OK, now Chaim Bloom is just trolling us.
It's one thing to let Eduardo Rodriguez walk in free agency without so much as a multi-year offer because you realize you're not going to compete with Detroit's $77 million. It's another to let the top of the pitching market scatter across the country like so many wisps of dandelion, Kevin Gausman touching down in Toronto, Cy Young winner Robbie Ray settling in Seattle, Max Scherzer fluttering onto a patch of dirt in Flushing.
With the Red Sox in obvious need of starting pitching, Bloom didn't exactly wow us on Saturday with Michael Wacha for one year and $7 million, but we withheld judgment, because that's just a depth move and multiple days of frenzy remained before Wednesday's presumed lockout shuttered the game. Maybe there'd be a big move in the offing to find a legit third starter behind Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale and in front of Nick Pivetta.
Imagine our (complete and utter lack of) surprise, then, to awaken on Wednesday morning to the news that the Red Sox have agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract with left-hander James Paxton that includes a pair of team options totaling $25 million.
If you're wondering why you haven't heard Paxton's name in a while, it's because he's broken. After making only five starts for the 2020 Yankees, Paxton returned to Seattle and threw just 1.1 innings in April before undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career.
We needn't remind you of the recovery time, because we just lived it, anxiously awaiting Sale's return, only for him to roar back in August and then sputter into the playoffs. Are we really expecting anything more out of Paxton, who has never made 30 starts or thrown more than 160.1 innings in a season? He's a lesser version of Sale in every way, and he went under the knife a month later (April 28 vs. March 30), so the odds of him contributing before September are slim.
The answer to that question is no, we do not expect anything out of Paxton next season. That's because this deal is almost entirely about the options on 2023 and 2024. If Paxton nails his rehab, then he'll join the rotation in a year. If he doesn't, the Red Sox are out $10 million and some man hours in Fort Myers.
During the Dan Duquette Era, when each spring brought a new reclamation project like Bret Saberhagen, Ramon Martinez, or David Cone, we could just shrug off the expense and hope for the best.
But with the Red Sox seemingly intent on remaining below the luxury-tax threshold, it's fair to question if a $10 million rehab case is the wisest allocation of resources for a 92-win team that must keep pace with the Rays, Jays, and Yankees in the rugged American League East.
Bloom was hired to take the long view, and he has kept his eyes on that prize, but the Red Sox just reached the American League Championship Series, so perhaps a shorter-term recalibration is in order. He doesn't need to spend recklessly like a departed Steinbrenner, but there's nothing wrong with paying the going rate for an elite starter if that's the hole on your roster. Five years and $110 million for Gausman or five and $115 million for Ray are fair contracts, and yet the Red Sox weren't in on either of them. They value value as much as talent.
I fear they'll try to build a rotation out of bargains, an approach better suited for, say, corner outfielders or setup men. As things stand now, their rotation looks like Eovaldi, Sale, Pivetta, perhaps Garrett Whitlock, and Wacha. Removing Whitlock or Tanner Houck from the bullpen will create a hole, because both are weapons in relief.
Considering how iffy Sale looked in October, that rotation is far from a sure thing. It would be a shame to see such a promising Red Sox team take a step back in 2022 because they'd rather wait and see if James Paxton can give them something in 2023.