The razors have come out for shaving at JetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox. Not for beards as you might expect, but for a roster spot and cap space.
In a shocking decision Sunday morning, starting pitcher Ryan Dempster informed the press he is not retiring, but will not be pitching in 2014 because of doubts about his capabilities and his desire to spend more time with his family.
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Before the announcement, Dempster and Felix Doubront were slated to compete for the last slot in the starting rotation and provide Boston with a stable of pitchers with major-league experience most teams would drool over.
What was arguably their biggest strength going into spring training, now has joined the rank of questions along with their changes up the middle and their youth on the left side of the infield.
With Dempster out, Boston’s rotation is set: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Doubront, likely in that order. Brandon Workman, who spot started in the regular season and relieved in October, will provide the veteran depth in the case of injury or performance issue.
Beyond those established names, sit several promising, but untested, ones. Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes, all expected to begin the year in triple-A Pawtucket, do not lack for talent, but, as manager John Farrell pointed out after the Dempster announcement, are light with experience.
“With the group of pitchers that’s here right now, it’s long on physical ability and short on experience,” he said. “That’s our job, in any way possible, to shorten that transition time.”
Not only does Dempster’s sabbatical open opportunities for young pitchers to earn major-league innings, it provides financial flexibility to the previously financially strapped Boston payroll and adds an interesting story line in Fort Myers.
A lingering wonder this offseason has been the return of shortstop Stephen Drew. He and agent Scott Boras decided to turn down the qualifying offer extended by the Red Sox and test the free agent waters, to no avail. Perhaps spurned by the draft pick or the multiyear deal they would have to relinquish, teams have steered clear of Drew, the highest profile shortstop left on the market.
With Xander Bogaerts headed for his first full year in the majors, and Will Middlebrooks still in search of his, Boston wanted to find short-term veteran depth for the left side of its infield. With the $13.25 million they save by placing Dempster on the restricted list, Drew could do just that for the second consecutive year.
Perhaps though, the Red Sox hunt for what they lost in Dempster, a veteran pitcher to provide depth for the rotation. With an 8-9 record and 4.57 ERA in 2013, Dempster didn’t exactly own the mound, but he took it every time it was his turn. With Buchholz’s health always in question and the Red Sox aiming for an almost inconceivable second year of complete pitching health, a free agent veteran might be needed.
Or maybe the Red Sox hang on to the money for now. For months, GM Ben Cherrington and Co. have said they are content with the team they have and Dempster wasn’t going to be relied on in a major way. With all the talk of repeating, the money could be used come the trade deadline, when the weather and the chase for the now more competitive AL East heat up.
It gets pretty hot under those beards.