The Red Sox are planning to deploy right-hander Garrett Whitlock out of the rotation in 2023, general manager Brian O’Halloran told reporters at the GM Meetings (link via Chris Cotillo of MassLive). O’Halloran added that Tanner Houck could get a look as a starter as well, although that decision hasn’t yet been made.
“With Whit, we told him to plan to be a starter and we expect him to be a starter,” the GM told reporters. “With Tanner, we said something similar. We talked through that he will go through the offseason planning to be a starter and we’ll build him up as such. But there’s a little bit (less) definition around his role and he knows it could go in either direction.” O’Halloran added the decision to move Whitlock to the rotation “was a little bit more clear and definitive” than the situation with Houck, whose role figures to be determined in part by the course of the Boston offseason.
Whitlock has worked almost exclusively as a reliever in his MLB career. Since being selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft, the UAB product has made 68 relief appearances and nine starts. Whitlock has frequently worked multiple innings out of the bullpen, however, emerging as one of the league’s most valuable relievers. He’s tallied 112 2/3 innings of 2.24 ERA ball as a reliever, striking out a well above-average 28.1% of opponents. Whitlock predictably hasn’t been quite so dominant as a starter, but he owns a 4.15 ERA with a decent 23.5% strikeout rate and a stellar 5.5% walk percentage in that time.
The 26-year-old doesn’t have much experience turning a big league lineup over three times, but he mixes three pitches and has handled hitters from both sides of the plate. That gives Whitlock a chance to be a quality starting pitcher, the role he filled throughout his time in the minors.
Boston signed Whitlock to an $18.75MM guarantee during Spring Training. He’s controllable via a pair of club options through 2028, and Cotillo notes that deal contains some innings-based incentives — ones which Whitlock cementing himself in the rotation would help him unlock.
As for Houck, he started 13 of 18 appearances in 2021 but came out of the bullpen 28 of 32 times this year. Houck also worked multiple innings frequently, but he’s had more marked platoon splits than Whitlock has. Left-handers this year had a .259/.376/.400 line against the 26-year-old hurler, who stifled righties to a .205/.269/.227 line. Houck’s heavy reliance on his fastball and slider at the expense of a changeup or splitter have led to some concern among evaluators about his ability to turn lineups over three times as a starter.
Boston will unquestionably add to their rotation over the coming months. At present, the Sox have just Nick Pivetta, Chris Sale, James Paxton and now Whitlock as rotation pieces for 2023. Former top prospect Brayan Bello could get into that mix, as could Houck, but only Pivetta looks like a safe bet for innings. Sale and Paxton have barely pitched the past couple years because of injury, while Bello’s rookie season was up-and-down. The Sox are seeing Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill hit free agency.