The arms race in the AL East is on.
With the New York Yankees’ luring Andy Pettitte out of retirement and back into their rotation, the balance of power in the division has swung even further away from the Red Sox.
The Yankees now boast a rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, and Pettitte. The versatile Phil Hughes can now head back into the setup role he so thrived in, joining an already solid bullpen.
This development was not what the Red Sox needed.
They now simply cannot compete with the pitching staffs of the Yankees and Rays. If they want to have any hope of competing in the division this year, they need to make a move to bolster their pitching staff immediately.
The one that makes the most sense, fans have been clamoring for and is most obvious is to sign Roy Oswalt.
It may be late in camp and Oswalt may not be an ideal option, but the Red Sox can ill-afford to wait a month or two into the season to find something better. Oswalt represents a proven player who can stabilize the back end of their rotation, something they sorely need. Although Daniel Bard has looked good this spring, counting on him to provide 30 starts and a reasonable ERA is asking a lot out of someone who has not started a game since 2007.
An open competition for the fifth slot is a nice idea in theory, but what good can really come of it? If they choose Felix Doubront, they get a player who rarely stays healthy and has thrown a grand total of 35.1 Major League innings. If they choose Alfredo Aceves, they remove a vital cog from their bullpen and hitch their wagon to a man with eight career starts. The rest of the field (Vicente Padilla, Andrew Miller, et al.) have injury concerns that will likely preclude them from being considered.
Coupled with Pettitte’s return, this lack of strong internal options has forced the Sox’s hand. Normally, Oswalt’s track record of success (three All-Star games, a 3.21 career ERA) would be outweighed by his troubling injury history and the notoriously difficult transition from the NL to the AL. However, things are anything but “normal” now.
The Yankees’ bold move is a testament to the idea that if a team wants to compete in the AL East, they need as many arms as they can get. Petitte represents not only a pitcher who knows how to win, but one who can be effective despite his advanced age.
While his performance was a bit uneven last year, Oswalt is someone who could easily follow this Petitte model. Despite the fact that he no longer possesses the high-90s heat that made him a perennial Cy Young contender in Houston, Oswalt still managed to put together a solid effort last season.
By dealing Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox have cleared several million dollars off the books that could be used to sweeten an offer for Oswalt. As they learned last year, a team can never have enough depth in the starting rotation.
Along with the projected All-Star break return of Daisuke Matsuzaka, the addition of Oswalt would enable the Sox to remain competitive in the AL East. If they fail to act now and get Oswalt into camp and ready for the season, they could quickly fall out of the race and be merely in afterthought in 2012.