The Red Sox have a lot of important questions to which they need answers by the end of spring training. Is Pablo Sandoval really to be trusted with a full-time role? Do they have enough backup plans? Which two of Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz will fill out the rotation, assuming everyone stays healthy through March? How is John Farrell going to juggle his lineups, particularly against left-handed pitching? These are the sort of things that will contribute to the ultimate outcome of Boston’s season.
Over the weekend, at the team’s Winter Weekend at Foxwoods, another less important topic came up with all three of the team’s “aces” in the same place for the first time. Who is going to start Opening Day? It’s not the first time it’s come up, but it’s worth mentioning now that both Chris Sale and David Price think Cy Young winner Rick Porcello should get the nod against the Pirates on April 3. They are correct.
This definitely doesn’t mean that Porcello is the Capital-A “Ace” of the staff, if by that you mean the best pitcher on the team. I think that title pretty clearly belongs to Chris Sale, the man for whom you gave up Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. In fact, I would bet on Porcello being the third-best pitcher on this roster. That’s not to say that he’ll be bad, of course, but that Sale and Price are both outstanding. Generally speaking, the Opening Day start goes to the best pitcher, and each subsequent start goes to the next best.
The Red Sox are in a position to buck this trend. More than anything else, Opening Day is a symbolic day. It’s a game that seems enormous, because we’ve been without baseball since October, despite meaning just as much as a random game in June. It’s a game that is filled with pregame celebrity appearances, decorative bunting all over the park and flyovers. Everything about it is symbolic, so why not make the starting pitcher that fit that theme, too. Porcello was the best and most consistent member of the team’s pitching staff last year, and a huge reason they were able to get back to the postseason. Obviously, the Cy Young was huge recognition for that, but this kind of team-fueled reward seems appropriate as well.
The most important part of this is that it doesn’t really affect the rest of the season. If this was going to be the exact order of the rotation for the entire year, then maybe you reconsider. In that case, you probably want Sale to get him as many starts as possible. That’s not how things work, though. Injuries, rainouts and other factors are going to cause things to flip around many times between now and October. You may also want to set the handedness of the rotation, but that’s not important for a couple of reasons. For one, no matter how you order it the rotation will be southpaw-heavy. Plus, like I said, we don’t know how things will play out. Any plan you make in early April will likely be dead by May.
A nice side effect to this would also be to give Sale a day of taking in the Fenway atmosphere without being on the mound. This is far from a deciding factor — if there wasn’t another deserving candidate I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to throw Sale out there — but it could be a blessing in disguise. Sale has played in hostile environments before, but any extra adjustment you can get to a new home is welcome.
The one solid argument against starting Porcello on Opening Day is that his bobblehead day is scheduled for game two. It could be nice to sync up his first start of the year with his own special giveaway day. If I were given the choice, though, I’d take the honor of starting in the most symbolically meaningful game of the year over the chance to start in front of a park full of creepy, miniature versions of myself.