It’s no secret the Red Sox’ recent struggles stem from the starting rotation.
The starting staff — a group composed of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront, Aaron Cook, Daniel Bard, Franklin Morales and Daisuke Matsuzaka — combined to tally a 5.19 ERA in 2012, which ranked 27th in the majors.
In the middle of the season, the Red Sox inched toward a new direction, trading Beckett to the Dodgers. It’s likely the team will also cut ties with Cook and Matsuzaka, who are entering free agency and weren’t very productive in 2012.
With Bard’s status up in the air, it leaves the Red Sox with Lester, Buchholz, Doubront and John Lackey, who is returning to the mound after missing last season with Tommy John surgery.
Although Morales only started nine games in 2012, the southpaw could be primed to compete for a starting job in spring training, considering he was the lone starter to finish with an ERA under 4.50. His shoulder issues, however, could be a concern.
There’s the possibility the Red Sox could give Alfredo Aceves a shot to start next season. Given his questionable behavior toward ex-manager Bobby Valentine toward the end of last season, however, the franchise may still contemplate letting him walk.
That said, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington could fill the rotation vacancy in free agency. He’ll have some options in Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, Hiroki Kuroda, Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy.
Sanchez is a very intriguing option on the market, considering Cherington is familiar with him. Sanchez started his career in the Red Sox organization before he was traded for Beckett in 2005.
But the rotation’s success will hinge on Lackey’s pitching. With a healthy elbow — one that plagued him in 2011 — the 34-year-old could be poised to regain the form that made him a staple of the Angels’ rotation.
John Farrell‘s hiring should help Lester and Buchholz rebound. Under Farrell’s tutelage from 2007 to 2010, the duo blossomed into All-Stars and the skipper has already some tweaks in mind.
For Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, Farrell’s familiarity with the pitching staff was a significant factor in hiring the former pitching coach.
“We wanted someone who could focus on the two major dilemmas of 2013,” Lucchino said. “One was the instability and unreliability of the pitching staff, particularly the rotation. The second was the epidemic of injuries. The manager can’t affect the second, but he and his coaching staff can have a profoundly beneficial effect on the first. We wanted that.”
And the Red Sox hope it’ll jumpstart the rotation’s turnaround.