The 2015 Red Sox rotation is not in a good place. Hell, the 2014 rotation isn't in a good place, because it's the 2015 version with less major-league experience. The Red Sox have all winter to figure out what they need to change -- and change it they will, as general manager Ben Cherington is already talking about improving the pitching through trades or free agency -- but before they figure out who or how many they need, stock needs to be taken of what Boston already has.
You could say the Sox have "a lot!" or "not a lot!" of pitching and you'd be right either way. Yes, the Red Sox have enough pitchers who are in the majors, should be in the majors, and could be in the majors in 2015 to field two full Red Sox rotations and then some if they had to (why they would is a question you shouldn't ask, just roll with it okay?), but that doesn't mean they have a single ace or even a number two starter in the entire bunch. Henry Owens might grow up to be a number two someday, but he's not there yet, and that sort of future is no guarantee for anyone.
What the Red Sox have is the unpredictable Clay Buchholz, a back-end starter with major-league experience in new recruit and former Cardinals starter Joe Kelly, and then an army of pitchers who are likely number three or number four starters, or, failing that, relievers. The great thing about having said army is that when one or two or three or half of them turn out to be better-suited for relief work, there are others to step in and take their place who might turn out to be starters. The negative thing is that the Red Sox are in a position where three unproven kids sandwiched by Buchholz and Kelly is not going to get them close to competing in 2015. As said, though, it's unlikely that will end up being the rotation: it's much more likely the Red Sox sign or trade for a high-quality arm to slot in above Buchholz, stick Kelly in there somewhere, and then go with whichever two of the kids they think are best suited for starting until Owens is ready for the show. Let's run down the list of who those two kids might be.
Brandon Workman, RHP, MLB
Workman is currently in the majors, and has already made 12 starts at the level in the last year. He owns a 3.89 ERA in the role and has struck out 2.1 times as many batters as he's walked in his 69 innings, more due to a lack of strikeouts (seven per nine) than too many free passes. He hasn't been perfect while starting by any means, but he's shown a possible ability to stick as a number four starter. If he could work on his efficiency a bit and produce that ERA with one more out per start on average to bump him to six, he'd be even more useful.
As it stands, if this is who Workman is, he should stick as a big-league starter. He won't be a game-changing one, but Workman has the body to give the Red Sox innings, and good ones, and there is plenty of value in that. He'll likely get the last two months of 2014 to show that his first dozen starts were no fluke: if they were, then it's likely to the pen with him, as he's already 25 years old and there are other options who need the space in Pawtucket.
Rubby De La Rosa, RHP, MLB
De La Rosa is the other Pawtucket hurler who has seen significant major-league time in 2014. The 25-year-old lost development thanks to Tommy John surgery that cut his 2011 short and cost him essentially all of the 2012 season, which further turned 2013 into a year of working back into pitching shape. He made strides in 2014 at Triple-A, though, and got the call to the majors when a space opened up due to injury.
There is obvious promise here, because De La Rosa has a plus change-up and a high-90s fastball. The problem is that his fastball doesn't generate many swings-and-misses in the majors, and without a third pitch, both of these offerings are less effective than they should be against lineups willing to wait on his offspeed stuff. He's been good enough in his 19 big-league starts and 110 innings -- De La Rosa started in the majors for the Dodgers for a time prior to his surgery -- that the Red Sox should keep throwing him out there, though.
De La Rosa needs that third pitch, or he's going to struggle against lineups that can't be bested with just two. Like with Workman, he's going to get two months to show what he's got and if he's capable of adapting to the hitters who are already beginning to do the same to him. If he can get his slider to be even average, De La Rosa could be a third starter who flashes occasional brilliance. What's unknown is how many innings he has in him per season, as his career-high remains the 110 frames he threw back in 2010.
Allen Webster, RHP, MLB/Triple-A
It's unclear at the moment if Webster is going to stick in the majors or head back down to Pawtucket, but he could use two uninterrupted months in the majors to finally give the Red Sox an idea of what he's capable of outside the confines of the minors. He has incredible stuff, with a heavy fastball that induces grounders as well as swing-and-miss, and the secondary offerings to back it up -- in fact, some optimistic earlier scouting projections saw him as a potential two based on his repertoire.
