The Red Sox are having a solid offseason, so far. They have managed to put together a solid lineup, bolster their bullpen, and extend Rafael Devers while also keeping their top prospects and staying under the luxury tax. The 2023 Red Sox are already on pace to outperform last season’s team, even with the loss of Xander Bogaerts. It all looks good on paper if they can stay healthy. However, the Red Sox rotation is still a glaring issue that has many people guessing.
The front office has made it clear that they are not going with a six-man rotation come Opening Day. This brings some question marks because of how many starters the Red Sox currently have. Let’s run through the candidates for the five-man rotation.
We all know the Chris Sale situation. He has struggled to stay off the injured list for about four years now. Granted, the recent IL stint can be considered flukey due to it being because of a line drive which broke his pinky finger. Followed by a mysterious bike accident which may or may not be hard to believe. But nonetheless, Sale is looking to come back strong this season and hopefully still have a glimmer of his dominance from previous seasons.
The real concern this season is if he can stay healthy, of course. When healthy, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. But, we haven’t seen him for a full season since 2019. So there is no telling truly how he will look. But for now, he is given the top of the rotation spot.
Corey Kluber and James Paxton
Corey Kluber and James Paxton can be grouped into the same idea of “low expectations but good potential”. James Paxton hasn’t pitched a full season since 2019 and spent the entirety of last year rehabbing after getting Tommy John in April of 2021. Corey Kluber has also battled injuries in the past couple years but managed to put together a full, solid season last year with the Rays. There is a very slim chance that Sale, Paxton, and Kluber can all remain healthy this season. It’s safe to say the Red Sox know that.
With all this said, whatever the Red Sox do get from these three is a bonus. If it were still 2017, this would be the best top three in baseball. But it’s not. It’s unsure if the long term plan is to put either Paxton or Kluber in the bullpen. But for now, the front office is suggesting they see these two as members of the rotation.
Brayan Bello looked very promising in his 11 starts this past season. The young right-hander finished the season with a record of 2-8 and a 2.71 ERA, however there is much reason to believe he will be much better in 2023. Bello induced a lot of weak contact against hitters in 2022, finishing with a .404 BABIP and only giving up one home run all season.
Brayan Bello has also been training this offseason with Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez. All signs are pointing right for Bello, and it’s safe to say he is earning his spot in this rotation.
The Garrett Whitlock situation is a tricky one. He is arguably the best arm in the bullpen, but the Red Sox are adamant on making him a starter. The bullpen is much improved after several additions this winter, so perhaps the Red Sox did this to give protection with Whitlock moving to the rotation. In Whitlock’s nine starts in 2022, he put up a 4.15 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP over 39 innings pitched.
While there is room for improvement, it should be noted that Whitlock was switched to a starter mid season last year. With time to prepare for the role over the offseason, he should be coming back stronger this year as a starter. Given the Red Sox’s determination to have him as a starter rather than a reliever, it’s safe to presume he holds one of the spots in the five man rotation.
Nick Pivetta’s role in the rotation is one of the most valuable ones: maximize innings pitched. The top three in the rotation are most likely going to pitch a below-average amount of innings. That’s where this gets messy. With the names listed above, they already fill out the five man rotation the Red Sox said they’re going with. Nick Pivetta pitched a career-high 179.2 innings in 2022. That’s 52 more innings than the next closest Red Sox pitcher last year.
We have seen what Pivetta can do from the bullpen before, he’s pretty dominant. However, having a guy who can give you 150+ innings in a season is valuable for a smooth running rotation. It will be interesting to see what the long term plan for Nick Pivetta is.
If there is one player on this roster who has been in the most trade talks this winter, it’s Tanner Houck. But the Red Sox have decided for now that they see potential in him for this season. Houck has proven himself time and time again that he can be a valuable asset to either the rotation or the bullpen. In 32 appearances in 2022, Houck had a 3.15 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP.
But again, this rotation is already full if the Red Sox are truly not going with a 6-7 man rotation. If this is the case, Tanner Houck could be heading to the bullpen. Which is not a bad thing, given he is still a great arm to have and who can go 2-3 innings at a time. For now, Houck seems like the odd man out in the Red Sox rotation, and his future in the bullpen seems most likely.
This Red Sox team is coming together nicely, even with the question marks in the starting rotation. Check out our YouTube channel to watch a season preview of the 2023 Red Sox. Will it all be enough to stay afloat in a strong AL East division?
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