Following the mid-summer trade of longtime No. 1 pitcher Jon Lester, Boston (and it’s fans) were left with a lingering question: who’s going to fill his spot?
As the off-season crept up, it was clear that Boston wanted Lester himself to fill the spot. After a two month vacation in Oakland, Lester would simply waltz back to Boston untouched and pick up right where he left off.
Wrong. The Chicago Cubs and former-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein had a different plan, one that involved Lester agreeing to a six-year, $155 million contract. Boston’s Plan A was now off of the table.
With a farm system as deep as Boston’s, trading for a so-called “ace” seemed like the next likely option. Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmerman were just a few of the names thrown around. As the winter turned to spring, it became obvious that Boston wouldn’t be making a deal, and the prized farm system would remain untouched.
Instead, Boston parted ways with slugging-Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (the very man they traded Lester for) in exchange for Detroit Tiger righty Rick Porcello. Despite being just 26-years old, it feels as if Porcello has been slinging fastballs in the majors for 10 years (he’s been in the majors since 2009, so not quite 10 years).
Porcello had a breakout year in 2014, posting a career-best 3.43 ERA over 204.2 innings pitched. He had career lows in walks/nine innings and home runs/nine innings as well. The Red Sox certainly didn’t pick up some slouch, but by definition of the public, he was no ace.
Former top-prospect Justin Masterson was brought (back) into the fold as well. Masterson’s 2014 didn’t play out as well as Porcello’s did, however, with the 30-year old righty allowing a career-high 5.88 ERA, splitting time between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians. Masterson was certainly no ace; more of a reclamation project for Juan Nieves and Co., attempting to get Masterson back in his 2013 and 2011 form.
You would think that Boston’s next move would have to be bringing in a bona fide ace, no? Unless Wade Miley falls under that category, you’re wrong again. The Sox shipped out Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster (two young pitchers acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the infamous Adrian Gonzalez/Josh Beckett/Carl Crawford deal of 2012) to the Arizona desert in exchange for Miley.
Neither Webster nor De La Rose could seem to find any traction in Boston, and getting the chance to swap them for a 28-year old leftie with two seasons of sub-3.60 ERA under his belt seemed like a no-brainer.
Coming into 2015, the Red Sox brass seemed content with trotting out a rotation of Clay Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Joe Kelly and Masterson. At first glance, Boston’s starting five screams one thing; inconsistency. The rotation is made up of of pitchers who have all at one point in their careers shown legitimate promise — but scattered in a few rough seasons here and there.
If Boston can harness each pitcher to work to the full capabilities that each have worked to before, the Sox are looking at something special. If each pitcher bottoms out like they have in the past, the highly-anticipated 2015 season is nothing more than a bust.
Regardless of how you try and push this rotation across, one thing is for sure: there is no ace.
The self-assigned officiators of baseball proclaimed that the Red Sox needed an ace to compete, despite the renovations they made to their lineup. And maybe, just maybe, these officiators might have a point.
Take a trip with me, if you will, to take a look back at the past five World Series champions, and the No. 1 pitchers each squad had those seasons:
2014: San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner
2013: Boston Red Sox, Jon Lester
2012: San Francisco Giants, Matt Cain
2011: St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainright
2010: San Francisco Giants, Tim Lincecum
What do you notice about each of these teams? (Aside from the fact that the Giants are incredible at digging up starting pitchers.)
Each team had a legitimate No.1 pitcher. While there are more factors to winning the last game of the season than just good pitching, it certainly comes in handy.
Yes, Boston may flash one of the best offenses in all of baseball. That much is clear through the first few weeks of play. You know when Boston also had “the best offense in baseball”? 2011.
Yeah, you know how 2011 ended.
Do the Red Sox need to rush to the phone now and ship away their future for an aging veteran starter? No. That might actually be the worst option for them at the moment. But they do need their historically shaky pitchers to hold up.
There will be a time in mid-August when Boston’s lineup goes a combined 20-100 over the course of a week or so, and the team averages two runs per game in that stretch. And no one is going to freak out, because that’s what happens in baseball.
But during these offensive droughts, the Sox are going to have to lean on the likes of Joe Kelly and Wade Miley to climb to the mound and hold a team to one run so that their fatigued batters can scrape together a sloppy win. The heat of the summer is also the heat of the pennant chase, and if Boston’s rotations falters, so do their playoff hopes.