The Boston Red Sox augmented their pitching staff in recent days, first signing right-hander Michael Wacha to a one-year contract and then reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal with left-hander James Paxton that also includes a two-year club option for the 2023-24 seasons.
Neither pitcher is a lock to crack the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2022, although Wacha seems like a safe bet at this point in the offseason. Paxton is recovering from Tommy John surgery he underwent in April and probably won’t be available until midway through the upcoming Major League Baseball campaign.
More moves certainly could be on the horizon. The number of free agent options available has dwindled, but the trade market represents another avenue for targeting starters. Which isn’t to say the Red Sox will swing a blockbuster for a high-profile ace. But Boston definitely could use another mid- or back-of-the-rotation arm in wake of losing Eduardo Rodriguez, who signed a five-year contract with the Detroit Tigers. (The Red Sox declined their options on Martín Pérez and Garrett Richards for 2022.)
Let’s assess how the Red Sox’s rotation looks after the additions of Wacha and Paxton.
Sale returned in August after recovering from Tommy John surgery. The results were mostly solid in nine regular season starts, but he struggled in the postseason. Him returning to his former All-Star form in his age-33 campaign obviously would go a long way toward stabilizing the unit.
Eovaldi was excellent in 2021, finishing fourth in American League Cy Young voting after going 11-9 with a 3.75 ERA, a 2.79 FIP, a 1.19 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts to just 1.7 walks per nine innings across 32 starts. He should be a steady source of reliable innings in 2022 — his age-32 season and the final year of his Red Sox contract — but there’s inherently some injury risk attached given the two Tommy John surgeries he’s undergone in the past.
Pivetta is somewhat of a wild card. He was good at times in 2021 — his first full season with the Red Sox after coming over in a trade from the Philadelphia Phillies in August 2020 — but there were some hiccups along the way. He finished the regular season with a 9-8 record, a 4.53 ERA, a 4.28 FIP, a 1.30 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 31 appearances (30 starts) spanning 155 frames.
These three seemingly are locks to begin the season in Boston’s rotation.
THE NEW GUYS
Wacha is coming off an up-and-down 2021 with the Tampa Bay Rays, posting a 5.05 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 124 2/3 innings. The 30-year-old made adjustments down the stretch, however, suggesting he could become a valuable contributor, so long as expectations are tempered. He, alone, probably won’t be enough to offset the loss of Rodriguez.
Paxton, meanwhile, is a fascinating, albeit unpredictable, addition. The best-case scenario is him returning at some point in 2022, recapturing his old magic and helping the Red Sox push for the playoffs, setting up an easy decision for Boston to exercise his two-year club option for 2023 and 2024. He presumably won’t be available come Opening Day, though, which the Red Sox must take into account.
Houck and Whitlock more or less are in the same situation: They could start the season in the bullpen, where they’ll be counted on for multi-inning appearances, before filling in as starters when needed. Their performance during spring training also could help determine their 2022 roles.
Each is young (they’re both 25) with upside. Houck already has starting experience at the major league level, whereas Whitlock, a Rule 5 draft pick, was used exclusively as a reliever in his first season with Boston. The Red Sox might want five proven, veteran starters in tow, with Houck and Whitlock representing the “next men up” to begin 2022.
OTHER DEPTH OPTIONS
The Red Sox might add to this mix in the coming months. You never know. But it’s fair to assume these four pitchers will begin the season in the rotation at Triple-A Worcester, with Seabold and Winckowski having the most upside.
It sure seems like the rotation to begin 2022 will include Sale, Eovaldi, Pivetta and Wacha, which means a fifth spot remains up for grabs, assuming the Red Sox deploy a traditional five-man unit.
Paxton could slide into that spot at some point. As could Houck or Whitlock. But it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Boston add another starter before Opening Day, as there have been countless examples of teams’ starting pitching depth being tested early and often amid a 162-game grind.