Archive for the ‘Red Sox Starting Pitchers’ Category
Finally getting around to writing my mid-season thoughts on the Red Sox.
Start at the Top
Think he has contributed more than he is not Bobby Valentine – manager John Farrell deserves major kudos in the team’s turnaround.
Got the team off to a good start. Communicates well with coaches and players. Has turned to the team leaders to lead – and let them lead. Effectively juggled a lineup that has gone through some injuries. Kept a bullpen contributing – even with its top-two closer options washing out.
And GM Ben Cherington has done his job (giving him a pass on moving Mark Melancon – don’t think it was going to happen for Melancon in Boston). Brought in some good veterans like Koji Uehara, who saw him playing the role he currently is? Although I would like Mike Napoli to hit for power again. And (at least from this distant vantage point) has not interfered with the manager.
Looking at the players. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz have been awesome (wasn’t so sure about Big Papi during Spring Training).
Never thought I would write this: I like John Lackey – he’s Boston’s number one pitcher right now.
Scoring one or more big victories in the trade deadline scramble for players is important. Boston has a little first place cushion – and there is big incentive in winning a division, so that’s the goal here. The team should make the deals to position itself for first (both on the field and psychologically for the players).
Looking ahead, the team has a tough second half schedule – with lots of games with AL East competitors. Navigating through the inevitable ups and downs (I am expecting some downs coming) will be key for Farrell and the players.
Glass Half Empty Perspective
Some of the landmines Boston needs to navigate through were adeptly covered by Gordon Edes, the highlights:
- What can the Red Sox get from Clay Buchholz? We will get an idea what the Boston brass thinks at the trade deadline. If they pay a heavy price for a top-line starter, figure Buchholz anxiety was part of the decision driver.
- While we are discussing pitching – what about Jon Lester? Didn’t think I would need to say this – but he is no longer a top-two guy in the rotation – and maybe not even a number three. The Sox need Lester to be at least a three to make a deep playoff run.
- Already mentioned Napoli – but him and Will Middlebrooks were considered key sources of right-handed power. Right now, both are AWOL. This needs to be addressed. I am thinking it will be Xander Bogaerts who gets the assignment in August.
Ending on a Happy Note
Despite the potential obstacles, still like the Sox chances for making the playoffs.
The team has shown itself to be talented (closer to the Terry Francona Era than the 2012 crew) and resilient.
The AL East is tough but every team has flaws (have you looked at the Yankees’ lineup lately?) – including Boston.
The Red Sox are winning big at home (15 games above .500) and more than holding their own on the road (second most road wins of any AL team).
Despite the great first half, I sense fans are still holding back on their expectations for this team. And that appears to be a good place for this scrappy (dare I write, Dirt Dog) team.
How do you think the Red Sox will fare in the second half of the season?
Justin Upton exercised the no trade clause in his contract to reject Arizona trading him to Seattle.
The rumored players heading from the Mariners were four young players: one of right-hander Taijuan Walker and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, plus infielder Nick Franklin, lefty Charlie Furbush, and right-hander Stephen Pryor.
Upton would look pretty good in the Red Sox line-up.
What would a comparable trade package from Boston look like?
With the understanding that Upton also has Boston on his no trade list. (Give him more money or extend his contract to change his mind.)
- Walker. Matt Barnes, the Red Sox best pitching prospect, probably falls below Walker. If deal had Hultzen or Paxton, then Barnes is an equivalent.
- Franklin. Red Sox comparables are probably either Jackie Bradley Jr. or Garin Cecchini (a third baseman who would fill an organizational need). (Shout out to John Sickels for his evaluations of the Seattle and Boston farm systems.)
- Furbush. He is a decent reliever who does not reach free agency until 2018. That means Red Sox lefties Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales (both free agents in 2015) may not be seen as equal values. Felix Doubront (free agent in 2018) fits the mold – but is a better player than Furbush (he could balance the Walker/Barnes differential, if that was a trade component). Other possibilities among righties: Alfredo Aceves and Clayton Mortensen.
