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Offseason focus should be on improving the rotation

But that’s easier said than done while simultaneously trying to shed salary

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chaim Bloom already has his hands full in his new job and I’m sure it didn’t take him all that long to figure that out. There’s been plenty of talk about the Red Sox trading away Mookie Betts and how ownership wants Bloom to shed salary, but his primary focus this offseason needs to be on pitching. How one can possibly shore up a pitching staff that’s in need of a little TLC, while simultaneously shedding salary is not going to be an easy thing to do, but that’s for Bloom to figure out.

As a whole, the offense didn’t seem to miss a beat in 2019, and even put together slightly better numbers than in 2018. The Red Sox posted a .269/.340/.466 slash line last season, which gave them the fifth-best OPS in Major League Baseball. In 2018, Boston’s offense slashed .268/.339/.453 with a .792 OPS, making it the top offense in the league that year. While the offense didn’t lose any of its productivity last season, we can’t say the same for the pitching staff. A handful of injuries and a few key departures from the bullpen that played a big role in Boston’s championship campaign created a perfect storm of trouble in 2019.

The rotation struggled to match its success from the previous year, posting a 4.40 FIP (14th-best in MLB), .260 batting average against (21st), 4.95 ERA (20th) and 11.0 WAR (14th) in 2019, per Fangraphs. Comparatively speaking, the rotation was top 10 in all of those categories the previous year: 3.80 FIP (8th), .236 BAA (9th), 3.77 ERA (8th) and 14.3 WAR (8th). Staying healthy was a major issue in 2019 as Chris Sale had the fewest starts of his career (25), Nathan Eovaldi pitched just 67.2 innings and David Price missed most of the second half with a wrist injury. After a successful start to the year, Price made just two starts after July 30th, combining for less than five innings pitched. Eduardo Rodriguez (19-6, 126 ERA+) turned out to be the lone bright spot in a surprising twist of fate.

So how can Bloom possibly make things right for this group? As of right now, Rodriguez is the only member of the rotation who will enter next season under age 30. Who knows what Sale will be capable of in 2020 and I don’t care what type of special tissue Price has in his elbow, I’m still not sure we can trust him to make 30+ starts. Sale, Price and Eovaldi will account for $73.6 million toward the team’s payroll next season, according to Spotrac, and there are significant question marks associated with each of those pieces. Not to mention that Boston does not currently have a fifth starter with Rick Porcello now a free agent.

Things are definitely not looking great for the rotation, and now we hear that the Rangers have had “internal discussions” about the possibilities of trading for one of Boston’s big guns — like Sale, Price or Eovaldi — according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. We’ve got one team trying to shed payroll and another possibly willing to eat it up. Even with the question marks associated with Boston’s rotation, getting rid of any of those pieces doesn’t make me feel great. You trade Price, Sale or Eovaldi, and then what? A team that is trying to shed salary is certainly not going to pay big money to sign a Gerrit Cole or Zack Wheeler after shedding any of those other contracts. So the Sox now need two pieces to shore up the rotation, instead of one, making it worse off than it was last year and ownership is not willing to pay the money to fix it. That doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success.

Bloom always seemed to do a lot with a little during his time in Tampa, but the market for starters is not blooming with “affordable” options. In fact, the most affordable option might be bringing back Porcello and then we are quite literally back to where we started. Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs is projecting a two-year deal worth $18 million for Porcello, while MLB Trade Rumors predicts the 30-year-old will sign a one-year deal with San Francisco worth $11 million. The other options that MLB Trade Rumors thinks the Red Sox would pursue? Hyun-Jin Ryu (32 years old), Cole Hamels (35) and Rich Hill (39). MLBTR expects Ryu to sign a three-year, $54 million deal; Hamels, a two-year deal worth $30 million; and Hill, a one-year deal for $6 million. I don’t know that any of these options make the rotation any better than it was last year.

I really have no idea what the next few months will look like for the Red Sox and I don’t think anyone does at this point, Bloom included. The end goal should be to put a better team on the field next season than they did last season. I am not sure if that’s possible while simultaneously lowering the team’s payroll, but the Red Sox definitely found the right guy to give it a shot in Bloom. Here’s to hoping it goes alright!