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108 Stitches Newsletter with Alex Speier

Sunday, March 26, 2017
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For David Price, the wait to resume throwing continues, a process that has rendered the Red Sox lefthander a bit stir crazy, he tells Dan Shaughnessy.

For Drew Pomeranz, Friday marks a critical step in his wait-and-see spring, as the lefthander makes his first start since he walked off the mound after two innings with triceps tightness last weekend.

At a time when Kyle Kendrick represents arguably the Red Sox’ only major league-ready rotation depth option, it has been a slightly unsettling spring for the team’s rotation outlook. There is immense potential in a group that features three pitchers who have performed at Cy Young-caliber standards (Price, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale), two additional 2016 All-Stars (Pomeranz and Steven Wright) and a promising 23-year-old (Eduardo Rodriguez). But the injury to Price (not to mention another potential depth option, Roenis Elias), the gradual progression of Pomeranz, and the spring struggles of Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Hector Velazquez raise questions about whether the Red Sox are built to withstand the attrition of the season.

That said, the Red Sox don’t appear to be rushing to find additional reinforcements. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, asked if anything this spring had altered his view on the need to add starting depth, suggested he had not.

“Not to date,” he said. “People are so reactive. Not that you don’t constantly keep a pulse of everything as far as you can, but to be overly aggressive in terms of trying to do something in that regard, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Dombrowski identified a few sources of calm regarding the Red Sox’ rotation depth. Among them:

 In the absence of Price, if Pomeranz emerges healthy from the spring, the Sox feel like a rotation of Porcello, Sale, Wright, Rodriguez, and Pomeranz remains formidable. “That gives us five quality big league starters,” said Dombrowski.

 Kendrick has pitched well enough to give the club a sense of comfort should they need to look beyond those five at the start of the year.

 Though Elias has been sidelined with an intercostal injury, he’s expected to be able to resume pitching soon. “He’s not that far behind,” Dombrowski said. “People call me about guys like an Elias all the time because they’re looking for those types of [pitchers].”

 Dombrowski said that past performance creates the possibility that pitchers like Owens, Johnson, and Velazquez could all emerge as depth options. Dombrowski noted that Owens showed improvement in a recent minor league game using a modified delivery.

 Price is expected back at a relatively early stage of the season, possibly around early May.

“I don’t want to put a date on it, but somewhere around there,” Dombrowski said of Price’s potential return date, suggesting that it hadn’t altered much from expectations since he’d been seen by Drs. James Andrews and Neal ElAttrache at the beginning of the month.

 The expectation of an early-season return by Price not only offers reassurance to Dombrowski about the team’s rotation depth but that also serves as a disincentive for any remaining free agents (though not named by Dombrowski, veterans such as Doug Fister and Colby Lewis fall into this category) to sign with the Sox. While it’s easy to look at the Red Sox’ depth as a shortcoming, free agents likely would see a lack of obvious opportunity in Boston.

“I’m not saying that if somebody fell in our lap we wouldn’t be happy to put them in Triple A, but I don’t have a big league job to offer. [It’s] no different than it’s been all winter: Where do you put them? I don’t have an answer to that,” said Dombrowski. “Somebody, if they’re going to sign with you can say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign.’ Are you going to sit Rodriguez? Are you going to sit Porcello? Are you going to sit Sale? I don’t really know what that answer is for somebody at this point. And if Price comes back quickly, what do you do with that guy? I’d gladly have two or three more guys at Triple A that were big league starters, that were good, that we can bring up at any time. But they want to sign with a big league contract.”

In other words, while the Red Sox will explore the market for any opportunities created at the end of spring training, the likeliest scenario is that, to open the season, the Red Sox’ starting pitching depth options will remain the ones already in their organization.

To the links!

EXHIBITIONISM: The first effort to approximate the Red Sox’ Opening Day lineup looked the part on Thursday, as the Red Sox hung a 10-spot on the Pirates (their season-opening opponents) in a 10-7 victory. Dan Shaughnessy takes stock of the offensive fireworks.

Meanwhile, starter Steven Wright cruised into the fifth inning in a fashion that suggested that his shoulder woes are behind him, as Ian Browne of MLB.com writes.

X MARKS WHICH SPOT? There is an element of a challenge in shortstop Xander Bogaerts’ potential move to the No. 6 spot in the Red Sox lineup, writes Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

Bogaerts’ World Baseball Classic journey around the globe highlighted how far he’s come in four years while offering a reminder that he still has plenty of room to grow as a player, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal.

LEON MARKS HIS TERRITORY: Red Sox manager John Farrell remains committed to opening the year with Sandy Leon as his catcher, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.

SANDOVAL’S CHANGED OUTLOOK: Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandovaltold Jorge Ortiz of USA Today that his life was in a “downward spiral” that was reversed in no small part by the determination inspired by the birth of his son last year.

HANLEY’S SECOND ACT: Scott Lauber of ESPN.com writes that, in a 2017 season in which he will not have David Ortiz by his side, Red Sox designated hitter Hanley Ramirez has a chance to begin defining the second stage of his career.

FOR MONCADA, A DIFFERENT WORLD: Eli Saslow profiles Yoan Moncada for ESPN The Magazine, exploring a player who is enduring a seismic lifestyle transition as he rockets toward the big leagues, variables that create fascination – and some uncertainty – about the outcome.

GLOBAL POSTSCRIPT: Peter Gammons writes that the World Baseball Classic represented a brilliant celebration of the diverse cultures of baseball.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association head Tony Clarkpronounced the WBC a rousing success that demonstrated that the event has staying power.

THE RED SOX AREN’T ALONE IN STRUGGLING TO DEVELOP STARTERS: Within Mark Feinsand’s Q&A with Brian Cashman, the Yankees GM offers a blunt assessment of why his team has struggled to develop starting pitchers in recent decades – and why a team like the Rays has bucked a pattern of failure that has afflicted the Yankees and Red Sox.

“I think part of the process has been certainly where we draft. Because we’ve had a lot of success, we’ve not been allowed to tank and go off the board and therefore get access to some of the high-end stuff that plays out to be impactful. Part of it is we can’t get out of our own way because we don’t have the patience to let guys finish off their development, because if you possess some unique ability that stands out above everybody else – whether it was Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, now [Luis] Severino and before that [Bryan] Mitchell and Shane Greene – we’re pulling them up before their development is finished.

“Teams like Tampa Bay, for instance, they’re going to wait until they have their four pitches down and their innings limits are all exceeded at the minor league level; they’re very disciplined in that approach as they finish off their starters.”

THEO-CRACY: Fortune Magazine named Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein the best leader … in the world.

Epstein (and, evidently, his dog) took umbrage at the accolade, while members of the Cubs were split on whether Epstein should rank ahead of Pope Francis and others, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

(While I did not engage in a ranking of Epstein’s leadership relative to world leaders, I did look at the distinguishing characteristics of his leadership in November.)

QUINTANAMANIA: Trade interest in Jose Quintana will prove a constant story line until the White Sox move the lefthander, but Chicago GM Rick Hahntells Scott Merkin of MLB.com that he’s in no rush to budge from his pursuit of the best possible return.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.

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