Things did not go according to plan for the Boston Red Sox this past weekend. They got knocked around in a three-game sweep by the injury-riddled Toronto Blue Jays, and fell all the way back to .500 at 48-48 in the process.
The worst part was what happened to Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, who are supposed to be Boston's two best starting pitchers. They combined to give up 16 runs on 16 hits in just 10 innings of work. Lester was particularly brutal, as he gave up 11 earned runs and four homers on Sunday.
The sweep put things in a distressing perspective. The Red Sox went into their series against the Jays on a roll, having won five of seven against two quality teams in the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox. Now, with just about a week to go until the trade deadline, the Red Sox have to decide whether to wave a white flag or to acquire as much talent as they can to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Nobody should rule the white flag option our entirely. The Red Sox are having a rough season, and the corner the club has been hoping to turn for months continues to be elusive.
But if the Red Sox are to keep their hopes of reaching the postseason alive, they absolutely must upgrade their starting pitching.
They've been rumored to have their eyes on a number of different trade targets. According to Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com, one of Boston's targets is an old friend of the organization:
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com has also heard that the Red Sox are interested in Sanchez, who was originally signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent in 2001. To boot, he has found out that they're looking at fellow Marlins righty Josh Johnson as well.
Between the two of them, Sanchez makes more sense for the Red Sox simply because he would be easier to acquire. Johnson would come at a high price for a variety of different reasons.
Though he has a history of arm problems and inconsistency on the mound, the Marlins can peddle Johnson as an ace pitcher. He did, after all, lead the National League with a 2.30 ERA back in 2010, and he had a stretch of 10 starts this season in which gave up three earned runs or fewer over 65.2 innings. In terms of pure stuff, he can be one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball on a given day.
Just as important, Johnson is under contract through next season. He wouldn't be a rental, and that makes him tougher to acquire by default.
Sanchez, on the other hand, would be a rental pitcher if the Red Sox were to acquire him. That's a bigger issue this year than it ever was in the past, as teams that trade for rental players don't have the comfort of knowing that they'll receive draft picks if said rental player signs elsewhere in the ensuing offseason.
But this obviously isn't enough to deter the Red Sox from being interested in Sanchez. In fact, it makes perfect sense that they would be interested in Sanchez.
The collection of rental pitchers on the market this season includes names like Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke. Both of them would cost an arm and a leg in a trade, and then they would immediately demand top dollar as free agents at the end of the season. A team should only trade for one of them if it thinks it has a legitimate chance of winning the World Series.
Sanchez is different. Acquiring him would come with far less risk.
The Marlins are in no position to demand a significant package of prospects for Sanchez. Unlike Johnson, they can't market Sanchez as an ace. They can merely market him as a dependable starting pitcher, and even then they'll have to hope that nobody notices Sanchez's 5.63 ERA since the start of June.
They won't be so lucky, of course. Teams will point that out and advise the Marlins to take what they can get for Sanchez. Conceivably, he could probably be had for a couple mid-level prospects.
That's a price the Red Sox can pay, and goodness knows they have plenty of incentive to pay it.
At the moment, the Red Sox have six starting pitchers on their roster if you count spot starter and occasional Sandy Koufax impersonator Franklin Morales. If and when Daisuke Matsuzaka gets healthy, they'll have seven starting pitchers.
They have quantity covered. What they lack is quality.
Boston starters have a 4.84 ERA this season, 27th in all of baseball. They've logged only 46 quality starts all season, 24th in all of baseball. No Red Sox starter has more than 10 quality starts to his name.
Sanchez has logged 14 quality starts this season, most on the Marlins. To boot, he's failed to pitch at least six innings just three times in 19 starts this season. He's quietly logged 121 innings this season, putting him on pace to top 200 innings when all is said and done.
At the moment, the only Red Sox starter who's in line to pitch 200 innings is Lester. But unless he makes drastic improvements in the very near future, he's not going to get to the coveted 200-inning mark.
In a word, what Sanchez would bring to Boston's rotation is stability. He's not an ace, but he's going to eat innings and keep games within reach more often than not.
The only guy that the Red Sox can rely on to do such things is Clay Buchholz, who is the unquestioned ace of Boston's starting rotation these days. One guy out of five is not a good percentage. Two guys out of five isn't much better, but it would be a pretty huge step forward from where the Red Sox are right now as far as their rotation is concerned.
If Ben Cherington can acquire Sanchez for a couple mid-level prospects, perhaps with a little cash thrown in, he shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. That's a bargain price to pay seeing as how Sanchez would automatically become Boston's second-best starting pitcher after Buchholz.
The beauty of it is that Sanchez wouldn't necessarily have to be a mere rental player. He's making $8 million this season, but he won't be able to fetch an annual salary much higher than that out on the open market. His annual price tag will be right in the $10-12 million range, which is a price that the Sox could be more than willing to pay if Sanchez proves he can pitch effectively in the American League down the stretch.
That may seem like a lot of money, but Johnson is owed nearly $14 million in 2013, and Hamels and Greinke are both in line to make upwards of $20 million per season. Even Ryan Dempster, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves on Monday, could fetch as much as $14 or $15 million per year on the open market (he's making $14 million this season).
Sanchez is therefore a perfect rental option for the Red Sox. He wouldn't come at a high price, he'd be an automatic upgrade over what they currently have and he could be re-signed relatively easily.
If Cherington is looking for a low-risk, high-reward move to make at the deadline, he probably won't be able to do better than Sanchez.
UPDATE: Monday, July 23 at 5:40 p.m. ET
So cross Sanchez off the Red Sox's list of possible acquisitions. One wonders if they're still in on Johnson...
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