State Of The Sox 2014, Part 1: Starting Rotation

Jon Lester is coming off a 2013 season in which the lefty led the team in
starts, quality starts and strikeouts. (AP photo Chris O'Meara)
UPDATE: RHP Ryan Dempster has decided to sit out the 2014 season due to physical and family reasons.

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

This is the first of a six-part series of articles focusing on the 2014 Red Sox Pitching and Offence.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That might be the best brush with which to paint the starting rotation for the Red Sox as they head into 2014 as defending World Series champions.

With the full starting rotation from 2013 returning to the fold this season, the Sox have six viable, seasoned options for five slots on the bump and plenty of promising young arms waiting in the wings for their shot at the bigs, which means one or two of those big-name starters could bring added benefit as potential trade chips for General Manager Ben Cherington as the season begins to unfold.

The starting surplus also means the Sox have added security in case one of their big arms suffers an injury setback — as was the case with Clay Buchholz, who tossed a Cy Young-worthy first half of 2013, going 11-1 with a 1.71 ERA before shoulder and neck issues forced him out of the rotation until September.

In 2013, Red Sox starters finished third in the American League with 67 wins, first in fewest losses with 42 and fourth in ERA at 3.84. Overall, the Sox finished the season tied for second in the AL with Kansas City in terms of quality starts (95) behind only Detroit’s 108.

Here’s the skinny on Boston’s starting rotation for 2014 as pitchers and catchers get set to report to Fort Myers for spring training this Friday.

The Big Three

Jon Lester
2013 numbers: 15-8, 3.75 ERA, 213.1 IP, 177 K
2013 postseason: 4-1, 1.56 ERA, 34.2 IP, 29 K
2014 Salary: $13M

Topping the list as Boston’s No. 1 starter is Jon Lester, the big lefty who led the team in starts (33), strikeouts (177) and quality starts (20) while also pacing the team and setting a career high in innings pitched with 213.1. Lester’s $13-million option for 2014 was quickly picked up by the Red Sox following a sterling postseason in which Lester went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA and became the first Red Sock lefty since Babe Ruth to win three World Series games in the process (one in 2007, two in 2013). Expect the Sox to talk terms in spring training on signing Lester to a long-term contract extension, which the southpaw has said is his ultimate desire.

Clay Buchholz
2013 numbers: 12-1, 1.74 ERA, 108.1 IP, 96 K
2013 postseason: 0-0, 4.35 ERA, 20.2 IP, 17 K
2014 Salary: $7.7M

It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for Clay Buchholz, who was durable and dominant in the first half, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his first dozen starts before injury sidelined the righthander in June. Shoulder issues kept him out of the rotation until September, when his velocity had clearly diminished, and he was shaky in the postseason, allowing ten runs on 22 hits while walking eight. If Buchholz can come back at full strength and stay healthy, the Red Sox will again have a solid, one-two knockout punch at the top of the rotation. Early reports out of Fort Myers appear positive: in a recent story by Boston Globe writer Pete Abraham, Buchholz said his arm feels strong. Even if he again earns the “fragile” tag that has been slapped on him throughout his career — he’s missed 39 starts with various injuries over the past three seasons and has only made more than 16 starts in a year twice since 2008 — the Sox clearly have the depth to again hold the fort and keep winning games in his absence, as they were forced to do for three months in 2013.

John Lackey
2013 numbers: 10-13, 3.52 ERA, 189.1 IP, 161 K
2013 postseason: 3-1, 2.77 ERA, 26 IP, 25 K
2014 salary: $15.25M

Don’t let the W-L record fool you on John Lackey. Look at his ERA, which — aside from Buchholz, who missed three months — was the best among Red Sox starters. Coming off Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2012, the righthander returned to slimmed-down, dominant form but suffered from a serious dearth of run support throughout the season. He was a stud for the Sox out of the No. 2 slot in the postseason, outdueling Justin Verlander in the 1-0, Game 3 win over Detroit in the ALCS and becoming the 11th pitcher to win multiple World Series clinching games when he tossed six scoreless frames in Boston’s Game Six win over St. Louis at Fenway Park. Three nights earlier, he also threw an inning of scoreless relief in a key Game Four win. As many upsides as Lackey has for the Sox entering 2014, his trade value is also at a peak, as he’s only due a $500,000 vesting option for 2015 because of his Tommy John surgery.

