BOSTON -- The Red Sox have devoted more than $400 million to the top three pitchers in their rotation.
Whoever takes over as GM this winter will be lucky to find $10 million for their replacements.
Tuesday highlighted what kind of challenge awaits the baseball operations department. Before an endless 7-6 loss to the Giants in 15 innings, manager Alex Cora revealed that left-hander David Price ($217 million) might need offseason surgery to address a cyst on his left wrist. He also noted that fellow southpaw Chris Sale ($145 million) remains in Fort Myers and isn't yet due for a follow-up with Dr. James Andrews to ascertain the state of his troublesome elbow, though he'll meet the team in Tampa this weekend.
Once the game started, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi ($68 million) allowed five runs on seven hits, including a pair of homers, in only four innings. His ERA rose to 6.19 and the best he could say was that he had made a memory for Mike Yastrzemski, serving up a mammoth homer to straightaway center for the grandson of Yaz.
It's hard to overstate just how dire an issue the rotation is setting up to be next season. The Red Sox are stuck in a position where their current starters are immovable from a salary standpoint and unreliable from a physical one.
The team must count on them to deliver while also planning for the eventuality that anywhere from one to three of them probably won't.
To quote the great Dennis Eckersley: "Yuck."
When we talk about Dave Dombrowski leaving the Red Sox in a hole, what we're really talking about is the rotation. The offense will be stacked even if J.D. Martinez or Mookie Betts depart this winter. (Losing both would be a different story...) The starting rotation, however, is shaping up like one giant cinderblock that's about to drag down the entire roster.
So what can the Red Sox do? The prospect of replacing any one of the Big Three with an opener every five days is distasteful, and the Red Sox shouldn't subject their fans to it, not with one of the few legitimate big-market payrolls in the game. Leave the openers to the Tampas and Oaklands of the world (although they are playoff teams …). The Red Sox should be able to afford five serviceable starters.
The problem is they might need eight. That means scouring the non-tender wire and the shallow end of the free agency pool to find arms that can basically form a shadow rotation in support of the one that we can only trust with a giant leap of faith.
Any surgery Price might need sounds minor, but once that ball starts rolling...
"That's something we're going to talk about, if that's an option, if we need it," Cora said. "Obviously [the injury] has limited him as far as being able to compete and I think it actually kind of limited him when he was pitching, what he was able to do. We saw it with command and that's not him. He can get hit, that's part of it. But with command, he was way off. He didn't have that two-seamer in the whole season and that's a pitch that throughout his career, he always aced it. That's a pitch, a put-away pitch against right-handed hitters and he didn't have it. We'll talk about it. We'll see what we're going to do. Obviously, everything that can benefit from him will be great for the organization."
Eovaldi, meanwhile, remains an enigma. He routinely hit 98 mph on Tuesday, but the Giants knocked him around anyway because he spent too much time down in the strike zone. His ERA ranks in the bottom 15 in baseball and his inability to stay healthy feels like a problem will only intensify as he ages.
"When he's dominating, when he got here last year against the Twins, he was up [in the zone]," Cora said after the game. "Against the Yankees, the eight innings, it was up in the zone. Against the Dodgers, in the playoffs, it was up in the zone. We have to do that. We live in an era that if you pitch on plane, the guys are going to catch up regardless of whether you're throwing 100 or 91. There's a lot of foul balls, too. That's part of the mix. There's nothing we can do with that. But we'll get it right, we'll finish on a positive note, and he'll be ready for the offseason to work on the things that he has to work, and he's a guy that is very important for us in the coming years."
As for Sale, we still don't know if he needs Tommy John surgery. What we do know is the longer the Red Sox wait to make a decision, the greater the likelihood that he'll miss two seasons instead of one if he goes under the knife.
That's a worst-case scenario, and the fact that Sale has felt well enough to play catch is encouraging, but let's be real: a bad shoulder effectively cost him the final three months of 2018, and a bad elbow shut him down this August.
Two years, two serious injuries. The Red Sox have no idea what to expect from Sale in 2020. The same can be said of Eovaldi. The same can be said of Price.
That's the heart and soul of your rotation. It's a massive percentage of your payroll. It's supposed to be the strength of your team.
That's a terrible place to be.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.