After ensuring fans that procuring quality starting pitching was a priority this winter, the Boston Red Sox have come up with nothing.
The top-tier free-agent starters that fans are begging for the Sox to sign would put the team over the first luxury tax threshold, which the front office has admitted they have no intention to reach.
As the pitcher and catcher report date looms closer and Spring Training approaches, the Red Sox are looking inward to improve their starting rotation.
Boston's bullpen has been up in the air for the last two seasons, right alongside its starting rotation. The Red Sox's new pitching philosophy includes transitioning relievers into starting pitchers. This allows Alex Cora to shuffle the rotation as he sees fit — the players that are better suited for starts in any given series will be used in the rotation. Some have wondered if that's contributed to the rise of injuries to the team's pitchers.
This method allows for inconsistent, spotty starting pitching. Doubling the number of innings a hurler is used to throwing in less than a year is a lot of stress on the arm, but Boston's new coaching staff is working with players so they can throw their best in a new role.
Pitching coach Andrew Bailey and director of pitching Justin Willard have been working with reliever Josh Winckowski to help him develop starter-level longevity. Winckowski told NESN that Bailey's methods are a big change from the previous administration, but he's enjoying it.
Can Andrew Bailey transform two Red Sox relievers into starters?
Bailey places much emphasis on pitch choice. He and Winckowski are honing the best of a pitcher's arsenal to give him the greatest chance to thrive in the starting rotation, although Winckowski's final roster spot has not been decided yet.
New Red Sox Cooper Criswell has also been swayed by Bailey's methodology. Boston told the reliever to be prepared to enter Spring Training on a starter program, and Criswell is ready to accept the challenge.
"They want me to come to spring training prepared to be a starter. Just because it’s easier if they want to move me into a bulk role out of the bullpen or even a reliever. Obviously it’s easier to transition from a starter to a reliever rather than a reliever to a starter. So I’m going to be geared up, ready for spring training to go as a starter."- Criswell via MassLive
Criswell is also focusing on the best pitches in his arsenal under Bailey's tutelage, and it's become clear the Sox's new pitching coach prefers those who miss bats rather than blow by them.
For a right-hander, Winckowski's cutter had unparalleled success against lefties, and Criswell's best pitch is his sweeper. Winckowski is searching for a two-strike pitch to use against righties and Criswell is hoping to grow his arsenal of breaking pitches. He's noticing an increase in his velocity, too.
Criswell and Winckowski are battling for a spot in Boston's starting rotation, it would seem. Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck are also among the hurlers who could be slotted in as a starter or a reliever. Garrett Whitlock and Nick Pivetta seem like locks for the starting rotation at this time, but nothing is certain — Pivetta had a standout season out of the bullpen last year and Whitlock has packed on muscle this winter.
Regardless of who ends up in the starting rotation for Boston, it isn't the lineup that fans felt they were promised this offseason. However, hearing pitchers' testimonials about working with Bailey and renewed confidence in appearing as a starter does provide optimism for jaded fans.