It wouldn’t be a Boston baseball season without Theo Epstein and the Red Sox resuscitating some aging baseball player. Kevin Millwood becomes Epstein’s reclamation project, a former all-star starting pitcher who has posted an ERA of over five in three of his last four seasons.
Millwood, 36, is the latest someone-thinks-I-can-still-do-this 30-something to stroll down the 18th fairway with Boston handling the caddy duties. Those who recently predated him in the Fenway Fossil collection – Bartolo Colon, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Boof Bonser and Carlos Delgado immediately spring to mind – came and went without contributing much. Of course if Colon crossed paths with Dr. Joseph R. Purita before 2008, maybe the soon-to-be 38-year-old pitcher would have experienced a late-career renaissance far earlier than 2011.
Once again Epstein is going the Band-Aid route. By taking a low-risk flyer on Millwood, the Red Sox are sending out smoke signals that they are arming themselves in case John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka are sidelined for long stretches. Millwood becomes starting pitching insurance, something just about every MLB team is in the market for. To think he’s about to hop in the Delorean and instantaneously turn into a 16-game winner – something that hasn’t happened since 2006, also accompanied by a 4.52 ERA – is purely wishful thinking.
Still, the signing of Millwood raises questions that go beyond “why would Theo reach for an aging pitcher?” The ultimate answer delves deeper than Lackey and Matsuzaka landing on the disabled list within days of one another. In the eyes of Epstein and the rest of the front office, there is a lack of adequate starting pitching solutions toiling for the Pawtucket Red Sox at this very moment.
You could see why Epstein would arrive at such a conclusion, believing that Millwood brings something more substantial to the table than Brandon Duckworth, Matt Fox or Andrew Miller. Of the PawSox trio Miller, who turns 26 Saturday, owns the most upside, though his minuses (28 walks in 35.1 innings) outweigh the superlatives (the lefty with a blazing fastball has permitted one hit in half of his eight starts). Until Miller learns how to harness his control issues, he will continue to come up short in his quest to return to the majors.
Duckworth, 35, has been easily Pawtucket’s best pitcher this season, yet he hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2008. When he did, he was largely ineffective (23-34 with a 5.28 ERA spread over 134 appearances and 84 starts). We wrote last week that given how rock steady Duckworth has been – he’s gone six innings or greater in five of his eight – that his name could possibly come up as a waiting-in-the-wings solution.
At least Duckworth is healthy and has taken the ball regularly since spring training. Millwood was signed by the Yankees in late March, meaning there was no shot for him to be included on the opening day roster. His three April starts in the Yanks’ farm system served essentially as his spring training, allowing him to get some innings under his belt as general manager Brian Cashman figured out what exactly he had.
Millwood wound up posting respectable numbers (2-1 with a 4.50 ERA), though he lasted only two innings in his final outing with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. There were also reports that his velocity fell between 86-87 miles per hour, which is better served for batting practice than getting American League hitters out. Earlier this month Millwood enacted his opt-out clause with New York, freeing himself to pursue other avenues.
It should be noted that if Felix Doubront were healthy, the 23-year-old lefty would be making the start Saturday night against the Cubs, not Alfredo Aceves. It also stands to reason that if Doubront wasn’t presently on the D.L. with a groin injury, chances are Millwood wouldn’t be in Boston’s fold.
The Red Sox are battening down the hatches, just trying to coax some starts out of pitchers not named Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. At the moment Tim Wakefield and Aceves are taking the place of Lackey and Matsuzaka, which may be a good thing in the eyes of some Sox fans. Millwood is nothing more than a wild card. If he pans out, great. If not he will fall into the category of Smoltz and Delgado as players proving that greatness doesn’t last forever.
Millwood figures to receive a handful of minor-league starts before Boston decides whether to bring him aboard. In the meantime what happens if Wakefield and Aceves implode? Does Epstein once again comb the scrap heap, looking for the next possible solution who could very well require a minor-league stint before joining the backend of the Sox’ rotation?
Chances are Epstein will once again actively seek out another reclamation project should the No. 4 and 5 spots remain in a state of flux. If you are keeping score at home, that would be strike two against Pawtucket’s rotation.