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Taking stock of the Red Sox’ starting pitching depth

Do they need more starting pitching?

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the week, I looked at the position player half of the Red Sox roster and wondered where they could possibly look for more depth ahead of spring training. As it turns out, they ended up signing Oscar Hernandez for catching depth shortly after publish, which can only mean that Red Sox decisions are being made entirely based off of my writing. I’ll try not to mess this up.

Today I’ll try to keep the trend going by looking at the starting pitching depth chart. Last year, pitching was easily the strength of this Red Sox team and they are surely going to try and ride that to the postseason yet again, albeit with (hopefully) better offense. As of this writing, they still have six major-league quality starters in Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright. That seems pretty good to me! Of course, when you start to consider things a little more you realize that there are questions with just about everyone listed.

Let’s quickly run through those names and examine some questions we have about them. Chris Sale....well, Chris Sale is pretty good. There are some questions about his late-season performance, but it’s not to the point where we worry that he’ll be removed from the rotation. He also doesn’t really have any injury concern beyond the concern we have about any pitcher. Pomeranz has similar late-season concerns along with some injury history and a little fear of regression from last year. Price has major injury concerns, though nothing too alarming has come out this offseason. Porcello has performance concerns as he’s been bad in two of his three years with the Red Sox. Wright missed essentially all of last year and may miss some of this year depending on an MLB investigation into a domestic dispute from earlier this offseason. Rodriguez will miss some time at the beginning of the year and has still been inconsistent when on the mound.

So, the moral of the story is that A) pitching is weird and as confident as most of us probably are in this group on the whole any given pitcher can have his season go awry at any given moment, and B) the Red Sox are obviously going to need more pitchers at some point this year. In fact, they’ve always needed more than six pitchers in recent years. Here is how many starting pitchers they’ve used at least once in each of the last five seasons.

2017: 10

2016: 10

2015: 12

2014: 11

2013: 11

So, based on that data they will need at least four more pitchers in 2018 beyond the six established guys they already have. Now, it’s important to note that some of these pitchers can certainly be acquired after Opening Day. Doug Fister is a good reminder of how that works, not to mention trade deadline acquisitions. That being said, the Red Sox will want as many useable arms as possible in camp and to start the year, particularly since there’s a decent chance they’ll be down two starters when they head to Tampa for Opening Day.

Before we get to some guys they could potentially add to the depth chart, though, we should probably check in on the depth they have now and whether or not they even need any additions. At the top of the current depth chart in my mind would be the man pictured atop this page, Hector Velazquez. The former Mexican League standout was a pleasant surprise last year and after a disastrous MLB debut gave the team some solid starts when called upon. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he was in their Opening Day rotation.

Beyond Velazquez, it gets a little more complicated. Brian Johnson has the most experience, but they’ve talked about him being in the bullpen this year. I don’t think that’ll preclude him from making spot starts but rather view it as a way to keep him on the roster as he’s without options, though perhaps they won’t stretch him out. Chandler Shepherd, meanwhile, is a career reliever who is being stretched out for the first time. It’s questionable how reliable he can be as a spot starter. Then, there’s Jalen Beeks who I like a lot but still has something to prove before he can really be an option. Roenis Elias is also an option, but he missed almost all of last year and I still believe he fits better as a reliever. Finally, there are some emergency options and guys we could see in the second half if everything breaks right like Marcus Walden, Mike Shawaryn and Travis Lakins.

At the end of the day, I think the Red Sox probably could survive if they went into camp with only the starters who are currently in the organization, though it wouldn’t be the most comfortable start. By my count, there are eleven decent enough options to choose from, though it requires linear development from some and health from all. With this in mind, I think I’d probably go ahead and try to bring in at least one more arm to compete with these other for position on the depth chart. There are, of course, a million names who are available right now for this, but I went through and picked out a few of my favorites. Drew Hutchison and Derek Holland would be my choices from the MLB free agent list if they were to go the minor-league contract route. From the list of minor-league free agents (you can find that here), I’d look at Jair Jurrjens, Justin Masterson, Kris Medlen and Brooks Pounder. These aren’t the most exciting names, of course, but those names aren’t coming to compete for roles as an eighth starter at best. If the position player post was any indication, I’ll be back tomorrow with a post announcing the signing of one of these pitchers.