The Fifth Starter…
Four spots in the Red Sox rotation are locked up, and all four pitchers are of quality. But there is still one spot remaining that is yet to be filled. There are options outside of the organization: Derek Lowe, who I would expect to be roughly league average and durable for the next four years. But Lowe would also command a rather hefty price. Ben Sheets, who signed to a two-year deal would be wise, most likely, but Sheets may find someone to give him more than two years, which I personally would stay away from (one year of Sheets would be even better, but two would be fine too). Brad Penny, who could be this years Bartolo Colon, except much more upside. Penny would be a nice addition for a year, but anything more than that, which isn’t built on the basis of a team option, would be too much. John Smoltz, whom I have absolutely no idea where he would pitch, or even if he would pitch (health). But if any team gives him a one year deal, at a relatively cheap price, it would be a good decision.
But the Red Sox have even more attractive in house options, in addition to the ones above that are out-of-house. Clay Buchholz is definitely one of them. That curve, That change, and that fastball in which he can work the other pitches off, brings much intrigue. Clay is the most appealing pitcher, because he has the most talent in the organization (outside of established starters). But as we learned from last year, from the likes of both Buchholz and Phil Hughes, one does not necessarily know what to expect from a young starter, even with great stuff. Although I do have confidence that eventually, Clay will put it together and be, if nothing else, a capable starter. But limiting his innings and having another starter penciled in may be the best thing for not only Buccholz, but the team. Then if he makes some strides in the minors, again, then they can move him into the rotation.
Another option is to let Justin Masterson return to the rotation where he was present for a few starts in the middle of 2008. Via Keith Law, the only scout I read, he has stated that Masterson lacks an effective out-pitch to lefties and opposing teams could stack the lineup accordingly. But of course, maybe Masterson can learn how to retire left-handed hitters a little more efficiently. I don’t know that he develops another pitch, but maybe tailors his sinker a tad more to get them to keep the ball on the ground more often. And I am guessing location would have a lot to do with that. So, easier said than done… Last season, in a rather small sampling, and a partial split of time between the bullpen and the rotation, Masterson’s splits went like this.
Vs. LH hitters: .238/.365/.422
But if Masterson shifts to the five man crew, then someone will need to take over his spot in the bullpen. Ramon Ramirez should be decent. Okajima should be too. Either could be above average without doing too much. And there are a few pitchers in the minors that could potentially come up and throw some relief innings if needed. The Red Sox may even find another way to bring in a reliever, via trade, or free agency. Preferably just a short term contract, low risk, if they choose the free agency route.
There are options, there are choices, and Theo has a lot to do with that. But avoiding a large contract is the best thing they can do, I believe. Sabathia would have been one thing, but Lowe is another. Derek Lowe is a solid pitcher, but it is much easier to find someone close to what Lowe is, and at a club-friendly cost (although Lowe would not be a bad signing). So whether it be Masterson, Buchholz, or Penny, the Sox can fill out the rotation, and the “depth of the rotation” without spending fifteen million a year.