The season is over for the Red Sox, and now it’s up to the front office and the organization as a whole to figure out how to avoid a repeat performance. This is a team, as evidenced by the last two years, that has the pieces to get where they want to go. Now, they just need to figure out how to take that last step from good to great. Much of the heavy lifting in this regard over the coming winter will likely relate to the offense, a group that surely needs an upgrade both in terms of outside help and internal improvement. It’s not all about the lineup, though. If they want to look at this year and figure out an area where they can make some changes, it would be with the rotation. Not with the personnel, necessarily, but rather the strategies in how they utilize said personnel.
There is no doubt that one issue with the way things ended for the Red Sox was that too many of their starting pitchers simply wore down as the year went on. Most notable in that regard, of course, were Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz. The two best starters for the team all year just didn’t have it as the games became most important. Looking ahead to next year, those two along with David Price will presumably be the team’s top three starters. On paper, that gives them one of the best three-headed monsters in baseball, but each has questions. Sale has struggled in the final month of the year throughout his career. Pomeranz clearly wore down this year after doing the same in 2016. Price’s elbow looked healthy out of the bullpen, but it’s unclear what will happen there in 2018. With all of that in mind, the Red Sox have plenty of motivation to get some rest for these three — along with Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello -- in order to get maximum production over the entire season.
Fortunately, the Red Sox have a really solid group of depth pieces who could make this easier. The question will be whether or not they’re willing to use it. If they were so inclined, Boston could run out something resembling a six-man rotation, though it doesn’t have to be anything that strict. They have the pieces to make it work. Steven Wright will hopefully be back and healthy next year. Hector Velazquez, outside of his MLB debut, showed he has the talent to be a major-league contributor. Jalen Beeks impressed with a refined delivery in the minors. Brian Johnson is always an intriguing depth option, though he’ll be out of options so his status isn’t entirely clear. There are also always cheap depth options available outside the organization.
If the Red Sox were to utilize six or more starters throughout the season, there are a few ways they could go about it. The first would be a conventional six-man rotation, though I can’t imagine they’ll do that. The second, and more likely, scenario is where they keep one of their depth options in the bullpen as a long man and use him as a spot starter even without injury. If the team is in the midst of a long stretch without off-days, for instance, getting that extra day of rest throughout the year could be hugely valuable. Wright would be the most logical choice for this if everyone is healthy, though any of the other names above could also work.
The other, and most intriguing, option would be following what the Dodgers did throughout this season. Los Angeles was blessed with some enviable rotation depth all year, regularly having at least six or seven solid starters available to pitch. They took full advantage of that, along with the new, shortened 10-day disabled list. You can read a full explanation of what they did here, but I’ll give you the short version: They DL’d their pitchers. A lot. That allowed them to roster a fresh starter or an extra reliever throughout the year and the “injured” starters only missed one or maybe two starts whenever they hit the disabled list. On the one hand, I’m not crazy about this strategy simply because it seems so far against the spirit of the DL rule. On the other hand, if the players are cool with it — and I never saw anything suggesting Dodgers pitchers were not cool with it — than why shouldn’t I be?
The Red Sox need to figure out how to get Sale, Pomeranz and Price through the season and effective through September and (hopefully) into October. None of this will matter too much if the offense doesn’t improve, but as long as it does then this could be the final piece of the puzzle. Of the strategies listed above, the final one is the best in this writer’s opinion. I’m not sure if the Red Sox have the front office that would actually go through with it, but they have the depth and the incentive to do so.