- Pryor. He’s a young bullpen power arm. Maybe Daniel Bard is a fit. Junichi Tazawa is too much. Alex Wilson would be appealing to Boston if Arizona saw value in him. Or lefty Drake Britton.
So what’s a trade look like?
At its costliest – probably something like: Upton for Barnes, Cecchini, Doubront and Bard. That feels like too much for Boston.
Or maybe Boston can get Arizona to accept Miller or Morales in Doubront’s place.
Or an alternative: Upton for Barnes, Cecchini, Aceves (does he have value?) or Mortensen, and Britton. This probably feels “light” to Arizona.
This off-season, Boston GM Ben Cherington has been pretty clear about his non-interest in trading prospects.
However with an Upton trade, we are talking about a 25 year-old elite talent. Barnes is just three years younger – and has not yet pitched in the big leagues. Upton has been in the majors for six seasons.
Of course, Upton must have some warts (otherwise, why would Arizona even be thinking about trading him?).
But we are talking about a five-tool player who is under contract for three more years.
Should the Red Sox go after Upton? What do you think it would take to make the trade?
If the Red Sox are going to create the next Great Red Sox Team – a team that can annually be a top contender for a string of years like the club formed under former manager Terry Francona – developing a top-flight starting pitcher is one of the key building blocks.
The Francona-led team developed Jon Lester – who until last season looked like a world-beater, going 76 wins – 34 losses in his MLB career prior to 2012.
We are seeing this off-season how difficult – and expensive – it is for a team to add a number one or two starter.
The power behind the Dodgers’ costly acquisition of Zack Greinke ($158 million) is they already had Clayton Kershaw (home-grown) on board to be their number one.
The Blue Jays acquired a Cy Young winner (R.A. Dickey) but at a heavy price to their organization – delivering more to the Mets than what the Red Sox were probably willing and able to deal, even with Boston having a strong farm system.
Both of these acquisitions provide proof points on how last year’s Gio Gonzalez trade by the Nationals was a masterstroke. Getting a top pitcher at a reasonable cost in prospects.
For the Red Sox to contend in the AL East in 2013, getting Lester and Clay Buchholz to pitch like number one and two starters is a must.
That’s probably one of the key reasons John Farrell was brought back to Boston to manage.
Farrell knows both pitchers – and had good success as a pitching coach with the Red Sox.
Based on the current off-season, GM Ben Cherington and Farrell are betting Lester and Buchholz can deliver – otherwise, we would have seen more aggressive moves on the pitching front.
Looking at a longer horizon, it appears Boston believes they can develop a top starter from among Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Henry Owens.
Says Cherington, “We have some guys we really believe in. I know that from my standpoint, building a team not just for one year but over a longer time horizon, it sure is valuable to have young players with the ability to make an impact to sort of pencil into a spot here and there.”
Getting one or more of these pitchers to step up as a quality major league starter will help us judge both Boston’s ability to develop pitching and Cherington’s eye for evaluating young talent.
Perhaps closest to contributing to the big league club is De La Rosa, who says he has now mastered the change-up under the tutelage of Pedro Martinez, which obviously would be a great pitch for anyone’s arsenal.
Identifying the Keepers
The Red Sox have a top-tier farm system.
Baseball America expert Jim Callis recently ranked Boston as having the fifth best minor league talent in all of baseball.
Developing that talent. Identifying which ones are keepers; which ones are expendable. Dealing non-keepers at the height of their potential value. These will be key measures in determining Cherington’s success as a general manager.
It is important to note: Typically about 60 percent of top pitching prospects don’t succeed in the majors – here’s a good analysis.
Determining who could be a star among Barnes, De La Rosa, Webster and Owens (if any of them) – and which players the team can “sell high” to acquire “better” talent are vital to the team’s long-term success.