The Second Tier

Jake Peavy
2013 numbers (with Boston): 4-1, 4.04 ERA, 80 IP, 76 K
2013 postseason: 0-1, 7.11 ERA, 12.2 IP, 8 K
2014 salary: $14.5M

Jake Peavy was a solid late-season pickup from the White Sox in the three-way trade that dealt Jose Iglesias to Detroit. The former Cy young winner brought emotion, experience and some much-needed wins to the team during the stretch drive, but he couldn’t hack it in the ALCS against Detroit, allowing seven runs and three walks on five hits in just three innings of work in Game Four. Under contract for one more season, Peavy looks to be a solid No. 4 starter heading into 2014, unless he either outperforms Lackey in spring training and moves up in the rotation or is shipped off in a trade to bolster other areas of the diamond.

Felix Doubront
2013 numbers: 11-6, 3.87 ERA (as starter), 162.1 IP, 139 K
2013 postseason (bullpen): 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 7 IP, 4 K
2014 salary: undetermined; pre-arbitration eligible

Felix Doubront will be an inexpensive option either as a starter or reliever for the Red Sox in 2014, but there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the Venezuelan lefty’s durability when his innings total begins to climb, as well as whether he shows up in shape for spring training. He was a player that ran the full gamut of good (8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 6 K vs Tampa Bay June 18) to bad (4 IP, 8 H, 2 BB vs. NYY Aug. 16) to outright ugly (5.1 IP of relief, 11 H, 6 ER, 2 BB vs Minnesota May 8) in 2013, but could be a solid No. 4 or 5 starter for Boston in 2014 if he improves his command and control. He’s also an intriguing bullpen option for the Sox, which he proved in the World Series, throwing 4.2 innings of relief and giving up only one earned run on two hits while striking out three in two key games and earning his first career postseason win in Game Four.

Waiting In The Wings

While Lester, Buchholz, LackeyDoubront and Peavy combined to start 136 games for the Sox in 2013, there were others stepping in to fill in the gaps who will likely figure into Boston’s replacement options for starters in 2014.

Of the spot starters, the mercurial Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales, who combined for seven starts, are both gone. Allen Webster, who was picked up in the blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late 2012, filled in for seven, going 1-2 with a 8.60 ERA, while knuckleballer Steven Wright made one more. Wright, however, is out of the picture until at least July after undergoing surgery in January to repair a hernia, according to @alexspeier.

The pick of the spot-starter litter, however, was clearly Brandon Workman, who burst onto the scene and established himself both as a dependable starter and hot arm out of the bullpen. The righthander went 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA for the Sox in 2013, striking out 47 in 41.2 innings of work. In the postseason, Workman posted a 0.00 ERA in seven games out of the ‘pen, giving up only seven hits and three walks while striking out four in 8.2 innings.

Workman's proficiency in both starting and relieving roles gives the Sox plenty of flexibility depending on what role they envision him in coming out of spring training.

Beyond Workman, there are plenty of minor-league standouts angling for a shot to make a name on the big-league stage, including righthanders Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa and Matt Barnes as well as southpaws Henry Owens and Trey Ball. They will get an even better chance to crack the starting rotation now that Dempster has decided to sit out the season.

The Dark Horse

Flying under the radar this offseason was 6-2, 200-lb former Dodgers prospect John Ely, who signed a minor-league deal with the Sox in December and received an invite to spring training. A low-risk, potentially high-reward righty, Ely went 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA for the AAA Albuquerque Isotopes in 2012 and was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year as well as Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Dodgers. He was traded to Houston after the 2012 season and required season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2013 after making only one start for the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers in four days.

Keep the faith. Drink the Dirty Water. Connect with me on Twitter: @jan_doh