Whether Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale misses some or all of 2020, his once-again sore elbow serves notice that Chaim Bloom needs to build rotation depth now.
It’s time for Boston Red Sox Baseball Chief Chaim Bloom to push the pedal down, ditch the talk about an “opener,” and once and for all piece together a full pitching rotation. We’re talking five legit starters and at least one depth starter ready to go at the MLB level on a moment’s notice.
Tuesday’s news that ace starter Chris Sale again has a sore elbow, with MRI results to be examined by Dr. James Andrews (as of this writing), confirms the obvious: the Sox quickly need another established arm for Sale insurance, preferably without having to make a trade. The time to add starting pitching is now – not in May, and not at the trading deadline in late July. If Sale is lost for an appreciable amount of time, the Sox might not keep their heads above water that long.
Signing veteran free-agent starters Clay Buchholz AND Andrew Cashner on the cheap doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. Desperate? Well, yeah. But a bad idea? You got a better one? There’s payroll room to do it.
This latest setback should not be a surprise by any stretch, considering Sale’s recent health history. Even if he wasn’t saying it, Bloom already should have had a Plan B (or a Plan C, now that David Price has joined Rick Porcello in the exit lane) to enact if and when Sale misses a chunk of the 2020 season – or miss it entirely. There’s no getting around the fact he’s fragile; apparently, that part of his makeup is never going away.
It didn’t help a few hours later Tuesday afternoon when newly acquired and presumptive No. 4 starter Marty Perez laid an egg in an ugly Grapefruit League start against the New York Yankees (four hits, a walk and six runs [one earned] in two-thirds of an inning). Go ahead and write off Perez’s poor performance as a blip of coincidence, or take it as another sign of a pitching rotation that appears ridiculously thin, hanging by a thread.
Super Tuesday? Not so super for the Red Sox.
Bloom has to hope No. 2 (or perhaps impending No. 1) starter Eduardo Rodriguez has no further issues with his knee, and that Nathan Eovaldi and his golden (yet tricky) right arm makes it to Opening Day healthy and available.
Just like that, Ryan Weber’s prospects as a No. 5 starter have just gone from possible to near-ironclad. An extended Sale absence makes Weber the likely No. 4 starter. If bad goes to worse goes to horrendous, Weber might be No. 1 by Opening Day.
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Consider Sale’s sore elbow and need for an MRI following his 15-pitch bullpen session Sunday, as, at best, a warning that more MLB-experienced starting pitching is needed for the Red Sox. At worse, pending Andrews’ assessment, this could be the beginning of the end of Sale’s 2020 season if Tommy John surgery is needed. If that’s the case, using an opener, all wonky strategizing aside, is best left as a stopgap measure and not a habit.
A quick aside about the use of openers. As we all know so well by now, the Tampa Bay Rays, under Bloom in part, have used them effectively. But would it work well for most teams over 162 games? Very questionable. Former (and future?) Red Sox Manager Alex Cora has talked in the past about not chasing wins – not burning up your bullpen in an all-hands-on-deck effort to win one game when it then leaves you shorthanded for the next game or two.
My question for you, Chaim Bloom: Do you really want to chase wins every fifth game, knowing it could have a residual negative effect, possibly cumulative, those other four (or 130+) games?
By the way, that 15-day IL stint for Sale to start the season after his nasty bout with flu/pneumonia? That now seems like the good ol’ days.
Then there’s that MLB investigation of the 2018 Red Sox to think about. Better yet, let’s not go there right now. One sore subject a day is enough.
Even if Andrews green-lights Sale to resume pitching soon, this is the new reality the Sox have been living since Andrews gave Sale a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection last fall. Let’s be honest: the injection was a “let’s-see-if-this-works” alternative to TJ surgery, with its long-range effectiveness always a question mark. Now, it appears, Bloom and the Red Sox are getting answers they didn’t want to see or hear.
This doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario for the Red Sox in 2020, and they shouldn’t have to trade anyone at this point (Jackie Bradley Jr.? Bobby Dalbec?). Suggestion: sign both Buchholz and Cashner to cheap contracts, and then let them finish spring training and get into extended spring training and some minor-league games in hopes they can be ready to take the hill and start by around April 15-20. See what they can do.
This would leave the Red Sox with a rotation of 1. Rodriguez, 2. Eovaldi, 3. Perez, 4. Weber, and 5. Opener (Darwinzon Hernandez, Brian Johnson?) to get the Sox through the first two weeks, with Buchholz and/or Cashner, ready to plug in two or three weeks into the season.
Even if Sale can come back and start before May, the Sox would be walking on eggshells with him and his long-term future, otherwise known as the new normal. It’s time to be proactive and make those eggshells a bit more bearable.