Thursday night’s Red Sox game is about more than stopping a three-game losing skid. It’s about finding out whether John Henry’s vision of how his team’s starting rotation should look is based in theory or reality.
The Red Sox appear to have an aversion to signing high-priced free agent starting pitchers. Henry told Bloomberg Businessweek last spring teams “extravagantly overpay” for players who are older than 30, and the largest contract Ben Cherington has ever signed a free agent starter to was Ryan Dempster’s $26 million deal prior to 2013.
After lowballing Jon Lester with a $70 million contract offer early last year, the Red Sox upped the ante to six years and $135 million over the winter. But that proposal fell well short of the Cubs’ contract offer, which could be worth as much as $170 million over seven years. The Red Sox had the funds to present Lester, 31, with a competitive offer. They just chose not to.
History shows Henry and Cherington are wise to avoid the free agent starting pitching market. But in order for this apparent plan to work, the Red Sox need to start developing their own arms again. We’ll get a glimpse of how that is going when Eduardo Rodriguez takes the hill in Texas Thursday.
The Red Sox acquired Rodriguez, 22, from the Orioles last July in exchange for Andrew Miller. He’s dominated Triple-A this season, as he’s struck out 44 batters in 48.1 innings and has a 2.98 ERA. The Sox starting rotation, which has the worst ERA in baseball, is in dire need of an upgrade.
Once upon a time, the Red Sox had a fledging minor league system that produced Major League-caliber pitchers on a yearly basis. Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson all made their big league debuts within three years of each other. But since then, Felix Doubront is the only homegrown Red Sox hurler who’s lasted a full season in the rotation.
A starting staff that’s bereft of marquee free agents and promising prospects looks an awful lot like the dumpster fire the Red Sox rotation currently is. If the Sox aren’t going to pay for elite pitching talent, they’re going to have to start producing it again.
Though John Farrell said Wednesday Rodriguez’s outing is a spot start, he implied the team would be willing to reconsider if Rodriguez pitches well. Last place clubs have to act with a sense of urgency, and Rodriguez should remain with the Red Sox if he’s one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization.
If Rodriguez impresses, fellow left-handed prospects Brian Johnson and Henry Owens could soon follow him to Boston. Both of them have ERAs below 3.00 in Pawtucket as well.
The Red Sox need all of the pitching help they can get. If it isn’t going to come from the free agent market, it has to come from within. We’ll see if Rodriguez can deliver.