How would you rank Boston’s top pitching prospects? And do you see any of them as “sure bet” big leaguers?
Recently, Bill James released his projections for 2013 player performance.
And because of his position with the Red Sox – James is a senior advisor of baseball operations – these projections have special meaning because they reflect (at least to some extent) what the front office is thinking.
That makes Jon Lester’s projection particularly interesting.
Lester’s projected numbers:
- 12 – 12; 3.71 ERA; 3.62 FIP
That’s not number one starter performance – not an anchor who can carry a team on his shoulders.
Let’s look at James’ projections for other AL East top starters (source: FanGraphs):
- David Price, Rays – 16 – 9; 3.13 ERA; 3.34 FIP
- CC Sabathia, Yankees – 16 – 10; 3.28 ERA; 3.16 FIP
- Josh Johnson, Blue Jays – 13 – 9; 3.21 ERA; 3.08 FIP
- R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays – 16 – 8; 3.58 ERA; 3.76 FIP
The top Orioles starters stack up even worse than Lester:
- Wei-Yin Chen, 10 – 11; 3.92 ERA; 4.35 FIP
- Jason Hammel, 8 – 10; 4.30 ERA; 4.06 FIP
These numbers don’t bode well for the Orioles returning to contender status. Figure Baltimore as a potential home for free agent Kyle Lohse or making some other pitching move.
Back to Lester and the Red Sox
Using James’ projections, the Red Sox view Lester as a .500 pitcher.
And James doesn’t see the rest of the starting staff much differently:
- Clay Buchholz, 12 – 11; 3.64 ERA; 4.01 FIP
- Ryan Dempster, 11 – 10; 3.74 ERA; 3.71 FIP
- John Lackey, 12 – 12; 4.05 ERA; 3.82 FIP
- Felix Doubront, 12 – 11; 3.70 ERA; 3.94 FIP
That’s a starting rotation that projects to deliver 59 wins and 56 losses. Meaning the team needs 23 wins from elsewhere to get over .500.
Doesn’t sound like a playoff contender.
Last season’s issues weren’t about scoring runs – the Red Sox were fifth in the American League in runs scored.
It was about pitching – particularly top of the rotation performance.
Boston manager John Farrell has his work cut out for him – getting Lester and Buchholz to deliver – season-long – at a high level.
Do you think Lester and Buchholz can return to form as top starters in 2013?
The top off-season player acquisition target for the Red Sox – if they are to contend in 2013 – is landing a number one starter.
Based on last season’s performance, neither Jon Lester nor Clay Buchholz can be counted on to be the pitching staff’s ace.
John Lackey is a crap-shoot – coming off of Tommy John surgery and delivering mediocre results for the Red Sox before the injury.
Felix Doubront is promising but at this point is a back-end of the rotation guy. And who knows what Rubby De La Rosa can provide.
The Red Sox need a big winner who can eat innings.
Enter R.A. Dickey, the likely Cy Young winner who is on the Mets.
Under normal circumstances, there is no way Dickey would be on the market.
But the Mets are a mess on the field. Dickey is 38 years old and has one year left on his contract.
To quote Mets GM Sandy Alderson on dealing Dickey, “I think it’s always been a possibility. I think that’s always been understood by R.A., by his agent, by us. It doesn’t mean it’s the preferred avenue but … it’s always been assumed as part of the equation.”
Alderson also said, “It would be a little unusual to trade a Cy Young winner, but I can remember a time when we traded for the leading hitter in the National League at the time, so it happens.”
Is there a team and manager in baseball that has more combined experience in dealing with a veteran knuckleballer than the Red Sox and John Farrell – based on the experience with Tim Wakefield?
Boston knows a knuckleballer can pitch successfully in his late thirties – and even into his forties.
Any Other Number One Options?
One reason to zero in on Dickey – the top-tier pitcher market is pretty thin (as one would expect).
