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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

Barring a major move at Designated Hitter it now appears the one significant off-season question for Dave Dombrowski and the Boston Red Sox is what to do about the starting rotation.  As currently set the roster has seven Major League starting pitchers;

David Price
Cy Young
Chris Sale
Eduardo Rodriguez*
Steven Wright
Clay Buchholz
Drew Pomeranz
* - I remembered him this time!

By all accounts Double D’s phone started ringing roughly nanoseconds after the Sale trade.  With pitching being scarce and expensive this winter teams are looking for viable arms and the Sox are seen as a team that may be able and willing to part with some.  The question is should they?  We all know the idea of having enough pitching is one that sounds great in February but as often as not is incredibly untrue by the time Memorial Drive is closed on Sundays.

To put that into perspective I did a little Baseball Reference hunting (God I love Play Index).  I did a couple of searches to determine how many pitchers the average playoff team has make at least seven starts.  Why seven?  Meh, it’s a punt.  I figure that’s enough to represent some kind of meaningful inclusion in the rotation but not such a low number to account for suspensions, doubleheaders or just a little wobble.  Seven starts is a bit more than a month’s worth of starts so why not.

Anyway, of the 182 Wild Card era playoff teams they all had at least five pitchers make seven starts (natch) and no playoff team had more than nine pitchers do the same;

9 starts - 9 teams
8 starts - 21 teams
7 starts - 51 teams
6 starts - 74 teams
5 starts - 25 teams

As you can see the Sox are kind of at that sweet spot right now with seven starters.  You can argue that they could get away with dealing one and still be in that group of 99 playoff teams that did NOT need seven starters that frequently.  The Sox also benefit from the fact that the two guys likeliest to start in the bullpen (Buchholz and Pomeranz) both have bullpen success in their relatively recent past.  Stashing both pitchers is not an impossibility.  John Farrell did note that you have to be a bit careful with this approach as pitchers will not be fully stretched out if they are in the bullpen too long. 

The bigger issue is what the Sox have behind these seven.  At the moment the Sox’ 8-10 starters are probably Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Roenis Elias.  This is where I think the decision gets difficult.  If one or two of these guys were a bit better then I’d be saying “hey, make a deal”, if these three guys were a bit worse it would be easy to say “are you nuts? remember Kyle Weiland?”  But Owens, Johnson and Elias are just good enough to feel good about, not so good that you want to rely on them.  FanGraphs has them all lurking just ahead of Replacement Level.

So what do you do?  If I’m the Sox I’m not feeling any rush to make a move but don’t get too hung up.  In my opinion Rodriguez joins Price, Porcello and Sale on the “you gotta really blow me away” department to make a trade.  However, I would be dangling Wright, Buchholz and Pomeranz and if I got a deal I liked I’d make it.  With that said I don’t think the Sox should view heading to spring training or even Opening Day with seven starting pitchers is something to be concerned with.  There is always a demand out there for pitching and I think DD would be wise to let the market come to him rather than the other way around.

It is always a seller’s market when it comes to pitching.

Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 14, 2016 at 02:19 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: December 14, 2016 at 11:10 PM (#5368592)
Here's a silly thought. Why don't the Red Sox trade some of that starting pitching to Colorado for either Blackmon or Gonzalez?
Colorado needs pitching and the Red Sox could use a really good LH hitter.
   2. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: December 14, 2016 at 11:38 PM (#5368606)
My main problem with trading any of those three is that I think they are all worth more to the Red Sox than they will fetch in any deal. Wright is a knuckleballer coming off of an injury. Buchholz is crazy unreliable. Pomeranz has injury issues, and is unlikely to give you a full year of performance. But any or all of them could be excellent this year - and the chances are at least one of them will be. So, you keep them all...
   3. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 15, 2016 at 08:54 AM (#5368667)
Gonzalez scares me. His career .258/.312/.438 road line is less than exciting and I think the Rox are going to be looking for a major package for him. I also have a bit of a convoluted theory that players who leave good environments get hurt more than players who leave bad environments get helped. In other words, a pitcher going to Petco gets helped less than a player leaving Coors gets hurt if that makes any sense.
   4. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: December 15, 2016 at 09:15 AM (#5368680)
Why don't the Red Sox trade some of that starting pitching to Colorado for either Blackmon or Gonzalez?


