In case you haven’t heard, Drew Pomeranz left his first start of the spring on Friday after just one inning of work due to what is being called “forearm tightness.” There wasn’t any clear and obvious sign of discomfort from the video that I’ve seen, but he got the attention of Blake Swihart and the training staff and they didn’t take long to decide to remove him from the outing. The good news is that Pomeranz himself is saying that taking him out of the game was more precautionary than anything else and that he’s not overly worried about the effects of this injury. Despite that, it makes sense to worry for now as a fan, though it’s probably not time for an all-out panic. (Or maybe it is. Do what you want. I’m not your dad.) Forearm injuries are always worrisome until it’s proven otherwise, as discomfort to that part of the arm is generally the first sign of an elbow issue. Plus, Pomeranz has had injury issues in the past, including last spring when he missed much of camp with tricep tightness. There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic that this will end up as nothing, but there’s also plenty of reason to start thinking about what happens if this is more serious than is currently being let on.
I mentioned this in the original post regarding his injury, but it’s worth mentioning again. I think we, as a collective group of Red Sox fans, have been understating the importance of Pomeranz to the 2018 rotation, and thus the team as a whole. Chris Sale and David Price will form a top-notch 1-2 punch in an ideal world, but Pomeranz has been a consistent force over the last two years with an ERA of exactly 3.32 in both seasons with at least a strikeout per inning and sub-4.00 FIPs in both seasons. He could use some work with his efficiency, of course, but at the end of the day he has given his team a chance to win much, much more often than not in recent seasons and there was little reason to expect anything different in 2018. If he pitched as well in 2018 as he had in the last two years, and the other two aces pitched to their potential, Pomeranz would be one of the handful of best number three pitchers in baseball.
If this forearm injury does indeed turn into something more, the Red Sox lose a major piece and start to see their depth thinning out rapidly. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright are already set to miss the start of the season. There’s no exact timetable set on either of them, but it doesn’t appear that either will miss a ton of time. That being said, we don’t know whether either of their knees will suffer setbacks and there is some question of how they’ll perform once they do get back to the mound. On top of that, we haven’t seen Price pitch yet and he is coming off a fairly major elbow issue in 2017. He looked great out of the bullpen to end the year, but there has to be some question about his ability to make it through a full starter’s workload. With Pomeranz in the rotation, someone like Brian Johnson is already going to have to start the year as the number five starter. If the former’s injury keeps him out, then they have to dig deeper, likely for someone like Hector Velazquez. At that point, one of Jalen Beeks, Roenis Elias or Chandler Shepherd all of a sudden becomes the de facto sixth starter for at least a little bit, which is not how you want to enter a season.
So, naturally, the thought of a serious injury to Pomeranz brings up the question of whether or not the Red Sox would look into bringing in outside help in that scenario. It’s not just about the depth, either, but also performance questions for Rodriguez, Wright and Rick Porcello. In what has been a weird offseason, there are three solid starters left on the free agent market in Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. I don’t think Arrieta is a realistic candidate, as he will likely cost more than the Red Sox are willing to spend. The lack of spending this winter has largely come in the middle of the market, and Arrieta is closer to the top. So, should the Red Sox look at Cobb or Lynn?
The case for signing these two is fairly straight forward. Although on the surface the Red Sox have plenty of starting pitching depth — a case I’ve made plenty this winter — we’re quickly getting a reminder of how quickly that can evaporate. If everyone is healthy there would be some uncomfortable questions, but with all of the injury questions throughout the rotation there’s a decent chance we won’t see a point in the year in which everyone is healthy. Cobb or Lynn would place right in the middle of the rotation and give them another body that is better than their current depth options.
That being said, there are reasons to be against the possibility of signing either player. For one thing, both players are more average than good, and while that’s valuable it’s also not a profile that would necessarily move the needle a ton. Additionally, both players were extended a qualifying offer this winter, so if the Red Sox were to sign one they’d lose their third highest pick in the draft. The final issue is that signing either one would almost certainly mean the Red Sox would go over the $237 million mark for their payroll (for luxury tax purposes), which would cause a ten spot drop in the draft.
At the end of the day, I think this is something worth thinking about, at least. Ideally, this would only be something you do if one of these guys has to settle for a one year deal, which I’m not sure is overly likely. I’ve made clear that I don’t mind going over the $237 million mark, as losing ten spots isn’t a huge deal. It’s more about slot money than draft position, of course, but if the Red Sox had dropped last year they would have lost $630,900, or just over 11 percent of their total pool money. That’s not insignificant, but if you can avoid making a habit out of clearing this threshold it’s justifiable in an offseason in which the Red Sox appear to be the only team willing to spend. All of that being said, they still aren’t in a position of desperation, for as much as they don’t want to dip into their rotation depth this much this early, it’s something they’re prepared for. The Red Sox should at least stay involved in the market for Cobb and Lynn, but they don’t need to do anything. Of course, the best-case scenario is that Pomeranz is healthy, and all of this concern is for nothing.