The 2012 Boston Red Sox were a disaster. Four starters made over 20 starts for the team, and all four of them posted ERA over 4.50, WHIP over 1.320 and Clay Buchholz was the only one not to tally double-digit losses.
Fixing the rotation should be at the top of the priority list for an organization still boasting Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and (for now) Jacoby Ellsbury. Coming off of 2012's blockbuster salary dump, it seems unlikely the team will pursue any of the top free-agent starters.
It would not be a surprise to see Boston move Ellsbury in exchange for top pitching prospects or young major-league ready starters, however, it may simply trade one weakness for another, as Ellsbury would leave a gaping hole at the top of the order, as well as in center field.
Between 2008 and 2010, Jon Lester was 50-23 with 602 strikeouts. Lester seemed primed to take the reigns from Josh Beckett as the team's go-to starter. However, in 2011, Lester's K/9 dropped from a league-leading 9.7 to 8.5. He also failed to reach 200 innings for the first time since 2007.
If a 15-win, 3.47 ERA season was as bad as it got, the Red Sox may still consider Lester their unquestioned ace. But in 2012, the wheels came off to the tune of 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and a 7.3 K/9.
With his ERA trending up, and strikeouts falling precipitously over the last two seasons, the Red Sox may be forced to consider if Lester, a free agent after 2013, is more valuable as a trade piece than a member of their rotation.
In 2010, at 25 years old, Clay Buchholz erupted for 17 wins, a 2.33 ERA and led the league with his 187 ERA+. Buchholz finished sixth in the Cy Young voting, just two spots behind Lester, and they were touted as the best 1-2 punch in the American League.
While some regression was to be expected in 2011, injuries played a large role in Buchholz's disappointing season. However, a 3.48 ERA and 1.294 WHIP gave fans hope that he would return to form when healthy.
Buchholz made 29 starts in 2012 and may have been the Red Sox best starter for the season, which says more about the team than Buchholz. He finished 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA, 1.326 WHIP and just 6.1 K/9. Buchholz is under contract through 2015 and may still develop into an essential member of this rotation.
Felix Doubront came into 2012 with 23 major league appearances and just three starts but was quickly thrust into the Sox rotation and conducted himself well, considering the shipwreck around him. In 29 starts, Doubront was 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA.
Expectations should have been tempered from the beginning, as Doubront was 47-37 with a 3.65 ERA in 134 minor league appearances.
Doubront is entering his 25-year-old season and his 9.3 K/9 in 2012 showed potential for development, so his spot in the 2013 rotation appears safe for now.
Before 2010, John Lackey signed a 5-year deal worth $82 million. In the first two seasons of the deal, he made 61 starts, notching a 5.26 ERA, 1.504 WHIP and then missed all of 2012 with an injury.
Going into 2013, it looks like Lackey will be back in the rotation, likely ready for spring training. He will be 34 and has not had an ERA under 3.70 since 2007. It would be unwise for Boston to expect a full 30-plus starts from Lackey in 2013, but even 20 effective starts would be most welcome considering the options behind him.
Leaving out his lost 2012, Lackey's K/BB had seen decline for four straight years. The statistics indicated a declining skill set before the injury was a factor, and if Lackey defies the odds and pitches well early in 2013, Boston should look for another salary dump opportunity.
It would be a surprise to see Lackey in the Red Sox rotation on August 1, whether due to trade, injury or demotion.
If the season started tomorrow, Franklin Morales would likely be in the Red Sox rotation. He made nine starts in 2012, posting a 3.77 ERA and striking out 76 in 76.1 innings.
That being said, potential trades of Ellsbury or Lester could bring in young starters whom Boston might plug directly into the big league rotation. Current starters in the Red Sox organization include Matt Barnes, who finished 2012 with a 2.86 ERA and 10 K/9.
However, Barnes has not pitched above High A, and Boston may not be in position to rush its prospects with playoff contention a long shot.