The problem is that he can't seem to figure out where to throw any of it or where it's going whenever he's in the majors. Is it nerves? Is this how he always is in the minors but those hitters just aren't good or experienced enough to know any better? The answers to those questions are necessary ones, and Webster should get regular big-league starts over the last two months of the year so the Sox know if it's time for the bullpen for this 24-year-old, as stuff isn't enough on its own in the majors.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, MLB/Triple-A
Ranaudo is the reason it's not obvious whether Webster will stay in the majors from here on out. He's making his first career MLB start on Friday against the Yankees, in part because he's already on the 40-man roster, and because the introduction of a slider into his repertoire has turned him into a dominant force in the International League. Ranaudo's issue -- besides inconsistency with his mechanics and health -- was always that he didn't have a third pitch to go with his fastball and wicked curve. He seems to have shelved the change-up that never came together as his third pitch in favor of this slider, and it's resulted in a 2.41 ERA in 119 Triple-A innings.
Since the end of April, Ranaudo has been even better than that, posting a 1.88 ERA with 3.2 walks per nine against seven strikeouts per nine. The ERA is shiny, but the peripherals still leave questions about his future: that's why getting him to the majors is so important. It would almost be a shame to use starts on Joe Kelly the rest of the way, because the Red Sox need to know what's up with the 25-year-old Ranaudo as much if not more than they do with Webster.
Steven Wright, RHP, Triple-A
It might seem crazy to keep Wright on this list along with the rest, because he's 29 years old and a knuckleballer. It's basically impossible to project a knuckler, though: the only thing you have to go on is whether it works or not, and for Wright's two full seasons in the Boston organization, it's done nothing but that. Wright currently possesses a 2.85 ERA and an inexplicable 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- knucklers aren't supposed to be able to limit their walks to under two per nine, but here's Wright doing just that. He probably won't pull that off in the majors, but there's always the chance there is something here that could work full-time as a big-league starter.
What's next for the Red Sox after trade deadline?
The flurry of moves certainly changed the face of the Red Sox roster in a snap, but what kind of ramifications do the moves have for the franchise going forward?
More likely, though, given all the prospects the Sox have, is that Wright continues to sit in Pawtucket and on the 40 unless he's needed, or becomes a permanent member of the Red Sox bullpen sometime in the near future as a long man capable of spot starting.
Edwin Escobar, LHP, Triple-A
Escobar was acquired earlier in July from the Giants as part of the Jake Peavy deal. While he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A, it also came in the Pacific Coast League, known for its brutal and unrelenting hatred of pitchers. While the strikeouts and walks for the 22-year-old southpaw were decent enough, he gave up 16 homers in 20 starts and 111 innings. His first International League start saw him scatter five hits and a walk while only allowing one run in six frames, so he's already adjusting to life in a ballpark that doesn't actively try to ruin you.
Escobar is no sure thing in the majors, but there's potential for a back-end lefty here. He's young enough where you can still dream on him a little, and life outside the PCL might make him a more attractive prospect once more: he began the season as the number 56 prospect on Baseball America's top 100, and was number 95 on MLB's. If not, though, he's still a piece the Sox can package for a better arm, or someone who could move to the pen. Lefty relievers are an expensive commodity, unless you don't ever need to go to the market to find one.
These aren't the only options, but the rest are living at Double-A Portland (and subsequently will spend much of 2015 in Triple-A) or are Matt Barnes, who hasn't figured out Triple-A hitters to the degree that all of the above have. Henry Owens is the top pitching prospect in the system, but there's little rush to get him to the majors when so many other options need to be sorted out: plus, Owens isn't even Rule 5-eligible until after next year, so putting him on the 40 can wait until he forces the issue.
In addition to Owens, there is Brian Johnson, a 2012 first-round pick and lefty who currently leads the Eastern League in ERA. Johnson is a back-end guy whose sequencing and command could lead him as high as a number three, but he still has to conquer Triple-A and then get to the majors, where his first real challenge likely lies, before we can get too excited about anything but that number four/five potential. Then there's the newest Red Sox pitching prospect, Eduardo Rodriguez. He's yet another lefty who just 21 years old, and while Double-A has been difficult for him, he's young and had plenty of fans coming into 2014, when he ranked between 43 and 68 on the various top-100 lists.
It's clear the Red Sox have plenty of arms to figure out the middle of their rotation. They might also use these arms to acquire the top piece they need to front the whole thing. Either way, these pitchers are the key to the future for the Red Sox, whether they pitch an inning for them or not, and it's impressive that so many of them have been collected in one place.