June 13, 2024

The Red Sox have reportedly reached an extension agreement with young right-handed pitcher Brayan Bello, and there appears to be some interest in pursuing another extension. Right-hander Tanner Houck mentioned to Rob Bradford of WEEI that he has had discussions with the team regarding an extension, although nothing concrete has materialized yet. These talks are not entirely new, as Houck had similar discussions with the club a couple of years ago, which did not lead to a deal at that time.

Houck, who will turn 28 in June, has shown promising performance in the majors but has yet to solidify himself as a consistent starter. Over the past four seasons, he has pitched 256 innings with a 3.86 ERA. His strikeout rate of 24.9% and ground-ball rate of 51% are slightly above average, while his walk rate of 8.8% falls within the average range.

Last season marked a career high for Tanner Houck in terms of innings pitched at the big league level, surpassing the 70-inning mark for the first time. Unfortunately, he was sidelined for a significant period due to a facial fracture resulting from being hit by a comebacker, requiring surgery and more than two months on the injured list. Additionally, in 2022, he missed time due to lower back inflammation that required surgery, limiting him to just 60 innings for the year.

Aside from the challenge of not yet reaching a full starter’s workload, there’s also the observation that his performance has been more favorable when pitching out of the bullpen. While his ERA as a starter sits at 4.17 for his career, it drops to 2.68 in relief, albeit in a smaller sample size of 53 2/3 innings. However, his underlying metrics are fairly similar in both roles. His strikeout rate as a reliever is only slightly higher than as a starter (25.9% versus 24.6%), while his walk rate is actually higher in relief (9.5% versus 8.6%). The noticeable difference in ERAs could be attributed partially to luck, as indicated by his higher BABIP and lower strand rate as a starter compared to as a reliever. His FIP numbers of 3.70 as a starter and 3.12 as a reliever suggest that the discrepancy may not be as significant as it appears.

On the flip side, Tanner Houck’s performance has revealed notable splits, with left-handed hitters posting a .251/.343/.420 line against him compared to a much weaker .214/.282/.283 line from right-handed hitters. If this trend persists, he might be better suited for a bullpen role where he can be shielded from facing opposing left-handed hitters more frequently.

Despite this, Houck is likely to receive ample opportunities to prove himself in the rotation this year. The Red Sox entered the offseason seeking to bolster their starting pitching, but so far, they have not made significant moves in that regard. While they traded away Chris Sale and signed Lucas Giolito, Giolito’s recent injury, a partial UCL tear and flexor tendon strain, could sideline him for a substantial period.

With Giolito potentially out of the rotation at least for the start of the season, the Red Sox’s starting rotation currently comprises Bello, Houck, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, and Garrett Whitlock. Pivetta, who is set to become a free agent, could become a trade candidate if the Red Sox fall out of contention during the season. Although players like Cooper Criswell, Brandon Walter, and Chris Murphy are on the 40-man roster, none of them have significant experience at the major league level.

Given Houck’s current situation, reaching a deal may pose challenges. As he has yet to prove himself as a starter over a full season, the club might be hesitant to commit to a substantial contract. On the other hand, Houck may not be inclined to accept a low offer at this stage of his career. If he capitalizes on the opportunity in Boston’s rotation and delivers a strong performance in 2024, he could significantly enhance his earning potential.

As of now, Houck has accrued two years and 100 days of service time, making him eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2024 season and on track for free agency after the 2027 season, his age-31 campaign. Considering Boston’s long-term payroll outlook, Rafael Devers is under contract through 2033, but no other player is guaranteed a deal beyond 2027. Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida are the only players with guaranteed salaries beyond 2026.

Red Sox have discussed extension with SP

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