Red Sox Rotation Offseason Outlook: Will Boston Finally Land An Ace?

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October 13, 2015

A lot happened in 2015. You?d just never know it by the overriding theme going into the offseason.

The biggest critique of the Boston Red Sox entering last season was their lack of a true No. 1 starter. That skepticism was warranted, just as it?s fair to question Boston?s rotation six months later.

The Red Sox still don?t have an ace and are coming off a campaign in which pitching was the team?s biggest issue. Boston?s pitching prospects offered some reason for optimism, but it?s obvious new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski needs to tweak the rotation this winter.

Let?s assess the situation.

2015 at a glance
There were improvements, to be fair. Those highlights were offset by the lowlights of the Red Sox?s rotation, though, and it would behoove Boston to be open-minded when building a starting five for 2016.

The Red Sox?s 2015 Opening Day rotation included Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson.

Buchholz pitched like an ace for three months but didn?t make a start after July 10. Porcello was awful for most of the season. Miley was as advertised, for better or worse. Kelly was demoted before returning, rattling off eight consecutive wins and eventually being shut down in September. And Masterson made it until May before he was placed on the disabled list amid a horrendous stretch and until August before the Red Sox cut bait with him entirely.

Eduardo Rodriguez made his first major league start in late May and locked down a permanent spot in Boston?s rotation by pitching well. The 22-year-old had some stinkers sprinkled in, but it?s easy to see why some think he has top-of-the-rotation potential. He went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts.

Henry Owens debuted Aug. 4 and stuck around for the remainder of the season. The 23-year-old didn?t quite pop like Rodriguez. And he, too, laid a few eggs along the way. But Owens showed promise in his first taste of the bigs, posting a 4-4 record and a 4.57 ERA in 11 starts.

Steven Wright, Rich Hill, Craig Breslow, Matt Barnes and Brian Johnson also made starts for Boston. Wright, Barnes and Johnson could fit into the future plans somehow — Johnson was considered one of the Red Sox?s top pitching prospects before being shut down with elbow discomfort — but it?s hard to imagine any cracking the Opening Day rotation, unless Johnson rounds out an overhauled unit.

Overall, the Red Sox ranked 24th in Major League Baseball with a 4.39 rotation ERA. Boston?s rotation posted a less-than-impressive 1.33 WHIP.

It should be noted that the Red Sox rotation?s 3.92 FIP ranked 11th in the majors and fifth in the American League, though, meaning Boston?s defense often was the problem.

Whose job(s) to lose?
Change is inevitable and no pitcher should be off limits as far as trades go. That makes projecting an exact rotation a fruitless exercise until we gather more information on who is available from other teams and which free agents the Red Sox are interested in.

Based on the current in-house options, it?s not hard to envision a rotation featuring Porcello, Miley and Buchholz.

Porcello turned things around down the stretch, going 4-4 with a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts after coming off the DL. He also is entering the first year of a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension that makes him almost impossible to move.

Miley wasn?t flashy and the Red Sox probably wouldn?t balk at trading the left-hander if it made sense. But Boston could do worse than rounding out its rotation with Miley, who went 11-11 with a 4.46 ERA in 32 starts. He?s a lock for close to 200 innings, which holds value, particularly as a back-end starter.

The Red Sox almost certainly will exercise Buchholz?s $13 million club option. It?s impossible to ignore his production when healthy, so even if the Red Sox consider trading him, that price tag makes keeping him under team control for the time being a no-brainer.

Dombrowski has gushed over Rodriguez since joining the Red Sox, so perhaps he should fall under this category, too. Owens then seems like a logical fifth hurler for the purposes of this exercise — edging out Kelly — though, as mentioned previously, external options figure to enter the mix before Opening Day.

Notable prospects (Opening Day age)
Michael Kopech, RHP (19)
Kopech was suspended 50 games in July for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. He turned heads before that, though, showcasing a high-90s fastball en route to posting a 2.63 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts) with Single-A Greenville.

Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP (22)
A second-round pick in 2013, Stankiewicz isn?t flashy. But his four-pitch mix and his 6-foot-4 build make him a pitcher worth monitoring.

Trey Ball, LHP (21)
The Red Sox have high hopes for Ball, who they drafted No. 7 overall in 2013. He?s had a rollercoaster professional career to this point, but the potential is there. He?s just really raw, especially having been drafted as a two-way player.

Anderson Espinoza, RHP (18)
Don?t expect to see Espinoza pitching in the shadows of the Green Monster in 2016. But expect to hear a lot about the Venezuelan right-hander moving forward. He is surging up the Red Sox?s prospect rankings thanks in large to electric stuff that has sparked comparisons to Pedro Martinez.

Offseason prediction
The Red Sox will add two impact starters: one free agent and one via trade.

Go ahead and speculate on the names. David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann are among those slated to hit the open market. And juicy trade speculation frequently has centered on the likes of Chris Sale and Sonny Gray despite their availabilities being unknown.

The Red Sox are going to make moves with regard to the rotation, though, and judging by Dombrowski?s aggressiveness and love for power pitching, it?s reasonable to expect at least one big splash, maybe two.

Price would be a great addition despite his shaky playoff track record and heated history with David Ortiz because he?s thrived in the AL East. Trading for either Sale or Gray would cost a fortune in the way of prospects, but they?re young, cost-controlled and nasty. Tyson Ross of the San Diego Padres and Carlos Carrasco of the Cleveland Indians also would be intriguing trade targets.

I predicted in August the Red Sox would trade for Stephen Strasburg. I?m not ready to rule that out, though I think Dombrowski?s arrival increases the chances of them splurging for a high-priced free agent.

Thumbnail photo via USA TODAY Sports Images

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