Nathan Eovaldi has often stated he wants to return to the Red Sox next season. Now the ball is in his court after Boston made him a $19.65 million qualifying offer for 2023. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox are starting to feel better about their starting rotation.

That’s not really a surprise. After a season that saw the team’s starting pitching post a 4.49 ERA, there isn’t anywhere to go but up. That ERA was the fifth-worst in the American League. The .265 batting average against Red Sox starters was the third-highest in the league. The 1.35 WHIP against the Boston rotation was also the American League’s third-worst.

So how can the Red Sox feel good about this group just six weeks after the end of a disappointing season?

Because the team’s depth already looks considerably better than we thought it would at this point of the offseason. James Paxton somewhat surprisingly took the $4 million player option and will return to Boston next season. It’s somewhat surprising because he made more last year without appearing in a game this season. The one-time flame-throwing, 6-foot-4 left-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021 and hasn’t pitched since. The Red Sox turned down a pair of $13-million options covering the next two seasons and most thought Paxton would find a more lucrative deal elsewhere.

The next bit of surprising news came last week when the Red Sox offered Nathan Eovaldi a qualifying offer, meaning Eovaldi can return next year for $19.65 million if he chooses. That’s more than he made last season and could represent an opportunity for the oft-injured righty to prove himself fit and ready to go in 2023 before re-entering the free-agent market after the season.

Last season Eovaldi told me, and others, repeatedly that he wanted to return to the Red Sox next season. The qualifying offer gives him a chance to do that, or to discuss a longer-term deal with Boston.


There are no guarantees that Eovaldi and Paxton will be healthy and effective next season. Both are coming off seasons plagued by injury questions. The same is true for Chris Sale, the seven-time All Star who has thrown a total of 48 1/3 innings in the last three seasons. Sale will always be remembered for helping the Red Sox win a World Series in 2018, but he’s been damaged goods since.

Chaim Bloom will be hoping all three can return to form in 2023, but the Red Sox learned the hard way last year that you can’t hope for injured players to lead you to the postseason. That’s why the Red Sox need depth behind that questionable trio.

With that in mind, it makes sense that General Manager Brian O’Halloran confirmed last week that the team is planning on using Garrett Whitlock as a starter in the coming season. Whitlock is another pitcher coming off an injury, but at the age of 26 there’s no reason to believe he won’t return from the hip injury that forced the Red Sox to shut him down in September.

Joining Whitlock in the rotation at this point are Nick Pivetta and Brayan Bello. Pivetta was the team’s workhorse in 2022, throwing 50 more innings than anyone else on the staff. The 23-year old Bello showed his potential down the stretch when he posted a 2.59 ERA with an 8.9 strikeout-per-nine ratio in his final six starts.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora told me after the season that he felt very good about his rotation for 2023. And Bloom still has more than three months to add to the group. Michael Wacha was effective last season and has said he’d like to return. And there are plenty of attractive free agents on the market.

More importantly, the base the Red Sox have built allows Bloom to focus on more important issues in the early weeks of the offseason. The Sox have to deal with the shortstop issue now that Xander Bogaerts is officially a free agent. They desperately need to improve a bullpen that posted the fifth-highest ERA in baseball.

But success still begins with starting pitching. The Sox were 33-16 when their starting pitcher went six or more innings in 2022, 45-68 when Cora had to go to the bullpen before the sixth.

Bloom is hoping he can assemble a rotation that can go deeper with more consistency next season.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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