By Jonathan Usher – @madduxman
While everyone is concerned about the lineup, or when J.D. Martinez will sign, in my opinion, the rotation may be our biggest concern. There are simply too many “if’s” and question marks surrounding every single starting pitcher currently on the roster. There is very little in the pipeline, for in typical Dave Dombrowski fashion – he has decimated the minor league system, and the cupboards are bare. Jay Groome, Tanner Houck and Bryan Mata are all solid prospects, but years away from contributing to the big league club.
He is clearly the Sox’ ace, and one of the top pitchers in the American League. He is signed next season for 12.5M with a team option of 13.5M in 2019. That is one of the best bargains in Major League Baseball. He can be as dominant as any pitcher in the game – or as ordinary as a post all-star break Chris Sale. His career record after the mid-summer classic is 32-36 with a 3.28 ERA. Hopefully he can turn that around now that the Sox have a new manager. Even though John Farrell was a former pitching coach, Sale was mismanaged and overused last season. While he’s only 28 (29 on March 30th), with his stick-figure frame (6’6” and 180 lbs), it is pretty clear that he should be used more cautiously down the stretch to preserve him a bit for the postseason. I don’t think that will be an issue this year, as the Sox are going to miss the playoffs by a significant margin.
2018 prediction: 15-5 & 2.62 ERA with 2 phantom 10-day DL stints to try to preserve him in the second half. The Sox may shut him down in September – or if they completely implode, they may have learned a lesson from what the Yankees have done recently, and deal him for substantial prospects at the trade deadline. Sale and even Kimbrel would be wonderful trade bait to restock the cupboards.
2 David Price
Where to begin… I think it’s pretty simple really – David Price doesn’t have what it takes to pitch in a high-pressure, big-market city like Boston. His post-season record of 2-8 & 5.03 ERA proves that. In the first 2 years of his whopping 7yr/217M contract with the Sox, he was 23-12 with a 3.84 ERA – not bad, but a far cry from his combined stats in Tampa and Detroit. If he chooses to opt out of his contract after 2018 and run away and hide in a small market somewhere, you wouldn’t see me complaining. He did pitch well out of the bullpen very late in the season, and excellent in the post-season (once again out of the bullpen), but he is a 31M/yr STARTER. If he pitches well, he may opt out (as he has a clause in his contract to do so), just to get out of dodge. If he continues to struggle in his Sox uni, he would be a fool to opt out, as it would cost him tens of millions in lost salary (he would be owed 127M over the last 4 years or 31.67M per year). As of this writing, he still hasn’t started throwing off of a mound at all since the playoffs, but his shoulder feels “great”.
2018 prediction: Starts off strong, but struggles as the season progresses, 11-9 & 3.88 ERA, misses six weeks and demands a trade in the off-season, so the Sox have to eat 40-50M.
3 Rick Porcello
He is the epitome of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the pitching world. He was simply awe-some in 2016, and aw-ful in 2017. After winning the AL Cy Young award and leading the majors in wins in 2016, he fell apart in 2017 as he led the majors in losses and HR allowed. Maybe a change of managers will be beneficial to his consistency, but I doubt it. He has two years and 42.25M left. Hopefully he will be closer to his 2016 self, than his 2017 shell of himself.
2018 prediction: Somewhere in the middle – 11-12 & 4.32 ERA and demotion to 5th starter for his final season in a Sox uni for 2019.
4 Drew Pomeranz
I despised the trade that brought him over here from San Diego. At the time, the Sox gave up their #1 pitching prospect in 18 y/o Anderson Espinoza. However, it worked out pretty well last year, as Drew was easily the 2nd best pitcher in the rotation. Going deep into games is his achilles heel though, and he may need to adjust his style a hair to keep his pitch count down. He regularly eclipses 100 pitches barely into the 5th inning, but may be the #2 pitcher this year if Price cannot stay healthy and Porcello repeats his woeful 2017 performance.
2018 prediction: 6-6 & 3.75 ERA and traded at the All-Star break as the Sox sit in 3rd or 4th place 12 games behind the New York Yankees.
5 Eduardo Rodriguez
Fast Eddie had better start showing some improvement and consistency – FAST. He has shown some flashes of brilliance in his young career, but there seems to be something missing here. He has battled through some freak injuries and alleged tipping of his pitches. Hopefully, proper management and solid mentoring turns him into the #2 starter that we all think he can be. He is rumored to be out through at least April due to off-season knee surgery, but fortunately he is under team control for 4 more years, so there is still time to figure things out. He turns 25 on April 7th, and we need him to excel to help the team avert a distant 3rd or 4th place finish.
2018 prediction: 6-7 4.03 ERA as continued inconsistencies and health issues plague him all year.
6 Steven Wright
His off-field issues are a huge red flag, but I don’t anticipate a lengthy suspension or any long term ramifications from the reports I’ve read. It appears that there were no serious charges or violence other than preventing his wife from making a 911 call for which he was subsequently arrested – and released 12 hours later. So let’s try to focus on the baseball stuff and not his private life.
John Farrell may have completely destroyed his career – even more so than Blake Swihart or Eduardo Nunez. I am not a fan of pitchers running the bases unless absolutely necessary. The injury he suffered while being too aggressive on the bases was 100% preventable. He simply shouldn’t have been out there. He will turn 34 in August of this year, but being a knuckleballer that isn’t necessarily old, and he is under team control through 2020.
2018 prediction: Inconsistencies and injuries hinder him through the first half of the season but he finds his groove as the temperature warms up this summer. I believe he will pitch well enough to battle for the 5 spot in the rotation in 2019, but barely. However, don’t be shocked if he fizzles out and only makes a handful of starts for the rest of his career.
I strongly believe that the Red Sox will turn their focus to pitching in 2018 and 2019, since the Yankees have such a potentially explosive offense not seen in generations. I truly believe that J.D. Martinez will sign a long term deal within the next several days (5 yrs 135M), but if things have turned sour and he feels spurned, look for the Sox to try and sign a starter or two. Alex Cobb AND Jake Arrieta are still out there, as are Yu Darvish and Lance Lynn. Cobb and Lynn would cost the Sox compensatory draft picks since those two pitchers declined qualifying offers from their former teams. That could turn the Sox off completely unless they feel pressured by ownership and media to really go for it in 2018. Either way, I think it is going to be a long summer watching the Yankees dominate the division. A full Season Preview will be forthcoming in the next few weeks once pitchers & catchers report, and most of the free agents finally sign, so stay tuned.
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