Boston’s season-opening rotation is going to look quite a bit different than we could have imagined just a few weeks ago. Gone is left-hander David Price, whom the Red Sox traded to the Dodgers less than a month ago. Fellow southpaw Chris Sale – the team’s No. 1 starter – is still in the fold, but he’ll open the campaign on the 15-day injured list as a result of a pneumonia that has slowed him this spring. Price’s departure and the temporary absence of Sale leaves the Red Sox with just three hurlers – Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez – who are shoo-ins to begin 2020 in their rotation. So, even if not for Sale’s illness, they’d still be looking for someone to claim a spot in their rotation in the coming weeks.
Boston’s led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who used to be an executive with a Tampa Bay team that spearheaded the opener strategy. Manager Ron Roenicke admitted last week the Red Sox could mimic the AL East rival Rays in that regard (via Chad Jennings of The Athletic; subscription link).
“We can do (an opener) with two spots in the rotation,” Roenicke said. “But we’ll see if someone emerges and covers one of those spots (as a traditional starter).”
If the Red Sox do want to find at least one more conventional starter before the season, and if they’re not going to venture outside the organization to get one (which is a possibility), whom could they turn to from within? Let’s take a look at some of their options…
- Ryan Weber, RHP: The 29-year-old Weber has pitched in the majors for the Braves, Mariners, Rays and Red Sox since 2015, but he hasn’t experienced much success in the bigs. Weber’s fastball averaged under 89 mph last year as a member of the Red Sox, with whom he struggled to a 5.09 ERA (with a much better 4.20 FIP) and 6.42 K/9, 1.77 BB/9 and a 48.6 percent groundball rate across a career-high 40 2/3 innings. While Weber worked mostly as a reliever in 2019, the Red Sox are optimistic about his chances of turning into a capable starter or at least a bulk pitcher, thanks to increased reliance on a cutter.
- Chris Mazza, RHP: Mazza debuted in MLB last season with the Mets at the age of 29, but he yielded 10 earned runs on 21 hits during that 16 1/3-inning span. To Mazza’s credit, he was far better last year in Triple-A, where he put up a 3.67 ERA/3.85 FIP with 7.34 K/9, 2.13 BB/9 and a lofty 58 percent groundball rate across 76 frames.The Mets cut Mazza loose after the season, and he ended up with the Red Sox via waivers.
- Mike Shawaryn, RHP: Shawaryn, 25, was a fifth-rounder of the Red Sox in 2016 who climbed to the majors for the first time last season. It didn’t go well; even though Shawaryn racked up 29 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings, he surrendered 22 earned runs on 26 hits and issued 13 walks. And he wasn’t great with Triple-A Pawtucket, either, evidenced by a 4.52 ERA/5.65 FIP with 7.63 K/9 and 4.92 BB/9 in 89 2/3 frames.
- Kyle Hart, LHP: A 19th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2016, Hart has consistently prevented runs at a solid clip in the minors, where he has never posted an ERA above the threes at any level. The 27-year-old made his Triple-A debut in 2019 and logged a 3.86 ERA/4.32 FIP with 7.18 K/9 and 3.23 BB/9 over 100 1/3 innings.
- Hector Velazquez, RHP: The 31-year-old threw upward of 100 effective innings for the Red Sox from 2017-18, but things went downhill last season. Owing in part to a career-worst 4.47 BB/9 and a personal-low 38.6 percent groundball rate, Velazquez ended up with a 5.43 ERA/4.74 FIP in 56 1/3 innings.
- Matt Hall, LHP: Hall, 26, joined the Red Sox in a minor trade with the Tigers in January. The spin rate darling has enjoyed some success in the minors, shown in part by a 4.25 ERA with 10.3 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 in 144 Triple-A innings, but has allowed almost 10 runs per nine with 5.17 BB/9 in a smaller sample of major league frames (31 1/3).
- Phillips Valdez, RHP: Valdez was a waiver pickup from the Mariners just last week. He got his first taste of MLB action with the Rangers a season ago, and while he pitched to a 3.94 ERA, averaged better than 10 strikeouts per nine and induced grounders at a 53.3 percent clip, he walked more than five per nine at the same time. And Valdez wasn’t as good at Triple-A, where he recorded a 4.92 ERA/5.59 FIP with 7.44 K/9 and 4.12 BB/9 in 78 2/3 innings of work.
- Brian Johnson, LHP: Unlike the names listed above, Johnson’s not on Boston’s 40-man roster, meaning he’s facing an especially steep climb to begin the season in the majors. Now 29, Johnson turned in passable numbers as a member of the Red Sox in 2017-18, but health problems helped hold the soft-tossing southpaw to a 6.02 ERA/5.32 FIP in 40 1/3 innings last year, when he walked over five hitters per nine.
If you don’t find Boston’s back-end rotation choices enthralling, it’s hard to blame you. For all we know, though, Bloom will end up going outside for help – something he seems open to doing – whether via free agency, the trade market, waivers or some combination.