The Red Sox continue to plug away with the offseason and we continue to count down the days for the team to report to Fort Myers to officially begin spring training. In the meantime, there’s no telling whether or not there will be a legitimate reliever added to the roster on a major-league deal before that point comes. My guess would still be that they’ll add someone at some point, but with each passing day it looks more and more like Dave Dombrowski has been telling the truth when he says he is comfortable with the relievers he already has under contract.
Either way, that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. Instead, we’re here to look at the minor-league depth in the organization to see what will happen with the roster in case of the injuries that will inevitably pop up during the marathon regular season. We did it with the position players yesterday, and today we’re going to look at the pitching. This is the area in which Boston has added the most depth over the offseason, making a number of minor-league signings, adding one Triple-A arm via trade and adding a couple more prior to the Rule 5 deadline. Is it enough?
The way things are shaping up right now, the rotation has a chance to be the brightest spot on the Red Sox roster in 2019. Boston is bringing back the same gang that rolled through the postseason, and the top five is as impressive as it’s been in a long time. However, it’s also going to be an exhausted group to start the year. Alex Cora has indicated he will do what he can to limit the workload for his starters early on and in spring training after their constant work in October. The hope is that he can limit and serious injuries and ailments by sitting them a little more often and getting some more rest. Still, given how much they all threw in October, some sort of injury to one or two of these guys is something they have to be ready for at some point.
Boston’s depth in this area is very interesting and it looks kind of like the outfield depth we discussed yesterday. Most of it is expected to be in the major-league bullpen. Steven Wright, assuming he’s healthy enough to start the season, should be the sixth starter on the roster, and Cora is planning on using a six-man rotation for at least the first turn to start the year. I’d expect a six-man group to be used during any long stretches between days off. Wright has health questions of his own, though, so Brian Johnson could also play a big role. The lefty was quietly a big part of last year’s roster, showing underrated versatility as a pitcher bouncing between roles and pitching solidly at whatever job he was asked to work. However, Johnson has some questions of his own. Specifically, he is out of minor-league options, and the Red Sox bullpen could be crowded if everyone makes it out of camp healthy. I think they’ll find a way to keep him, but there’s a chance he’s squeezed out. In that case, Hector Velazquez jumps into his role, which he similarly served in 2019.
So, the Red Sox (potentially) have three depth options for their rotation, all of which they are comfortable with and all of which have significant major-league experience. That’s something a lot of teams cannot boast, and not something to take for granted. It’s also not guaranteed to be there at the start of the year. Anything can happen to any pitcher, of course, but with Wright’s knee and Johnson’s option status, there’s at least a chance Velazquez is the only one remaining on Opening Day, though it strikes me as far-fetched that they’d dump Johnson while knowing Wright won’t be ready to start the year. Regardless, this is to say there’s a chance at some point they’re going to have to dig deeper into their depth, and that’s when things get a little dicy.
Now, the rebuttal to any concern beyond the top three depth options is obvious and fair: Not team is going to be thrilled about the ninth, tenth and eleventh starters on the depth chart. Still, this is where the Red Sox’ inability to develop reliable starters comes in. Right now, the most intriguing starters in Pawtucket’s projected rotation are Mike Shawaryn and Chandler Shepherd, both of whom are better suited for the bullpen. The former is someone I personally am a fan of and I think he can make a solid spot start or two if needed, but if they want him to make an impact it’d be over shorter stints. Beyond those two, Erasmo Ramirez — who they signed to a minor-league deal earlier this winter — is next in line assuming he doesn’t opt out. Overall, the Red Sox should feel good about their rotation depth, but it does serve as a reminder that there truly is no such thing as enough pitching.
While the Red Sox have struggled to develop reliable starters over the years, recent seasons have seen them churn out some very intriguing relievers, and that is expected to continue this year. Obviously we know relievers in general are volatile and our views on individual relievers can change dramatically year-to-year. This is why many (most?) of us would like to see the Red Sox add a late-inning arm to the current group before the end of the offseason. As it stands now, the late-inning talent is where Boston lacks talent, but they have a lot of arms that can fit into the middle innings. As I said above, teams can always use more pitching and just yesterday they signed left-handed Daniel Schlereth to a minor-league deal, but the Red Sox have depth with minor-league options.
From the right side, they will have guys like Colten Brewer, Travis Lakins, Carson Smith, Zach Putnam, Marcus Walden, Shawaryn and Domingo Tapia to start the year. Durbin Feltman could make a push early in the year as well, though last year’s draft pick is more likely to get the call in the middle of the year than early on. Either way, he’s available to make an impact at some point. The depth isn’t as intriguing from the left side, though they do have Bobby Poyner and Josh Taylor in Pawtucket as well as Darwinzon Hernandez, assuming they are going to shift him from the rotation to the bullpen at some point in 2019. The bullpen remains the biggest question mark for the Red Sox right now, but that question mark is with the top-end talent not the minor-league depth. There’s no reason not to keep stockpiling as many relievers that are willing to sign as possible, but the Red Sox should feel pretty good about their injury insurance in the ‘pen heading into camp.