The Boston Red Sox’s philosophy is simple: One ace doesn’t guarantee the best hand at the table.
The Red Sox have acquired three starting pitchers — Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson — this offseason, but no one in Boston’s rotation owns a reputation as a legitimate No. 1 starter. The Red Sox aren’t folding their hand without an “ace.” Instead, they’re pushing in all of their chips.
“The guy that takes the mound for us each and every night is our No. 1 starter,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday at the team’s Baseball Winter Weekend event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “If you trace back Jon Lester’s progression, we have guys in our rotation right now that have very similar abilities. Opportunity and performance allows them to evolve into a No. 1 starter.”
The Red Sox traded four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation last season — Buchholz was the only remaining member — so they needed to completely revamp the unit this winter, especially with none of the club’s young starters asserting themselves down the stretch. Lester was a top priority for Boston, but the left-hander signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
The Red Sox turned to Porcello (acquired from the Detroit Tigers), Miley (acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Masterson (signed in free agency) at last month’s Major League Baseball winter meetings after losing out in the Lester sweepstakes. The three acquisitions represent an alternate route, but there are advantages to stockpiling potentially impactful arms that don’t necessarily come with an “ace” label.
“We can honestly expect to contend,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. “It’s not just the five guys, it’s not just 12 pitchers to start the season. It’s the 25 that you use throughout the season. We look at the collection of pitching talent that we have and we believe that we have enough talent to contend for the division.”
Porcello, Miley and Masterson are slated to join a rotation occupied by Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, giving the Red Sox a starting five filled with both potential and questions. It’s reasonable to wonder whether the Sox should kick the tires on James Shields, contact the Philadelphia Phillies about Cole Hamels or call the Washington Nationals about their stacked rotation, but none of the outside noise seems to have any effect on the pitchers currently in tow.
“I think that word’s a little overrated,” Miley said of the “ace” tag. “I think we just need to go out, whoever’s turn it is to pitch. When it’s their turn, just be the best they can be that day and we’ll be fine.”
Kelly has sky-high expectations going into this season, as the right-hander already predicted he’ll win the American League Cy Young. But while that certainly would fall under the “ace” umbrella, he, too, doesn’t see much benefit to handing out titles before the team arrives at spring training.
“I don’t know about the No. 1 thing,” said Kelly, whom the Red Sox acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals before last year’s non-waiver trade deadline. “We had Michael Wacha (in St. Louis) — rookie, was our NLCS MVP (in 2013). No idea what this guy has — media, players, teams – and you wouldn’t be like, ‘Hey, this rookie’s a No. 1.’ But he dominated better than everyone else who’s a No. 1 for a solid month.
“That’s what sports are about, that’s what baseball is about, that’s what pitching is about.”
Porcello would benefit as much as anyone from putting together an ace-caliber season. He’s slated to hit free agency next offseason and could cash in on a lucrative contract, especially since he’s only 26. Porcello, like his teammates, deflected any talk of emerging as Boston’s clear-cut No. 1, though. The results will speak for themselves.
“When you look at the opportunity we’re all being given, I’m not looking for just one of us to step up,” Porcello said. “We all have the potential to step up and do something special.”
The Red Sox don’t have an ace in the hole. They do, however, have five cards strong enough to take down opponents.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images