With the offseason really getting underway as free agents are eligible to sign with other teams, we are going to spend some time looking at where the Red Sox stand with each positional group. We’ll look at catchers, infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers and relief pitchers. For each group, we’ll highlight the current projected starters, the projected depth, the prospects, the free agents with an emphasis on those who best fit as well as some trade candidates. Then at the end I’ll pick what I think the most likely scenario is. Today we will go over the starting pitchers.
Sale was arguably the face of the Red Sox’ failures as a team last season, with the ace getting a contract extension right before the season and then struggling with performance and health all year wrong. By all accounts he is recovering well this winter, but there will be fair questions about him all winter long.
Price is involved with trade rumors right now and could be an opportunity for the Red Sox to clear some salary. The unspoken part of that to this point is that Price, when healthy, has still been very good. He struggled later in this past year, but that was largely because his hurt wrist took away his ability to throw his cutter, a vital pitch for him at this point in his career. His production would be tougher to replace than it is being given credit for.
The long-awaited arrival of a reliable Rodriguez finally came in 2019, with the lefty staying healthy all year and going deep into games at a high rate. There are still minor spells of inefficiency here and there, but this is the guy we’ve been looking for throughout his career.
Eovaldi was yet another highly-paid disappointment in 2019 with injuries playing a major role in it. I think I’m more optimistic about his abilities in the rotation than most, but it’s hard to ignore the very real possibility that he is in the bullpen on a permanent basis by midseason next year.
Johnson is not a guy you want slotted in as your fifth starter to kick off the year. Last season saw a whole lot of bullpen games largely due to the lack of acceptable rotation depth. Johnson is fine as a seventh or eighth starter, but he can’t be here on the depth chart on Opening Day.
The depth is...not great. Velázquez had walked a tightrope for the first two years of his career, working around a lot of contact to still put up good ERAs. That was not the case last year, and he just can’t survive as long as the baseball stays so juicy.
Weber came in as a minor-league signing last winter and had some solid moments as a spot starter and long reliever. He also had some very bad ones.
Shawaryn spent some time both as a starter and a reliever in 2019. In a perfect world he’d be limited to two-inning outings to maximize his skillset, but this is not a perfect world. The Red Sox need guys stretched out in case of injury, and until some of the prospects we’ll talk about in a second are ready Shawaryn is likely to be among them.
The prospects below are listed in the order in which they are ranked on Sox Prospects.
Folks are split on Mata’s ultimate future, but the righty showed improved stuff in 2019 with command that still needs a little work but was much better than the year before. His stature could force him into shorter stints, but for now he looks like a starter to me and having spent half the year in Double-A last season he could be a late-season option in the majors next year in a best-case scenario. A 2021 debut is more likely.
Most still see Houck as a future reliever, and I am one of them. The Red Sox organization is not quite there yet, though, and they got him more work as a starter both in the Arizona Fall League and then with Team USA in the Premier12 tournament. The key is going to be the development of his changeup.
I have no idea what to say about Song at this point. Talent-wise, he is easily the best name on this list and a guy who could move relatively quickly through the system. Of course, the possibility that he will have to miss the next two seasons due to military service makes his actual value as a prospect totally impossible (at least to me) to pin down.
Ward is a guy I am extremely excited to see in 2019. We’ve seen young pitchers have big years before, particularly college arms in their first full season against low-level competition. Ward still looked very good against High-A competition, though, and the cutter he added has me excited that his star can continue to grow in 2020.
Zeferjahn certainly isn’t Song, but this is another very solid arm that came from the 2019 draft. He’s likely a reliever sooner than later, but the stuff is undeniable and has the potential to make a real major-league impact no matter the role.
One of the biggest risers in the second half of the minor-league calendar, Ramirez was an under-the-radar signing out of Mexico who looked great in a small five-start sample in the DSL in 2018. He then showed some command issues in Lowell but overall impressed with his stuff and presence. Next season will be fascinating for the 18-year-old (he’ll be 19 in May).
