been Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard. That makes the upcoming roster jam all the more perplexing.

The Sox are looking at having seven starters for five spots in the relatively near future. What is there to be done about that?

Aaron Cook's opt-out date came and went with no word on his imminent arrival or departure from Boston. Everything we've heard seems to be that Cook wants to start, but the Sox could bring him up in a relief role and maybe he would thrive there and maybe he would be happy too. Maybe. Losing Aaron Cook isn't the end of the world, but the day after the team half-announces half-blurts that Clay Buchholz has had blister problems that, it was implied, could be contributing to his lousy pitching so far this year, you wouldn't want to flush your depth down the commode if you don't have to.

Thing is, where do you stash Cook? The end of the pen where he just rots? That seems self-defeating, but maybe it would work. It's only temporary one way or the other, I'd imagine. Cook likely won't remain in a relief role and the Red Sox likely won't want him there long term anyway. But again, where do you put him? Sure, as Marc said yesterday, they can DL Buchholz, but the immediate and near-term future of the Red Sox is going to include Clay Buchholz. He isn't going to sit on the DL for very long with blister problems that aren't affecting his performance (so the team says) either, so that would just buy the team a few weeks.

But, and here's the other imminent problem, Daisuke Matsuzaka will be returning shortly as well. He just had a rehab outing in Double A Portland so he's getting closer. There is still time between now and when he's ready to rejoin the Red Sox rotation, but that time is coming and it's coming soon. At that point, what happens?

Lots of folks would love to move Bard back to the bullpen, but Bard isn't among them. Also, that ignores the fact that to this point, Bard has been the Red Sox best starting pitcher. Pulling your best starter from the rotation is about the height of self defeating actions. Felix Doubront hasn't been the Sox best starter, but he's been pretty darn good, last night not withstanding. But even if you do look at last night, Doubront clearly has talent. Eight Ks and two walks over four plus innings? That's the textbook definition of promising. That's a guy who needs innings in the rotation, not one who needs to be drumming on the bullpen roof.

Beyond them, obviously Josh Beckett and Jon Lester won't be removed from the rotation barring injury. So where does that leave us? The organization has depth. That's a good thing. You never know when someone might get hurt. But the team needs Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Bard, and Doubront in the rotation to be successful, both for this season and for future seasons.

The team needs Bard and Doubront long term and they're going to sink or swim this season and next with Lester, Buchholz and Beckett. When it comes down to it, I don't see any room for Matsuzaka right now, let alone Cook. The last thing you want to start doing with young pitchers is Joba-ing them from the pen to the rotation and back again until their arm falls off, but the Sox may have painted themselves into a corner here. If you want Cook, you probably need to start him eventually. Maybe they really can go to a temporary six man rotation and just wait for someone to pull up lame. But then Matsuzaka shows up and... what exactly?

To me, and I'm writing this so I get final say, the Sox are best served with the guys they have now. Yes, they haven't all had the best starts to the year, but when you combine the promise exhibited at the back end of the rotation with the talent we know exists at the front end, that's the team's best shot at success now and going forward. But after last year (and the previous few as well) I'd be shocked if the Sox let Cook walk. Matsuzaka may not have a future with the team beyond this year (his contract ends after this season) but he's got value to give as well. Putting the pieces of this puzzle together is going to take some doing. Looks like you'll be able to add "interesting" to the list in the first paragraph before the year is out.