What will the Red Sox Rotation Look Like Post-Trade Deadline?

The Red Sox have been lucky in the sense that they have only used six starting pitchers all season. With the main starting five being mostly healthy and successful, Tanner Houck was not needed for most of the season. Now with starters Martin Perez and Garret Richards struggling and multiple injuries in the bullpen, Houck’s call-up was a necessity and it should be permanent. While Boston has deployed Houck in a dual-starter/relief role, questions remain what his role will be going forward and on a larger scale, how will the Red Sox rotation look going forward.

Houck the starter or reliever?

Red Sox rotation

Houck’s inclusion as a starter turns the rotation into a six-man staff leaving eight guys in the bullpen. Most would think eight guys would be enough but, the bullpen has not been good in July. Boston’s relievers have a combined 4.70 ERA during the month. An overworked group does not need the extra pressure as is.

On the other hand, having Houck in the rotation would provide the opportunity for deeper starts. It is a rare sight to see the starters to go past the fifth inning. Keeping Houck in the rotation gives each starter an extra day of rest. It would also give the rotation a guy with an ERA of 3.38, which is better than all five starters.

The decision may simply come down to how Houck does today against the Yankees. A successful start and a win may solidify his spot in the rotation. Maybe Cora send Richards to bullpen to figure out his struggles. Regardless, Houck has pitched too well to be sent back down to the minors at this point. With the Red Sox in a tight division race and the bullpen struggling, the team needs a capable arm that isn’t at huge risk of blowing leads.

The Return of Sale

Even if the Red Sox want to go with a six-man rotation, someone will get bumped once Chris Sale returns. Sale has been spectacular in his rehab starts and looks like he will be ready to go once he rejoins the team in a few weeks. It’s likely Houck would be sent to bullpen and be used as a long-reliever who could go 3-4 innings if a starter gets into early trouble.

If Boston wants to go back down to a five-man rotation, there are plenty of choices on who gets moved. Realistically if another guy gets moved to the bullpen it will probably be Richards or Nick Pavetta. There are already two lefty relievers so there is no need to send Eduardo Rodriguez or Perez. Nathan Eovaldi has experience in relief, but he has been the team’s best starter.

There is also the possibility that Boston trades or puts one of the starters on waivers to make room for Sale. However, with the trade deadline looming, the team won’t want to lose any depth in case somebody gets injured.

Big Picture

In all likelihood, Houck will make a few starts then return to bullpen once Sale comes back. Depending on how the bullpen performs, Cora may go with a five-man rotation and send another starter to the bullpen. The good news is Boston will have some flexibility when it comes to these decisions and the staff should be better regardless of the exact makeup of the rotation.

Scouting Report: Cole Brannen

After the Boston Red Sox drafted Tanner Houck in the first round, they drafted outfielder Cole Brannen 63rd overall.

Cole Brannen

The 6’1” left-handed hitter is known for his speed and athleticism. As a senior in high school at Westfield (GA), Brannen batted .439 (36-for-82). This came with a total of 23 doubles, three triples, and five home runs. He also scored 42 runs and stole 22 bases, drawing 26 walks against only 11 strikeouts. There is definitely some potential for power, but I think the Red Sox will let him develop based on his young age.

In the summer of 2016, he competed in the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field and in the Nike Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park.

Due to his tremendous exposure, Brannen had originally committed to play ball at Georgia Southern, but told reporters “I made up my mind. I’ve known for a long time that’s what I want to do. I want to play ball. I’ve wanted to play professional baseball since I was three years old. That’s always been my goal. I’ve worked hard. I’ve put in a lot of time and a lot of effort. God’s given me a lot of things that I can do that a lot of people can’t do. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for him. I’m very thankful and blessed for all the things I’ve gotten to accomplish.”

Breakdown

There is no question that the hit potential is there. But in addition to that, Brannen’s athleticism allows him not only to steal bases and advance but also to play any of the outfield positions.

However, Brannen doesn’t have a ton of experience against high-level pitching, so there will definitely be at least a few periods of adjustment. Additionally, his swing is a tad lofty, so long-term power as he ages is no guarantee. Despite that, I still see him as a potential plus-hit for average tool.

It is unclear what the Red Sox plan to do with Cole Brannen long-term. But short term, he’ll probably play the rest of the season in the Gulf Coast League. Should he still be with the organization next season, he’ll probably split time between Lowell and Greenville based on his performance.

Right now, I feel comfortable comparing him to Danny Mars or Aneury Tavarez, both of which are other outfielders in the farm system. Brannen’s absolute ceiling would be comparable to Jackie Bradley Jr, but perhaps with less defensive ability.