Teams typically aren’t in any hurry to re-sign a 45-year-old pitcher who’s posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA over 5.00. But when you’re the Red Sox and that pitcher is Tim Wakefield, it only makes sense to bring the knuckleballer back.
But bringing Wakefield back would be far more than a sentimental move, although that’s likely reason enough for Red Sox fans to support such a decision. The club’s top needs this offseason are quite obvious: pitching, pitching and, well, pitching.
Wakefield isn’t a guy who’s going to solve all those problems single-handedly, but he never has been — that’s not his role. Given the current state of the Red Sox’ rotation and bullpen, though, Wakefield’s flexibility is enough of an asset to warrant at least one more go ’round in Boston.
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are aligned to be the team’s top three starters in 2012, just as they were slated to be when entering 2011. But with John Lackey completely out of the picture from the onset this season because of Tommy John surgery and Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s status still up in the air because of his own surgery, the back end of the Sox rotation is a complete mystery.
Surely, Ben Cherington and Co. will do their due diligence this offseason when it comes to finding starting pitching help, but the options are limited. And the options are especially limited when it comes to “buy-low” candidates, which Cherington has expressed a desire to go after.
There’s some veterans to be had on the open market, such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Roy Oswalt, all of whom the Sox could turn to in the hopes of them recapturing their youth. And there’s also your typical slew of back-of-the-rotation starters in Bruce Chen, Chris Capuano, Rich Harden, etc.
That’s all fine and good. It’s very possible the Sox take a flyer on a couple of those guys, or any other number of free-agent starters.
But Wakefield is unique, and it’s not only because he’s defying common logic by still trucking along in the majors in his mid-40s. His ability to take on a number of roles is something that has been invaluable to the Red Sox over the years and could prove to be even more valuable in 2012, considering how uncertain the team’s pitching situation truly is.
Wakefield probably isn’t a guy the Red Sox would necessarily want cracking the Opening Day starting rotation, but then again, how is that different from any of the past three seasons? Yet, each season the Sox continue to turn to him when things go off the tracks.
Is that something the Sox have anticipated? No. Is it something the Sox necessarily wanted? Nope. But they could at least take comfort in knowing that Wake was there to step in and fill any hole that suddenly opens up.
If the Sox are to go with some “buy-low” options to round out the rotation this season, as Cherington indicated, there’s going to be significant risk in that. Whether it’s ineffectiveness or concerns over health, most “buy-low” options are labeled as such for a reason. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense for the Sox to bring Wakefield back in the same role that he’s been occupying for years.
We saw this past season how valuable it is to have a pitcher who can give you innings both in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen. Alfredo Aceves was perhaps the Red Sox’ most vital component down the stretch. Should he make the full-time leap to the rotation in 2012, Wakefield’s ability to wear a number of hats will be even more necessary.
So has Wakefield been ineffective at times the past couple of seasons? Yes. And would it be ideal to have him pitching every five days? Probably not.
But if the Red Sox enter this season without him for the first time in 18 years, they’ll likely regret it when something unforeseen happens. And it will happen. That’s just baseball.
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