- Justin Verlander – This Tiger is going nowhere.
- Felix Hernandez – Let’s take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at his word: King Felix is staying in Seattle.
- Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee – Probably not moving from Philadelphia but worth a phone call to check out. Both would fit as Dickey alternatives.
- CC Sabathia – Yankees ace is staying put.
- Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers are looking to extend him.
- Jered Weaver – Angels have dumped two starters and Zack Greinke is a free agent, Weaver is staying with Los Angeles. Boston should investigate Greinke as a free agent – but I don’t see him as a fit at Fenway at the mega-price tag he is expected to command.
- David Price – Maybe is pricing himself out of Tampa Bay – but unlikely Rays would move him to Boston (but the Red Sox should inquire).
- Matt Cain – Giants are not dealing this ace.
What a Dickey Deal Would Take
One would figure there would be a strong trade market for Dickey – despite his age and contract situation.
The Mets are building – so they would want youth but close to the majors.
Start with a young starter like De La Rosa, Matt Barnes or Allen Webster.
Add in Ryan Lavarnway – depending on how the Mets evaluate him. If they see him as a potential starter, he would be a good piece to include since New York needs a catcher.
Then include an outfielder such as Bryce Brentz or Ryan Kalish (given the injury history – probably not high on the Mets list).
And close it out with a strong prospect who is a ways away like Garin Cecchini (his brother is in the Mets organization) or another young pitcher such as Anthony Ranaudo.
That’s a lot to offer – but the Red Sox would hold onto the organization’s jewels in Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley. They maintain pitching depth, losing only one from De La Rosa, Barnes and Webster – and also keeping Henry Owens.
Among the rest – Lavarnway, Brentz, Kalish, Cecchini and Ranaudo – none are sure-bets (if such a thing exists among prospects).
Another possible trade package direction – include Jacoby Ellsbury, if the Red Sox don’t expect Ellsbury to re-sign with the team. Of course, Ellsbury may not be too attractive to the Mets – if they don’t see an opportunity to retain Ellsbury.
If the Red Sox move Ellsbury, they could look to add a free agent like Shane Victorino to provide a bridge until Bradley is big league ready.
What do you think – should the Red Sox pursue Dickey? If yes, what do you think it would take to get him?
Top priority – after finding a new manager – for the Red Sox this coming off-season is getting the organization’s pitching in order.
Nick Cafardo made the case that the Red Sox need to bring in someone new to establish an organizational pitching program.
Agreed – but that won’t be enough.
Before coming to Boston for the 2011 season, Curt Young was widely seen as an excellent pitching coach – helping Oakland build a stable of quality young pitchers.
Young came to Boston and bombed. Just as the now departed Bob McClure and Randy Niemann have done this season.
It’s the big-league pitchers – not the coaching.
Young didn’t become a dunce when he landed at Fenway Park – witness the playoff contending Athletics pitching staff this season.
The Red Sox need to look at Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and the returning John Lackey – and determine if their openness to coaching is at the right level – because they need to work on improving. Fortunately, Josh Beckett is already gone.
If the pitchers won’t listen or refuse to respond to coaching, move them out of town.
Top of Rotation
The other major league pitching priority needs to be landing a top-tier starter.
A rotation of Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Felix Doubront and maybe Franklin Morales won’t cut it if 2012 is any indicator of future performance.
The top free agents in the coming off-season are not a particularly inspiring list with names like:
- Ryan Dempster, a little old to build a staff around.
- Zack Greinke, not sure Boston/AL East is an environment he will thrive it.
- Jeremy Guthrie, early leader for next season’s Hiroki Kuroda but not a top-tier guy.
- Dan Haren, on the market if the Angels decline his option – and there’s a reason Los Angeles may decline it.
- Edwin Jackson, a back of the rotation pitcher.
- Kuroda, interesting on a one-year deal.
- Kyle Lohse, big year but at age 34 (next season), expect a decline over a long-term deal.
