What Ryan Dempster's decision not to pitch means for Red Sox 2014 roster

February 16, 2014 - 8:56 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ryan Dempster's decision not to pitch in 2014 came as something of a bolt from the blue for the Red Sox. Prior to his calls in the last two weeks, first to manager John Farrell and then to general manager Ben Cherington, the team anticipated that he would be one of six veteran starters competing for five rotation spots this spring, along with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy. The team expected that the rotation logjam would likely resolve itself -- that either one of the pitchers wouldn't be healthy, or that a trade market might materialize in March for one of those potential rotation members. Now, with Dempster's decision (which will likely result in his placement on the MLB restricted list for 2014, meaning that he will be removed from the 40-man roster and not receive the $13.25 million salary guarantee that was due to him in the second-year of the deal he signed in December 2012), things look a bit different. A few implications: -- The Red Sox rotation is set, assuming everyone stays healthy. Manager John Farrell said that the team will build for the season expecting the rotation to feature Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Doubront and Peavy. -- Dempster had been expected to compete for one of the five rotation spots. Barring a March trade, the pitcher who lost that game of musical chairs was expected to offer veteran rotation depth to start the year. Now, the Sox have what they consider quality but inexperienced depth. The team will derive its depth from young players with limited big league experience. Brandon Workman will be the likely sixth starter when needed, with Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton also representing pitchers with big league experience who will get stretched out. Beneath that layer of pitchers, the Sox will also look to Anthony Ranaudo (on the 40-man roster) and non-roster invitees to big league camp Matt Barnes and Henry Owens as depth options. All of those pitchers have impressive big league ceilings, but without the major league track record to suggest that they're known quantities in the same capacity as a Dempster. (Though it's worth noting that the team believes that it has a pretty good feel for Workman at the big league level without any further minor league seasoning.) "With the group of pitchers that's here right now, yeah, it's, it's long on physical ability and short on experience," said Farrell. "That's our job, in any way possible, to shorten that transition time. I like the staff that we have, that's penciled in to be able to start the season with. That's where we are." One pitcher not listed in that mix is Steven Wright, whom Farrell said underwent a procedure to repair a sports hernia. Wright is not yet in camp. -- According to multiple industry sources, the Sox do not intend to pursue available free agents such as Ubaldo Jimenez and/or Ervin Santana. The team appears comfortable enough with in-house options that it does not need to go after a veteran starter who would require the sacrifice of a draft pick to sign. -- Still, Dempster's decision to walk away from his $13.25 million leaves the Sox with a substantial (and unexpected) degree of financial flexibility. The team had pushed its anticipated payroll (assuming about a $9 million contingency nugget for in-season trades and roster additions) more or less right against the luxury tax threshold of $189 million (with approximately $180 million in money committed for salary, benefits, 40-man roster members and the money owed to the Dodgers). Now, the team has about $167 million in committed money, with the same contingency fund taking the team to roughly $176 million. -- Accordingly, the new-found flexibility could permit the team to re-sign shortstop Stephen Drew while remaining under the luxury tax threshold. Still, whether the Sox find common ground with Drew remains to be seen.