On Sunday, Eduardo Rodriguez took the mound for the 16th time in his major league career. It was, on the whole, a successful start, albeit marred by one impressively bad defensive play behind him. If it was not one of Rodriguez' best, it was more encouraging than not, contributing to Rodriguez' attempt to rally back from an eight-run implosion against Miami earlier in the month.
At the moment, even with an ERA north of 4.00, there are few who doubt Rodriguez will start the 2016 in Boston's rotation, barring his inclusion in an offseason trade. After all, if Rodriguez' lows have been cavernous, his highs have been remarkably high for a 22-year-old making the jump from the minors for the first time. There's plenty of reason to believe that Rodriguez will take a step forward in 2015 and establish himself as a core piece of the rotation for years to come.
But that's belief. And if on some level all projections in baseball come down to belief, there are some that rely on it more than others. The idea that Clayton Kershaw, for instance, will be excellent in 2016 doesn't ask much faith. To expect Rick Porcello to bounce back after a season in which he seems fundamentally broken? That asks quite a bit more.
The problem with the Red Sox rotaiton lies not in numbers, or even the potential for quality, strange though it may sound. We all know how good Clay Buchholz can be and, in fact, was this season before he ended up on the disabled list. Good Rick Porcello isn't that far in the past. We've already touched on Eduardo Rodriguez. Throw in the chance for one of Boston's other Triple-A arms to go with Wade Miley playing the role of the requisite back-end starter, and the upside is there.
Of course, it would be awfully hard to find anyone comfortable with that rotation to start 2016. Because if any given fan might believe that one or two of those guys will perform well, it's damn hard to have the faith--arguably the blind faith--required to believe that all of them will. Or even most.
That is the sort of plan Ben Cherington might employ. Not completely leaving the rotation untouched, mind, but it's more or less the plan he employed heading into 2015, just with Rick Porcello having gone from a seemingly reliable arm to, well, 2015 Rick Porcello. It is not, however, what we can reasonably expect from Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski doesn't have the reputation of someone who will leave that much of the rotation up to chance when the possibility exists for that one issue to sink the entire ship so dramatically.
But if it will surprise no one to hear that Dombrowski will be looking for more reliable arms to help the rotation, there is a second layer to that. Imagine, for a moment, the solution for Dombrowski is to sign David Price (if you're not a fan, replace Price with "Generic FA ace X"). Well, now the Red Sox have Price, Buchholz, Porcello, Rodriguez, Miley, Johnson, and Owens, to say nothing of Joe Kelly (if they're still keeping that dream alive for some reason) and Steven Wright. And even with David Price...that rotation is still looking a little uncertain, perhaps in need of a #3/#4 type to really seal the deal.
Those who complain about the problem of choosing a rotation of five from seven or eight viable options are doomed to find themselves plagued by injuries and incompetence before the season is over. But when a team like Boston holds onto quite so many potentially viable rotation arms while searching for other answers--both in the rotation (trading younger, cheaper gambles for older, more expensive sure things is an option) and the bullpen--we do start to enter wasteful territory.
To that end, it's just hard to imagine all those names still in the organization come next April. But it's also hard to figure out who, exactly, will be traded. Often Wade Miley is thrown around as the most likely arm to move, as he still holds value over the low cost of his contract. But Miley is actually what the Red Sox arguably need more of. If there's no guarantee he bounces back to the levels he achieved earlier in Arizona (or even just to meet his peripherals), he's also perhaps the one pitcher in the rotation who can most reliably be counted on to be a #4-#5 arm at worst.
Instead, the Red Sox should be trading from the uncertain bunch. But Rick Porcello is damn hard to move by now, probably to the point where the Red Sox would be better served hoping for improvement than eating huge portions of his contract just to have him off the roster. Frankly, Clay Buchholz, with his reasonable contract and decent chance of quality in 2016, might be the one to go, though that would likely in turn push the Red Sox towards acquiring not only two starting pitchers, but two high-quality starting pitchers (if certainly not two aces).
Perhaps those most likely to go, though, are the prospects. After all, that's what Dombrowski is known for. Maybe Eduardo Rodriguez has worked his way out of that category, maybe he hasn't. But Henry Owens and Brian Johnson (if healthy) are certainly both very much on the table. There's just that much work to be done on the pitching staff as a whole, and too many bodies who don't really fill Boston's needs.
Amusingly enough, all these uncertain arms in the rotation breed nothing but uncertainty about the offseason to come. Who will stay, who will go, who will be added. About the only thing anyone does seem to know is that it will be a very busy few months.