Red Sox have second best rotation in the division entering 2020?

(Photo: Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

During an offseason that has been anything but a breeze, the Red Sox traded away one of the best players in baseball and have been awaiting their investigation results for an eternity. Meanwhile, for a team that hopes to be competitive going forward, what might be the most glaring issue lies in the starting rotation. First, Rick Porcello signs with the New York Mets on a one-year-deal. Next, David Price and half his contract serves as a centerpiece for the Betts blockbuster.

What the Red Sox are left with is a depleted rotation with question marks and sparse depth. Yet, the 2020 Boston Red Sox have the second best overall rotation in the American League East. Yes, I just said that. Hold on, negative Nancy. Before you hit the comments section raging at my take, let me guess. Homerism? Delusion? I know what you think. But let’s take an objective look at each team and what I’m calling their "starter situation," a combination of reliability and depth in their starting rotation. We evaluate how reliable the rotation looks at this point rather than the group’s ceiling. Let’s walk through the rotations of the members of the division; here, we rank them in ascending order.

#5 Baltimore Orioles: I’m not trying to be Means

If I wanted to be a savage, I could just leave the Orioles off a list that is supposed to preview big league teams. Not today, though; the ace of the Baltimore staff, John Means, was an all-star in 2019 as a rookie and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind just Yordan Alvarez of the Astros. He is the sole reason I took the effort to mention the Orioles, whose pitching staff posted the worst ERA in the sport in 2019 despite starting Means 27 times.

#4 Toronto Blue Jays: Question marks galore

A nearly brand new rotation in Toronto, the Jays are trying to compete again behind their promising lineup full of young blood. Though the Jays traded away 2019 all-star and fan favorite Marcus Stroman, don’t be fooled since the return involved two fairly capable pitching prospects, including 2019 All-Star Futures game selection Anthony Kay. Toronto also shopped actively on the free agent market, signing Japanese sensation Shun Yamaguchi to a 2-year-deal and former Korean sensation and 2019 breakout and Cy Young finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu.
(Photo via The Athletic)

Ryu comes into 2020 as the obvious ace of this staff after leading the big leagues in ERA and starting the All-Star Game for the National League in 2019. However, there is no tangible evidence he will be able to live up to his potential a second straight year with the new scenery. While Ryu lit up the league in his legendary 2019, it was also the healthiest he has ever been as a big leaguer. Besides the injury history, Ryu also shouldn’t be all too confident in his new league. He has a 3.84 ERA in his 15 starts against the American League and has 0 wins in 5 starts against AL East teams not named the Blue Jays.

The Jays also traded for Chase Anderson and signed Tanner Roark; while both names in their prime could have served as solid rotation pieces, you’d be delusional to think either could serve as an ace in the case that Ryu and Yamaguchi don’t pan out in 2020. While Jays fans should be excited about the ceiling of their new-look team, their floor is rock-bottom enough for me not to call them reliable in 2020.

#3 New York Yankees: Panic! At The Mound

When the Yankees signed Cy Young finalist Gerrit Cole to a megadeal this offseason moving him away from the team that "beat them" (or should I use asterisks instead of quotation marks?), many were quick to crown them American League favorites, adding to their already stacked rotation depth. However, if you haven’t learned by now, the Yankees remind us of some of the fundamentals of the baseball offseason—you never hand out pennants or rings in January. There’s just too much that goes into this game leading up to the season and during the summer to place your money this early.

While they do have themselves a new legitimate ace, it is all question marks from the second spot onwards. First, their biggest pitching breakout of 2019 Domingo German was suspended for the first 63 games of the 2020 season. Next, their blockbuster acquisition form 2018 James Paxton underwent microscopic lumbar discectomy to remove a peridiscal cyst, ruling him out for at least 3 months. Most recently, their future ace, 2-time all-star, Cy Young finalist Luis Severino was ruled out for the season due to Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn UCL on in his pitching elbow.

