It’s been a very long time because the Red Sox went into an offseason with out ‘Give starting rotation an extreme makeover’ on the high of their to-do checklist.
Corey Kluber and James Paxton are about to turn into free brokers, and though that also leaves Chris Sale, Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford, and Garrett Whitlock among the many inside rotation candidates, it’s clear that the Red Sox nonetheless want at the least one starter.
If they want a blueprint for his or her newest pitching search, Zack Wheeler is the mannequin pitcher.
He isn’t available on the market, sadly. The Red Sox ought to’ve adopted by way of on that on the July 2019 commerce deadline, once they reportedly spoke to the New York Mets about buying him, or gone after him when he grew to become a free agent that fall.
Yet if the Red Sox had been to zero in on somebody like Wheeler – somebody itching to show they’re greater than what folks see – they may strike gold.
Since signing his five-year, $118 million contract with the Phillies on the finish of 2019, Wheeler has constantly been probably the most dominant and sturdy pitchers within the recreation. Through 4 years within the City of Brotherly Love, the 33-year-old right-hander owns a 3.06 ERA throughout 101 begins, with 675 strikeouts and solely 135 walks issued over the course of 629.1 regular-season innings. In 2021, he led the Majors with 213.1 innings, was the National League Strikeout Leader (247), and completed runner-up to Corbin Burnes in NL Cy Young voting.
While Phillies have made a number of huge additions over the past half-decade, together with Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, and Nick Castellanos, beginning pitching is what makes or breaks a group. (Compare the 2018 and 2021 Red Sox to each different season because the former and there’s actually no debate.)
When they ended their postseason look drought final fall and went all the way in which to the World Series, Wheeler posted a 2.78 ERA throughout six begins. This week, the “Fightins’” started their second consecutive playoff run with “Wheels” pitching 6.1 innings of one-run ball in Game 1 of the Wild Card collection on Tuesday night time. He held the visiting Miami Marlins to 1 earned run on 5 hits, struck out eight, and didn’t stroll a single batter, lifting the Phillies to a 4-1 victory.
What a distinction beginning pitching makes.
What a distinction the years make, too. This signing wasn’t precisely seen as a slam dunk on the time.
“The selling point for Wheeler—one that’s been parroted throughout free agency—is that he carries the potential for ace-level performance without an ace-level price tag,” The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote on Dec. 4, 2019. “But outside of his exceptional fastball velocity and impressive underlying numbers, according to Statcast, he’s good but not great.”
Wheeler was thought of the No. 3 starter on that market, the extra reasonably priced arm in a free-agent class headlined by Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the 2 aces recent off dueling within the World Series.
“Compared to Cole and Strasburg, the actual aces on the free agent market, Wheeler has a lower ceiling and a lower floor,” Baumann continued. “If they’d been willing to increase their offer to $30 million a year, they could have walked away with Cole or Strasburg, both of whom have higher upside than Wheeler with almost none of the question marks.”
While Cole has undoubtedly been the ace of the Yankees rotation since signing later that month, posting a 3.08 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, and placing out 816 batters over 108 regular-season begins (664 innings) and incomes AL Cy Young votes yearly, the Phillies have gone farther with Wheeler than Cole and Co. The Yankees have solely made it so far as the American League Championship Series as soon as throughout his tenure to this point, and didn’t attain the postseason this yr in any respect. Which isn’t to say Cole alone shoulders the blame for the franchise’s downturn – removed from it – however he’s nonetheless costing them much more, and the Yankees don’t have a lot to indicate for it.
In Strasburg, the Phillies prevented an costly and tragic flip of occasions. Five days after Baumann’s piece went stay, the reigning World Series MVP signed a seven-year, $245 million extension to stay with the Washington Nationals. His $35 million annual common worth (AAV) set a brand new file for pitchers.
Unfortunately, a plethora of accidents and surgical procedures pulled Strasburg again to the sidelines again and again within the final 4 years. He’s solely made eight Major League begins totaling 31.1 innings. There was speak of the now-34-year-old retiring on the finish of this season, one by which he didn’t step on a Major League mound as soon as.
Of course, hindsight’s imaginative and prescient is ideal, foresight much less so. Still, the Red Sox could also be clever to move on extra pricier free brokers in favor of somebody flying a bit beneath the radar.
Other than Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell is that this offseason’s high free-agent beginning pitcher, and as he’s in line to win his second profession Cy Young Award – which might make him solely the seventh participant in MLB historical past to win one in every league – he’s primed for a giant payday. The presumed Qualifying Offer from the Padres means Snell will value a group at the least one draft decide in addition to.
Why not take a look at Wheeler’s teammate, Aaron Nola, as a substitute? The homegrown starter doesn’t overpower hitters with velocity, however well-honed command will get the job accomplished. Most interesting to the Red Sox, who’ve weathered too many beginning pitching accidents over many of the final 4 years, is his well being. The 30-year-old right-hander is an innings-eater who’s racked up at the least 180 frames in every of the final 5 seasons. He’s not not like Rick Porcello, who wasn’t at all times efficient, however was at all times out there for at the least 5 innings.
With the Phillies ending their playoff drought with back-to-back Wild Card berths, Nola has additionally added postseason expertise to his resumé. Of course, relying on how their playoff run pans out, his asking value may undergo the roof.
Lucas Giolito may match the invoice. Not way back, he was the ace of the Sox rotation in Chicago. Between 2019-21, he posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.076 WHIP over 72 regular-season begins, with 526 strikeouts throughout 427.2 innings. This season, nevertheless, the White Sox traded him to Anaheim, the place, barely a month later, he suffered the humiliation of being positioned on waivers by a collapsing Angels group that determined to dump wage. Thus, the righty completed the season again within the Midwest, the place he made six begins the Cleveland Guardians. Still solely 28 years previous, he should be itching to show himself in spite of everything that.
If the Red Sox are critical about turning into contenders once more, they’ll must be spenders first. But as they know firsthand, and from their view on the sidelines, they’d do effectively to spend properly.