Red Sox should take chance on bounce-back starters

Ahead of a season that appears to be another bridge one, the Boston Red Sox should look to round out their rotation with a couple of candidates for bounce-back campaigns.

As evidenced by their reported interest in veteran right-handers Corey Kluber, Charlie Morton, and Julio Teheran, one can infer that the team will be willing to go to the well once more. Looking at the remaining free agents, it might be the best method to build a strong rotation.

As it sits, the Red Sox will open the 2021 season with a rotation of Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, Martín Pérez, and either Tanner Houck or Matt Andriese. However, in June, they should be getting the long-awaited return of Chris Sale. With that in mind, that rotation still won’t have enough to contend in the American League.

So which bounce-back candidates make the most sense for Chaim Bloom, Brian O’Halloran, and the rest of the Red Sox brass?

James Paxton

The tall southpaw is coming off a season where he made just five starts and posted an ERA of 6.64. His FIP was 4.37, his SIERA was better than in 2019 (3.88), and his strikeout-to-walk rate was within half a percent of his inaugural season in the Big Apple.

However, like many times before, Paxton saw injuries derail him mightily throughout the season––even taking a toll on him when he was healthy. The Canada native’s fastball velocity was an all-time low of 92.8 mph on average (next-closest was 94.9 in 2015). This decrease could be mainly due to his offseason back surgery and a forearm injury that nagged him throughout 2020.

However, the lefty reportedly reached up to 94 mph in a bullpen in front of scouts in late-December. In doing so, he’s indicating that he’s recovered from his injuries and could be of excellent service to a team looking to add to their rotation.

Given his market value, according to Spotrac, is a touch over $12 million, there’s simply no reason for the Red Sox not to be one of the teams of interest.

Between 2018 and 2019, Paxton ranked tied for 18th with Clayton Kershaw with a 3.54 FIP, was tied for 13th in xFIP (3.51), and was sixth in strikeout rate (30.8 percent). He posted an xFIP of 1.92 on his knuckle curve and 0.95 on his cutter over that stretch. Both pitches also had a strikeout rate of 37.1 percent or better.

There are a couple of red flags when it comes to Paxton. The first and most obvious one is his injury history. While a forearm injury can often be a precursor to Tommy John Surgery, Paxton is a big-bodied pitcher with back issues. As he ages, those can be more profound. And with him already being 32 years old, there’s a real question regarding how long you will be willing to commit to him.

If Paxton is willing to sign for two or fewer years at roughly $12 to $14 million in average annual value, that’s about as great a contrast as there is on the open market for Chaim Bloom.

Chris Archer

Unlike Paxton, Chaim Bloom has a sense of familiarity with Chris Archer. The 32-year-old right-hander was traded to Tampa Bay in the deal that sent the highly-sought-after Matt Garza to the Windy City.

Archer blossomed for the Rays, making two All-Star teams and finishing in the top five for the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. Then, after years of anchoring that staff, I was able to bring them Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows in a trade with Pittsburgh in 2018.

Though that trade is often mocked for how much the Pirates overpaid for Archer’s services, we often lose sight of the fact he’s been an exceptional big-league pitcher since his arrival in 2012.

But after not pitching at all in 2020 due to a shoulder injury, Archer’s $11 million club option was not picked up. While not shocking, given the Pirates organization’s direction, it should raise eyebrows that there hasn’t been much-reported interest in him. His ERA since 2016 is 4.31, but his peripherals are both sub-4.00, his SIERA is 3.70, and his strikeout rate is 27.5 percent.

Like Paxton, Archer’s market value is likely relatively low. However, if the Red Sox are willing to go the route of two years, plus a mutual or vesting option for a third season, that could be enough to pry him away from someone else.

There’s no reason that the Red Sox couldn’t sign both of these starters, given their estimated market value. In an offseason where they’ve come up short multiple times when it comes to veteran arms, the Red Sox might be best-suited to act fast while the buzz around these two has dissipated entirely.

Having Paxton and Archer in your back pocket allows the Red Sox to do multiple things.

1) Survive while Chris Sale continues to recover from Tommy John Surgery.

As mentioned before, the Red Sox rotation to open the season is less than impressive. While Paxton and Archer may not be All-Stars in 2021, their presence alone gives a better chance at victory each trip through the rotation.

2) Have an electrifying rotation when he gets back.

Chris Sale

James Paxton

Chris Archer

Eduardo Rodriguez

Nathan Eovaldi

Martín Pérez

With Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck continuing their development and Matt Andriese being a versatile option as a reliever or an opener, this rotation’s depth seems a lot more concrete. Though health concerns will always follow the top five names mentioned, that’s the unfortunate nature of the situation. However, at full health, you have one of the better rotations in the American League, and certainly in the division.

Their eyes may be set on 2022, but this team isn’t as far away from posing a threat as many lead on. They still had a top-12 offense in baseball, while J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi were two of the worst offensive players in the league.

Ownership said at the end of 2020 that the product they put out there was unacceptable. Should they fail to make the roster better, outside of Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale’s return, it’s a terrible look. Not just for ownership but also the front office as a whole. Boston is a market that demands success. While that doesn’t mean being irresponsible, it also doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands and watch impact players slip through your fingers.

Mandatory Credit:

Embed from Getty Images

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