With all the uncertainty surrounding the Boston Red Sox pitching rotation, it's hard to tell who might be the starters by the 2014 season.
Going into 2012, there wasn't a lot of clarity as to who would break spring training in the starting rotation. As it worked out, Boston decided to go with three regulars—Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz—as well as two newcomers to the rotation—Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard.
The starting rotation couldn't have been much worse over the opening weeks of the season, but they have since started to work out the kinks and pitched rather well. It's still unknown as to who will finish the season in the Boston rotation, but there definitely could be some changes made in near future.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was recently transferred from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL to open up a spot on the 40-man roster (via Boston Globe), and John Lackey will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Both of them are signed through this season.
Looking past the remainder of this season and even next year, contracts will expire, trades will be made, prospects will be called up and free agents will be signed.
General manager Ben Cherington will have a lot on his plate in the upcoming seasons, especially with the starting rotation.
Here's a look at who his five starting pitchers could turn out to be in 2014.
2012 Statistics: 3-3 (9 games), 3.95 ERA, 57.0 IP, 37 K
Jon Lester is currently the ace of the Boston staff and will continue to be until his contract expires after the 2013 season. Now, I know what you're thinking. Aren't these predictions supposed to be for the 2014 season? Yes.
The Red Sox hold a $13 million team option for 2014 on Lester that could become void if he finishes in the top two of the Cy Young voting over the course of 2009-2013. The closest Lester has even come to winning the Cy Young was in 2009 when he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and finished fourth in the voting.
I'm not saying that he isn't capable of winning it—or coming in second for that matter—but I wouldn't worry about it. Boston will also have the option of extending Lester before his contract expires, which could be a smart move. After the 2013 season he'll only be 29 years old and have plenty of life left in his arm.
He's won at least 15 games and thrown at least 190 innings in each of the last four seasons. He's the ace of the rotation now and is nearly a lock to be the ace in 2014.
2012 Statistics: 5-1 (9 games), 2.70 ERA, 56.2 IP, 59 K
If Zack Greinke decides not to sign an extension with the Milwaukee Brewers and test the free-agent water, Boston could be one of the teams interested in the former Cy Young winner. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio wants to bring Greinke back and could end up getting a deal worth over $100 million (via MLBTradeRumors.com).
The contract worth could end up being an issue for the Red Sox with their tight payroll, but they might be able to drop some of it during either offseason either through expiring contracts or trades. Boston has signed pitchers to big deals in the past, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and John Lackey, but haven't crossed the $100 million marker with a pitcher yet.
Greinke had up-and-down years with the Kansas City Royals in seven seasons before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, where he's pitched well in his second season.
He doesn't have the most encouraging numbers against other AL East foes, which could make Boston hesitant to give him a big deal, but I think Boston signs him for mainly two reasons.
One, he could turn out to be the Cy Young pitcher that he was in 2009. Two, you don't want to have him pitching against you for several years with the New York Yankees.
2012 Statistics: 4-2 (9 games), 7.84 ERA, 49.1 IP, 27 K
Currently the No. 3 starter in the Boston rotation, Clay Buchholz continues to search for the great numbers he put up in 2010 when he won 17 games, was selected to the All-Star game and finished sixth in the Cy Young voting.
Last season, a back injury prevented Buchholz from appearing in more than 14 games and put his future in question going into this season. Though his record stands at 4-2 this season, it's very misleading.
He's allowed five or more runs in seven of his starts, getting a win in three of them. He has the worst ERA of all starters in baseball at 7.84, already allowing the fourth-most home runs also. It's scary to think that opponents are hitting .330 off of him this season, which leads the majors.
Now I know those numbers don't look good and aren't that encouraging for the future, but he has bounced back in the past. In 2008, he went 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA and then followed that season by going 7-4 with an ERA close to 4.00. The next year was by far the best of his career.
Buchholz will come relatively cheap over the next few seasons and won't be a free agent until 2016 at the earliest. He will earn $7.7 million in 2014, and hopefully he can reach at least 14 wins that season in order to truly earn it.
Getting his control back would be a good start, at least for this season.