- Paul Maholm, another back of the rotation guy.
- Shaun Marcum, too injury prone.
- Anibal Sanchez, more likely to disappoint than excel.
- James Shields, has been a little down this season; Rays could decline option.
This list tells me that a trade is likely to be the more productive route for the Red Sox in landing a top starter.
The Farm System
The Red Sox have done a poor job lately in developing pitchers – and that factors into Cafardo’s call for revamping the organizational approach and pitching coach leadership.
Development is a two-pronged issue.
Part is scouting and drafting the right talent. The other part is developing the talent. So both aspects will need to be examined.
Before landing Allen Webster from Los Angeles in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, the Red Sox didn’t a starting prospect at AAA Pawtucket or AA Portland that seemed primed to be an above average major leaguer.
Below Portland, it looks like pitching help may be on the way.
This is a big off-season for the Red Sox and GM Ben Cherington. It’s Cherington’s chance to put his stamp on the team and hopefully, right the ship – especially on the pitching staff.
What do you think should be Cherington’s pitching priority?
First on the agenda was a breakfast meeting between Henry and manager Bobby Valentine – which Bobby V. survived with his job.
So what are some the “facts” Boston brass are likely to find?
- The current edition of the Red Sox stinks – 12 games under .500 going after today’s game. Fixing this team is not a tinkering project. It is rebuilding. The Red Sox need to recognize a quick fix with a few moves will not right the ship. And to overlook that point – with a few bandaid moves – will only delay any return to contention.
- Job one is starting pitching – with the highest priority being a number one starter. No one on the current staff is a top-tier starter. Potentially, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester can fill the number two and three starters – but based on 2012 performance, that’s not guaranteed. The most important off-season decision – after whether to fire Valentine – is: can the team land a number one starter via trade or free agency? If that’s not possible in the coming off-season – which is a real possibility – the Red Sox should not “force fit” someone (like a free agent to be Zack Greinke) into the spot. Better to wait a year to land the right pitcher.
- The next fact is Boston needs at least one more starter. Felix Doubront is promising but has been spotty. John Lackey is a question mark until he pitches in games. Franklin Morales looks like a reliever. Daisuke Matsuzaka will be gone once he hits free agency. And let’s try to forget that Aaron Cook ever pitched for the Red Sox (he will be out of our memory by this time next year). Find the next off-season’s Hiroki Kuroda – a solid veteran with a proven track record, okay with a one-year deal – and sign him.
- The kids are not alright. Will Middlebrooks was a Godsend but beyond him, there’s not much in the way of near-term help in the minors. Especially among starting pitchers. Pedro Ciriaco has been a big plus – current slump aside – but doesn’t project beyond a bench player. Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway and Ryan Kalish have not particularly distinguished themselves – I know: small sample sizes. But also, don’t read too much – good or bad – into September performances. The point – except for Middlebrooks, don’t expect much for the youth movement right away.
- And while we are talking Sox prospects – let’s suggest the team totally re-examines how it develops pitching. The only starting pitchers potentially close to the majors that Boston has are Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. I do like Chris Carpenter – and maybe Alex Wilson and Josh Fields as possible bullpen contributors next season. Note: only Wilson is home grown. The Red Sox development machine needs to be cranked up in the pitching department.
- Offensively, the Red Sox are also a mess. The team already knows it has to invest in a big bat to replace Adrian Gonzalez. The two other major offensive decisions relate to David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Big Papi is an all-time great Red Sox – but I would not go two years with him. Old players are more prone to breaking down – witness: Ortiz has been out one month-plus because he got hurt running the bases on a home run. One year, more than market money (like he got for 2012) that’s where I draw the line. And with Ellsbury – he is not a franchise player like his agent Scott Boras calls him. Two out of the last three years have been injury plagued where he missed large parts of the seasons. And while we are at it – where’s the power this year? If Ellsbury wants Carl Crawford money – move him this off-season.
