Red Sox positional outlook: Assessing the rotation for 2022 and beyond

·6 min read

Assessing the Red Sox rotation for 2022 and beyond originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The starting rotation has been Chaim Bloom and the Boston Red Sox front office's primary focus to begin the offseason.

After losing left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers in free agency, the Red Sox signed veteran hurlers Michael Wacha, James Paxton, and Rich Hill to short-term contracts. The team also decided to move on from southpaw Martin Perez and righty Garrett Richards.

The rest of the staff features familiar names with Chris Sale returning as the de facto ace, Nathan Eovaldi looking to duplicate his outstanding 2021 campaign, and right-handers Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck expected to have significant roles.

More positions: 1B/3B/C | 2B/SS | OF | RP

There's still time for another free-agent splash once the lockout comes to an end, but the Red Sox rotation appears to be mostly set for 2022. Here's a look at Boston's starting pitching situation for next season and beyond.

Chris Sale, LHP

2021 stats: 5-1, 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 52 SO, 12 BB (nine games)

Contract status: Signed for five years, $145 million in Mar. 2019. Free agent in 2025.

Outlook for 2022: Sale saw mixed results in his much-anticipated return from Tommy John rehab. After an encouraging August, the seven-time All-Star started to stumble in September and wrapped up his regular season with a nightmare performance in Washington. It didn't get any better in the postseason when he allowed five runs and couldn't get out of the first inning vs. the Tampa Rays in the ALDS.

Despite those ups and downs, Sale presumably will be counted on to return to form as Boston's ace in 2022. He'll be one of the biggest keys to the Red Sox' success and while his days as a perennial Cy Young candidate likely are behind him, there's still plenty left in the tank as long as he can stay healthy.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP

2021 stats: 11-9, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 195 SO, 35 BB (32 games)

Contract status: Signed for four years, $68 million in Dec. 2018. Free agent in 2023.

Outlook for 2022: Eovaldi earned his first All-Star selection and placed fourth in Cy Young voting as the anchor of Boston's rotation in 2021. The 31-year-old right-hander pitched 182 2/3 innings, the second-highest total of his 10-year career, and posted an American League-best 2.79 FIP.

It's fair to expect Eovaldi to regress in 2022 as last season was a bit of an anomaly. But with so much uncertainty in the rotation heading into the campaign, he'll be counted on again to be one of the team's most consistent arms. Especially if Sale's first full season since Tommy John surgery goes downhill.

This could be Eovaldi's final year in Boston as he's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season.

Nick Pivetta, RHP

2021 stats: 9-8, 4.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 175 SO, 65 BB (31 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $613,000 in 2021. Arbitration-eligible through 2024.

Outlook for 2022: Pivetta, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2020 Brandon Workman/Heath Hembree trade, was a pleasant surprise for Boston in 2021. The 28-year-old made 31 starts and while his numbers are unspectacular on paper, he stepped up in several key moments when called upon. Especially in the playoffs when he posted a 2.63 ERA.

As of now, Pivetta projects as the No. 3 or 4 starter in the Red Sox rotation. If he struggles as he did in the second half of 2021, we could see him moved to the bullpen. If he can repeat his first-half efforts, that 2020 trade will only continue to look like one of the worst deals in recent memory for Philly.

Tanner Houck, RHP

2021 stats: 1-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 87 SO, 21 BB (18 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $577,000 in 2021. Under team control through 2024.

Outlook for 2022: It's clear Houck has a ton of potential and could be a key part of Boston's rotation in 2022. The 25-year-old, who's often hyped as the "right-handed Chris Sale," can make major league hitters look silly with his wipeout slider. That said, he still has plenty to prove.

Houck had an up-and-down 2021 campaign after returning from a flexor strain in July. In the postseason, he allowed six runs (three homers) on seven hits in 10 1/3 innings pitched. There were some flashes of brilliance mixed in those appearances, but the jury is still out on whether he can be a consistent contributor to the rotation going forward. He should at least be trusted as a No. 3 or 4 starter to begin next season.

Rich Hill, LHP

2021 stats: 7-8, 3.86 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 150 SO, 55 BB (32 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $5 million in Dec. 2021. Free agent in 2023.

Outlook for 2022: The Red Sox signed Hill, who's entering his age 42 season, to mark his third stint with the organization. He could step in to fill the left-handed void left by E-Rod in the rotation.

Hill once again defied his age and enjoyed another solid season in 2021. He actually hasn't posted an ERA above 4.00 since 2013, when he was a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. So while it may not be the sexiest signing, it's clear Bloom believes Hill can at least duplicate E-Rod's numbers at a much cheaper price. If he doesn't, perhaps one of his other offseason signings will.

Michael Wacha, RHP

2021 stats: 3-5, 5.05 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 121 SO, 31 BB (29 games)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $7 million in Nov. 2021. Free agent in 2023.

Outlook for 2022: Wacha will look to bounce back with Boston after a rough couple of seasons with the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays. The 30-year-old has shown, especially during his early years in St. Louis, that the talent is there. It just hasn't been shown consistently since he left the Cardinals in 2019. Wacha adds depth to the back end of the rotation, but he could also make some appearances out of the bullpen in 2022. That may be where he's the most effective, similar to what we witnessed with Garrett Richards last season.

James Paxton, LHP

2021 stats: 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 2 SO, 1 BB (one game)

Contract status: Signed for one year, $10 million in Dec. 2021. Club options for 2023 and 2024.

Outlook for 2022: Don't expect to see Paxton pitch for the Red Sox until the summer as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. He lasted only one inning in 2021 before suffering the season-ending injury.

If Paxton can get back to pre-2020 form, this signing could turn out to be a steal. The 33-year-old southpaw has club options for 2023 and 2024, so this is sort of a "prove it" deal for him once he's healthy enough to return to the mound.