Speaking of college arms who excelled against lesser competition, Murphy absolutely dominated for the Spinners. Though he was a bit overshadowed by Song, Murphy has four solid pitches that should be good enough to at least get him through the lower levels. He’ll need to improve consistency and command by the time he reaches Portland, though.
Bello had one of the most interesting seasons in the Red Sox system, dominating on the bookends as a 20-year-old in Greenville but struggling mightily in the middle months. The stuff is there, but there is a lot of refinement to be done.
Rodriguez is another under-the-radar signing from Mexico who absolutely dominated the GCL this summer. He is very raw but the building blocks are there for a legitimate prospect. We’ll know much more at this time next year.
Crawford was a darling of OTM last season when he broke out in his first full season. The 2019 campaign was more of a grind, though, and it ended with injury that ultimately resulted in Tommy John surgery. He’ll miss all of 2020.
Shugart missed time with suspension in 2019 but when he pitched he showed some of the talent that has many predicting some sort of major-league role in the future. It just may end up coming in the bullpen.
Bell didn’t get to pitch all that much in his first professional season, but coming out of the draft he was seen as a potential future reliever but a guy with the repertoire to at least get a chance as a starter.
Cepeda has not gotten off the complex yet but in his showings in the DSL and GCL scouts saw a very raw but potentially solid future contributor.
Diaz does not have a huge ceiling but he had a really solid showing in Salem this year despite come control problems and showed big stuff in the Arizona Fall League, though that was in short stints.
Reyes is a guy that seems to be forgotten by many, but I think he is better than he’s getting credit for. Still on the 40-man roster, Reyes struggled early in Portland last year but settled down as the year went on. The ceiling isn’t high, but he can be a big-league swing man.
I would be a little surprised if Scherff isn’t a reliever by mid-year 2020. He’s older than you think despite being a high school pick just a couple years ago, and the soon-to-be 22-year-old (his birthday is at the start of February) has yet to show any consistency as a pro.
Loubier was a high school pick in last year’s draft that is all about future development. We’re a couple years from really knowing who he is.
Hart was a hot name for points of this summer. He’s not really exciting, but right on the cusp of the majors he’s a name you should know as a potential up-and-down spot starter. Think Brian Johnson a few years ago with less upside.
Enmanuel De Jesus
De Jesus took a somewhat overlooked but still impressive step forward in 2019 with Salem. Next year in Portland will be a big test for the southpaw.
Padron-Artilles made a name for himself in Lowell’s playoff run when he struck out 12 straight batters in a game. His overall numbers for the Spinners were very good all year, but he’s yet to show anything in full-season ball and struggled there to start last year.
I don’t know anything about Perales other than the fact that he was a July 2 signing this past summer out of Venezuela.
Brett Anderson, Jhoulys Chacín, Kyle Gibson, Cole Hamels, Wade Miley, Michael Pineda, Rick Porcello, Tanner Roark, Michael Wacha
It’s hard to know exactly what the Red Sox will do with their rotation given the possibility of trading either (or both of, I suppose) David Price or Nathan Eovaldi. Given what they have now and their self-imposed payroll restrictions, though, they are out on the top tier of free agents. Hamels represents the ceiling of potential free agents they could sign, and a reunion with Procello or a guy like Roark could be most likely. Gibson, Anderson and Wacha intrigue me as well.
Matt Boyd, DET; Danny Duffy, KC; Mike Fiers, OAK; Marco Gonzales, SEA; Mike Minor, TEX; Robbie Ray, ARI; Caleb Smith, MIA; Joe Musgrove, PIT; Chris Archer, PIT
There are probably a lot more starters who could be available that I have not listed here, but this was what I came up with after looking at depth charts around the league. Again, top-tier names are just not on the table here. Gonzales is the biggest stretch here, but the Mariners are liable to trade anyone at any time. That’s just what they do. Fiers and Smith are my favorite names on this list, but it is admittedly an underwhelming group of names.
Most Likely Scenario
I think the Red Sox will definitely sign one of the free agents listed above. A reunion with Porcello is not at all out of the question, but I’m going to put my fake money on Kyle Gibson. If they trade Price and/or Eovaldi, I think they’ll replace them with a trade acquisition a la Smith or Fiers.