Why the Red Sox' Brian Johnson move means something

Rob Bradford
November 26, 2019 - 11:18 am
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This was from new Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush in The Monday Baseball Column:

"It’s been well-documented that we don’t have a ton of depth right now. It’s something that may get better in the offseason or it may not. Either way, I’ll be prepared for it and I’ll have our guys prepared to be ready to go when the regular season starts."

For the time being, it may have just gotten thinner.

The Red Sox placed Brian Johnson on outright waivers Monday (as was first reported by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal). What that means is that there is a two-day period in which teams can claim Johnson and put him on their 40-man roster.

While the numbers (6.02 ERA) and injury issues (elbow) left a cloud over Johnson's 2019, he is still just a year removed from serving as one of "MVPs" identified by manager Alex Cora thanks to his ability to provide the aforementioned depth throughout the Red Sox' World Series run. That 2018 season he made 13 starts, compiling a 4.15 ERA with the team going 9-4 in those games.

With the occasional bumps and bruises landing with the rotation's top five starters, Johnson and Hector Velazquez (8 starts, 4.15 ERA, 5-3 team record) served as the perfect complement.

But that was then and this is now.

With the uncertainty hovering over the Red Sox' starting rotation (especially the trio of Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi and David Price) the Red Sox' need for certainty when it comes to their depth options is more important than it has been in some time. This is why they are most likely choosing to use Johnson's 40-man roster spot to identify what they view as a pitcher who represents an upgrade from the 29-year-old.

Johnson has certainly proven to be a major league pitcher, and it will be intriguing to see the results of his offseason work with Driveline Baseball. But the Red Sox went into 2019 hardly prioritizing the depth behind the Top 5 starters and it came back to bite them. They were left scurrying to fill in the gaps when it counted the most with the likes of Andrew Cashner and Jhoulys Chacin instead of being able to rely on some of their own.

Was it worth potentially parting ways with Johnson instead of some of other candidates currently on the 40-man roster? That's debatable. But what this is a reminder of is how little room for error finding the next version of the 2018 Johnson/Velazquez ticket will be.