The Red Sox are going into their first offseason with Craig Breslow as chief baseball officer and he is setting his sights on upgrading the club’s rotation, though he isn’t specifying exactly how many pitchers he plans on bringing in. “I think we need to be open-minded,” Breslow said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive. “Starting pitching is certainly a priority for us. But to kind of try and forecast exactly a number or anything kind of more specific than that probably doesn’t make sense.”
It’s not an especially surprising pursuit for the Sox, since the rotation was a weak spot for the club in 2023. Their starters as a whole put up an earned run average of 4.68 for the year, which placed them 22nd out of the 30 clubs in the league. There are some talented names on the roster but each has concerns around health or inconsistency or both, with Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock the candidates for rotation jobs right now.
Sale hardly pitched from 2020 to 2022 due to various injuries. He was able to log 102 2/3 innings in 2023 but with an ERA of 4.30. Pivetta struggled enough to get bumped to the bullpen but finished in good form, whereas Bello was stronger in the first half but faded down the stretch. Crawford had a 4.04 ERA this year with good peripherals, though it’s unclear if that’s sustainable since he’s never been a highly-touted prospect. Houck has shown some potential, but injuries have continually kept him in the range of 100-120 innings. The same is largely true for Whitlock, though he hasn’t even reached 100 frames since 2018.
Though they theoretically have six options for five rotation spots, there are arguments for skepticism with each one. Breslow says that Houck and Whitlock will still be stretched out, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, but they could be pivoted back to the bullpen later. Both pitchers have had better results as relievers, with Houck having an ERA of 2.68 out of the ’pen and Whitlock a 2.65 in his career, whereas they have starting ERAs of 4.17 and 4.76 respectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be effective starters in the future, but it stands to reason that the club might not be willing to bank on them.
Smith adds that the club spoke to the representatives of free agent lefty Jordan Montgomery, though it might be best not to read too much into that. For one, Montgomery is represented by Scott Boras, who also reps a great number of other players. Secondly, Breslow tells Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe that it’s fair to assume they will talk to every agent who represents a starting pitcher and every team that could trade one.
It seems all options are on the table, including players who received a qualifying offer. “It’s a consideration like the host of other variables that you need to consider when you make a decision around these players,” Breslow says in Smith’s report. “So I think we need to look at the totality of the situation in order to figure out how much of a consequence it is for one over another.” Blake Snell, Sonny Gray and Aaron Nola were the three traditional starters to receive QOs, as well as two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who won’t pitch in 2024. Signing one of those players would require the Red Sox to forfeit their second-highest pick in the upcoming draft and $500K of international bonus pool money, but it sounds like that’s not off the table.
Elsewhere, it sounds like the club is leaning towards adding a right-handed hitter who can play second base, though they won’t be strictly limiting themselves in that search. “I think positional versatility helps,” Breslow said, per Jen McCaffrey of The Athletic. “I don’t think it makes a ton of sense to kind of typecast that to a right-handed bat who can only DH. But I think we have to be open-minded about the ways to improve the team. Given that we’re pretty left-handed, it makes sense to set our sights on somebody who can hit right-handed.”
The club’s lineup does indeed skew to the left side, with regular at-bats slated for players like Rafael Devers, Jarren Duran, Triston Casas, Masataka Yoshida and Alex Verdugo, though Breslow earlier admitted that Verdugo’s name has come up in trade talks. Some righty bats include Teoscar Hernández and Jorge Soler, though the Sox might be a better fit for a second baseman than an outfielder. The market is fairly limited there but Whit Merrifield and Amed Rosario are a couple of right-handed bats that likely won’t cost much. Speaking of Casas and Duran, who both finished the season on the injured list, Breslow provided updates on the progression of both players to Abraham. Casas has progressed to weight-bearing exercises in his recovery from turf toe surgery. Casas, who was hampered by shoulder inflammation, has healed and is now close to starting a hitting program.
Catcher could theoretically be another place to add but it sounds like the Sox feel good about Connor Wong there. “Very comfortable,” Breslow said about Wong. “We feel good about the catching situation. That’s not to say that we should be closed-minded about opportunities to improve the team. But I think we’re all really happy with him.” Wong got the bulk of the playing time in 2023 and hit just .235/.288/.385 but there were some encouraging defensive grades. It doesn’t sound like an addition here is totally off the table but the pitching is clearly a bigger focus.