Two years ago, the Red Sox entered into an offseason as uncertain as any the franchise had seen before. They had at the helm a GM being given the keys to the car for the first time (Cherington's 2012 marching orders amounted to "get us starting pitching, but do so with no money") coming off the franchise's worst campaign in recent memory. Would they try to compete? Would they dive head-first back into big free agents like Josh Hamilton in search of a quick fix? Would they punt the season and focus on player development? Everyone had a guess, and nobody an answer.
Of course, as we know now, the Red Sox tried to compete, and succeeded. They did so without committing nearly $300 million to two players over the next seven years--their response, naturally, to an 89-73 season--instead choosing to distribute shorter mid-level deals to a few select free agents who seemed to be undervalued by the market at large.
This has not been the Red Sox' strategy in the 2015 offseason. The moves for Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are not nearly equivalent to those for Gonzalez and Crawford--they come in at two thirds the total price over two thirds of the total years despite being signed in a market that's been shifting towards more ludicrous contracts with every year--but they're certainly more in line with free agent moves of the past than with the risk-conscious additions of 2013.
When it comes to how the Red Sox have filled out their rotation these last few days, however, there are a lot of similarities to be found. It's entirely likely that the Sox still make a splash at some point for a front-line pitcher and come away with a shiny new rotation that's more easily appreciated than their current unit. But Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson are certainly reminiscent of the 2013 bunch.
In Masterson and Miley, the Red Sox have targeted a pair of players who find themselves at a low point in their careers. If you asked anyone what the team needed to fix the rotation for 2015, nobody would answer "two guys with a combined ERA of 5.10." Masterson, however, is coming off a season ruined by injuries, returning to a manager who was his pitching coach back during his first days in the majors. He's one year removed from a 3.45 ERA, and comes on a financially risk-free one-year deal, no matter the actual dollar amount involved.
Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon
Miley, on the other hand, is a ground ball pitcher escaping a questionable infield defense. 2014 was an all-around bizarre year for the young lefty by all accounts, as his strikeouts and walks spiked along with his ERA. Miley's new normal--if indeed that's what this is--is not nearly so bad as his results make it out to be. In fact, given that he's south of 30, the ERA a full point higher than his first two seasons produced could be masking Miley's growth as a pitcher. With another year of experience and the support of a strong defensive infield (Xander Bogaerts notwithstanding), Wade Miley is likely to at least be as good as his 2012 and 2013 self, with the possibility of better things to come (he's under team control for three more years).
Porcello is the one coming off the most successful season of the three by far, and as such commanded the greatest compensation. As with Miley, however, circumstance has likely left Porcello undervalued by most. He has a career ERA of 4.30, which comes as no surprise when you consider the fact that he's played in front of some of the worst infield defenses we've seen in a generation. For the last three seasons, Porcello has had to contend with being a ground ball pitcher with two of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Nick Castellanos. Combined, those three have cost the Tigers a stunning 71 runs defensively over the past three seasons (and aside from 300 innings of Iglesias in 2013, the Tigers have hadn't gotten much out of the rest of their infielders, either). Given that Porcello is a control guy who relies on weak contact rather than strikeouts, it's frankly amazing that he's still in baseball at all having faced that kind of adversity.
Porcello is younger than prospects you dream on
Rick Porcello isn't like, Mookie Betts young. But he is younger than that guy you keep expecting to break out.
On a single-season approach, there's no denying that the Red Sox are taking some risks. Maybe Miley can't make this new higher-K, higher-BB thing work out, and can't find his way back to his old healthy normal. Maybe Justin Masterson is never the same again post-injury, and the days of 2011 and 2013 are simply behind him. Maybe Rick Porcello...well, honestly, I can't imagine that Rick Porcello isn't going to do better with the help of players who actually bother wearing their gloves onto the field. But he's still not going to be as reliable as certain aces who will not be named because it's all too soon for that.
Certainly, the argument can be made that this was not the year to take those risks. That, with the Red Sox already committed to Sandoval and Ramirez, they shouldn't be pulling any punches or sparing any expense in chasing down another World Series.
In a vacuum, though, these moves are just too familiar not to like. The Red Sox have given up three trade chips who did not have a place on the 2015 team, and in return, secured three pitchers who will likely cost a total of $25 million, one of which is on staff for two more years past '15, and the other two of which can be extended a qualifying offer if they perform. If none of the three are going to be the ace the Red Sox lost, all three have the potential to be well above average, whether you judge that to make them no. 2 or no. 3 pitchers, and it's unlikely that at least two of the three won't provide the Red Sox with plenty of solid innings. And that's about all the team needs with the lineup looking poised to score quite a few runs for them.
There is likely still another move to come in the rotation. For now, though, the Red Sox have shuffled away their unproven starters for those who have seen major league success and stand to find it again in 2015. This may not have been the ideal outcome for Ben Cherington and co. (or maybe it was, who knows?) But at the very least they've come out the other side of the Lester saga with a rotation capable of winning without relying on miracles to get them there. Whether or not it's the best of a bad situation, the Red Sox have put themselves in position to once again turn a last-place team into a contender in the span of one offseason.