By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Rick Porcello now has made 103 starts in his Red Sox career, and the numbers are pretty much what you’d expect: a 47-37 record, and 4.09 ERA. Entering this year, his average season with the Red Sox produced a 14-12 record, 4.17 ERA and 199 innings pitched.
The point is that Porcello is a classic middle-of-the-rotation starter, a generally reliable sort who takes the ball every five days and makes all of his starts. He has hot streaks and cold ones. And he usually ends up being worth the money.
Which brings us back to David Price, and the enormous question mark that sits behind Chris Sale in the Red Sox rotation.
Don’t look now, folks, but Porcello is coming back to earth. With last night’s loss to the Oakland A’s, Porcello is now 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in his last two outings, a stretch during which opponents are batting .362 with a 1.013 OPS. The Red Sox have lost both games. Before anyone thinks we’re blaming Porcello for this, we’re not. Expecting him to pitch at the level he did to start the year (5-0, 2.14 ERA, .494 OPS against) was unrealistic, because almost nobody is that good and because Porcello certainly isn’t.
So here’s the question: are the Red Sox rapidly developing a need behind Sale in their starting rotation?
Look, in some ways this all ties together. The Red Sox are up against the luxury-tax threshold of $237 million, they have limited resources to deal and they have needs in other areas (like the eighth inning). Prospects Jay Groome (season-ending surgery) and Michael Chavis (predictable PED suspension) have little or no value on the current trade market. The Red Sox have to carry Blake Swihart on their active roster because he is their best trade bait and is out of minor-league options – and because it’s too early to deal him without knowing what the Red Sox’ needs will be on July 31.
And so, at the moment, the Red Sox are stuck. They’ll wait for Tyler Thornburg to see what he can give them. And they’ll see how Price pitches over the next 8-10 weeks.
Or at least they should.
Scary as it may now seem, Price is the lynchpin to the whole thing, If he pitches well, the Red Sox might be able to convince themselves that they have other needs more pressing. If he doesn’t, the possibilities grow infinitely more complex. Since Chris Sale joined the Boston rotation in 2017, Price is 9-7 with a 3.92 ERA, numbers that project to 15-12 with a 3.92 ERA and 186 innings over a full season – totals that look alarmingly like Porcello’s. That’s all well and good if Price is a No. 3 starter – but he isn’t. The Red Sox need him to be better.
|Porcello’s avg. season w/ Red Sox||14-12||4.17||199|
|Price since Sale arrived in 2017 *||15-12||3.92||186|
(* – Projected over full season.)
Unless this changes over the next several weeks, the Red Sox could find themselves in an unusual circumstance as July 31 approaches: they might need a starting pitcher, especially if they want to match up with the defending league- and world-champion Houston Astros. That No. 2 spot behind Sale can potentially turn the Boston rotation from a good one to a great one, and the Red Sox aren’t paying Price $31 million a year to be a B-grade pitcher.
Now here’s the other problem: the Red Sox’ primary competitor in the division is, of course, the New York Yankees, who probably have needs in the rotation, too. The Yankees have more prospects to deal and can outbid the Red Sox for any quality starter on the market, particularly one that is signed beyond this season. (Remember, the Red Sox will lose Drew Pomeranz to free agency in the fall.)
Again, the point: if Price pitches poorly, he hurts the Red Sox on so many levels it isn’t funny. In essence, he will put them at a disadvantage to the Yankees on the trade market. The best case scenario for Boston is for Price to pitch well and for the Red Sox to focus on improving their bullpen, in part because the cost will be less and in part because they probably won’t have to compete with the Yankees.
Obviously, there is a lot of baseball to be played. Maybe Eduardo Rodriguez will blossom this season and because a No. 2-caliber starter, taking the heat off everyone. But as Rick Porcello finds his level – and again, that is totally acceptable – a hole is developing in the rotation spot occupied by Price.
Sometime in the next several weeks, the Red Sox may be forced to fill it, and they already have other holes that should concern them.