Tomase: Don’t get too attached to this Sox rotation, because it’s temporary originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Today’s Red Sox rotation will not be tomorrow’s Red Sox rotation.
The group that has helped lift the team to first place in the American League East is a placeholder. It’s temporary. It should only minimally influence any evaluations of what ensuing seasons might hold.
As we debate whether the Red Sox have enough pitching to compete in 2021, it’s a useful exercise to consider the future. After injuries left the club in opener hell last season, Chaim Bloom and the front office set about ensuring there’d be no repeat of that slog.
They added Garrett Richards, re-signed Martin Perez, and felt good about their ability to develop Nick Pivetta. They returned veteran Nathan Eovaldi and hoped for comebacks from left-handers Eduardo Rodriguez and (eventually) Chris Sale. With prospects Tanner Houck and Connor Seabold in reserve, they believed they had enough to compete. And so far, they’re right.
But just as Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Jonny Gomes were never meant to be a long-term core in 2013 — and indeed, they were soon replaced by Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi, among others — this current rotation is merely a stopgap en route to something more lasting.
That’s useful to remember while watching Richards, for instance, continue to struggle mentally with the idea of throwing a baseball without first coating it in Karo syrup or whatever. The veteran signed a one-year contract with an option for 2022. The Red Sox viewed him as a bridge to a time when they could start introducing pitchers of their own making (or in this case, drafting and developing).
If they decide they can’t handle his woe-is-me act after every start, they can decline his option. If he figures out how to win with the Frank Tanana curveball and new changeup that he debuted vs. the Royals in Monday’s 6-5 victory, then he can return. They retain that option and that flexibility.
They’re similarly not wedded to Perez, who’s perfectly suitable as a fifth starter, but in a perfect world would be upgraded within a year or two.
Perhaps he’s replaced in the rotation next year by right-hander Garrett Whitlock, a rule 5 steal if ever there was one. Whitlock has been a weapon in a multi-inning relief role, but the recent addition of a slider to his fastball-changeup repertoire has (a) helped him get over the hump after an inconsistent May, and (b) demonstrated that he possesses a potential starting mix. The Red Sox are excited about what the future might bring.
Meanwhile, Eovaldi has just one year remaining on the four-year, $68 million contract that he is in the process of salvaging. He may not miss bats at a rate consistent with his easy 100 mph velocity, but he’s in the midst of his best overall season while taking the ball every fifth day. If he continues to produce at this rate, he’ll easily justify $17 million annually. He’ll also be easy to walk away from at age 32 following the 2022 season, his money potentially earmarked for another pitcher who’s either younger or on a shorter-term deal.
They’ll have a decision to make on Rodriguez, who’s eligible for free agency this fall. They also run the risk of Sale returning to his prior form at the end of this year and all of next before opting out of his deal in the fall of 2022. Meanwhile, maybe they’ll draft a future ace like Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter next month.
The entire rotation may soon be in flux, but that’s OK. They’re placeholders who have pitched better than any of us expected. There might even be enough there to make a deep postseason run, but no matter what happens, just remember: this isn’t the rotation of the future.