Post E-Rod, who will Sox tab for rotation?

November 15th, 2021

BOSTON -- It was July 31, 2014 -- a most hectic day for the Red Sox.

The transactions were dizzying. By breakfast time, franchise stalwart Jon Lester was traded to the A's for Yoenis Céspedes. Before lunch, World Series hero John Lackey was off to the Cardinals for Allan Craig and Joe Kelly.

Then came an afternoon move that was perhaps lost in the shuffle of the other activity. A 21-year-old prospect named was coming over from the Orioles for reliever Andrew Miller, who was months away from free agency.

It turned out to be a significant move for a lefty who would mature with each passing year and develop into an important and championship-tested rotation piece.

Rodriguez arrived in Boston as a promising unknown more than seven years ago and departed on Monday as a respected veteran -- off to the Tigers on a five-year contract worth at least $77 million, according to a source.

The Tigers haven’t announced the transaction yet, as it is likely pending a physical.

The Red Sox extended Rodriguez an $18.4 million qualifying offer on Nov. 7 in hopes that it could lead to the sides staying together for at least another year, if not longer. The two parties discussed multi-year packages in recent weeks.

Rodriguez took the security of the five-year offer the Tigers gave him over the obvious comfort he had in Boston.

Due to the fact that the Red Sox issued that QO to Rodriguez, they’ll receive a compensatory Draft pick, which follows Competitive Balance Round B, just prior to the third round.

It came down to business in the end, and the Red Sox have no complaints with what they got out of a talented part of their rotation for years. Though Rodriguez had his share of injuries, particularly early on, and some bouts with inconsistency, he mostly delivered for Boston.

E-Rod, still in his prime at 28 years old, went 64-39 with a 4.16 ERA over 856 2/3 innings in six seasons with the Sox.

Rodriguez went out on a good note, pitching the Red Sox to their final win of 2021 by downing the Astros in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. At the time, it felt like the Sox were going to make it to the World Series and Rodriguez would make at least one more start in a Boston uniform.

But that was how it ended for Rodriguez in Boston, and now the Red Sox must figure out the best way to replace him. This much we know: Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta hold the first three spots in the team’s 2022 rotation.

The Red Sox have two promising rookies waiting in the wings for potential spots in Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock.

Sixteen of Houck’s first 21 MLB regular-season appearances for the Red Sox have been as a starter. He made five more relief appearances in the playoffs. It seems likely at this point that he’ll get every opportunity to win a rotation spot in Spring Training.

Whitlock, on the other hand, isn’t as straightforward. The Red Sox snagged him from the Yankees in last December’s Rule 5 Draft. He had been a starter in the Yanks’ farm system. Because Whitlock was coming off Tommy John surgery, and there weren’t any clear rotation spots available for the Red Sox, he pitched in relief the entire season and was tremendous in that role.

It could depend on how the offseason shakes out before the Red Sox decide how they will use Whitlock in 2022. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said at the GM Meetings last week Whitlock has clear upside as a starter, but he didn’t commit to when the righty will be given that chance.

Now that the Red Sox aren’t going to be spending $18.4 million on Rodriguez, Bloom can decide how to divvy up that money. There are some upper-echelon starters on the free-agent market, including Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodón, Clayton Kershaw and Robbie Ray.

Given the money the Sox have invested in Sale and Eovaldi, it seems unlikely they will spend big for a stud starter. The more likely path seems to be for Bloom to sign a starter or perhaps multiple in the next tier such as Marcus Stroman, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood or Rich Hill. A starter could also be acquired in a trade.

If Houck and Whitlock both get chances to crack the rotation, Bloom could aggressively invest in bullpen help this winter, which was often a troubled spot for the Sox in 2021.

Either way, the Red Sox now have a clear void to fill with Rodriguez heading out of town, and it will be interesting to see how they go about it.