The Starting Rotation
Projected MLB Depth Chart: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman
No. 1 Starter: Jon Lester
No. 2 Starter: John Lackey
No. 3 Starter: Clay Buchholz
No. 4 Starter: Jake Peavy
No. 5 Starter: Felix Doubront
Potential Starter: Brandon Workman
Long-Shot (Keep an Eye On Anyway): Henry Owens
Pertinent questions can be asked of each of the projected starting pitchers in Boston's 2014 rotation.
Will Jon Lester receive a much-deserved contract extension this season? Can John Lackey continue the success he enjoyed in 2013? Will Clay Buchholz stay healthy? Can Jake Peavy avoid becoming a bust? Is Felix Doubront poised for a breakout season? What role will Brandon Workman have?
These questions stand at the heart of the Red Sox rotation in 2014.
As described on the initial slide, Boston is beginning to implement the first stage of phasing out older, expensive veterans and replacing them with young and talented prospects. The pitching staff is no exception and may be the first to be subjected to this transition.
More on the up-and-coming talent later.
Let us start with Lester, who is coming off a 15-8 season backed by a dominant postseason run.
Like David Ortiz, the primary focus surrounding Lester this preseason has been contractual talks. Unlike Ortiz, there has not exactly been a lot of controversy surrounding a possible extension to his five-year, $30 million contract with a club option in 2014.
Lester's attitude to a pending deal appears much more amicable—sort of like being happy if it happens but not worried if it doesn't.
Lester described his feelings to WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Sunday night’s Sports Final (h/t Dan Roche of CBS Boston):
I don’t see why we can’t, [work out a deal]. The hometown discount, that is something I believe in but at the same time everyone’s hometown discount is a little different. I think you have to get into a room, sit down and iron it out. I’m very optimistic on what we can do, and I feel like ownership and Ben [Cherington], I think it would be a lot more difficult if it was a one-way street—I don’t get that feeling. They want me to stay, so that makes it a little easier to find common ground.
Lackey's contract becomes a little more of a concern if one wants to view it as such. Lackey has one more year on his five-year, $82.5 million deal, plus a conditional 2015 option.
Lackey has experienced plenty of ups and downs during his tenure in Boston, including missing the entire 2012 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Yet his signature moment came during the 2013 postseason which put Lackey back into the fold as a bona fide starter in the rotation.
One could argue that the Red Sox would have been better off to trade Lackey in the offseason while his stock was high in exchange for prospects or established talent. Yet it looks as if Lackey is here to stay for at least one more season.
Building on his 2013 performance will be paramount to the 35-year-old's future.
Then there is the saga of Buchholz.
When he is healthy, Buchholz has No. 1 starter written all over him. The key part of that sentence is when he is healthy.
In six full seasons at the major league level, Buchholz has been able to record 20 or more starts only twice. For whatever reasons, injuries have sidelined him all too often and thwarted his chances of becoming one of baseball's elite pitchers.
So the question remains—can Buchholz stay healthy for a full season in 2014?
Manager John Farrell hopes so and stated such via Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com:
We’re very hopeful he lasts the entire season, and right now he’s in with every other pitcher in terms of his throwing days, his progression to batting practice today, and everything he dealt with from a physical standpoint last year he addressed in the offseason. His shoulder strength is very good, so we’re looking forward to another productive year from Clay.
Dan Shaughnessy and Peter Abraham of Boston.com further debate this topic here.
If injuries and health are the primary concern surrounding Buchholz, then performance and effectiveness have to surround Peavy.
Even at 32 years old, Peavy looks nothing like the type of pitcher he was back in 2007 when he won the National League Cy Young Award. Since then, his ERA has steadily inflated over the course of subsequent seasons.
Sure, one can expect this for a pitcher moving from the National to the American League, but I still am concerned whether or not Peavy will have the effectiveness on the mound in 2014.
Stats aside for a moment, let us take comfort in the fact that Boston is asking Peavy to be a No. 4 starter at best this season. He is also committed to the Red Sox contractually through 2014, so it is not as if Boston is heavily invested in the veteran righty.
On the other hand, Red Sox hopes should be high when it comes to the young and talented Doubront, who posted a respectable 1.429 WHIP in 162.1 innings pitched last season.
Alex Speier of WEEI.com points out some of the reasons why Doubront may be a breakout candidate and cites the history of other lefties similar to Doubront who reached the same accolade.
If Doubront is able to accomplish this, it would give even more strength to the back end of Boston's rotation this year and potentially set up their rotation to have a bona fide lefty for years to follow.
Last on the list of starters is Brandon Workman, who will likely enter 2014 as the swing man in the Red Sox rotation.
While not as highly touted among the long list of Red Sox prospect pitchers, Workman is arguably the most ready for MLB competition and showed so in 2013—posting a 1.416 WHIP in 41.2 innings pitched last year.
Workman is another insurance policy for a Red Sox rotation that could see some setback if pitchers like Buchholz are unable to stay healthy over the season's duration. He can either start or be used as a middle reliever, depending on what Farrell's needs are.
More importantly however, Workman is displaying the competence and leadership among Boston's young pitchers.
This facet, which was described in further detail by NESN.com writer Ricky Doyle, touts Workman's attitude as something to be admired. Doyle writes:
Workman showed poise beyond his years in 2013, whether in a starting role or out of the bullpen. It’s reasonable to wonder if he—by virtue of his bulldog mentality—might someday be considered for the Red Sox’s closer role when Koji Uehara eventually departs, although Workman finds all speculation to be irrelevant.
Those are intangibles that are always good to have, regardless of level, age or role. The Red Sox can certainly be thankful for that.
Workman, along with the rest of the rotation, will have spring training to determine what those specific roles and assignments will be. While the projections are there, the fact remains that there is still time to determine what transpires.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Contractual information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.