These are a few of the “state of the state” facts that I see for Red Sox. What else would you add?
The Red Sox need to explore the trade market to address their bullpen woes – now.
Pulling Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard out of the pen without adequate replacements has been a disaster.
Given how early it is in the season, it will be very difficult – and costly – to fix but Boston doesn’t have a choice.
Three Closer Targets
Suggest the Red Sox turn to the teams that are don’t have a chance to contend in 2012 and open up the farm system to grab a closer.
Joel Hanrahan. The best option but also the least likely to be moved. While Pittsburgh has no chance to win, they are trying to show their fans success is on the horizon. Moving Hanrahan would smack as another rebuilding sell-off – he is not a free agent until after the 2013 season. That’s why the Sox would need to pay big. Something like Felix Doubront, Ryan Lavarnway and one or two more solid to top prospects (like an Anthony Ranaudo).
Huston Street. San Diego is another team going nowhere. Street is a free agent to be. And the Padres have Andrew Cashner as a closer in waiting. So Street is likely to hit the market sometime this season. The Red Sox might as well pursue this now – rather than waiting until the trading deadline. The trade package for Street would be similar – but probably a little less rich – to what it would take to land Hanrahan.
Grant Balfour. Another free agent after this season – and it’s hard to picture him returning to Oakland. Has had a strong start to the season. The Andrew Bailey deal shows Oakland has respect for Boston’s farm system (Miles Head – part of the Bailey deal – is off to a terrific start in the hitter friendly California League).
More Bullpen Moves
Getting a closer now hopefully stops the bleeding – and buys some time for Bard in the rotation.
But if Alfredo Aceves, Franklin Morales and Vicente Padilla can’t hold the fort in the seventh and eighth innings – Boston needs to look to moving Bard back to the bullpen for the season (not just this week).
The Sox may have starting pitching depth to work with – Aaron Cook in the next week or so (a Doubront replacement if needed) and later Daisuke Matsuzaka in a month or so (potentially freeing up Bard for the pen).
Get the bullpen squared away – and then all’s the Sox need to fix is getting the Big Three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitching like an effective Big Three. I know – no minor task.
Let’s start a review of the Red Sox starting staff with the top three starters.
So far so good for Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz.
Coming into the spring, Buchholz was the big question – looking to rebound from his back woes of last season. Buchholz is looking good. But let’s keep watching as he extends himself deeper into games.
And remember, it was the end of season – not early on – where Lester and Beckett failed. In particular, Beckett, with his poor in-season conditioning, wore down in the stretch. I don’t think new manager Bobby Valentine will let Beckett balloon out of shape during the season. Boston needs more than 13 wins out of Beckett (his 2011 total) to be a playoff team.
Back-end of Rotation
You got to like what Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves have done in Spring Training to this point.
Bard is feeling good as a starter – albeit having only stretched out to three innings. And Aceves is a marvel on the mound.
The other contenders have not done anything to distinguish themselves.
- Aaron Cook had a good outing today – but it was his first of the spring.
- Felix Doubront and Vicente Padilla have been up and down.
- Andrew Miller is battling a tender elbow.
Look for the #5 starter decision to be connected to the bullpen.
Aceves may be just too valuable in front of Bailey and Melancon to move out of the bullpen.
Doubront and Miller are both out of options – and if they don’t make the big league club, the Red Sox will most likely lose them.
If one of them consistently puts together some quality outings in the last weeks of Spring Training, look for Doubront or Miller to start the season in the rotation – but with a short leash, having Aceves, Cook and loser in the Doubront/Miller battle ready to step in if needed.
Lastly, don’t discount Boston looking elsewhere for a starter.
The Red Sox are exploring the starter marketplace. Jim Bowden tweets they made an offer to the Nationals for John Lannan.
Figure Boston needs eight or more starters to get through the season. The Sox have depth – the question is whether it will turn out to be quality depth.