Spring forward: Sox own wealth of starting arms

Spring forward: Sox own wealth of starting arms
February 13, 2014, 12:15 pm
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All this week, Sean McAdam will be examining issues facing the Red Sox as they begin spring training. Today: Can you have too much starting pitching? Tomorrow: The challenge of repeating.

It's one of the oldest and sturdiest cliches in baseball: You can never have too much pitching.
 
The Red Sox, it would seem, are about to put that to the test.
 
The Sox will begin spring training with six proven major league starters:  Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
 
Even the least experienced starter (Doubront) has twice recorded double figures in wins at the big-league level. And none has any option available, eliminating the possibility of stashing an arm at Triple A until the over-crowding resolves itself.

What to do?

Nothing, according to GM Ben Cherington.

"You never know,'' said Cherington recently. "But we're not expecting any significant movement in the form of a trade. We're not expecting that. I think we feel good about where we are, the players we have and we're just focused on getting ready for spring training.''

In December, a source with knowledge of the team's plans said it was likely that the Sox would deal off a veteran starter once the market for starting pitching became clarified.

Teams who missed out on free agent Masahiro Tanaka -- or deemed other options as cost-prohibitive -- would surely target the Red Sox as a willing trade partner, open to moving one of their starters.

(From the beginning, it was evident that the Sox would not part with some of their starters. Jon Lester, fresh off a fantastic post-season and months away from free agency, would be untouchable. So, too, would Clay Buchholz, who remains under the team's control for four more seasons.)

But even after the bidding for Tanaka concluded, there was little movement in the pitching market. Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo have found new homes, but free agents Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez remain available even as teams head for Florida and Arizona.

It's not as if the Sox would be willing to stash one of their projected starters in the bullpen to alleviate the glut of pitching. Doubront pitched well out of the bullpen last October when the postseason schedule dictated a shortened rotation.
 
But moving him there over the course of a long regular season isn't a wise allocation of the team's resources.

For spring training, the six-man rotation won't pose any problems for  the Red Sox, since manager John Farrell, in recognition of the extended postseason of last October, has said he intends to scale back the workload of some veteran pitchers.

Moreover, it's easy for teams to find work for pitchers in the spring in the form of minor league games, split-squad games and side sessions.
 
But once the season begins, it will get trickier. And that doesn't begin to take into account the number of young pitchers the Red Sox would like to begin integrating into their rotation.

Brandon Workman, who made significant contributions out of the bullpen -- he was  entrusted with the eighth inning in three of the six World Series games last fall -- has earned a longer look, and soon, the same will be said of Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo and others.

Things can change quickly in baseball, and a spring training injury could result in teams suddenly desperate for established major league pitching. For that matter, the Red Sox could suffer an injury of their own to one of their six starters, reducing the logjam.
 
For now, however, the Sox have more pitching than they know how to use. There are probably more than two dozen other teams in the game that would find that an enviable position in which to be.