Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said yesterday that he and his staff have been doing “a lot of math’’ to figure out whether the team has enough starting pitching for the coming season.
That must be some creative accounting. Outside of Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and Jon Lester, the Red Sox do not have any healthy major league-ready starters on their 40-man roster with a month to go before pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
The plan is to have two relievers - Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves - compete for a chance to join the rotation. Bard is almost certain to get a spot, given the acquisition of closer Andrew Bailey. Theoretically, Cherington said before last night’s Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, Aceves could join him.
But Bard threw only 73 innings last season and Aceves 114. Getting close to the 175-200 innings provided by a healthy starter will be difficult.
“That will come down to decision-making in spring training,’’ Cherington said. “We’re either stronger in the pen, which can help your rotation, or we’re stronger in the rotation and hurting the pen a little bit. We need to balance that out. They both deserve a chance to show they belong in the rotation.’’
The Red Sox are hoping the inevitable gaps will be filled by would-be starters Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva, and Aaron Cook. The wildly inconsistent Miller returns from last season. Padilla, Silva, and Cook are former standouts, now in the later stages of their careers, who agreed to minor league contracts.
The other player who could help is Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery and could be ready for the second half of the season.
“It would be nice, I suppose, to have five perfectly healthy guys you knew for sure would give you 200 innings every year,’’ said Cherington. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had that, and this year is no different.
“We feel really good about the front of the rotation. We feel like we have a collection of guys who can win jobs and help us in the fourth and fifth spots. We feel confident that both Bard and Aceves are capable of doing it, not to say they’ll definitely be in the rotation.’’
The Sox proved that method could work in 2007. Matsuzaka (204 2/3 innings), Beckett (200 2/3), and Tim Wakefield (189) were the rotation mainstays, with Curt Schilling, Julian Tavarez, and Lester providing support. The Sox won 96 games and the World Series.
The key this year will be how well Beckett, Buchholz, and Lester hold up. Buchholz started only 14 games in 2011, his season ending in June because of a back injury. Beckett pitched well until September, when an ankle injury led to his losing two critical games down the stretch as the team collapsed and finished in third place.
New pitching coach Bob McClure and the team’s medical staff have kept a close eye on Beckett and Buchholz this winter. New manager Bobby Valentine also visited Beckett in Texas.
“They’ve both had really good offseasons,’’ Cherington said of the two righthanders. “We don’t expect any issues with either of them going into camp. I know they’re both really motivated to have a good year.’’
As the Red Sox stitch together options, the Yankees signed free agent Hiroki Kuroda and traded for impressive young righthander Michael Pineda last week. The Rays go six deep with their rotation. By any evaluation, the Red Sox have no better than the third-best rotation in the AL East.
Cherington said is he looking at ways to add more depth. But the only real upgrade would be to add payroll and sign Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson, the best free agent starters on the market.
“I think we have more questions right now than Tampa and New York, for example,’’ he said. “There’s probably less competition for the rotation with those two teams. The Yankees made some moves to strengthen their rotation and Tampa has had a strong rotation.
“Ultimately the answer will be written on the field. There have been very recent examples of teams that looked like they were going to be struggling for depth at this point in the offseason and found some ways to put it together and did a good job of buying low on some guys. They figured it out.’’
Can the Red Sox make the right choices? That will be up to Cherington and the field staff. In his stops with the Rangers and Mets, one of Valentine’s strengths as a manager was getting production out of lesser players on the roster. That skill could be crucial this season.
“Certainly the personnel is a huge part of it - the names on the roster and the pedigree and all that is critical,’’ Cherington said. “The element that doesn’t get talked about as much is the infrastructure. It’s what we’re doing to help our guys before they’re out there, to help them get out there and help them succeed when they are out there.
“Our coaching staff is going to be challenged, perhaps, in some ways they haven’t been in some recent years. Whenever there’s competition and uncertainty, the coaches have more of a challenge, and we know they’re up for that challenge.’’