It’s odd that with all the wealth of talent attributed to the Red Sox farm system that no number one starter or reliever has emerged in the last decade. Yes, there was Jonathan Papelbon and later John Lester, but neither of these pitchers has led the league in anything but salary. And then there is Clay Bucholz, who may yet live up to his talent, but he has led the league only in days on the disabled list.
So once again the Red Sox go searching for the Big No. 1. Last year’s theme was “We’re all number 1,” but we saw how that democratic approach to the pitching rotation turned out. We saw how the number 1 starter controlled which teams moved into the latter rounds of the playoffs, and then how Matt Harvey and Wade Davis controlled their teams’ destinies in the World Series.
Somehow the big horse seems to set a standard for the rest of the pitching staff and make each of them a little better. Teams are willing to spend ridiculous cash on risky arms, because they recognize the ripple effect that arm has up and down the staff. It takes the pressure off the offense, too, by giving it 6-7 innings to grab a lead and hold on to it. So a lot more is at stake than becoming competitive every five days.
So the Red Sox will have to violate their sacred principle of no long-term contracts, especially to pitchers, because a pitcher needs insurance more than anything else when working at the peak of his career. They will have to buy themselves a multi-million dollar arm with no guarantee of durability. A strange turn of events for a team that let Papelbon and Lester go to the highest bidder. And yet can anyone say they erred in letting those two go, based on their performances last season?
The big money will be on the table next month, and Dave Dombrowski has shown he doesn’t walk away from the table, when there’s a diamond chip to be won. There will be no talk of democracy in the rotation this winter, because a big number one will be under contract by Christmas.