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How does Eduardo Rodriguez’ injury affect the Red Sox rotation plans?

Do they need to make a splash for a new starting pitcher?

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Since the Red Sox were eliminated from postseason play, most of the words on this webpage have been dedicated to looking back rather than looking forward. We will continue to look back as the highs and lows of the 2017 season are still fresh in our minds, but it is also time to start looking forward to the offseason to come and what the Red Sox need to do to take the next step in 2018. Obviously, the first step was hiring a new manager, but they finished that process on Sunday. They will also need to figure out the rest of their coaching staff, something we’ll get to later in the week. Above all else, though, Dave Dombrowski and company need to figure out what changes they will make on their actual roster.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

Immediately after the season, it seemed — at least to me — that the rotation was one of the areas where the team didn’t need to do anything at all. They had five strong starters in place with strong depth options behind them. With the costs of starting pitchers sky-high every winter, Boston found themselves in an enviable position. That started to change when Eduardo Rodriguez underwent knee surgery last week and it was announced he would miss at least six months. Now, this is almost certainly a good thing for both Rodriguez and the Red Sox in the long-term and there is a chance Rodriguez could be back on the mound in April. However, it doesn’t seem prudent for Boston to plan on him being back in the first month of the regular season. They do still have their depth options in place in Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, among others, but this injury makes one wonder if they should make an effort to improve their rotation from the outside this offseason.

The easy answer, and my initial reaction, is that they don’t need any more help. Even without Rodriguez, the Red Sox have a relatively strong top four (with an undeniably strong top three) in Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz and Rick Porcello. After that, they would likely slot Wright in the fifth spot and Johnson in the bullpen with Velazquez starting the year in Triple-A along with Jalen Beeks. (Side note: Johnson is the biggest winner here as the lefty is out of options and for now has a clear path to the Opening Day roster.) Of course, nothing is nearly as easy as it sounds and while that rotation looks good right now it is also contingent on everything going perfectly through spring training. This is not a group on which we can bet that happening.

To put it simply, everyone mentioned above has some sort of concern about how they will perform or whether they will be able to stay on the field. Sale is arguably the one without that concern, fortunately, but of course we said the same about Price last year. Speaking of which, Price looked great out of the bullpen at the end of this past season, but he still has questions with his elbow and there’s always the possibility of that creeping back in. Pomeranz has also had injury issues over the course of his career. Porcello doesn’t have injury concerns, but after his 2017 it’s not clear how reliable he is as the clear number four starter. With Rodriguez, there was a chance that at least one of them would take a step forward in 2018. Wright, meanwhile, missed all of 2017 with a knee injury and we have no idea how healthy he’ll be heading into camp next spring. Not to mention the depth options all being unproven over the course of a whole major-league grind, if it did indeed come down to that.

So, there are question marks. Now, we just need to decide if it’s enough to go after another starter this offseason. I think it’s fair to expect at least one more injury during spring training, which would push Johnson into the rotation and Velazquez (potentially) into the bullpen. I say we can expect that because I think it’s fair to expect that from every team, even if it won’t happen to everyone. With that in mind, I would opine that the Red Sox should at least look into prices for starting pitchers this winter.

That being said, they would then have to decide what kind of starter they’d want to target. In terms of free agents, there are solid pitchers at every tier this winter. With Sale, Price and Pomeranz already in the rotation, it would be unnecessary for them to go after someone like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta in the upper tier. If they do approach someone, it should be in the middle or lower tiers. The middle tier would be someone like Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb and the lower tier would have a lot of names like Doug Fister, Clay Buchholz and Jeremy Hellickson. Then, there are obviously trades in which players from all three tiers could be acquired.

In the end, the most prudent plan for the rotation would be to wait and see how the market develops. The tier with players like Cobb and Lynn seems to be the ideal one to target, getting someone who could slide in alongside Porcello behind Pomeranz. However, those are also unpredictable markets and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them get very expensive very fast. That could also be the place in trades, and I wouldn’t trade any of the young major-leaguers or Jason Groome and Michael Chavis for a pitcher. The Rodriguez injury has left the Red Sox in a strange position with their rotation and a lot of unknowns. On paper, they have the talent to make it through this injury without too much of an issue, but it also leaves them a lot thinner. There is no need for them to make a major splash for a pitcher, but they should at least examine the market for mid-to-lower-tiered pitchers this winter.