FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ryan Dempster’s surprise announcement that he will not pitch this season settles the composition of the Red Sox’s intended starting rotation entering 2014, manager John Farrell said Sunday.
It also frees up Dempster’s salary, $13.25 million on the payroll that could enable the Sox to add another key part (Stephen Drew?) while remaining under the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Eliminated is the 6-into-5 equation the Sox thought they were faced with entering spring training. The rotation will be comprised of five veterans: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront in an order yet to be determined. That’s assuming there will be no health issues during camp, which is never advisable. Dempster, who along with Doubront was sent to the bullpen for the postseason, was a long shot to crack that rotation, but the Sox valued him for the experienced depth he provided.
The Sox could decide to add another experienced arm, although the club has shown no inclination to bid on the better free agents still available on the market, such as Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. It would not be a surprise, though, if the Sox did some trolling for a less-expensive, back-end-of-the-rotation type starter on a minor-league deal or in a trade that would not come at great cost.
For now, the Sox have an entire tier of young arms that gives them some rotation protection, comprised of Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton, all mentioned by Farrell, as well as three newcomers to big-league camp who are highly regarded: Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens.
“We have a very good young group of, we feel, strong prospects, but still while they’re long on talent, they’re short on experience,’’ Farrell said. “We feel confident with the talent that is here.
“I think at this point we talked of six guys for five spots. We’re at five right now. That will be the five we look to begin the season with. But we’ve got to prepare for the unknown, the unforeseen, that could take away from our initial plan. That’s why that second five is critical for us.’’
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, who expressed a desire to keep the focus on Dempster’s decision, said there will be time to discuss such issues later in the week.
“We’re not doing anything today,’’ Cherington said. “At some point, when the time is necessary, we’ll likely make some sort of roster move. It won’t happen today, but will likely happen sometime this spring.’’
Cherington said the Sox likely will place Dempster on baseball’s restricted list, which will open a spot on the 40-man roster.
Cherington said he and Farrell were both informed by Dempster 10 days ago or so about his decision, though there were some issues that still had to be worked out among the team, the player and agent Craig Landis.
In the intervening days, the Sox have not advanced in talks with Drew, according to a source. The team has not made an offer beyond the $14.1 million qualifying offer the player rejected last November, but signing Drew and remaining under the luxury tax mark is now eminently feasible with Dempster’s contract off the books.