Spring training isn’t even a week old, and already questions are piling up for the Red Sox.
Will David Ortiz return to form? Will the Sox extend Josh Beckett’s contract? What will become of Mike Lowell? Can Jon Papelbon bounce back from his ALDS meltdown? What can we expect from the offense?
Yet out of all these questions, there remains one that I simply cannot wrap my head around: Will Tim Wakefield get a spot in the rotation?
In my opinion, that’s like asking a movie buff if Norbit deserved to be nominated for Best Picture over No Country for Old Men .
The answer: Hell no. Once you dig deeper, this question really isn’t even a question at all.
Wakefield says that he’s healthy and plans on being in the rotation. Do Theo Epstein and the boys share that feeling? Hard to say; however, one thing is obvious, and that’s that the Sox have treated Wakefield with the utmost respect throughout his career, and in return Wakefield has made sacrifices for the sake of the team.
But is this a two-way street? Can the Sox keep Wakefield out of the rotation without giving off the sense of disrespect? It is without question that the Sox would be better off with Dice-K or Clay Buchholz in the rotation, but would Wakefield be willing to sit out to better the team?
In the past, Wakefield has agreed to be kept off the postseason roster, but one has to agree that the situation is a little different. In this case, Wakefield could be placed on the disabled list for a long time. The only way Wakefield may see the rotation is through spot starts, injury, or if Buchholz is dealt at the trading deadline.
Simply put, either Wakefield’s feelings are going to get hurt or the Sox’s rotation is going to get hurt.
Somehow, the problem isn’t as big as it seems—on paper that is. The truth of the matter is that Wakefield is breaking down as he gets older, and while he may still very well be a starter on 20-25 MLB teams, there’s no room for him in the Sox rotation.
There is no denying that Wakefield cannot remain healthy for a full season these days. Over the past three seasons Wakefield has logged 337.2 innings over 53 starts, which is 6.4 innings per game during the first half of the season. Yes, in Wakefield’s own words: “[he’s] an innings eater.”
However, the second half is a completely different fairy tale. For the past three seasons the second half has been a nightmare for Wakefield as he’s failed to stay healthy. His innings split in half to 162 in 29 starts, only lasting 5.6 innings per start. His ERA in the first half of those three years combined is a respectable 4.08 compared to a 5.33 ERA during the second half.
With these seemingly obvious stats, shouldn’t shelving Wakefield be the absolute best move for the team? As an innings eater, Wakefield would be far more valuable in the second half of the second, especially if a member of the Sox rotation were tiring.
Wakefield would be especially valuable during the dog days of summer, August especially, in which he’s had a lot of success over the past three years, pitching 63.1 innings in 10 starts, averaging 6.3 an outing. Wakefield has also posted an extremely impressive 2.42 ERA during that span.
Even if the Sox rotation had no injuries nor was Buchholz traded, the Sox could just as easily stick Wakefield into the bullpen, where he’d be easily as valuable and equally as likely to chew up innings.
On the other side of the spectrum, who would the Sox leave out if Wakefield were included in the rotation? Dice-K Matsuzaka is out of the question, as there is already enough past bad blood between him and the organization. Plus his arm wasn’t built to throw out of the pen; it was built to throw a lot of pitches.
Also, it goes easily forgotten that Dice-K was the best pitcher for the Sox in September of 2009, posting a 2.22 ERA in 24.1 innings and four starts—8.1 innings per start. Dice-K ended the 2009 season with momentum, and the communication between himself and the Red Sox has gotten much better, not to mention his shoulder is stronger than ever. Dice-K will be in the rotation barring injury.
Clay Buchholz will have a stroke if he doesn’t find himself in the rotation to begin the season. Buchholz has put in the time and the work over the past few seasons and was sour enough when he started 2009 in Pawtucket. He showcased his potential last year, logging 75.1 innings in 12 starts, averaging 6.3 innings a start, with a jaw-dropping ERA of 1.92. (This isn’t including his four disaster starts.)
On the other hand, if the Sox want any of chance of packaging him in a deal for a guy like Adrian Gonzalez at the trading deadline, then they’re going to need to showcase him, which can’t be done out of the bullpen. Buchholz will start the season in the rotation.
The sad truth is that Wakefield is the odd man out. He may expect to start the year in the rotation, but that just (hopefully) isn’t going to happen. The cold, hard truth is that it is best for both the Red Sox and Wakefield himself to keep Wakefield off the mound until at least the All-Star break, when his healthy arm becomes an incredibly valuable asset to the team’s pitching.
However, I don’t think we’ll have to wait that long to catch a glimpse of Wakefield. Nothing ever goes completely right for a team’s rotation, and the Sox are bound to see Wakefield make the occasional spot start here and there during the first half of the season.
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