Boston’s Forgotten Man?

By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB

Drew Pomeranz, who seems to have been lost in the shuffle of a suddenly deep rotation, had an unlikely career breakout in 2017.  It was his first full season with the Boston Red Sox.   What made it especially unforeseen was the fact he had stem cell injections into his throwing elbow during that off-season, and then began the regular season on the 10-day disabled list.

Once the lanky lefty was eventually activated from the disabled list, he got off to a rough start before a fateful shouting match with John Farrell in the visitor’s dugout in Oakland sparked a turning point for the season.    Pomeranz went on to finish the year with a 17-6 record, and a 3.32 ERA.   In comparison, Chris Sale had a slightly worse 17-8 record, with a 2.90 ERA, but 100 more strikeouts.    Both players unfortunately went on to get obliterated in their respective ALDS starts against the Houston Astros after apparently running out of gas as Boston coasted into the playoffs.

Much like last year, Pomeranz has begun 2018 on the disabled list.   If all goes well, he will have a minor league rehab start this week, and then according to reports, might join the Red Sox rotation next weekend against the Baltimore Orioles.

Boston has walked the tight rope with the Tennessee native ever since he was acquired from the San Diego Padres shortly before the July 31 deadline in 2016.   His start to that season was impressive enough to make an all star appearance, but struggled the final two months in the Red Sox rotation, going 3-5 with a 4.59 ERA.   As the season was winding down, it was brought to light that San Diego’s G.M., A.J. Preller, had withheld medical information from the Fenway front office, which would have revealed prior elbow inflammation to Pomeranz.   The incident lead to a 30 day suspension for Preller.   Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski had the option of rescinding the trade and re-acquiring his top rated pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza, but ultimately declined that option.

Prior to 2016, Pomeranz had only started 22 games or less during his major league tenure.  During his time with Oakland and Colorado he drifted between the rotation and bullpen.   In the previous two seasons the left hander took the mound for starts of 30 and 32 games respectively, but maxed out at 170 innings each of those seasons before fading down the stretch.

All indications for 2018 is that Pomeranz is expected to be a regular part of the Red Sox rotation, but is that really the smartest move?   Would it perhaps be wiser to put him in a bullpen role to possibly preserve him for the latter half of the season in order to improve his effectiveness?   Especially if Boston is in a tight playoff race with New York?

Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello are all pitching so well, that any or each of the three could conceivably compete for a Cy Young award.   Eduardo Rodriguez has a fully repaired knee, and is slated to return tomorrow (Sunday) against the Rays.  Steven Wright is also finally healthy, and has only seven games remaining on his suspension.   And finally Brian Johnson and Hector Velasquez are pitching solidly enough to hold down the back end of virtually any MLB rotation.   This Red Sox roster has more starting pitching depth than I can ever remember, and collectively has been lights out.

It’s one thing to have depth, it’s another thing for that depth to be healthy.   As 2017 was drawing to a close, we knew Sale and Pomeranz would be starting the first two games of the playoffs regardless of their apparent fatigue.   The big debate was who out of Fister, Rodriguez, or Porcello would start game three?   Fister ultimately got the nod, but none of them were pitching very consistently well during the month of September.

So again, why throw Pomeranz into rotation when Boston has a golden opportunity to efficiently utilize such a large healthy surplus?   The only lefty reliever currently in the Red Sox bullpen is Bobby Poyner, who granted, has been an absolute phenom.  Certainly would not hurt to have one more, especially when we know 140-150 innings appears to be the optimal ceiling for Pomeranz.

The 29 year old is in the final year of his deal, and will be a free agent at season’s end.  Despite the complications along the way, it has proven to be a worthwhile trade.   Given the fact Boston is $35M over the luxury threshold, has the above stated surplus, it’s hard to imagine Pomeranz will be re-signed to another contract.

It would be the ultimate justification for the 2016 trade if Drew Pomeranz played an integral part of a stellar October rotation for Boston.  Or possibly even a critical part of an already dynamic Red Sox bullpen.   There’s no sense being stupid.

He is who he is.


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