5 Questions: 2006 Rotation

Now that Josh Beckett is (almost) a Red Sox, it’s worthwhile to ask a few pertinent questions about the makeup of next year’s starting rotation. The Sox entered the offseason with 6 viable SP’s – Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Wells, Arroyo, and Papelbon. We’ve now added a seventh; if nothing else were to change, it seems clear that both Papelbon and Bronson Arroyo would begin the season in the bullpen. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the things that now must be examined in the wake of this monumental acquisition.
1: Who is this team’s Ace?
In November of 2003, Curt Schilling was acquired to become a co-ace with Pedro Martinez and lead us to the top of the MLB mountain. Which, amazingly, worked. Now, almost precisely two years later, Josh Beckett has been acquired for similar yet different reasons. In theory, the tandem of Schilling and Beckett at the top of a rotation should be an overpowering advantage, but there is still deep concern about Schilling’s recovery. We heard again and again from the team and the pitcher in 2005 that he was turning a corner; there were dates set and passed for his recovery, a brief and inconclusive relief stint, and a long string of inconsistent starts. In only a couple of games did he appear similar to the man that won 20 games for the 2004 version, or even the man that took the mound at Yankee Stadium in that incredible Game 6. Beckett, meanwhile, has ace-like material and an ace-like makeup, but to this point has not displayed ace-like stamina. Though his IP have risen in every year he’s been in the majors, they still topped out at 180 in 2005; To be an ace almost always means being a workhorse, and so far that’s the one part of the equation that Beckett has not yet calculated. While I expect to see Curt Schilling take the mound in Arlington in Game 1 of the 2006 campaign, I do believe that by season’s end, Beckett will be the man tabbed for a playoff spot (should one arise). But either Schilling’s recovery or Beckett’s injuries could throw a wrench into this particular changing of the guard.
2: Whither David Wells?
The Fat One, coming off a strong (by 2005 Red Sox standards) season as the #2 pitcher for the Sox (behind Schilling, Wakefield, or Clement, depending on when you asked the question) decided quite recently that he doesn’t like us much, not to mention our weather. It’s possible he doesn’t like our bars, either, but I bet that’s because he’s just never been to the Midway. In any case, David Wells has asked for a trade to the West Coast, and it seems likely that the Sox will find a fit. It seems quite possible that a trade would land Wells back where he was a little over a year ago, pitching in Petco Park. The Giants are also a possibility; pitching is a desperate need, and Ned Coletti – the only thing holding Sabean back from acquiring every 40 year old in the league – has moved to LA to take over a team of his own. Chances are that Wells will be gone by Opening Day, giving either Arroyo or Papelbon – presumably Arroyo – his rotation spot. But to where, and for what?
3: Whither Bronson Arroyo?
With the acquisition of Beckett, Arroyo suddenly – and probably temporarily – finds himself the odd man out in Boston’s newly energized starting staff. Though he was essentially a season-saver in 2004, the cracks began to show in 2005; lefties, for example, hit him particularly hard. His tendency toward off-field distraction was troubling, if dealt with in a mannerly fashion. Most importantly, though, Arroyo comes up on free agency after the 2006 season (I think) and is really a useful pitcher only when he’s cheap; now might be the time for the Red Sox to see what they can turn him into instead of penciling him in as a definite.
4: What is Papelbon’s Future?
With 7 SP’s and Papelbon at the bottom of the ladder, it seems likely that the rook will open 2006 as one of [insert closer name here]’s primary set-up men. Or that he’ll be the closer. Or that he’ll just be in the pen. Honerstly, with the turmoil that is the Red Sox bullpen this offseason, it’s very difficult to tell; still, chances are that Papelbon will watch most games from right field, with whoever the hell else is out there with him. Papelbon is still the youngest guy that we can say with any certainty will break camp with the team, but no longer by that much; Josh Beckett is a mere 6 months older than Pap, and already has 3 full MLB seasons under his belt. While it would be good to get Papelbon into the rotation – assuming he’s in starter shape and has honed those breaking pitches, which should be his offseason priority #1 – he’s a natural reliever, and it wouldn’t hurt his development to let him start 2006 there and see what happens. Chances are he’ll be a full-time starter by midseason, and I’m already looking forward to the 2007 rotation, with Beckett, Papelbon and Lester at the front.
Can Clement Rebound?
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: ALDS Game 1 notwithstanding, Matt Clement was pretty decent this year. Of course, pretty decent isn’t what we paid for; nevertheless, the FO (or what’s left of it) can at least think about patting itself on the back for one of the three best big FA pitching signings of the winter (the other two, sadly, are Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe). Still, his late season struggles – which may or may not have been related to a line drive off the skull in Tampa – worried many, and sports radio at least has been pumping the idea of shipping him out. Which, of course, proves that not a single one of them has ever won a fantasy baseball league. Clement will get better. I firmly believe that. He can be a frustrating pitcher, but remember the months leading up to that beaning, when he was the second coming? The only stable force in a Sox staff that seemed determined to kill us all? He can do that. We knew what we were getting with Clement, and last year we got it in spades. This coming year, I think we’ll see Clement smooth some of the rough edges and emerge as a legitimate #3 starter. If that happens, and he earns his money over the full season, the Sox rotation could go from mediocre to strong with one bold transaction, carried out by a cadre. Who needs a GM, anyway?