I think the outfield looks set, with Mike Cameron, Darnell McDonald, Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick slotted behind Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew and Carl Crawford. That’s insane. In the infield, Jed Lowrie’s versatility assuages any fears I have of a Kevin Youkilis or Dustin Pedroia injury recurrence. The bullpen’s got some depth, and catcher’s become a strength throughout the organization. Boston can withstand some chop in any of these areas.
I find the prospect of a repeat of 2010 to be more concerning in the starting rotation. Josh Beckett and John Lackey aren’t getting younger. Clay Buchholz will be good, but I don’t think he’ll keep runs off the board as effectively as he did in 2010 when he enjoyed unsustainably fortunate balls-in-play luck. If you know what to expect out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, you’re doing it better than I am. I don’t worry at all about Jon Lester.
So, what if things go awry? Well for one, at least Tim Wakefield is around. I am not sure if it was just a blip or if it’s a sign that his knuckleball mastery might be offsetting natural age deterioration, but he only walked 2.3 batters per nine innings last season. It was the lowest total of his career. At the same time, his hits per nine was the third highest of his career. With an improved defense behind him that theoretically would suppress the hits, there’s reason to believe he could once again pitch effectively if he limits the walks.
Then there’s Felix Doubront, who probably needs to start the year in AAA because of the team’s lacking rotation depth. Ideally, he would be their top lefty coming out of the Boston bullpen but that won’t be in the cards, at least not to begin the season. He’s ready to start games at the Major League level and if pressed into action, he could be fine as well.
That’s really it though, and a plan that relies on a 44-year old and a kid with 23 career Big League innings is a plan begging for a contingency one. Matt Fox? Kyle Weiland? Brandon Duckworth? Hey, they’re fine. We’re now talking eight, nine, ten starters here. But if July 31st rolls around and Boston looks like they need to make a move, there are a few problems. One, as a result of the Adrian Gonzalez deal, the farm has thinned a bit. Coming off a great 2010 draft and with a bunch of early picks in 2011 I am not too concerned over the long term, but the current state of the Red Sox system hampers their midseason flexibility a bit.
Nonetheless, it’s worth a look at what might be out there. In part courtesy of Cot’s, in part my sense for what the available pitcher list might look like, here is what we’ll be looking at come deadline 2011. The more notable free agent omissions like Mark Buehrle are due to my belief that their teams will contend.
It’s not terribly inspiring, and what’s worse, there are even contending teams out there with much thinner starting pitching than Boston. Look at the Yankees, for goodness sakes. You don’t think they’ll be looking for starting pitching as 2011 plays out? So it’s a seller’s market, with those sellers peddling some uninspiring pieces. You can almost hear Sandy, J.P. and DePo scheming at what they can pry away from teams if Chris Young starts off hot.
I don’t think it’s great cause for concern, but if there’s one area where the Red Sox could use reinforcements, it’s in the rotation. The 2011 doomsday scenario of a Beckett/Lackey/Dice-K repeat can be papered over by Wake and Doubront, and from there Boston will just have to rely on its other components. Fortunately, they should have one of baseball’s best defenses and lineups to make up for potential starting pitching woes.