2012 Statistics: 4-2 (9 games), 3.96 ERA, 50.0 IP, 53 K
The Red Sox decided to go out on a limb this season and give Felix Doubront a shot in the starting rotation. Doubront was a starter in Boston's minor league system but only started three games in 23 appearances over the last two seasons.
In nine starts this season, Doubront has pitched well in all but two of them. Most recently, he pitched a gem against the Baltimore Orioles, striking out a career-high nine batters over six innings but took the loss (4-2) in a 2-1 defeat.
It seems as if Doubront is starting to figure out how to pitch in the major leagues as he continues to get better.
Boston could use a young starter in its rotation over the next few years, and they've already started to develop Doubront. He's getting the experience now for the later years where he could move up to a No. 2 or 3 starter in the rotation.
One of the benefits of keeping Doubront is that he's getting paid close to nothing. He's basically making the league minimum and won't go to arbitration until 2015. Boston can use the money they could be giving to Doubront elsewhere, which should inevitably benefit the team.
2012 Statistics: 0-1 (2 Games), 9.35 ERA, 8.2 IP, 6 K
Rounding out the 2014 Boston Red Sox with Anthony Ranaudo may be the boldest of these projections. That is primarily because he's only pitching in Double-A Portland at the moment and will need to fully develop and impress the front office in order to make it to the majors by 2014.
Ranaudo started last season with Single-A Salem and went 4-1 in 10 starts with a 3.33 ERA in 46 innings. He then advanced to High-A Greenville, where he went 5-5 and his ERA increased by a full run. The transition may have been too quick of a jump for him, but an injury during this spring certainly didn't help him.
Suffering a mild groin strain in March, Ranaudo went through extended spring training and just started pitching for Double-A Portland recently, according to The Portland Press Herald.
Since joining the Sea Dogs, he hasn't been sharp, allowing nine runs in 8.2 innings over two starts. He's also walked more batters than he's struck out which is concerning.
Despite the slow start, SoxProspects.com still ranks him as Boston's fourth best prospect and projects him in the major leagues in 2014. They also project him to be a No. 2 or 3 starter once he's fully developed.
As long as he can improve his numbers this season and pitch well in Triple-A Pawtucket next season, a 2014 debut is not out of the question.
There is a decent chance that Josh Beckett finishes the season with the Red Sox, although he could end up being dealt during the season. He's won a World Series for Boston and has won around 90 games for them, but he has come under some scrutiny after he went golfing despite a lat injury on his off-day.
He's pitched well since and is looking to gain the respect back that he once had. He is signed through the 2014 season, so like I said, there is still a chance he's still on the roster by then.
John Lackey won't pitch at all this season after undergoing offseason Tommy John surgery.
Was this a good thing? Yes and no. Yes because he probably needed a break after constantly being under fire with the fans. No because he's owed over $15 million this season for doing nothing.
When he returns next season, he might or might not have a spot in the rotation. He's owed a lot of money over the next two seasons, which would make it hard to move him without taking a huge chunk of salary. He would also have to build his value up if Boston wanted to trade him.
Would $15 million be too much to pay a reliever? Probably.
Daniel Bard is currently the No. 5 starter in the Boston rotation after transitioning from a reliever over the offseason and throughout spring training.
He's pitched well at times and poorly at others but hopes to figure it all out soon. There was a time this season where the bullpen was so bad that he could've been moved back, but Boston decided against it.
I think that he will make it through this season in the rotation, but eventually he'll go back to the bullpen, possibly as the closer. Boston will have a lot of starters in the mix, and although he could provide depth, it might be most beneficial to use him as a reliever.
Jonathan Sanchez will be a free agent after this season and could be a nice fit if Boston doesn't want to pay Zack Greinke, especially since he'll be cheaper. He's a crafty left-hander that pitched decently in San Francisco before being traded to the Kansas City Royals.
He has had a tough time adjusting to the American League, getting shelled in several of his starts this year, but has time to figure it out. He's only had one season out of seven where he posted an ERA close to 3.00.
He could turn out to be a steal if Boston were to give him the chance, especially with the run support they can give him.