Tim Wakefield again has reiterated his unwavering belief that he would open the starting rotation in the Red Sox rotation.
“I plan to be one of the five starters," he told reporters in Fort Myers on Friday. "As long as I'm healthy during spring training and there are no setbacks, when we start the season, I think I’ll be one of the five. We talked about that. I think Tito (Francona) and Theo (Epstein) and John (Farrell) all think we’re a better team with me in the rotation. I eat up innings, I do whatever it takes to help us win, and I think we agreed on that aspect."
There are three possibilities here:
1. Tito and Theo and John really do believe the Red Sox are a better team with Wakefield in the rotation than with Clay Buchholz or Daisuke Matsuzaka.
2. Tito and Theo and John are not being honest with Wakefield.
3. Tito and Theo and John have been honest with Wakefield but Wakefield chooses to make declarations with no basis in reality.
No matter how you slice it, that's not good for the team.
First things first: The Red Sox are not a better team with Wakefield in the rotation than with Buchholz or Matsuzaka. Both Buchholz and Matsuzaka have shown flashes of top-of-the-rotation potential -- especially Buchholz, who had a 2.37 ERA and a sub-.600 OPS against during a 10-start stretch in August and September.
Matsuzaka might be maddening to watch. Matsuzaka might not have lived up to expectations. The Red Sox have him under contract for three more seasons, though, and his upside far exceeds that of Wakefield. If he's healthy -- and all indications are that he is going to be healthy -- he's going to be the No. 5 starter in the rotation.
Wakefield, meanwhile, has posted an ERA over 4.50 in three of his last four seasons and hasn't had even a decent second half since 2005. He's a perfectly serviceable pitcher for a team that needs to fill out its rotation, but he's not as good as Buchholz and not appreciably better than Matsuzaka. There's no way around it: The Red Sox rotation would not be better if he replaced either Buchholz or Matsuzaka.
The only reason for the Red Sox to keep Wakefield around, it seems, is as insurance -- but he's not talking like anyone has made that clear to him. He believes he has much claim on a spot in the rotation as Josh Beckett, John Lackey or Jon Lester. One can't help but imagine problems surfacing near Opening Day if and when the 43-year-old knuckleballer finds himself on the outs.
Epstein and Francona need to have a conversation with Wakefield -- and soon. Someone needs to tell him that he's pitching for a rotation spot right now belonging to Buchholz or Matsuzaka, and not the other way around.
(There is a slim possibility that Wakefield might be correct and that one of the five rotation spots does belong to him, be it at the expense of Buchholz or Matsuzaka. Should that be the case, well, that's another discussion entirely.)