Right now, The Problem with the Red Sox is their offense, and if you want to get more specific it’s at third base. That is, if you only want to look at one issue, this is clearly the one we’d all pick. While that’s The Problem, a problem is the final spot in the rotation, which is currently occupied by Kyle Kendrick following Steven Wright’s season-ending knee surgery. Kendrick, the spring training superstar, made his first major-league start in two years earlier in the week, and it predictably did not go well. Although there was some hope and cautious optimism that his strong spring was the result of working with Brian Bannister, his long track record of mediocrity was always going to be more reliable.
For now, it appears they are going to roll with Kendrick for a few more turns, at least. As someone who has to go through waivers if he doesn’t stick on the roster, and as a player with an opt-out in June, the Red Sox were never going to call him up for just one start. Unfortunately, it’s hard to expect any different sort of performance in however many more starts he receives. It makes you wonder if the team should be approaching this situation differently.
Specifically, it makes you wonder if they should be looking at Doug Fister in free agency. It wasn’t all that long ago that the righty was one of the most underrated starters in the league. He’s never been a huge strikeout pitcher, but his command and control were among the best in the league and from 2010 through 2014. Despite that track record, the 33-year-old remains a free agent.
The reason, of course, is that 2014 was a few years ago now. Over the last couple of seasons, Fister hasn’t been close to the same guy. To put it simply and bluntly, he’s just not that good anymore. That control he thrived on during his peak started to quickly dissipate, as he walked more than two batters per nine innings in 2015 and over three batters in 2016. Last season in particular, he just lost his ability to pound the strike zone as well as the ability to induce swings on pitches that miss the zone. That, of course, is a rough combination. To go with that, he started allowing more fly balls and, in turn, more home runs. When you combine that with a declining strikeout rate — and, again it was never all that high to begin with — you have a pitcher who simply can’t find a job in this league.
Although he’s not all that old, Fister’s stuff is deteriorating already. Always a heavy sinker pitcher, when he was at his best he was sitting the high-80s in terms of velocity and could hit the low-90s when he needed to. Over the last couple of years, the sinker has ticked down at least a couple miles per hour, and that’s probably a big reason for the uptick in home runs and fly balls. Particularly for a right-handed pitcher, a velocity in the mid-to-high 80’s just isn’t going to fly. The hope for anyone signing Fister would be that the extra time off would make him fresher and possibly get him closer to his old self, but it’s hard to count on that.
For the Red Sox, it’s probably not a prudent use of resources. Although I’m not sure Fister would be any worse than Kendrick, there is at least more upside with the other options in the minor leagues. Henry Owens’ control is still an issue, of course, but he’s made an adjustment to his delivery and has shown some quick flashes of control, at least. Brian Johnson isn’t a high-ceiling arm, but he’s been solid in Triple-A this year, has more upside than both Kendrick and Fister, and was good enough in his one major-league start this year. There is also Roenis Elias, who struggled in his first year with the Red Sox last season but has shown the ability to be a league-average starter in the past. He’s spent the entire season thus far on the disabled list, but he’s set to begin his rehab this weekend.
Then, of course, there is David Price. He continues to progress from his elbow injury, and while he probably won’t be back for the next couple of turns through the rotation, he could be back within the next month or so. If he comes back and there aren’t any other injuries, Fister would suddenly become an extra piece, and not one that’s all that appealing in the bullpen. If there is another injury, the other depth pieces would be a better option until the trade market becomes more active.
Watching Kendrick get starts over the next week or two probably won’t be very fun, but signing Fister probably wouldn’t be much better. Although he was more than a useful piece once upon a time, it’s not 2011 anymore. The Red Sox are better off sticking with what they have for the final rotation spot while they bide their time waiting for David Price’s return.