The Red Sox have shown interest in free-agent Matt Shoemaker.
Upgrading the pitching staff should be a top priority for the Boston Red Sox but the solution doesn’t need to be one big splash. The high-profile free-agents will garner the most attention but some under the radar moves could be vital to building depth for a thin rotation.
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Red Sox are among the teams showing interest in right-handed pitcher Matt Shoemaker.
Injuries have limited Shoemaker over the last several seasons. He hasn’t reached 80 innings in any season since 2016 when he tossed a career-high 160 innings. He was excellent in five starts for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019, posting a 1.57 ERA before suffering a torn ACL that ended his season.
Shoemaker struggled while working his way back from injury this season, posting a career-worst 4.71 ERA in six starts. Missing about a month with shoulder inflammation certainly didn’t help.
The biggest problem plaguing Shoemaker this year was the long ball. He surrendered eight home runs in only 28 2/3 innings for a staggering 2.5 HR/9. The 1.3 HR/9 he owns for his career is far more reasonable and he’s posted a 1.0 HR/9 or less in four of his previous six seasons. This suggests that his issues with being prone to home runs was the result of a small sample and shaking off the rust from his lengthy time off.
The overall results this year weren’t great but the Blue Jays trusted Shoemaker enough to start him in Game 1 of the Wild Card series. He provided three shutout innings in a game they would eventually go on to lose to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Shoemaker wouldn’t be a flashy signing but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a savvy move to add a low-cost veteran with upside. He didn’t make the cut on the top-50 free-agent predictions made by MLB Trade Rumors. The last pitcher they projected was a 1-year, $4 million deal for Chris Archer. Shoemaker would presumably be projected for no more than that on a short-term deal if the list were expanded.
Shoemaker should be available for cheaper than the $6.85 million option the Red Sox declined for Martin Perez. He might have a higher ceiling than Perez, but based on his performance this year and injury history we can’t assume he’s an upgrade. If the plan is to replace Perez with a riskier option who happens to be cheaper, we’re in for another rough season in 2021.
That’s unlikely to be Boston’s strategy though. The rotation options they should have available to begin next season include Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta. None of the other internal options showed enough potential this year to warrant a rotation spot so the Red Sox need to add at least one starting pitcher to fill in until Chris Sale is ready to return around mid-season.
Houck and Pivetta earned an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot with their late-season performances but the role shouldn’t be handed to them. Boston should be exploring low-cost options to provide competition for those slots at the back of the rotation.
Ideally, the Red Sox will add a legitimate third starter to fill in behind Sale and Rodriguez when the rotation is back at full strength. Eovaldi would fall in next, followed by a fifth starter who earns the spot based on performance. Shoemaker is a potential option they could bring in to compete for that spot with Houck and Pivetta. They’ll need at least two from that group until Sale returns or in case another starter goes down with an injury.
Some may view this rumor as a sign that the Red Sox are repeating last year’s mistake of shopping in the bargain bin, scooping up several handfuls of mud to fling at the wall in hopes that something will stick. We shouldn’t assume the front office will be content with that.
We all want to see the Red Sox spend on the high-priced free-agent who provides a quick fix but building depth will be vital to getting this team back on track. If Shoemaker, or a comparable cheap veteran, is the only starting pitcher the Red Sox add then this will be a disappointing winter. If this turns out to be modest upgrade as part of a series of moves to revamp the rotation, it could prove to be a low-risk signing that pays off.