SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Baseball’s General Managers’ Meetings are viewed as a precursor to the Winter Meetings in December, a time for teams to assess their needs and determine what’s possible via trade and free agency.
For Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow, it also will be the first opportunity for face-to-face encounters with his counterparts from other teams in his new role.
As the meetings got started Monday, Breslow did not have the luxury of easing into his new job. The Sox are one of at least 22 teams expected to be in the market for at least one starting pitcher this winter. Improving the rotation is not a goal for the Red Sox, it’s a necessity. Theirs had a 4.68 earned run average last season, ninth-highest in the game. Red Sox starters accounted for 774⅓ innings, less than five per game.
Only the Rockies, Athletics, and Giants received fewer innings from their starters.
Brayan Bello is the only trustworthy starter returning. Kutter Crawford and Nick Pivetta had rotation slots, lost them, then regained the opportunity later in the season and pitched well. Does that mean they can succeed for a contending team? Not necessarily, but they should be in the mix.
Chris Sale, who turns 35 in March, has been on the injured list five times and started only 31 games since 2020. At this point, anything he provides in the last years of his contract is a bonus. To start the season planning for Sale to provide 25-30 starts wouldn’t make sense.
Tanner Houck (6-10, 5.01 ERA) and Garrett Whitlock (4-3, 5.23) were hit hard as starters last season. Both have expressed a desire to start, but haven’t backed it up by performance.
Still, manager Alex Cora remains hopeful some of the starters on the roster will improve.
“Sometimes it’s free agency; sometimes it’s trades. But most of the time it’s the guys that you have in-house, to make them better,” he said. “We have recognized that throughout the last month. Obviously [Breslow] is going to add [strategies] for our players to improve. But we have to execute the plan.”
But, as with Sale, that can’t be assumed. That leaves Breslow needing to add at least two starters if the Sox are serious about competing next season. Anything less and it’s another year of bullpen fire drills, openers, and minor league journeymen on one-day callups.
The good news? The free agent class includes 8-10 established starters and two possibilities from Japan, righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto and lefthander Shota Imanaga. (Yamamoto was a teammate of Sox left fielder Masataka Yoshida in Japan.)
From his time with the Cubs, Breslow will have a good sense of how Marcus Stroman could fit. Two former Red Sox — Eduardo Rodriguez and Michael Wacha — are back on the market.
Aaron Nola is a reliable innings-eater who was strong for the Phillies in the postseason. Blake Snell had a 2.25 ERA in San Diego and could win the NL Cy Young Award, but he has surpassed 129 innings once in the last four full seasons.
Sonny Gray has set himself up for a good contract, as has Jordan Montgomery. There are also former top-shelf starters who now bring risk in Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, and Mike Clevinger.
Breslow said several times last week that the financial resources will be available to pursue top free agents. He also has trade capital in outfielders Alex Verdugo and Jarren Duran, and others from the major league roster along with a farm system stocked with infielders. It’ll be up to Breslow to use his pitching acumen to determine who fits best.
The Sox also need a second baseman, another righthanded hitter, and a backup catcher, with the likelihood of Reese McGuire being non-tendered later this month. But everything else is secondary to the rotation.
“We’re here to win championships,” team president Sam Kennedy said last week when Breslow was introduced. “But all the optimism in the world isn’t going to get us back to where we need to be in October. I’ll just say the work needs to begin now.”