Things are going very, very well for the Red Sox right now, and they are pretty much firing on all cylinders. Even on nights where one portion of the roster, the rest of the club picks them up. It’s been incredible to watch, and perhaps the best part of the team of late has been the rotation. Even with Chris Sale missing a short amount of time, David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi have all been phenomenal. Now, Sale is set to come back this coming weekend in Baltimore, and the Red Sox have a decision to make. Right now, the four pitchers mentioned above are clearly locks for the rotation through the rest of the regular season, if healthy. That leaves one more spot for Drew Pomeranz and Brian Johnson. Neither lefty can be optioned back to Triple-A, making this a potentially tough decision for Alex Cora and the coaching staff. Let’s take a look at their different options.
1. Keep Pomeranz in the rotation, move Johnson to the bullpen
Of all of the options we’ll run through today, this is the one that would receive the worst reaction from the fan base. A team shouldn’t really operate based on how fans will react, of course, but in this case it doesn’t seem like these imaginary fans in my head are off-base. It is true that Pomeranz has gotten better results his last couple times out than Johnson, but you wouldn’t guess that by watching both of them pitch. Pomeranz did get his fastball up around 90 on a regular basis his last time out, which is nice, but his command issues still don’t work with that velocity. On the other hand, Johnson has gotten in trouble with the long ball of late but his stuff has ticked up and if he can find a happy medium between those two modes he can take a step forward. Even if not, he’s starting to go deeper into games and it’s clear that he has a longer leash with the coaching staff.
All of that being said, this would be a decision based on ceiling. We saw that Pomeranz can be a legitimately impactful arm on a playoff team in 2017, and the Red Sox have a big enough lead that if they feel there’s a chance at that coming back, it’s worth seeing out. Granted, I would be surprised if we saw Pomeranz get back to that level, but maybe they see something I don’t.
2. Keep Brian Johnson in the rotation, move Pomeranz to the bullpen
While option number one would be the move that gets the most ire from fans, I think this would get the most theoretical cheers. As I said, Johnson’s results haven’t been great over his last couple of outings but it’s been hard to watch him and not feel like he can give you a solid outing to keep you in a game every time he takes the ball. Remember, we’re talking about a fifth starter spot, and a temporary one at that with Eduardo Rodriguez hopefully returning soon. The Red Sox don’t need ace upside here, they need someone who won’t blow up when he takes the mound. I would certainly argue that Johnson has a better chance of preventing blow-ups than Pomeranz.
The other side of this coin is what it does in the clubhouse and in the bullpen. As far as the clubhouse goes, I’ve never gotten an impression that Pomeranz would be a negative in there, but we’ve also never seen him have to transfer to this role. Now, he’s pitched as a reliever before and perhaps he would take to it again, but since then he’s established himself as a good starter and is about to hit free agency. He may not love changing his role. Furthermore, I’m not so sure he makes the bullpen that much better, and Johnson would probably be a better fit there. Of course, you’d rather have the better pitcher in the rotation than as a long reliever.
3. Put Pomeranz on the disabled list
This seems to be the most popular idea of late, but it is something that people always make to sound much easier than it probably would be. The idea is that, whether or not he is actually hurt, the Red Sox should just put Pomeranz on the disabled list and have him come back in September when rosters expand. That sounds great, except the player kind of has to be on board with it, particularly if you don’t have a good case for him actually being hurt. It’s something I think the team would ultimately win either way, but it’s not a great look to force someone on the disabled list if they don’t believe they’re hurt. These “phantom” DL stints do happen all the time, but it’s a unique situation with Pomeranz. The lefty is about to hit free agency and really wants to get back on track over the last two months of the year to give himself some chance at a decent payday. Hitting the DL for August would kill that chance, and while the team does come first for these guys right now they also have to look out for themselves.
I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if this did end up happening, though, despite what I said above. The key for Boston, if it got as far as a grievance which I would not anticipate, would be being able to prove some sort of injury. Based on how he’s pitching, it wouldn’t shock anyone to learn that Pomeranz actually is banged up.
4. Designate Pomeranz for assignment
Ultimately, I think this is the move that makes the most sense in a vacuum and the move that makes the roster look its best in the here and now. This would allow Johnson to stick in the rotation and let the bullpen stand pat while the roster gets back to regular balance. Boston has been playing with a short bench for a long time now, but when Sale and Ian Kinsler are both back the plan is for them to get back to having four position players on their bench. That means two pitchers need to go soon. Brandon Workman is certainly one, and after that it essentially comes down to Hector Velazquez, Ryan Brasier or Pomeranz. I can’t see them optioning Brasier at this point, so it comes down to who they want at long relief. I don’t think Pomeranz will be the one to go — Velazquez can be optioned, Pomeranz cannot — but there’s certainly an argument for that being the right move.
5. Go with a six-man rotation
This is the out of the box option, but it’s one that could make some sense. Essentially, this would be pushing the decision back a bit, but there are benefits here. The biggest of those benefits would be getting extra rest for everyone down the stretch, and with a nine-game lead in the division they can afford to give out extra rest. Sale, Price and Porcello need to be ready in the postseason, and while I don’t think a regular schedule would hurt them too much having extra rest likely wouldn’t hurt. This would especially come in handy over the second half of the month, as the team has just one day off from the 17th on. It also wouldn’t have to be a straight six-man rotation, but rather they could just skip one pitcher’s turn each time through to keep pitchers on the five-game schedule with one guy getting a turn off each time around. There are creative ways to make this work.
The downside is making room on the roster. If you option Velazquez to make room for Kinsler, for example, then you have six starters but you lose the long reliever that they’ve apparently found so valuable all year. I would be interested by this decision, but I don’t think I’d make it.
Ultimately, if it was up to me I’d probably designate Pomeranz at this point and just cut my losses now, but I suspect the team will want to preserve depth. My prediction is that they’ll go with number one, with a little bit of number five mixed in. What say you?