Are Gonzalez or Blackmon really all that much better than JBJ or Benintendi though? Considering Gonzalez only has 1 year left at $20M, I would say definitely not worth it. Blackmon is certainly more established than Benintendi, but you'd really have to bank on last year being the new norm for Blackmon as a hitter - not something I'd be all that comfortable with him moving out of Coors. I don't see Blackmon as a better player than JBJ - he may have a slightly better bat, but I think Jackie makes up for it with his glove. Why trade a valuable pitching asset to get marginally better in the OF (maybe 2 wins better than Benintendi? But also very likely to be less than a win better or even worse?) and a good bit older - Blackmon is 30, Benintendi is 22.
   5. Nasty Nate Posted: December 15, 2016 at 09:25 AM (#5368686)
My main problem with trading any of those three is that I think they are all worth more to the Red Sox than they will fetch in any deal. Wright is a knuckleballer coming off of an injury. Buchholz is crazy unreliable. Pomeranz has injury issues, and is unlikely to give you a full year of performance. But any or all of them could be excellent this year - and the chances are at least one of them will be. So, you keep them all...
All the good aspects and bad aspects of them applies to a potential acquiring team as much as they do to the Sox.
   6. Dock Ellis Posted: December 15, 2016 at 09:48 AM (#5368699)
I don't want to trade any SP for anything less than a good 3B but what are they doing when/if all of them are healthy at the same time? Does E-Rod (and Henry Owens) still have options? Who's going to the bullpen? I think it's also time to make decisions about Owens and Johnson. How would those guys be in the bullpen?
   7. villageidiom Posted: December 15, 2016 at 09:54 AM (#5368707)
The reason to trade any of them is if the value of the roster spot being available for someone else is greater than the value they can provide in that spot. Other traditional reasons are non-issues here. Boston won't get salary relief from another team. As Nasty Nate points out the motivation to remove them from the team based on their disadvantages will be met with a lack of motivation by other teams to acquire them, so the return they could get is likely not going to be enough of a motivation for Boston to move any of them. The benefit would come from freeing up a roster spot - trading one of these guys for a minor-leaguer or two who don't have to be on the 40-man roster - and assigning that spot to someone who can help.

I don't know who that someone would be at this point, except Sam Travis. The other pitching options wouldn't move ahead of the aforementioned Owens & Johnson & Elias, at least not in the first half of this year. Of the people not already on the roster, Travis is probably the most likely to provide some kind of help if added to the roster.

To me, the question is what do they need more: a 7th starting pitching option or a 1B/DH option beyond Hanley/Moreland? I think it's the former. And even if it's the latter, there is no need to make a move in the offseason to make that happen, given they have control of Travis.

Thus by meandering down a different path I end up where Jose already is. No need to make a move unless a motivated buyer approaches Boston with a deal that can't be refused.
   8. villageidiom Posted: December 15, 2016 at 09:59 AM (#5368715)
Does E-Rod (and Henry Owens) still have options?


They both do.
   9. Nasty Nate Posted: December 15, 2016 at 10:03 AM (#5368717)
Unless they send down Rodriguez, won't they basically be forced to move a pitcher either to the DL or to another team because of roster considerations?
   10. Dock Ellis Posted: December 15, 2016 at 10:04 AM (#5368718)
Thank you.
   11. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 15, 2016 at 10:27 AM (#5368736)
Unless they send down Rodriguez, won't they basically be forced to move a pitcher either to the DL or to another team because of roster considerations?


Probably but I think the best pitcher of that group is likely either Hembree or Ross. I wouldn't want to just give away Pomeranz or Buchholz just in the interest of keeping either of those guys around. Workman is also an issue but as vi explained (or as I understood his explanation) Workman has options but needs to give permission which I think he would.
   12. Eddie Hart Posted: December 15, 2016 at 10:37 AM (#5368757)
The easiest thing in the world to acquire mid-season is a DH first baseman type. Let's wait to see how these guys look before trading any of them. Plus, I think Sam Travis can play and he can be a fallback position if something doesn't pan out. Having seen Sandoval, and the shape he has gotten into, I would be surprised if he doesn't play well. He's one of those guys who is just good at baseball. His problem has always been the status of his conditioning and, at least in the short term, that doesn't seem to be a problem at the moment.
   13. villageidiom Posted: December 15, 2016 at 12:48 PM (#5368918)
Unless they send down Rodriguez, won't they basically be forced to move a pitcher either to the DL or to another team because of roster considerations?
If they send EdRod to the minors and either the knuckleball or the knucklehead to the bullpen, they will still have something like an 11-man bullpen they'll need to reduce to 7 or so at some point next year.

Kimbrel
Thornburg
* Smith
* Barnes
Whichever starter they send to the pen
Ross
Hembree
Kelly
Workman
Elias
Abad

* Have options.

Cutting Abad loose is by definition Abad decision, but not a bad decision. But they'd still have three people to remove from this roster. And they'd still have Rodriguez in the minors under this plan. The path of least resistance is probably:

1. Cut Abad.
2. Send down Barnes.
3. Keep Smith on the DL.
4. See if Workman would accept a demotion.

But that seems suboptimal given that Barnes and Rodriguez would both be in the minors while others less deserving might remain in Boston. I'd prefer if they were to trade away some of the other folks there.

Mind you, this is a great problem to have.
   14. Nasty Nate Posted: December 15, 2016 at 12:55 PM (#5368929)
Thanks, vi. Do they have to resolve this by opening day, or sometime sooner?
   15. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 15, 2016 at 12:57 PM (#5368932)
vi I think you are overstating the scope of the "problem" (which you correctly note is a good problem to have);

Starters: Sale, Price, Cy Young, EdRod, Wright
Bullpen: Kimbrel, Thornburg, Barnes, Pomeranz, Buchholz, Kelly, Ross

Smith isn't going to be available until Memorial Day at best so he's on the DL, Elias and Abad as far as I'm concerned aren't remotely important which means you've got Workman and Hembree. Workman I think accepts a designation so Hembree is the one guy I care about that we lose.

