Last winter, the Red Sox were defending world champions, with a strong rotation of established veteran starters. And then the wheels came off over the summer, leading the front office to trade away any starter with a pulse, punting 2014 for a fresh slate in 2015. Things got pretty dark in August and September: Boston trotted out a slumping Clay Buchholz and a variety of underwhelming pitching prospects, who combined for a 4.93 ERA after July 31. It was clear the team needed pitching help.
But so far this offseason, Boston has thrown money at free agent bats (signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval) and predominantly trading for starting pitchers. Hours after losing out on Jon Lester, the Red Sox acquired Rick Porcello from the Tigers, picked up Wade Miley from the Diamondbacks, and signed former farmhand Justin Masterson. In the process, the Sox sent Yoenis Cespedes (along with prospects Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier) to Detroit, and young arms Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster to Phoenix.
The Internet reacted with cautious optimism. At FanGraphs, August Fagerstrom compared Miley -- and not unfavorably -- to Jeff Samardzija. Marc Normandin took to the pages of Over the Monster to remind Rick Porcello is still very, very young, even when compared to the prospects for which he was traded.
What the three new starters have in common is their love of the ground ball. This is a new direction for the Sox: their starters were in the bottom half of the league in ground ball percentage the last two years. And scouts suggest Sandoval gives Boston an upgrade over Will Middlebrooks at the hot corner.
Even if you're not in love with the Sox' infield defense -- Xander Bogaerts is no Jose Iglesias, for starters -- there's something to be said for keeping the ball on the ground in Fenway. Jeff Sullivan recently took an in-depth look at the effect of the Green Monster on pitchers' approach: in general, pitchers seem to want hitters to hit the ball to the park's cavernous right field. But a focus on ground balls is another good way to keep balls off Lansdowne Street.
So the Red Sox have upgraded from a rotation of fringe starters and young talent to a group that's at least closer to league average. That may not be the big splash many fans were hoping for, but what the rotation lacks at the top it makes up for in depth, especially considering the pitching prospects in Pawtucket and Portland.
And besides, as Peter Gammons pointed out yesterday, the AL East isn't exactly awash with aces:
If Tanaka isn't fully healthy, the only legit no. 1,starter in the AL East is Alex Cobb
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 11, 2014
Granted, it's still early in the offseason, and there are a few top-line starters still available. But as it currently stands, a rotation full of number-3 and number-4 starters might be enough to bring the Red Sox back out of the cellar.
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Bryan Cole is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score who is disappointed he didn't get a chance to buy a Yoenis Cespedes shirsey. You can follow him on Twitter at @Doctor_Bryan.