We all know the old adage that says you can’t predict baseball, and while that generally pertains to in-game situations, it certainly applies to the offseason as well. There are always surprises, and you never now what any given team will do. That’s particularly true for a team led by Dave Dombrowski. That being said, it’s probably going to be a relatively quiet winter for the Red Sox. After winning the World Series, most of their roster is set and they’ll likely just be looking to add a few pitchers here and there while also maybe trimming some depth off their roster to restock elsewhere. Relievers are going to be the big talk, but expect them to look for a starter as well, which we talked about last week. Nathan Eovaldi, for obvious reasons, is the fan favorite and almost certainly will be pursued by Boston. There are other worthy options who could come in, fill the fifth rotation spot and give the Sox a nice group of starting pitchers too, though. They guy I’m going to talk about today is not one of them.
I’ve been on the Garrett Richards train since, well, it started chugging along in 2014 when he first joined the Angels rotation on a full-time basis. If you play fantasy, you know there are players you end up with year after year, whether you plan it or not. Richards is that guy for me. Now, with his injury history (which we’ll get to), that hasn’t worked out for me very much in recent years, but when he’s healthy he’s a blast to watch. He’s never quite been an ace, but he’s damn close when he’s on the mound, and he’s got the stuff to match.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to show that off on a consistent basis over the last three years. Since 2016, he has started six, six and 16 games, respectively, in each season. This past year was his largest workload since 2015, but it also ended with the biggest blow. Richards was shut down midway through the year and underwent Tommy John surgery in late-July, obviously causing him to miss the rest of the season. Moreover, it’s likely going to cost him all of 2019 as well. Therein lies the rub with his free agency, but it’s also what makes him strangely intriguing.
First, let’s look at the kind of pitcher Richards has been when he’s on the mound. Before this rash of injuries, the righty tossed two straight full(ish) seasons in 2014 and 2015. In that time, he pitched to a 3.18 ERA (116 ERA+) with eight strikeouts per nine and three walks per nine to help get him to a 3.30 FIP. That’s a really good starting pitcher, if not ace-like. The last three years have been the ones marred by injury, but when he’s gotten the rare chance to pitch he hasn’t looked like a guy who’s missed so much time. Richards has made only 28 starts since 2016, but he’s pitched to a 3.05 ERA (136 ERA+) with 9.6 strikeouts per nine and 3.6 walks with a 3.59 FIP.
To really get a feel for Richards, though, you have to actually watch him pitch. The numbers certainly tell a story, and they more or less accurately describe what you get from the righty over the course of a season, but watching him you immediately become enthralled. He throws two different fastballs that sit in the mid-to-high-90s — and that velocity was maintained through last season despite the various injuries over the last few years — and he does mix in some offspeed with a rare changeup and curveball. The real secondary, and the star of his entire repertoire, is the slider. Oh, the slider. His breaking ball is consistently filthy, and over his career it’s resulted in a whiff over 18 percent of the time he’s thrown it and over 40 percent of the time opponents have swung. I mean....
So, yeah. Richards is very good when healthy, but he hasn’t really been healthy very much of late. That includes right now, and he’s almost certain to miss all of the 2019 season. So, why would the Red Sox sign him? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time a team has signed a player to a two-year deal when he’s expected to miss all of the first year. In fact, one recent example is Nathan Eovaldi, who signed with the Rays prior to the 2017 season but didn’t pitch for them until 2018. That clearly worked out pretty well for them. The logic is that you can control a player’s rehab and allow him to work at a good pace with your own trusted training staff. On the flip side, the player knows he has some stability ahead and doesn’t have to rush the rehab process to make sure he’s ready for the following offseason. It’s a win-win in most situations.
As far as what the contract would look like, the Eovaldi deal is the baseline and he signed a two-year, $4 million deal. He also didn’t have the track record of Richards, so I’d say that’s the absolute floor, and that even might be stretching it. MLB Trade Rumors predicts a two-year, $10 million deal, as does Jon Heyman. Jon Heyman also gets predictions from an industry expert, who predicted a two-year, $9 million deal.
So, the Red Sox would probably be looking at $4-$6 million in average annual value being added to their luxury tax calculation. That would be well-worth the investment in my opinion. Remember, following the 2019 season the Red Sox have both Rick Porcello and Chris Sale eligible to hit free agency and the team will almost certainly be back in the market for a starting pitcher. Why not get that process started early by signing a high-upside player for much cheaper than you would otherwise. Obviously, there’s risk here, but the potential is so great and the financial commitment would not be large. This would be a wise out-of-the-box move to at least consider for Dombrowski and company.