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Like Hunter Renfroe, the success of Matt Andriese depends on who else is added

It would be a lot cooler if moves happened in order of importance.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Sometimes (if I’m being honest, more often than I’d like) I find myself getting angry and/or frustrated about things I can’t control, whether they be things that happen due to other people, or things that actually haven’t even happened but I think they might. It is not a good quality and I do not recommend it. Zero out of five stars. One of those things that I get frustrated with is the order of operations in the baseball offseason. I’m always a little jealous of the NBA offseason, where it seems like the stars typically find their teams first before role players. It’s a nice, clean structure that can be much easier to analyze. It largely has to do with the salary cap, of course, but I wish baseball could find a way to replicate that, almost entirely for selfish reasons.

But the fact remains that it’s just not how baseball works, particularly in recent years where the big signings tend to go deeper and deeper into the offseason. That the Red Sox haven’t made a significant addition, for example, is certainly frustrating, but I also don’t really put a ton of the blame on the team at this point. It’s more of a league issue. The expectation was that this would be a busy winter for Boston as they tried to bounce back from a truly pitiful 2020, and I still hold that expectation. That said, to this point the additions in free agency have been Hunter Renfroe and Matt Andriese, which is, uh, underwhelming. Yeah, we’ll go with underwhelming.

These are the kind of signings that would come a week or two into the impossibly fast-moving NBA offseason, when it was clear into what kind of role these bit players would fall. With the Red Sox, though, and baseball in general, it’s almost impossible to really make a value judgement on these kinds of players because we don’t know what will be asked of them. As someone who is paid American currency to write words about these moves and what they mean, it is selfishly frustrating, which is not a thing I expect any of you to care about. But just as was the case with Hunter Renfroe, who we wrote can be a big addition if given the right role, Matt Andriese, who officially signed with the Red Sox last week, can be a sneaky important pickup or he can be the sign of a failed offseason, depending on what else happens from here.

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As far as who Andriese is as a pitcher, it’s hard to get more “he is what he is” than the veteran righty. A former Ray, along with stops with other clubs, he has been remarkably consistent over his career while bouncing back and forth between a multi-inning relief role and a starting role. He’s typically a shade better than average with his strikeouts and right around average with his walk rate, while giving up a little more hard contact than you’d like. Put it all together, and he’s finished five of his six seasons in the majors with an ERA- between 104 and 107, meaning he’s been almost exclusively between four and seven percent worse than the league-average pitcher. That’s not great, but it’s also not going to crush you. And although it hasn’t happened to this point, one would assume at some point he can luck into being a shade better than average.

This is where the role part of it all comes into play. As things stand right now, Andriese took a rotation spot from Chris Mazza, which is just a horrible sentence to type out. I truly hated it a lot. If Andriese were to actually start the season in the Red Sox rotation, that would be a disaster. Not only has he consistently been a little worse than league-average, it’s also been quite some time since he has pitched anything close to a starter’s workload. We can toss aside 2020 because it was only 60 games, but in the three years prior he’s hovered around 80 innings. If there were not enough subsequent moves to get him out of the rotation plans, as I said above it would be a clear sign of a failed offseason.

I don’t think any of us really expect that to happen, though. More likely is that two or three new starters are brought in at some point, putting Andriese into the bullpen where he can once again serve as a swingman. And it is here that he can make a big difference. I’ve talked about this a bunch this winter and wrote a whole post about it here so I won’t go too deep into it again, but the fact of the matter is teams are going to need to find extra innings this season. That will be true for everyone given the fact that they are coming off a weird, shortened season, and it’s true even without knowing what is in store this spring/early summer. For the Red Sox, it is doubly true considering all of that along with the injury risk already present in their rotation.

The popular reference in recent years for this sort of role is looking back to 2018 with Brian Johnson and Hector Velázquez, and it’s popular for good reason. That was an example of role players making a good team great (or in that case making a great team an all-time club), as both of those guys were able to fill in wherever the holes happened to be on the roster at any given time and give quality innings. It’s not a glory position — they didn’t even make the postseason roster — but to make it through a marathon season you need those innings. Andriese has shown an ability to be that guy, and if he can be limited to that role he can do exactly what they did, albeit on a worse team.

And that basically brings us back to where we started. It’s impossible to say whether or not Andriese was a good signing, because we don’t know what’s being asked of him. If they sit on their hands the rest of the winter and Andriese is the fourth starter to start the season, he’s a disastrous addition. If they bring in two or three more starters and Andriese can play that Johnson/Velázquez role, he can be a low-cost quality addition.

Ultimately, the key for the Red Sox is still guys like Eduardo Rodriguez, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi, among a few other more central pieces. They need most of those types of players to perform well to have any chance of getting up into the wildcard race. But to get over that hump and into October baseball, that’s where a guy like Andriese comes in. And he can do that, provided he’s not asked to do too much.