Boston Red Sox: 5 key spring training roster battles

Red Sox catcher Jorge Alfaro
Red Sox catcher Jorge Alfaro / G Fiume/GettyImages
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Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck
Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck / Paul Rutherford/GettyImages

Red Sox 5th starting pitcher (Nick Pivetta, James Paxton, or Tanner Houck)

The Red Sox rotation is a high risk, high reward group. Chris Sale will be in the rotation as long as he's healthy; he's still the team's ace, but he's pitched just 48.1 innings over the last three seasons. Brayan Bello has a high ceiling this season, but he's a 23-year-old entering his first full season, so it's hard to set expectations too high. Garrett Whitlock looks to be staying in the rotation this year, a role he handled pretty well last year. New signee Corey Kluber is also a lock for the rotation, assuming he stays healthy. That leaves one remaining spot, and it'll likely come down to Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, or James Paxton.

Nick Pivetta has been a pretty reliable starter the past couple years. While he probably has the lowest ceiling of any of these options, he could probably offer the most innings, tossing 179.2 innings in a league-leading 33 starts in 2022. He did this, however, with a 4.56 ERA and 92 ERA+.

If the Red Sox want to get risky, they could offer the job to James Paxton. Paxton has pitched just 21.2 innings in the past 3 years, but before that, he was an All-Star caliber pitcher with the Mariners and Yankees. He's now 34 and a full year removed from pitching at any level, so realistically, he starts in the bullpen and works his way toward a long relief or spot starter role.

Chaim Bloom spoke with MassLive earlier this month and seemed very hesitant on the idea of James Paxton joining the bullpen; perhaps he's actually the frontrunner for the rotation job.

Tanner Houck might work out better in the bullpen than in the rotation. In 13 starts in 2021, he had a 3.68 ERA with 11.2 K/9, and in 28 relief appearances in 2022, he had a 2.70 ERA with 8.9 K/9. Houck has never pitched more than 70 innings in a season, so his track record is still hard to measure, but he looks better as a reliever than as a starter.

Recently, we discussed how Tanner Houck's versatility is his biggest weapon, and the Red Sox could opt to keep Houck in the bullpen to leave him as a multi-inning reliever who can fill in for injured starters.

Assuming all three are healthy out of spring, James Paxton actually seems to be the favorite to join the rotation. He has a higher ceiling than Pivetta, and Houck's versatility is too valuable to pass up.