Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ryan Dempster Not Playing in 2014 for Red Sox. What Does it Mean for Boston?

A bit of shocking news out of Fort Meyers today. Ryan Dempster is not going to play in 2014. He is citing both physical and personal reasons for the decision.
"I had an incredible run, a chance to play 16 years in the major leagues and be around a lot of great teammates, made a lot of good friendships, great friendships," Dempster said in a surprise announcement one day before the first formal spring training workout for pitchers and catchers. "I'm totally comfortable with it. I'm at peace with my decision."
Dempster has not ruled out playing in 2015. But with the way he and others are talking, this sounds more like a retirement than a step back. To that end, Dempster is going on the restricted list. This has the effect of sidelining Dempster for the year. But it also frees up his $13.25M owed to him this year.

Of course it goes without saying that Boston fans want Dempster to do what he needs to do. And if he needs to step away and be with his family, that sounds to me like a man who has his life priorities in order. Plus, you want nothing but the best for a man who wears a suit that looks as good as that one.

That said ... what does this all mean for the Red Sox?

First, this is why you maintain pitching in depth. With Dempster leaving the team, Boston has a couple of arms they can bring up. Allen Webster could be the first name considered. He did pitch in Boston last year, starting seven games and going 1-2 in the process. Dempster started 29 games for Boston last year - asking that of Webster could be asking a lot. But with a healthy starting five thus far, Webster wouldn't be expected to pitch 29 games. Brandon Workman could be another choice - he started three games in July and went 1-1. He has fifth starter potential, but is valuable in the bullpen so I can't see Boston pulling him out.

A wilcard choice internally would be Anthony Ranaudo. I think he'll end up in Boston this year regardless, either to fill a gap mid-season or as a September callup. He pitched well in both Portland and Pawtucket last 2013, going a combined 11-5 with a sub-3.00 ERA in 24 starts across the two teams. But would Boston try him now? The advantage would be that as the "sixth starter" the pressure would be pretty low. But he hasn't played in Boston yet and they may want to break him in slowly on their schedule.

If Boston decides to hit the free agent market...there isn't a lot. The two big names still out there are Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana. But Boston is highly unlikely to try either one since they were made qualifying offers by Cleveland and Kansas City respectively. Draft picks are very valuable since the new CBA was ratified. And Boston has always valued their picks since Henry bought the team. That hasn't changed and I can't see Cherington surrendering a pick for either pitcher.

So that leaves free agent pitchers with no qualifying offer attached. That leaves a lot to be desired, with the pitchers usually being too old or too injured to be particularly desirable. But there are a couple of interesting choices; Jair Jurrjens and Jeff Niemann.

I'm not going to sugar-coat anything here. Both would be risky deals as both are coming off of surgeries. But one-year deals using some of that $13.25M...it's not totally crazy.

Jurrjens is only 28 years old. And for a four-year stretch in Atlanta (2008-11) he was a respectable 47-32 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.291 WHIP. Of course, he has major injury issues the past two seasons. But signed to a minor-league incentive-laden deal, Jurrjens would be a smart, cost-effective gamble by the Sox.

Niemann may be even more intriguing. He pitched in Tampa, which means he is used to facing the power-heavy lineups Boston will play most days. From 2009-11 he was 36-21 with a 4.31 ERA for the Rays. Like Jurrjens he ran into injury issues and missed all of 2013 thanks to shoulder surgery. And he is older; he'll be 31 when the season begins. But like Jurrjens, a minor-league deal with heavy incentives could attract him to a championship-caliber team like the Red Sox.

There is also the fact that Niemann has been a pain in Boston's ass over his career, going 4-2 in seven starts against the Red Sox. But that extends across all the AL East sides. He has a lifetime combined record of 16-9 against the AL East...and a 3-0 record against the Yankees. Like I said, he's an intriguing choice.

When I first heard about Dempster stepping away, I thought immediately about who the Sox could promote into the pitching staff. But the more I think about it, I am warming to the idea of trying to bring Jeff Niemann into the squad. He has the experience and the record in the Al East that Boston would want in a pitcher. Cherington should give it serious thought.

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