The Red Sox have perhaps the most recognizable rotation in baseball. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka have won a combined 545 games, two of them have pitched no-hitters, five have made All-Star teams and all six are under team control for 2011.
There are no guarantees for any big league rotation, no matter how well-established, and the Red Sox are no exception. Lackey's first season in Boston has been a difficult one; no American Leaguer has allowed more hits and Lackey's ERA (4.60) is higher than it has been in years. Beckett told WEEI that the Red Sox are in a "pretty frustrating" situation and fans hoping for an ERA better than 6.21 from the right-hander surely agree (Beckett's peripherals, it must be noted, remain strong). Meanwhile, Lester and Buchholz have been tremendous and Matsuzaka and Wakefield have pitched as expected.
Those six pitchers have started all but four Red Sox games this year, but the team may have to rely on a more diverse collection of arms in 2011. That shouldn't be a problem for Boston, because they have a number of younger starters ready or nearly ready to contribute in the major leagues.
First of all, there's Felix Doubront, the 22-year-old left-hander who is now pitching well out of Boston's bullpen. Before the Red Sox called him up, Doubront posted a 2.81 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 as a starter in the upper minors. And though Doubront is a reliever now, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein told Alex Speier of WEEI that could change.
"We see him long term as a starter, but like a lot of starting pitchers, the first stage of his big league career might be as a reliever, especially in this organization,” Epstein said.
Another Red Sox reliever, Michael Bowden, climbed the minor league ladder as a starter and could return to the rotation if a need arises. While Bowden has proven himself in the minors, a couple other young starters likely need some more seasoning. Junichi Tazawa is returning from Tommy John surgery, but he should be able to contribute in the majors if he can return to his 2009 form. Casey Kelly, another top prospect, has seen his walk rate and ERA jump at AA, so he will likely need more time in the minors. Another AA starter, Kyle Weiland, has pitched well for Portland and could become a consideration for the Red Sox.
These minor leaguers will, in all likelihood, have to wait their turn. Boston has six major league starters under team control for 2011, so their rotation appears set. Don’t expect the Red Sox to bid on free agent starters like they did last year (Lackey) and the year before (John Smoltz, Brad Penny). Unless they offer Buchholz an extension, the Red Sox probably aren’t going to present any starters with proposals this winter. Even though it’s been a frustrating season for the Red Sox, the organization has a strong group of starters and potential starters for 2011.