What this leaves the Yankees with is 31-year-old Masahiro Tanaka with an injury history of his own as their #2 starter and... literal crap the rest of the way. For at least the first half of the season, the Yankees will head into a significant fraction of their games starting the weaker pitcher. While a more healthy Yankees rotation (if available come playoff time) would certainly impose fear into opposing lineups, they will likely spend the majority of the regular season with added workload on Cole and Tanaka and perhaps their bullpen if they need to use the opener approach often.
As for Cole, he has yet to throw a pitch in Yankee Stadium wearing pinstripes and, like Ryu, will enter the 2020 season with some doubts against his division rivals, posting a 3.78 career ERA against the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays. While I’m not so stupid as to rule out the Yankees making a trade to acquire pitching, if you’re a Yankees fan and you’re not concerned about how top-heavy and overtaxed this starter staff is about to be to start the season, I need to borrow your fearlessness.

#2 Boston Red Sox: Pedro the X-factor

On first sight, the losses of Porcello and Price indeed take a toll on the depth of the Boston rotation. But the Sox have way too much to be excited about in this rotation to lose sight of the big picture of the 2020 pitching staff.
While Chris Sale will not be the Opening Day starter for the Red Sox, it isn’t an injury concern that’s holding him back. Once back on schedule, the ace of the Red Sox will be the pitcher in the division with the best career. Don’t let one year of injury frustration deter you from realizing what the Sox are getting back in a rejuvenated Chris Sale: a career 3.03 ERA, seven all-star games, one of the most efficient strikeout rates of all time, and a World Series ring. The future hall of famer is about as sure of an ace as you can find in this era of baseball.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox may have one of the most exciting #2 starter stories in the big leagues in the rise of Eduardo Rodriguez. ERod's 2019 was one of the most underrated success stories in the big leagues as he went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting. With Rodriguez's impressive start to the spring and lack of serious recent injury issues, he could easily be called the most reliable pitcher on the roster and you should not be surprised if he is an all-star for the first time in 2020.

(Photo: MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Where the Sox set themselves apart in the rotation is the return of Nathan Eovaldi. When Nasty Nate came to Boston, he quickly became a fan favorite and hero in Boston, electrifying the mound on his way to a World Series in 2018. However, since he signed a four-year deal with the Sox that offseason, as with Sale, it was all about injuries in 2019. The X factor for the Sox though — Pedro Martinez, who has been involved in coaching both Rodriguez and Eovaldi into redeveloping themselves while in the organization. While Eovaldi isn’t necessarily as safe as the top 2 in the Sox rotation, he looked just like his 2018 self in his spring training appearance today against the Braves and looks to prove himself as one of the best #3 options on American League starting staffs.
New addition to the Sox Martín Pérez will serve as the #4 starter on the team, essentially replacing Porcello in the rotation for an astronomically cheaper payday. While Pérez’s overall career numbers aren’t jaw-dropping, he simply has to serve as an injury-free #4 starter that can see success at Fenway Park. A groundball pitcher with solid command, Pérez can do just that. While I will eternally be grateful for Porcello’s time in Boston, it’s not like he was going to do much better than Pérez can without Sandy León.

Where the Red Sox will have some thinking to do would be how to fill in every fifth day at the #5 spot in the rotation. Luckily, Chaim Bloom has had one of the most quietly active pitching offseasons in the sport, adding bullpen pieces that could very well justify the opener approach, a mainstay of Bloom’s former home, the Tampa Bay Rays. Ryan Weber, a connoisseur of the spot start, is currently listed as the #5 option on the starter depth chart but don’t bat an eyelid if that changes quickly depending on results in Ft. Myers.

#1 Tampa Bay Rays: Aces and Options

It should be no surprise that a team known for their pitching possesses the most starter talent in the division. The Rays, perhaps the only team in the league that can say their "big 3" all sit in the starting rotation, have both star power and depth on the mound. Whether it be 2019 Cy Young finalist Charlie Morton or 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell or even 2019 breakout star Tyler Glasnow, the Rays could potentially start an ace on any given night. In addition, dual-role pitchers such as Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough or two-way player Brendan McKay can easily be cornerstones of either the 4-5 punches of their rotation or pieces to complete the opener puzzle. Barring a drastic series of injuries that nobody sees on the horizon right now, the Rays clearly will have the least trouble in the AL East constructing a rotation in 2020. As they almost did in the 2019 ALDS against the Astros, they can easily use their arms to carry them into contention for the division and a playoff series.

While our division contains a fair amount of talent on the mound and the rotation situation on the Red Sox is far from one to be complacent about, Boston fans should be excited for a leap in health in 2020 possibly resulting in immediate added success. I just laid down some facts. Can’t argue with second best in the division. What should I evaluate next and compare with the fellow division rivals?

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