Ben Cherington says that the Red Sox roster is set heading into spring training, meaning the hot stove season has come to an end for all intents and purposes. That also means we can start to look at the job Cherington has done in assembling the 2015 Red Sox as a whole without having to consider the possibility that there's still another shoe to drop. Let's start with the one area in need of most work after the 2014 season...
The Red Sox came into the offseason with a rotation in complete and utter disarray. On Day 1, we were looking at something like this if no additions were made:
- Clay Buchholz
- Joe Kelly
- Rubby De La Rosa
- Brandon Workman
- Allen Webster
If we're grading against this reality, then Cherington should get an A, but you can only give him so much credit for starting from such depths.
Obviously the story that shaped Boston's offseason was Jon Lester's free agency. There, the Red Sox came up short with Lester's ultimate contract with Chicago coming in at that level (six years, $155 million) where the Sox clearly didn't miss out on a bargain, but also were not completely priced out by a ridiculous offer from elsewhere. It's hard to be really upset that the Red Sox did not beat Chicago's offer, but just as difficult to say that they dodged a bullet as you might have in the case of Jacoby Ellsbury's free agency.
With Lester gone, Scherzer solidly in "there but for the grace of God go we" territory, and Shields not inspiring the Red Sox (or anyone else) to make big offers, the Red Sox had to turn away from the brute force method of rotation-building and instead try a more nuanced approach. With a solid infield behind them (more on that later) the Red Sox turned to ground ball pitchers. Wade Miley they viewed as undervalued coming off a season that was his worst by results and arguably his best by peripherals. Justin Masterson was in need of a place to rebuild his value after a year ruined by injuries.
Rick Porcello is the highlight of the bunch, with Cherington using his one free trade bullet in Yoenis Cespedes to acquire him from Detroit. But he, too, fits the same bill sa Miley and Masterson. If Porcello was not consistently playing in front of some of the most immobile infields in the history of the game (Prince Fielder at first, Miguel Cabrera at third is just stunning) he may well have cost the Red Sox quite a bit more. As it stands, he's hoping that their plan proves just how effective his zero-true-outcomes approach can be when properly supported as he heads into free agency.
This is the sort of offseason that can cement a legacy. His work in putting together the 2013 team was impressive for finding the reasonable middle ground in a market gone mad with Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Ryan Dempster (even if Dempster didn't exactly work out) as well as hitting gold with Koji Uehara. These additions to the rotation, however, are less about just finding good players and more finding players who are good on this team. If the Tigers had needed a starter, they would have been insane to trade for Miley. And they've done so without giving too much away in terms of players who really figured to feature for the team in the future.
Porcello is why the Red Sox won't sign Shields
Porcello and Shields could be heading in two different directions, and Boston's preference seems obvious.
The problem is that, at the end of the day, we are left with this as the rotation (alphabetical order, since we really don't need to be having that conversation right now):
- Clay Buchholz
- Joe Kelly
- Justin Masterson
- Wade Miley
- Rick Porcello
This rotation can do big things. This could go down as a 2004-style lesson in roster-building, or Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson could break, Joe Kelly could continue to struggle, and Porcello and Miley could prove to just not be particularly good pitchers no matter what their peripherals would suggest. It's not particularly likely, but there's no pitcher here who can really be relied on as a sure thing, combining raw talent and durability without the need for the synergy the rotation is largely reliant on.
Cherington gets bonus points for starting with and giving away so little, while still ending up with a rotation that has a legitimate chance. But few are the Red Sox fans who would really claim to be comfortable with the starting five, making it hard to give him really high marks. If there's one category which could jump to an A+ and be remembered as a thing of genius for years to come, this is it. But for now, with so much uncertainty involved, it's at least a pass, but not a convincing one.
Final Grade: C+
Now for Cherington to trade for an ace and blow this whole thing up!