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Red Sox would be wise to hang onto starting pitching depth

Posted by Adam Kaufman  February 12, 2014 03:13 PM

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Jon Lester 6.jpg

An overabundance of starting pitching? Heaven forbid.

Truth be told, as the saying goes, these things tend to work themselves out. Barring a move in the next few days, the Red Sox will enter spring training with as deep a rotation as they’ve had in years.

As far as we know, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Dempster are all healthy. So is Felix Doubront, along with strong-armed and largely untested prospects Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo, and Henry Owens.

Will all of these men make Boston’s Opening Day roster? Of course not, nor should they. Plenty, particularly those latter few names, are in need of more seasoning in the minors.

Still, the above list features a bona fide six-man rotation, along with a spot-starter or two in the bullpen. Is this a problem? More like a luxury.

Many folks this offseason have been clamoring for more activity from the Sox on the transaction wire. In the spirit of hanging onto young arms, that pretty much starts and ends with dealing a veteran back-of-the-rotation hurler like Peavy or Dempster. Each is due north of $13 million in 2014, the last year of their respective contracts, and it would be logical to package either for offensive depth in the outfield or the left side of the infield.

Personally, I think the Red Sox would be wise to hang onto those arms.

I understand the argument: Couldn’t a guy like Workman give Boston pretty much the same production as Peavy or Dempster, and at a fraction of the price? Possibly, even probably.

But, history has shown – and think back to some of those chilly nights in October when the staff posted a baseball-best 2.59 ERA (the starters had a 3.29 ERA) – pitching wins championships. Veteran arms are typically at the top of teams’ trade deadline wish lists every July, and that’s no exception on Yawkey Way.

Clay Buchholz 5.jpg

The reason is because, save for 2004 when the Red Sox’ starters took every single turn throughout the regular season, injuries and inconsistency strike. A little extra manpower could conceivably alleviate some of the stress put on those pitchers over the course of a long season with some built-in maintenance days. That, by the way, will be equally if not more important for a group of aging extra-taxed relievers, who will have more company in the ‘pen by virtue of an overstaffed rotation. Worth noting, the season begins on March 31 with 26 games in 28 days.

Consider the potential question marks among the starters:

Lester was a pseudo-ace, aside from when he was putrid for six weeks to the point where some wondered if he’d even make the playoff rotation. Buchholz was light’s out in 2013 – for 16 starts. Lackey? Will the 35-year-old be just as motivated as he was coming off of Tommy John Surgery? Peavy, 33, isn’t exactly immune to the infirmary in recent years. Could the soon-to-be 37-year-old Dempster break down? How will Doubront respond if he’s in line for bullpen duty to start the year? And, suppose Workman or one of the rookies couldn’t hack it as a full-time major league starter right away?

John Lackey 3.jpg

Do the Red Sox really want to be chasing one of these same types of guys down, as they did with Peavy last year, a few months into the season when someone struggles? Do they really want guys like Webster or others who aren’t quite ready taking turns on the mound in crucial situations?

More often than not five-man rotations just aren’t enough anymore, which was well outlined recently on Fangraphs. Its study of the 2013 season showed that sixth and seventh starters across Major League Baseball combined for 967 starts, an average of 32 per team, and 5,097 innings, or 170 per club. In Boston, six pitchers outside of the projected starting five totaled 28 starts last year. In summary, depth – quality depth – is a borderline necessity.

Now, does this suddenly make all of the Sox’ starters untouchable? That’s silly, but there’s a difference between listening to trade offers and actively shopping players.

Keep in mind the new direction John Farrell's lineup has taken in the upcoming season with three youngsters in Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, and Jackie Bradley Jr., or potential uncertainties like Grady Sizemore and the elder David Ortiz and A.J. Pierzynski. As good as the Sox’ pitching was in 2013, the offense led all of baseball in runs. This year, that’s unlikely to occur and what happens on the mound could prove to be the difference.

So often in baseball, fans ask if their favorite teams have enough starting pitching. For now, that answer in Boston is yes, and I’d like to see the Red Sox keep it that way.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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