The Red Sox seem to be finished adding potential rotation options to the roster. Really, the Sox seem to be done adding any pitchers at all to the roster. So, with that in mind, we can take a look at all the pitchers they've assembled, and try to shape them into both a rotation and a bullpen, as well as the depth for each.
We already did this with the lineup and bench last week, if you need things read chronologically. Don't worry, the rest of this article will still be here when you get back.
The rotation is set, at least in terms of who is going to be in it. Well, the Opening Day rotation is set, anyway: we'll get to potential in-season changes in a little bit.
- David Price, LHP
- Clay Buchholz, RHP
- Rick Porcello, RHP
- Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
- Joe Kelly, RHP
Yes, Eduardo Rodriguez was a better pitcher than Rick Porcello in 2015. Seniority is a thing when it comes to the realistic building of a rotation, though, and Porcello looked much more like the guy the Red Sox signed to an extension after returning from the disabled list, once again armed with the knowledge that throwing sinkers is a good plan. They'll both get plenty of starts in this arrangement -- it's not like one of them is at the top of the rotation and the other is at the bottom where their starts will get skipped often.
And hey, Rodriguez might need a start skipped every now and again just because he's all of 23 years old and hasn't had a full major-league campaign yet. With any luck, 2016 will change that, and 2017 will be a different story. That, or we can all just be giddy about how great it is that Rodriguez is the fourth starter when he could be much more.
Kelly is in the fifth spot, and while it's not everyone's preference, it does make sense given their options. They're in a much better position to give Kelly one last shot as a starter than they were a year ago, between a deeper bullpen and the presence of Price, and if things go awry as they did a year ago, well, there are replacement options much closer to the majors than there were last spring, too.
Who are those replacement options? Some of that depends on what the bullpen looks like, but here's the full list of potentials:
- Henry Owens, LHP
- Steven Wright, RHP
- Brian Johnson, LHP
- Roenis Elias, LHP
Owens might not be Boston's first choice, so don't read it that way. Wright is probably going to be in the bullpen anyway -- he's out of options, so there aren't alternatives for him -- and since he's a knuckler and doesn't necessarily need to be stretched out the same way your regular pitchers do, he could be the spot-start option. If there is a more significant injury that needs filling in for, Owens is probably the guy, though, Wright did get nine starts in 2015 and would have had more if not for a concussion suffered during batting practice, so maybe not.
Wright has a 3.95 ERA in the majors over 26 games -- 11 of them starts -- and 107 innings, with more than twice as many strikeouts as walks. He's probably not an above-average starter, but he's shown himself to be a more than capable big-league pitcher -- about the only way a knuckler can prove they belong in the majors is to avoid pitching themselves out of them, and Wright has managed that over parts of three seasons. As a first line of defense, you could do much worse than Wright.
Owens wasn't nearly as good in his first taste of the bigs, producing a 4.57 ERA (and 94 ERA+) over his first 11 starts. However, he's also all of 23 years old this year, and he showed more than just flashes of the kind of pitcher he could be. There are going to be ups and downs as he smooths things out, as there have been in his minor-league career. Some more time in Triple-A building on what he learned in his exposure to the bigs isn't the worst thing for him, and could help him when he comes up to stay.
Johnson didn't get much of a chance to show he's a big-league starter thanks to injury, but he's finished with Triple-A and the minors. If a spot opens up in the Boston pen, Johnson should be considered for it, especially since he's seemingly behind both Wright and Owens for a starting spot.
Johnson might also be behind Roenis Elias, who had 20 starts for the Mariners a year ago and has 49 in his career. Elias will be 27, so he's not exactly new to the league or full of untapped potential, but he's an arm teams would love to have around as part of either their pen or their rotation depth. He could very well begin the season in Triple-A Pawtucket as one of the starters there since he has an option left. He'll join Owens and Johnson there, waiting for his turn.
Elias probably isn't ahead of Wright or Owens on the list to start if needed, but if Owens is having trouble at Triple-A or the Sox don't want to interrupt whatever he's got going on, then maybe we'll see him move up the list. That's a nifty option to have.
You don't want to see the rest of Triple-A Pawtucket's starters. If you need your curiosity sated, though:
- Henry Owens, LHP
- Brian Johnson, LHP
- Roenis Elias, LHP
- Sean O'Sullivan, RHP
- William Cuevas, RHP
Hey, at least three guys who could pitch in the majors as starters in one Triple-A rotation is pretty good. Or have you forgotten 2011 so soon?
As for the bullpen, these are the options, with the exception of Johnson and Elias, who we've already assigned elsewhere:
- Craig Kimbrel, RHP
- Koji Uehara, RHP
- Carson Smith, RHP
- Junichi Tazawa, RHP
- Robbie Ross, LHP
- Tommy Layne, LHP
- Steven Wright, RHP
The short version: these first seven dudes should be the bullpen. The less short version also includes these pitchers as in-season options, once again, ignoring Johnson and Elias:
- Matt Barnes, RHP
- Heath Hembree, RHP
- Noe Ramirez, RHP
- Pat Light, RHP
- Edwin Escobar, LHP
- Anthony Varvaro, RHP
Varvaro isn't on the 40-man roster, but the rest of these arms are. The Sox won't be in a rush to add Varvaro to the 40 unless he shows he's still got something, and that's fine.
Barnes is still trying to figure out how to relieve, and while Hembree has Triple-A on lockdown, the majors haven't been as kind. Noe Ramirez is still in the up-and-down phase of his career, where he'll hop on I-95 and head north or south as asked until he runs out of options a few years from now. If Escobar could stay healthy, he'd be a useful lefty option out of the bullpen, but his 2015 was a mess that his 2016 will hopefully clean up -- remember, he's a former top-100 prospect, so this isn't entirely unrealistic wishing.
It's too soon for Pat Light to be in the majors, but if he can get a handle on his control once more like he did at Double-A Portland, he could be a valuable big-league piece sooner than later. That splitter is legit, and adding it back to his arsenal after scrapping it post-draft has made all the difference for him. Maybe he's helpful in September, and if things go to plan, he won't be needed before then, anyway.
As for the actual bullpen that you read a few paragraphs ago: Kimbrel is the obvious choice at closer, with Koji, Smith, and Taz as the three-headed, right-handed monster building nightly bridges to him. Ross' early struggles helped mask it, but he's got this lefty out of the pen thing down, especially since the Sox are in a better position to play match-ups with him -- from June 15 onward, Ross compiled 39 appearances and a 3.30 ERA with three times as many strikeouts as walks.
Layne might sound like asking for trouble, but you can blame basically all of his 2015 problems on being asked to do more than he should be asked to do. Layne faced 105 right-handed batters in 2015, and 102 lefties. Righties posted a 950 OPS against the southpaw, while lefties were helpless against him to the tune of .148/.248/.170. Let Layne face lefties exclusively, and leave the situations where opposing lineups won't allow that to Ross.
The additions of Kimbrel and Smith make it much easier to do this, as opposed to last season, when Layne was somehow both the best and worst option for many of his outings.
So, that's 21 pitches neatly organized into the roles they should (and most likely will) have to begin the 2016 season. There aren't many question marks, and that's a plus -- if Kelly falters, there are on-hand replacements to deal with that in a hurry, and the pen looks like it's setup for success instead of precariously balancing on the edge of disaster.
Now, we just need them to start playing games.