6-Man Rotation or Odd Man Out?


Over the past few days, the Boston media has been buzzing about the Red Sox rotation in 2010. The conversation was spurred by a few interviews with Tim Wakefield, one of which was last night after he accepted the Bart Giamatti Award. Wake stated that he has “earned the right to be one of the five starters” in 2010 and feels the rotation will work itself out. If Wake is part of the 5-man rotation, then who is the odd man out?

While there isn’t an obvious answer to how Francona and Farrell will handle the starting rotation, the top 3 guys are set. Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester, in whatever order you wish, are the top of the rotation. Beyond those three, Dice-K, Clay Buchholz and Tim Wakefield are all fighting for the 2 remaining rotation spots.

Assuming everyone is healthy, Dice-K will probably be the 4th starter because Theo won’t allow a pitcher they are paying in excess of $8 million to be a long or middle reliever. Clay Buchholz showed signs of brilliance towards the end of last season and will most likely come into the 2010 season with some confidence, unlike in the past, which will put him in serious competition with Wake for the 5th starter slot.

As always, however, there is still the possibility of a 6-man rotation. I think it would be a terrible idea, and the Sox management have hinted it is an unlikely solution, but an alternative nonetheless. The question-mark lays with Wake now. In the past, if the Red Sox ownership asked him to move into the bullpen, he would do it for the betterment of the team.

My prediction is that the Sox begin the season with a rotation of Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Dice-K, and Buchholtz and politely ask Wake to ‘take one for the team’ and be in the ‘pen. Respect aside, the Sox need to put a team on the field daily that gives the organization the best chance to win, and that is the rotation above. Throughout the season injuries always pop-up and pitchers struggle, affording Wake the chance to once again be a starter for the Sox.

Just imagine this scenario. Josh Beckett begins the game throwing mid-90’s and goes 7 strong innings. The Sox bring in Wake, who throws mid-50’s with a nasty knuckle ball for one shutdown inning. Finish the game with Daniel Bard throwing near-100 mph and then Papelbon with his rejuvenated splitter to end the game. The opposing batters would not be able to get comfortable because the speed and types of pitches are changing every inning.

My idealistic scenario aside, the Sox would sure up their middle-relief issues by convincing Wake that his maximum value is in the ‘pen. They would have built-in depth in case of injuries and would have a reliever who could throw 100+ pitches, if needed, out of the bullpen. With all the chatter lately, it is difficult to tell if Wake would be loyal enough to the Sox, even after 15 years, to move into unfamiliar territory and join the bullpen band.

If you are John Farrell and Terry Francona, what a wonderful problem to have. There is no such thing as too much depth, as long as they have a careful strategy to manage the personalities in the club house. Spring Training will hopefully shed some light on which pitchers are fully healthy and hopefully a natural rotation will emerge.