A Good Problem To Have

A Good Problem To Have

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A Good Problem To Have

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David Wells’ sudden change of heart has left Sox pitchers playing a game of musical chairs; at the end of spring training, one of the 12 players in the big club’s plans will be left standing. I’m not prepared to complain about an overabundance of pitching depth – last year proved that in spades – but his decision not to seek a trade away from Fenway complicates a pitching picture that was starting to take shape and calls into question whether the front office can find a way to avoid losing value on the investments they made over the winter.
As things stand right now, the Sox have 7 starting pitchers under contract who have been discussed for starting jobs in 2006: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, David Wells, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, and Jonathan Papelbon. In addition, our bullpen is filled with veterans, several of whom were signed as free agents this season and none of whom can safely be stashed in AAA until needed. Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Julian Tavarez, David Riske, and Rudy Seanez, when added to the starters already listed, make 12; given the needs of the lineup, and including backups, this club can likely only carry 11 of them (unless the Sox are prepared to go into the regular season without a fifth OF, an idea about which I’m less than thrilled).
So who goes? Off the bat, several names can be ruled out. Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett have as much job security as anyone can, but in that regard they’re alone in this rotation. Though Wells has said he no longer desires a trade, that doesn’t necessarily preclude the Sox from making one – and in fact it moderately improves his trade value. Still, Wells was – behind Wake – the best SP on this club in 05; despite his age and conditioning, he remains a valuable innings-eater. Clement’s contract, while reasonable given the market, makes him an unlikely trade candidate, but his name has come up enough this offseason to warrant discussion of his value. Arroyo, fresh off signing a three-year deal at low cost, would be a very valuable trade commodity; according to him, however, the Sox assured him he would not be dealt. Again, this does not preclude them from doing so, but it does suggest he has a place in long-term plans. That leaves Jonathan Papelbon, a 25 year old rookie with options remaining and a spot waiting for him alongside Jon Lester, Abe Alvarez, David Pauley and Lenny DiNardo in Pawtucket’s rotation. Given how quickly Papelbon won all our hearts last year, it would be a difficult decision; still, it’s the only move that would assure the Sox of retaining all their talent.
The bullpen is far more stable, in terms of tradeability. Foulke is untouchable – his contract, 05 performance, and health concerns give him virtually zero trade value. Timlin would be eminently tradeable in this market, but he’s likely just a rung below Schill, Beckett and Wake on the job security ladder. Behind those two come a pair of free-agent signings in Julian Tavarez and Rudy Seanez; MLB rules prohibit a team from trading free-agent signings until a certain window of time has passed. That leaves David Riske as the only tradeable pitcher in the Boston pen, and while he’s a serviceable and potentially very good arm, his trade value is likely low.
As unfortunate an outcome as it may be, the only solution that makes sense here – aside from an unexpected injury – is the demotion of Jonathan Papelbon. The Lou Merloni/Kevin Youkilis Memorial Highway could find itself another frequent passenger in 2006, solely because of roster concerns. Unless Riske, Arroyo, Wells or Clement are dealt, and short of cutting an established veteran under contract, it’s the only solution left available to us. I hope it doesn’t happen; Papelbon proved himself a fine addition to the bullpen, and promises to be a very good starting pitcher down the line. But at the moment, I see no other solution to this particular problem.

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