July 24, 2012 Leave a comment
The Red Sox don’t have a very good starting pitching situation at this point in time. What may seem like a complicated problem actually has one very obvious root cause – there is no one on the Red Sox staff that can be currently considered an “ace pitcher”. At times some (Lester, Beckett) may have been considered an ace but they certainly are pitching like one now. Some (Buchholz, Doubront) have shown flashes but they aren’t quite there yet and who knows if they ever will be. When you look at the teams competing for a playoff spot they all have an ace – The Yankees have C.C. Sabathia, the Tigers have Justin Verlander, the Rays have David Price, the Rangers have Matt Harrison. The Red Sox simply don’t have a guy like that.
Obviously the biggest disappointment is Lester who, at 28, should really be in the prime of his career. Instead his production has taken a nosedive off of a cliff this season. I’m not sure if there is any official explanation to be had at this point in time but I can tell you that his mechanics are a mess. He needs to get back to basics and somebody has got to help him along. Buchholz, like he has his whole career, has shown flashes but injuries continually get in the way of him taking it to the next level. Beckett actually simply is what he is at this point in his career. He’s 32 years old and has been pitching in the majors since he was 21. He’s been a power pitcher his whole career so the downturn in velocity is not unexpected. He doesn’t seem to have the same options as a Roger Clemens did to elongate his career either. Doubront has been excellent this year but at 107 innings pitched for the season he is only 20 innings shy of his professional high of innings in a season. He’ll likely be fatigued as we get into September.
So what’s the solution? Looking on the open market there are nice pitchers but nobody to be considered an ace. Guys like Matt Garza, Fransisco Liriano, and Josh Johnson might be good guys to add to a rotation but none of those guys would be aces that would carry a rotation. Felix Hernandez seems like a pipe dream right now but I suppose stranger things have happened. One note here – the much talked about Hernandez for Lester and Ellsbury deal is very far-fetched and I’m not sure why people keep talking about it. Both Lester and Ellsbury are signed through only next year at a combined salary of $13 million. Hernandez is under contract for two more years at roughly 20 million per year. Assuming that they’d actually sign Lester and Ellsbury to extensions they wouldn’t actually be saving any money. If they don’t sign them they’d simply rent them for a year and a half. It’s going to take prospects, and lots of them, to acquire Felix Hernandez.
So if there is nobody outside the organization to be had then who inside the organization could fill the role? The Red Sox have some nice young arms in their system (Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranuado, Brandon Workman) but none of them are close to being major league ready and some may even wind up in the bullpen by time they get to the majors. Despite what Terry Francona says on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball Daniel Bard is not the Red Sox best pitcher and they’ll be lucky if he can settle into being a solid setup guy let alone an ace. That basically leaves them with what they’ve got. Simply put the only way that the Red Sox will have a top-of-the rotation guy is if one of their current starters gets their heads out of their behinds and starts pitching to their potential.
I can tell you know that it won’t be Josh Beckett. His ace days are behind him. He is best served at this point in time to do the best he can in a #3 or #4 role. His velocity will only decrease with age and he will have to reinvent himself to be effective. I have developed high hopes for the future of Felix Doubront after seeing him pitch this season but even when he is healthy and durable I see no more than a really good #2 starter. He’ll be a guy that you can rely on but he doesn’t have shutdown stuff.
It’s all up to Lester and Buchholz at this point. Lester is really, really bad right now but I guess the one thing that you can hang your hat on is that his drop-off in production is so nonsensical and unprecedented that there is always the chance that he can get it back. He is only 28 years old and he should still have some formidable years left if he can piece it all back together. As for Buchholz I love his stuff when he is on. His problem is his health. He’s had a array of different injuries/illnesses over the years and they all seem to curb his momentum. If he ever had a straight, solid and healthy year like he did in 2010 he might be the best pitcher on the staff. Can these guys put it together? It’s a big if. But I’m not quite prepared to give up on Jon Lester just yet.
On another note regarding the pitching staff I am not terribly impressed with the job that Bob McClure has done but at some point the pitchers have got to just go out there and pitch the way they can pitch. I wouldn’t mind if the Sox just cut ties with McClure and went with assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann in the meantime though.