Heading into the offseason it was always clear that the Red Sox were going to need to do some work in the rotation, it just was never entirely clear what exactly that meant. Eduardo Rodriguez was a free agent, so it could have just meant re-signing him and rolling on as normal, perhaps just adding a little more depth. It could have meant enjoying the depth they’ve built up the last couple years and using a chunk of money on one big splash. Or it could have meant pooling some money for a handful of interesting but cheaper signings and hope that more options makes it more likely someone sticks.
Chaim Bloom and the rest of the front office have seemingly opted for that latter approach, with the signing of Rich Hill on Wednesday being the final sign for that being the case. He marks the third starting pitcher they’ve brought in on a major-league deal along with Michael Wacha and James Paxton, and while the latter is going to miss the first half of the year, they still had three clear options on the roster already with a pair of relievers who could make the full-time jump. Putting all the salaries together Boston is on the hook for about $22 million for the three pitchers, which pooled together likely gets the Red Sox in the range of most of the top non-Scherzer starting pitchers on this year’s market.
Of course, tying up all that money in one pitcher rather than three has its pros and its cons. The pro is obvious, as it gives the team a more dynamic and reliable top three, with whatever pitcher in that range to go along with Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi. On the other hand, it also puts a whole lot of pressure on that pitcher to both live up to expectations and stay healthy, as the depth is now not as strong.
Granted, we should obviously mention that there is no real reason they can’t add a big-time starting pitcher and add significant depth, as the money is there. That said, we also have to live in reality and realize they are not going to push the budget to where some of us would like it to be. And hell, it’s certainly not impossible that they make another move after this transaction freeze is lifted, though given the number of starters they now have on the roster I’d say it’s unlikely.
And so if we assume that they are not going to add any more clear starting pitchers on a major-league deal, then we can safely assume that the team has decided to go with the quantity approach. We already talked about what the all-in-one-basket approach can provide for the top of the rotation, but the quantity approach that the team is employing does have its own merits. Most notable is that they are now better equipped to handle an injury with more depth in tow, and that’s especially true in the second half when Paxton should be ready to help out. This also provides the possibility to provide more rest to the pitchers who are healthy, either by rolling with a six-man rotation from time to time or strategically picking moments to skip regular starters for a turn to take an extra breather. In a 162-game marathon, those can be valuable luxuries.
The main advantage, though, for this quantity approach is that there are now more options for someone to emerge and separate themself as the clear number three in the rotation, and perhaps more than one will. The options to start the year would seemingly be Hill and Wacha along with Nick Pivetta, plus Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock waiting in the wings. And then as the year goes on Paxton will eventually join, and prospects like Connor Seabold, Josh Winckowski, Kutter Crawford, Brayan Bello, and perhaps Bryan Mata and Jay Groome could all get chances. The odds of even half of those pitchers actually earning the confidence to be a consistent big-league starter is slim, but with that many names logic would dictate that the odds are solid for at least one or two to do so.
That logic is not always as enticing as it may seem at first glance, however. It is true that over an infinite amount of time, or given equal chances at the same level, that would be the case, but there are only so many chances that can be given in one rotation, and the season only lasts so long. Perhaps there are two pitchers in that group who could pitch to above-average numbers in a major-league starting role, but it could also take three months to actually see them pitch. In the meantime, lesser pitchers could be taking their place and the games they start count towards the standings, too.
The key, as we’ve already been saying so much this offseason, is what else is to come. The rotation was a clear area of focus starting the winter, but it wasn’t the only one. Boston still could use some help up in the middle in the infield, and the bullpen is sorely lacking top-end talent. It’s fair to want to avoid a big splash in the rotation — especially with some of the fit issues with this year’s class — and instead use bigger chunks of your self-imposed budget on those other areas of need.
Ultimately, I do think it’s fair to be underwhelmed with the rotation plan that we’ve seen, assuming this is the end of the real moves made to shore up this area of the roster. There was a good argument for targeting one of the higher-end pitchers and sacrificing on adding quality depth given what’s already on the depth chart. In fact, that’s still the route I think I’d have gone. That said, it’s also a strategy that is easier said than done in this year’s market, and there are real reasons to be intrigued by both the pitchers they’ve just signed and the ones like Houck and Whitlock who now seemingly have an easier path to big-league starts.
And, most importantly, the offseason is not yet over, even if it may feel like it is depending on how long this transaction freeze lasts. There are still players available who can help those other areas of need, and assuming they are addressed, that in combination with this rotation buoyed by a quantity of solid, if flawed, options they can win a good number of games in 2022. They’ll need some luck to go their way, but who couldn’t use that?