Mazz: The 2 most important players for a Red Sox revival
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – JUNE 01: Starting pitcher Garrett Whitlock #72 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Fenway Park on June 01, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
With with regard to the Red Sox, as the saying goes, it is what it is. The problems that plagued the Sox throughout the 2022 season are one thing. Fixing them is something else entirely.
Especially with regard to the pitching staff.
Let’s say, for example, that the Sox re-sign both Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. The Sox would still have a bundle to spend and would need to fill out their lineup, where bargains (like Hunter Renfroe in 2021) can be more easily found. But filling the holes on the pitching staff are a far greater challenge. Free-agent pitchers are typically older and require investment – something the Sox are loathe to do – and the options feel decidedly thin. The other option would be to trade premium prospects for a young pitcher entering his prime years – Shohei Ohtani, for example? – but the Sox aren’t likely to part with the necessary pieces, which would likely include some combination involving Marcelo Mayer or Tristan Casas or both.
And at this stage, does anyone really have faith that Chris Sale can make it through a full season and pitch at a high level?
As such, the following two – in no particular order – may be most important to the Sox’ success:
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 24: Starting pitcher Brayan Bello #66 of the Boston Red Sox throws against the Toronto Blue Jays during the second inning at Fenway Park on August 24, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Don’t look now, but as Alex Copra suggested, Bello has begun turning a corner. His two-seam fastball is a Grade-A, bona fide bat breaker – and that alone is enough to stay in the big leagues so long as Bello can command it. Bello’s stuff is good enough to beat good lineups – like Toronto’s – though he’s still a work in progress.
Is Bello ready to be an ace? Probably not. But he might be ready to assume a place in the middle of the Boston rotation and give the Red Sox a serious jolt. The Sox should absolutely, positively commit to Bello being part of the starting rotation next year. His development as a starter might be the single most important thing they have to accomplish in 2023.
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – AUGUST 20: Garrett Whitlock #72 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 20, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
If you’ve followed along this year, you know that many of us (ahem) wanted Whitlock in the bullpen all year because the 2022 Sox needed him there. But next year? The rotation might be the place for him. If that sounds hypocritical, is isn’t. If Whitlock can be a front-end starter – and that is still a big if – there’s great value in that.
Further, it will be easier for Chaim Bloom to replace Whitlock in the bullpen than it would be to find a comparable starter on the free-agent or trade market. (This might also be true of Tanner Houck.) But you get the idea. Commit to Whitlock as a starter – during the offseason – and built the staff accordingly. There aren’t any better options for the rotation at this stage.