1. Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett has been a fantastic pitcher for the Boston Red Sox since joining the team in 2006.
Unfortunately, he’s also been somewhat of an enigma. He has almost ritualistically followed up a stellar season with a lackluster one (often due to injury). Since his first season in Boston, his stats have resembled a typical roller-coaster ride:
2006: 16-11, 5.01 ERA
2007: 20-7, 3.27 ERA
2008: 12-10, 4.03 ERA
2009: 17-6, 3.86 ERA
2010: 6-6, 5.78 ERA
2011: 13-7, 2.89 ERA
So in 2012, will Beckett have another 17- to 20-win season? Or regress and have one of his notorious off years? Only time will tell, but he has been a staple for this Red Sox rotation for a long time, and it’s safe to say he’ll be one the Red Sox’s top starters next season.
Beckett also made an effort to address last season’s issues of drinking in the clubhouse, which can be taken as a good omen.
I’ll look for Beckett to have a bounce-back season and play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after all of the negative attention he garnered last season.
Is he a lock to be the Opening Day starter? No. But it will likely be either Beckett or Jon Lester.
2. Jon Lester
One of the most consistent pitchers in all of baseball, Lester will once again anchor the Red Sox rotation during the 2012 season.
Consistently good for over 200 innings, an ERA under 4.00 and double-digit wins, Lester is as close to a sure thing next season as the Red Sox are likely to see.
3. Clay Buchholz
Buchholz pitched well last season before going down with a stress fracture in his back, which ended his 2011 season.
His injury last season was a major reason why the Red Sox collapsed in September and missed the playoffs. Their starting pitchers slumped in a big way (and to be honest, the entire team did as well).
If they still had Buchholz making starts late last season, maybe they would have made the playoffs. He had been one of the best pitchers in the majors up until his injury, sporting a 17-7 record to go with an astounding 2.33 ERA.
Hindsight aside, Buchholz will be a huge X-factor regarding Boston's success moving forward.
4. Daniel Bard
All signs seem to point to Bard converting to a starter this season.
With the bulk of the moves this offseason going toward fixing the bullpen, adding Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey, it seems that Bard’s move to the starting rotation is evident.
There’s always a chance that Bard could revert back to his role as setup man (or even switch to closer), but I don’t see that happening barring an injury or setback. If the Red Sox can get Bobby Jenks back to full strength this season as well (after the disastrous injury-ridden season last year, followed by news of a pulmonary embolism), that would further improve their already deep bullpen.
It will be very interesting to see how Bard’s talents translate into becoming a starting pitcher, especially when you think about how his arm will hold up with a huge increase in innings.
5. Bring on the Competition
I use the term “competition” loosely here. The fifth starter spot for the Red Sox is a giant question mark. The only positive Red Sox fans should find with this slot is that it won’t be filled by John Lackey’s underbite next season.
Moving Alfredo Aceves from the bullpen to the fifth starter spot I think hurts the team’s great bullpen depth too much to be considered an option. Also, I think if the Red Sox had plans to move Aceves into the rotation, they would have done it last year in an attempt to right the ship.
Andrew Miller could be seen as an option, but after a solid start to his 2011 campaign, Miller was very inconsistent and struggled with command.
At 45 years old, Tim Wakefield may opt to retire instead of sticking around as the Red Sox’s security blanket for another season, but could still be a viable option.
As for Daisuke Matsuzaka, well, I'll leave that explanation up to Peter Gammons. It's hard to believe that this is the same pitcher who went 18-3 with a 2.80 ERA for the Red Sox in 2008. Injuries have derailed Dice-K's MLB career, which showed so much promise just three years ago. I'd be surprised if Matsuzaka made any appearances this year even if he gets healthy before the end of the season.
There’s also what my friend Asher and I refer to sarcastically as “The Trifecta"—also known as the trio of pitchers the Sox acquired in the offseason to compete for this final slot (or even a spot on the roster): Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva and Aaron Cook.
I suppose now with the signing of John Maine, fans can switch this to “The Quad.” Regardless of what fans call it, the pitcher who makes this slot will likely need a lot of run support to be successful.
There’s still an off chance that the Red Sox will sign free-agent starter Roy Oswalt, but I honestly don’t think it will happen.
The Sox were also rumored to have offered Edwin Jackson a contract, but the Washington Nationals signed him for $11 million for next season. Personally, I think that $11 million is an absurd amount of money to pay a pitcher who has a career ERA of 4.46, but the Nationals have gained a reputation for overpaying players.
Point being, if Jackson can get $11 million for one season, I bet Oswalt’s agent is watching. He may not get that kind of money, but he’ll probably hold out for more money than the Red Sox can offer.
So again, let the competition for the fifth starter position begin. Maybe spring training will lend itself to stiff competition between a group of guys vying for an important spot on Boston's roster.