The Boston Red Sox received surprising news Sunday when veteran starting pitcher Ryan Dempster announced he will not pitch in 2014 in order to focus on his family.
Dempster has pitched for five teams during a 16-year major league career, going a combined 132-133 with a 4.35 ERA.
He signed with the Red Sox last offseason to a two-year deal, and went 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA in 32 games (29 starts). However, he lost his spot in the rotation towards the end of the year, and was used mainly in a mop-up role from that point through the playoffs.
According to multiple reports, Dempster’s decision means he will be placed on the restricted list by Boston, and his $13.25 2014 salary will come off the books. Expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, or failing that, to be used in relief or as trade bait, the announcement from the 36-year-old right-hander seemingly came out of the blue.
Here are three ways Dempster’s sabbatical will impact the team:
Brandon Workman may get a chance to start: The top of Boston’s rotation seems relatively set in stone with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey. Beyond that, Dempster, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy were expected to battle it out for the final two spots. However, now that Dempster is out of the equation, assuming that the starters are set would be a mistake.
Doubront showed up to camp last year out of shape. Additionally, he has faltered down the stretch during his career, with a 6.51 ERA in regular season games that came after August 31.
Peavy was 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for the Red Sox in 2013 after being acquired in a trade, but was very uneven in the playoffs.
That brings us to Workman. The 25-year-old right-hander was 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA in 20 games (three starts) as a rookie last season, finishing as an important bullpen piece in the playoffs. However, the 2.45 ERA and 1.04 WHIP the Texan had in his three starts should be enough to earn him a long look this spring for a spot in the rotation.
More money to spend: Obtaining an additional $13.25 million of flexibility is a major coup at this stage of the season, especially when it comes at the expense of Dempster, a player who was likely going to play a marginal role at best.
The Red Sox have strove to avoid exceeding the luxury tax threshold, and the accompanying financial penalty that would come from doing so. The 2014 threshold is set at $189 million, and the newfound windfall provides a significant amount of leeway if the team chooses to pursue additional expenditures at any point this season.
Last year’s starting shortstop Stephen Drew is still waiting for a new home. Boston is reportedly still interested him, but only on their terms. Dempster’s savings could make them feel a bit more comfortable extending themselves to bring the infielder back into the fold.
There is also nothing like having a nest egg for a rainy day, so the Red Sox may choose to just sit on the new money. After all, there’s no telling if an interesting trade opportunity or an emergent need will develop at some point later in the season. It’s always better to leave a bullet or two in the chamber when it comes to navigating through a long and unpredictable MLB season.
Puts a little more pressure on the youngsters: Offseason talk often centered on the enviable pitching depth of the Red Sox. While the absence of Dempster won’t completely eliminate that advantage, it certainly does give it a good-sized dent.
The team still has a full pitching staff with plenty of arms ranging from the youthful (Workman) to the aged (closer Koji Uehara). The loss of a veteran like Dempster means that the top young arms in the farm system (of which there are many) will likely be one step closer to being asked to fill in if needed.
The pitching prospects most ready to contribute if called upon include right-handers Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby De La Rosa, Alex Wilson and Matt Barnes. Additionally, left-hander Drake Britton got his first taste of the majors last season, and prized southpaw prospect Henry Owens is getting closer to being ready by the day.
Conclusion: The departure of Dempster will certainly have more impact than the three reasons listed above. By all accounts he was a dedicated player and a great teammate. Although he has decided to step away and address his life off the field, on it the game must go on. The team has already started for life without him, and while there isn’t time to stop and process too long, here’s wishing him all the best this year and in the future.
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