But that all assumes the 12 pitchers I listed are ready on Opening Day. No one knows for certain but y'know what, I will say that I am 100% certain that at least one of those twelve is going to be on the DL come April 3.
   16. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 15, 2016 at 01:02 PM (#5368938)
Also it's worth pointing out that the Sox can also trade any of the Hembree/Ross/etc...group of fringe guys. The return won't be much but it will be more than just letting them walk.
   17. villageidiom Posted: December 15, 2016 at 05:55 PM (#5369249)
vi I think you are overstating the scope of the "problem" (which you correctly note is a good problem to have);
Hope I wasn't giving the impression this was a Gordian knot. In fact, as I re-read my post and yours it seems like we're basically saying the same thing: they will need to trade some useful relievers because they can't reasonably solve the whole thing through roster shenanigans.
   18. Bad Fish Posted: December 15, 2016 at 10:29 PM (#5369346)
Your point about one of the listed 12 being hurt come opening day is valid so that probably deals with Hembree. I'm not sure Workman takes a demotion. He was a productive pitcher when healthy, I could see someone taking a flier and giving him a minor league contract (or claiming him if they have 40-man room). Elias is the personification of a 5th/6th starter, I don't want to see him walk out the door for nothing. Ross, Hembree etc. are worth more to us than they would fetch on the open market, we would be trading dimes for nickles. Big League performance is job one, so unless he sucks in ST I really, really doubt EdRod is starting in AAA. DD is in a position to trade something valuable or let value walk out the door for nothing. The economics of the situation demand at least one of the real starters get traded and probably someone else, also.
   19. Dock Ellis Posted: December 16, 2016 at 07:01 AM (#5369415)
Are Ross and Hembree even that desirable to other teams? They're definitely good enough to put a waiver claim in but not anything I'm sure I'd give up an asset for, even a low A lottery ticket.
   20. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 16, 2016 at 08:44 AM (#5369428)
Are Ross and Hembree even that desirable to other teams? They're definitely good enough to put a waiver claim in but not anything I'm sure I'd give up an asset for, even a low A lottery ticket.


I suspect this is right but that gets to my general opinion. This isn't really a situation to be worried about. I don't think you get rid of Pomeranz or Buchholz to make sure you can keep Heath Hembree and/or Robbie Ross.
   21. Nasty Nate Posted: December 16, 2016 at 09:48 AM (#5369458)
I don't think you get rid of Pomeranz or Buchholz to make sure you can keep Heath Hembree and/or Robbie Ross.
Agreed. You would deal Clay to better re-allocate resources; to either free up $13m to spend elsewhere or pay his salary and buy a (not great) prospect from someone.
   22. Eddie Hart Posted: December 17, 2016 at 03:02 PM (#5370131)
   23. Mark Armour Posted: December 17, 2016 at 03:27 PM (#5370141)
Its one thing to look back in October and say, "wow, we used 7 starters at least 8 times!" It is another thing to look Drew Pomeranz (an All-Star 5 months ago) in the eye and say, "we're keeping you around because, you know, a team always needs a 7th starter somewhere down the road." There are teams who would start Pomeranz on Opening Day.

To put it another way, of course the Red Sox would be better off with Buchholz or Pomeranz as their backup plan instead of Henry Owens, but there is a reason why teams don't have seven good starters. Pitchers don't want to be the 7th starter, nor should they.
   24. Eddie Hart Posted: December 17, 2016 at 03:35 PM (#5370147)
Remember, they got Pomeranz as damaged goods, and he pitched like it a lot. Presumably, Dombrowski thinks he'll be fine for next year.
   25. villageidiom Posted: December 20, 2016 at 11:40 AM (#5371377)
Buchholz has been traded.

Phillies get: Clay Buchholz and his entire contract.
Red Sox get: Josh Tobias, 2B prospect in high-A.

Tobias was a 10th-round pick in 2015, but for a 5'9" 2B hit the snot out of the ball in short-season Williamsport and then in the Sally League. He took a step back after getting promoted to the Florida State League in the middle of 2016.

Regardless, no cash is exchanging hands. And they have freed a roster spot that is better used for Encarnacion Sam Travis.
   26. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 20, 2016 at 11:44 AM (#5371378)
The problem I have is that Sam Travis won't get Buchholz' spot, Heath Hembree or Noe Ramirez will.
   27. villageidiom Posted: December 20, 2016 at 11:46 AM (#5371382)
The problem I have is that Sam Travis won't get Buchholz' spot, Heath Hembree or Noe Ramirez will.
I'm talking about the 40-man roster.

And on the 25-man I think this makes it more likely that Eduardo Rodriguez is in the rotation.
   28. Jose is El Absurd Pollo Posted: December 20, 2016 at 11:58 AM (#5371389)
I don't think EdRod was in any danger. I think Wright and Pomeranz were the guys on the cusp with Buchholz. Maybe I'm wishcasting but that's my take and it's only lukewarm.

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