Before the ink dried on David Price‘s spanking new $217 million contract with Boston, the Red Sox pitching rotation had already improved by leaps and bounds over the incredible disappointment of the 2015 Sox staff. Last pre-season they were heralded as potentially “5 aces” by manager John Farrell. Turns out they were 5 middle-of-the-road, back-of-the-rotation starters, just as their previous pitching records and track records had indicated.
The 2015 staff looked eerily similar to the 1997 staff, which ended up being the bridge year between Clemens and Pedro. The Sox had put together a staff of average starters, hoping one or two of them would jump into the ace role. The Sox were banking on youngsters Aaron Sele or Jeff Suppan would blossom into a top of the rotation starter, backed by vets Tom Gordon and Steve Avery. In all, with Tim Wakefield rounding out the rotation, the five starters would only combine for 44 wins that season. In 2015, the Sox were banking on youngsters Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly to make the jump, backed by vets Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson. By the end of the year, Masterson was on the street and the five original starters – with Wade Miley as the 5th starter – would only combine for 41 wins. The Red Sox are happy the Lester-to-Price bridge year is over.
In the off-season, newly-hired GM Dave Dombrowski made some bold changes to not only the rotation, but the bullpen, bolstering a weak point of the team into, arguably the strongest point of the team. In saying that, let’s examine the new-look Sox pitching staff:
With David Price, the Sox finally have their missing ace. No longer do they have “5 aces”, but they do have a true captain of the rotation that they can count on – for the regular season, anyways. Price’s big criticism is his tendency to choke in playoff games.
His career playoff record is 1-7, with his only win coming against the Sox in a 2008 relief appearance. Funny enough, he notched his first playoff win before he even had a regular season win. In his next 8 years in the majors, he would rake up 104 regular season wins, and zero in the post-season. However, if you watched his performances in the 2015 playoffs, David Price was far from bad.
He was good, not dominant, but I always had this feeling he could turn it up a notch, if he had the confidence in his offense, and defense behind him, which to this point he has not. The playoff record is a valid concern, but the Sox’s first goal in this rebuild is to get there and David Price will help with that.
After Price, the Sox rotation looks similar to last year, but now with the pressure of being “5 aces” gone, and instead of everyone looking for all starters to achieve, all eyes are on #24. This means that the remaining starters; Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello will be able to relax a bit more, and not have such high expectations. Some pitchers just don’t pitch well under pressure from fans and media, especially in this town, and it appeared the entire pitching staff fell under that vail. Jon Lester clearly wasn’t fazed by it, but Sox management at the time felt he wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t be. They were obviously wrong. And even with the pressure off, if starters 2-5 don’t achieve, they know guys like Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Matt Barnes will be looking for the opportunity to make the jump to the big club as a regular starter. All starters and call-up spot-starters had flashes of success last year, and that can only make you feel good about this rotation going into 2016.
Before Dave Dombrowski said he was done wheeling and dealing for this off-season, he shipped 5th starter Wade Miley and a prospect to Seattle for power reliever Carson Smith and fringe starter Roenis Elias. Add Elias to the list of youngsters looking for the chance to make the jump into the rotation. He chalked up 15 wins for a disappointing Mariners team over the last two years. Smith, on the other hand, rounds out the bullpen nicely. He will likely be your seventh inning guy, and potential set-up man if Uehara or Tazawa struggle. We’ve also forgotten to mention Craig Kimbrel, the newly-acquired closer, to firm up the back-end of the bullpen after Koji’s shaky, injury-shortened 2015 campaign.
If you’re a Sox fan, it’s hard to not be satisfied with the moves Dumbrowski has made to the pitching staff. In a few short weeks he’s added the much-needed ace, a solid closer and turned the bullpen around. If you’re still upset about the Lester situation, you have every right to be, but it’s unfair to compare Lester to Price. You can’t have Lester now, he’s gone and will be gone for years. Maybe the Sox overpaid for Price, but sometimes you have to set the market. If you need an ace, you have to go get an ace, and that’s what the Red Sox did, and it’s hard to be upset about that.
Mike Lovasco – Follow me on Twitter @BSMike
Boston Sports Analyst, Spark Sports