While there will not be many jobs open once the team gets down to business in Fort Myers in a couple weeks, the race for fifth starter in the pitching rotation is actually open.
The Sox come to Fort Myers with seven players vying for five spots. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy have the first four spots locked up, provided there is not a trade between now and March 31. The fifth spot, however, figures to be a battle between Dempster, Felix Doubront and Brandon Workman.
Dempster held his spot in the 2013 rotation until September. Demoted to the bullpen when Buchholz returned full-time after a long injury, Dempster finished the year working long relief and mop-up during the playoffs.
With an ERA of 4.57 in 32 appearances last year, Dempster posted a record of eight wins and nine losses. He did strike out batters at a good clip, 157 over 171.1 innings, and allowed only 170 hits. Not bad for a back-end of a rotation pitcher that can give you nearly six innings a start.
Except, he is not being paid like a fifth starter, more as a low No. 3 or high-end No. 4 at $13.25 million. At 36, he does not figure to have many seasons left to pitch. Add in his walk rate, 4.1-per-nine innings, and his 26 home runs allowed last year and you wonder why the Red Sox did not quietly deal him this offseason.
Frankly, they needed to keep the depth Dempster brings to the rotation.
Doubront also pitched himself out of the rotation last fall and Boston is not sold on what role they want Workman to play. Doubront is going to get every chance to win this fifth spot and Workman can always do the utility role of spot starter-long reliever. Unless traded, they are both going north to Baltimore when the 2014 season starts for real.
Dempster has a couple advantages over his competition.
First, he is durable. Since shifting back into the starting rotation after a three-year stint as closer for the Chicago Cubs in 2008, he has started a minimum of 28 games a year and a minimum of 170 innings. The Sox know they are going to get six innings out of him every time Dempster takes the ball.
With that offense, he can win his share of games by not getting lit up. Dempster gives up four runs over six? Chances are Boston can score five or six and win the game.
His hits-per-nine rate as remained the same since returning to the rotation as well. In 2009, it was 8.8 with the friendly confines of Wrigley Field as his home park. Last year, 8.9 pitching half his games at Fenway.
Dempster is not going to give you 15 wins and 200 innings anymore, but a 10-win and 175 inning season out of the back of this rotation is something the Red Sox would take in a heartbeat.
If he gives the Sox good starts in Florida, he is the favorite to earn the fifth spot.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Photo Credit: WEEI/MLB
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