At some point last year, the Red Sox and the right-hander Tanner Houck I’ve had some talks about an extension, although it doesn’t seem like much progress has been made. “Conversation, but nothing came of it,” Houck told MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “We are very happy with where we are at the moment. There is no reason to rush into anything.”
Houck, 27 in June, has pitched the past three major league seasons, oscillating between the rotation and the bullpen but generally getting good results either way. Overall, he has thrown 146 innings with a 3.02 ERA, striking out 27.6% of the batters he faced, walking 8.7% of them and getting on base at a 49.3% clip. Entering the cracks, he has a 3.22 ERA as a starter and 2.68 as a reliever. He actually has more strikeouts out of the rotation, a 28.5% rate compared to a 25.9% rate out of the bullpen. But his .300 BABIP as a starter is slightly above his .274 mark as a reliever, and his 70.5% strikeout rate out of the rotation is a few ticks below his 77.3% mark from the ‘pen.
In addition to that strong body of work, Houck also comes with the pedigree of being a first-round pick, selected 24th overall in 2017. He currently has between one and two years of MLB service time, which means that he’s still shy of qualifying for arbitration and isn’t slated for free agency until after the 2027 season, when he’ll be 31. had some significant dollar commitment from fighting Houck six lingering back problems last year and eventually required surgery, but all pitchers generally have some injury flags on their profiles and usually there is a point at which clubs are willing to take the risk.
It’s not known exactly what kind of contract structure was set up, but the talks didn’t progress far enough for the Sox to make a formal offer. “We never really got that far,” Houck said. “(It was) a conversation. We talked here and there.”
The Red Sox may have been looking at Houck the same way they did Garrett Whitlock. A Rule 5 pick of the Yankees, Whitlock made his MLB debut in 2021 with 73 1/3 innings out of the Boston bullpen with a 1.96 ERA. Going into 2022, Whitlock was considered to be back in the rotation since he spent much of his minor league time there. In April of last year, before the campaign actually began, the two sides agreed to an $18.75MM extension that covered his remaining years of control, and could also give the Sox control over two years free agent through club options. If Whitlock eventually emerges as a viable rotation candidate, that will become a bargain for the club, given the salaries that free agent starters typically earn. But it was also understandable why Whitlock would want to lock up that guaranteed money, given that he was a relative late bloomer, just about to turn 26 at the time.
Houck is in a similar position, showing plenty of potential but not yet fully established and with huge paydays still a few years away. The ship doesn’t seem to have sailed on extension, with Houck showing openness. “If both sides have the opportunity, I would be willing, but both sides have to be comfortable with an agreement,” he said. “I think it really depends on the individual,” he explained. “If you’re willing to bet on yourself and if you believe you can sign that bigger contract, take the shot, in my opinion, if you’re a betting man. If you are not and you like the security, it is perfectly. There’s nothing wrong with it either, but as an individual, I think you have to be okay with it.”
As for 2023, Houck appears to have a blocked path to the rotation for now, though there will be many variables. Chris Sale and James Paxton He could be at the top of the rotation, though neither has been sidelined much over the past three years due to injury. Corey Kluber coming off a healthy season with the Rays but had three injury-plagued years before that. Nick Pivetta the most reliable of the mound although his status is a little murky now that he is out of the World Baseball Classic, per Cotillo, as he recently had COVID for the third time and is not recovering as expected. Then there is Whitlock and his nine starts his career and younger guys like Brian Bello and Brandon Walter.
The club has said they intend to extend Houck this spring but may move him into a bullpen role if he doesn’t have a spot in the rotation by Opening Day. Given all the uncertainty surrounding the rotation, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him penciled in as a starter at some point this year. “It’s not my decision. I would love to start; that’s what I’ve done my whole career,” Houck recently told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. “But I have to help the team win in any way possible.”