Is the Red Sox rotation top-10 material?

December, 27, 2011

ESPN MLB Insider Buster Olney on Monday ranked his top 10 starting rotations in baseball, and while his list included the Rays (No. 2) and even the Nationals (8th) and Mariners (9th), the Red Sox were nowhere to be found.

Can you blame Olney for leaving them out? At this point, it’s tough to peg the Red Sox rotation because there are so many question marks.

The Sox need to add starting pitching depth, that much is clear. It’s evidently obvious to Ben Cherington, who last week made a push to trade for prized lefty Gio Gonzalez, only to fall short of a better offer from the Nats.

At this point only Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have defining roles. Clay Buchholz still has to prove that his lower back is healthy and he’s ready to pitch. Who knows what Daisuke Matsuzaka will add after the right-hander missed the majority of last season after having Tommy John surgery. He’s scheduled to start throwing off a mound in spring training but it’s unclear when he’ll be ready for the rotation. Right-hander John Lackey will miss the entire 2012 season after having the same procedure done.

Internally, the Red Sox will stretch out current relievers Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves at the start of spring training to see if one (or both?) can successfully be converted into a starter.

“If they go into the spring training and we’re looking at them as starters, it’s only going to make them better pitchers by pitching them three to four to five innings,” said new Red Sox pitching coach Bob McClure, who also stressed the importance of adding a third pitch to their repertoires.

“If they wind up going back to the bullpen, in my past experience, I’ve seen guys actually end up better. They’re able to work in spring training and get to work multiple innings on another pitch. There are a lot of benefits to doing it, you just have to see how it works out as far as endurance, and as far as being able to repeat your delivery. A lot of relievers are in the bullpen that have starter’s stuff because they don’t have the ability to repeat their delivery for 100 to 130 pitches.”

In terms of free-agent options, two of the top names still on the starting pitching market are lefty Joe Saunders and right-hander Edwin Jackson (Olney talks about both pitchers in the video above).

The 30-year-old Saunders posted a 12-13 record with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts for Arizona in 2011. He made $5.5 million, but the Diamondbacks did not offer him arbitration.

Jackson, 28, spilt time between the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals last season and ultimately helped the Cardinals to a World Series title. Overall, he went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) in 2011.

Jackson is probably the better pitcher, but Saunders would come at a lower price. Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda are two of the other intriguing options remaining on the market (click here for all remaining free agent starters).

Don’t forget, also, that veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield remains a free agent and would like to return for his 18th season with the Red Sox, though that seems like a long shot.

What do you think the Red Sox should do to round out the rotation? Do you see them as having a Top 10 rotation? Vote in the poll above and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Joe McDonald

ESPN Staff Writer



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