After freezing for three days in Indianapolis, listening to the front office talk about their "bridge" to 2011, Red Sox fans can’t help but smile this week. Christmas came early, with the Red Sox spending money and making it clear that they will not allow that bridge year to be a step backward.
There has been unanimous praise for the John Lackey signing, and why not? He is a proven winner, a playoff performer, and will be the best No. 3 pitcher in the majors next season.
The Red Sox now have the best rotation in baseball. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Lackey give Boston three aces who would be atop most teams’ rotations. In addition, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield give them as much depth as any team in the bigs.
Let’s look at the current Red Sox starting rotation:
I still put him at the top of the list, only because he is still the ace until he proves otherwise. He is coming off a 17-6 season in which he struck out a career-high 199 batters. He is now in the final year of his contract and will be pitching for megabucks. With Lackey aboard, the Red Sox can negotiate with Beckett from a position of strength. It’s fair to expect a monster year from Beckett, whether it’s his final year in Boston or not.
With all due respect to CC Sabathia, Lester might be the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. He won 15 games last year and threw a career-high 225 innings. He would be the ace on just about any other staff in the league and looks terrific between Beckett and Lackey in any series.
A big Texan who should fit in nicely alongside Beckett. He proved his worth in 2002, becoming the first rookie to start and win Game 7 of the World Series in more than 90 years. He is a proven competitor and was the best pitcher available in the free-agent market.
An 18-game winner two years ago, he will now be able to bounce back from a disastrous season in the relative peace and quiet of the No. 4 spot. With no World Baseball Classic looming, and an offseason dedicated to improving his conditioning, Matsuzaka should blossom behind Boston’s Big Three.
Last year, Buchholz stepped in and filled the void left when Matsuzaka imploded, going 4-1 with a 2.87 in September. It was a big league coming of age for Buchholz, who was the team’s No. 3 starter by the postseason.
Now, Buchholz may be trade bait, but don’t expect to see Adrian Gonzalez walk through that door anytime soon. With Lackey on board, the Red Sox have the luxury of being patient in potential trade talks. They can keep Buchholz pitching, or they can ultimately move him to improve the offense.
Winner of 175 career games with the Red Sox, Wakefield is back after offseason back surgery. Don’t underestimate his value to the team — and don’t forget that he was an All-Star last season.
With six pitchers, he may have to battle for innings early in the season, but as we know, you can never have too much pitching. It’s called the "Bronson Arroyo rule." Theo Epstein learned his lesson after trading Arroyo away for Wily Mo Pena before the 2006 season. Arroyo was traded because he didn’t factor into the team's starting rotation at the start of the season. Headed for the bullpen, Arroyo had more value to the Red Sox in trade.
Fourteen different pitchers started games for the Red Sox that season, and they didn’t make the playoffs. Point being, don’t expect the Red Sox to move a pitcher just because they have six starters on staff.
There are probably more moves to be made, but right now, the Red Sox are a much better team than they were when the week began. Epstein is now dealing from a better position in several areas, meaning the improvement should be felt by Red Sox Nation beyond the short term.