The Red Sox’s most glaring need this winter is in the rotation, where chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom must restock a staff riddled with question marks.
The club took a tangible step in that regard Wednesday, signing free-agent righty Matt Andriese to a one-year deal with a 2022 club option. The deal will pay Andriese $2.5 million next season.
“I’m really excited,” Andriese said. “Playing in the AL East early in my career, Fenway was always my favorite park to visit. I also played in the Cape Cod League in college and always loved the summer on the Cape. When I heard the Red Sox had interest in me as a free agent, my ears perked up.”
Andriese is likely the first of several addition Bloom will make on the pitching side this winter after the Red Sox ranked second-worst among American League teams in ERA (5.58) last season. Even with Eduardo Rodriguez (COVID-19 complications) expected back healthy by Opening Day, Nathan Eovaldi remains their only other established starter with Chris Sale recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Adding Andriese bolsters depth both in the rotation and in the bullpen, where he’s bounced between throughout his six big league seasons. Coming up as a swingman with the Rays in 2015, Andriese went 19-22 with a 4.30 ERA (95 ERA+) from ’15-’18, making roughly as many starts as relief appearances. Since then , he’s worked almost exclusively as a multi-inning reliever in Tampa and Arizona and then with the Angels in '20, where he went 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 appearances (15 relief).
Andriese, 31, is a career 26-34 pitcher with 4.57 ERA lifetime in 183 big league games (50 starts).
“I’ve shown a lot of flexibility in my career,” Andriese said. “I will compete for a starting spot, but I know being in the bullpen is also an option as well.”
The opportunity to start again was a selling point for Andriese, as was familiarity. Andriese won a Cape Cod League championship in 2010 with the Cotuit Kettleers before becoming a Padres third round draft pick. He was eventually acquired and developed by the Rays. His relationship with Bloom dates back to those Tampa days, as does his friendship with Eovaldi.
But he’s been a different pitcher since leaving Tampa for the D-backs at the 2018 Trade Deadline. Over the past two seasons, he’s basically shelved his slider and curve for a strictly fastball-changeup mix, and enjoyed career-best strikeout numbers in shorter stints. Andriese struck out 112 against just 38 walks in 102 2/3 innings over the past two seasons.
He was also 2-for-3 in save chances last season for the Angels.
“I think using all of my pitches in a starting role probably benefits me more,” Andriese said. “Mixing and matching better, I’ll be able to go deeper into games.”
That chance should come in Spring Training, when the plan will be to stretch Andriese out enough to fit either role. The question now is: Who else does Bloom bring into the mix? Alex Cora said earlier this month the club has been “relentless” in its early explorations of starting-pitching market; they’ve been connected in rumors to a wide array of targets, including Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill and Japanese righty Tomoyuki Sugano.
“If you hear a rumor the Red Sox are in on someone, yeah, we’re doing our homework,” Cora said. "We’re trying to get better. We have to be patient. If you look at the market: How many starters have signed? Not too many. There are a lot of guys out there that can help us.”
Boston also acquired catching depth in a separate move Wednesday, claiming Deivy Grullón back off waivers from the Reds. Grullon spent most of 2020 at the Red Sox alternate site, appearing in one Major League game.