Drew Pomeranz wants to be a starter. He believes he has earned a slot in the Boston Red Sox rotation, and then maybe “in 10 years” he’d think about relieving again. But the former Padre and A’s lefty is sure of one thing. He wants to start:
“I’m confident enough in myself,” Pomeranz said. “People say bullpen, whatever. I made the All-Star team as a starter, not as a reliever. I had a good year as a reliever the year before and maybe I can fall back in 10 years, hopefully. Right now I just feel like this is the beginning for me.”
“Look at my first half last year. I was one of the top few in the National League. Why would I want to go to the bullpen. Just because I’ve done well people are going to say, ‘He should go to the bullpen. He would be better there.’ At the end of the day I’m here to help the team no matter what, but I fought my way back to being a starter and I’m not going to give up on it very easily.”
First off, Pomeranz should have confidence in himself, and believe he can contribute to the team the most by starting every fifth day. While on the surface it might seem objectionable that a player is dictating his usage and exhibiting “poor teamwork,” credit is due to Pomeranz for having a goal, a clear desire to help the team as much as possible by pitching as much as possible, and confidence in his own ability. There has been talk of making Pomeranz a reliever in 2017 – because Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez can also start – but the team (read: Dave Dombrowski, John Farrell, and other decision makers) have not pigeonholed the 28-year-old lefty one way or another. They clearly think Pomeranz is talented – otherwise they wouldn’t have traded for him, and then kept him when given a chance to reverse the deal – and a big part of their plans this season.
Bottom line: the more quality innings a pitcher can provide his team, the more valuable he is to the team. As a reliever, Pomeranz would be limited to under 100 innings (unless John Farrell REALLY liked how Playoff Tito used Andrew Miller last postseason) – as a starter, he could possibly throw 200 or more. Pomeranz wants to start because he can best help the team in the rotation.
However, another reason Pomeranz wants to start isn’t just related to the team’s needs. Starting pitchers earn a lot more money than relievers – both per year, and over the course of a career. Pomeranz will make $4.45M in 2017, his second year of arbitration eligibility. He has one more season of arbitration after this season, and then will be a free agent at the age of 30 after the 2018 season. With two full years in the Red Sox rotation Pomeranz would be set up to earn a contract with a value per year somewhere between his well-paid teammates Rick Porcello ($20.125M) and David Price ($30M). As a reliever, Pomeranz would be limited to a number around what current teammate Craig Kimbrel earns per season ($13M) at best. The difference between being a starter and a reliever can easily be $100M or more over the course of a career.
Meanwhile, the team has had no official response to Pomeranz’s stated wish to be a starter. But they have shown every sign of agreeing with him, prepping him as a starter this spring. Pomeranz – like other projected Sox starters – has yet to start a game in Florida but all signs point to him getting the ball sometime next week and working on the schedule for starting pitchers.
That leaves two candidates for one rotation slot – veteran knuckleballer Steven Wright and young lefty Eduardo Rodriguez – a competition that figures to be won by the right-handed Wright, mostly because Rodriguez has minor league options remaining and can begin the 2017 campaign in Pawtucket.
Removing Pomeranz from the bullpen mix also helps clarify the roles and responsibilities of the other relievers. If Farrell and the Sox want to use a converted starter as a relief ace, then Machine Gun Joe Kelly is the premier candidate. Kelly has had his issues as a starter but possesses tantalizing stuff and velocity. Perhaps his new slider will enable him to reach his potential as a shutdown reliever, bridging the gap between the starters and Kimbrel.
Pomeranz’s desire to start is both best for him, financially, and for the team. It also clarifies the “battle” for the rotation slots: Wright will likely earn the job because of Rodriguez’s remaining options. And Kelly will benefit from the opportunity to fill an important role out of the bullpen. The “loser” here is Rodriguez, who will probably return to Pawtucket despite being “ready” for a major league role. However, even if he starts the season on the farm it is quite likely that Rodriguez will eventually find his way to Boston as a valuable depth piece to the Sox pitching staff.
Pomeranz’s desire and the team’s needs dovetail perfectly: The Red Sox have a former All-Star manning the fourth spot in their rotation and the player gets a chance to do what he most desires: start, and work towards his lucrative payday. While removing the drama of a camp battle may make spring training a little less exciting, great teams would prefer to have a quiet camp where everyone prepares for the long season instead of a tumultuous camp where players don’t know what their role is, or how to best help the team win.