Could Bud Norris be wearing a Red Sox jersey the next time he visits Fenway?
As a first-place team, the Boston Red Sox have displayed impressive depth thus far. The team's ability to replace numerous injured starters has been the difference between this year's resiliency and the collapses of seasons past.
However, while Boston's offense continues to hum along at a league-leading rate, the team's pitching is teetering in dangerous territory. Attrition and ineffectiveness have worn down both the starting rotation and the bullpen, with the latest blow being Andrew Bailey's shoulder injury, likely ending his season.
The adage that pitching wins in the postseason may seem jaded, but it still largely rings true. Consequently, the Red Sox will probably have to acquire an impact arm at the trade deadline to validate their hopes of true championship contention.
The following pitchers are ranked not only by talent, but also by fit. That means both salary and pitching style are important considerations. With that in mind, here are the six pitchers who the Red Sox should hone in on the rest of the month.
From a purely on-field perspective, there is no better fit than the former Cy Young Award winner. Lee's 8.1 K/9 rate combined with an above-average 43.6 ground ball percentage would make a great fit for Fenway, where minimizing fly balls is a must in the park's small dimensions. A month away from his 35th birthday, Lee is still an elite ace who is among the league leaders in most pitching categories.
Unfortunately, Lee is also probably the worst fit in terms of salary and long-term outlook. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has taken a stubborn stance regarding his aging core, despite the expensive payroll for the declining team. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Lee's price is reportedly "astronomical."
That means conversations would probably start with someone like Xander Bogaerts or Jackie Bradley Jr. The Phillies would also surely ask for a premium arm like Rubby De La Rosa or Allen Webster. Moreover, the Sox would owe Lee $50 million over the next two years, plus a $27.5 million club option in 2016 or a $12.5 million buyout.
Lee has shown no signs of decline, but as his teammate Roy Halladay has demonstrated, the bottom can fall out any time with pitchers approaching their late 30s. Unless Buchholz's situation becomes more dire, or another starter suffers a long-term injury, expect the Red Sox to avoid Lee's hefty price tag.
Perkins has emerged as the jewel of an otherwise-moribund Twins pitching staff. Minnesota's closer is one of just 15 relievers with a K/9 above 12, and opponents are batting just .167 against the lefty.
However, the Twins have the 30-year-old reliever locked up the next two seasons for an bargain price of $3.75 million per year. Though Minnesota is still a few years away from contention, inexpensive commodities like Perkins are the types of things needed during a rebuilding effort.
Indeed, inquiring teams have been rebuffed thus far.
Since the Twins are not trying to contend, that means they view Perkins as part of their long-term core. Given the dearth of talent in the upper minors, there's some thought that they could be seduced with some MLB-ready talent to expedite the rebuilding process.
Unfortunately, that probably means prospects similar to the ones the Sox would have to dangle for Lee. For someone who will pitch roughly 65-70 innings a season, that is an untenable price tag. So while Perkins would be a beautiful fit, he's essentially the Cliff Lee of relievers on the trade market.
Garza is a name Red Sox fans are familiar with, both from his time with the Rays and the ceaseless trade connections over the past couple of seasons. In the final year of his contract, it appears now is the time for the Cubs to move their most valuable trade commodity.
Garza may not be a true ace, but his consistently above-average production provides valuable stability to a rotation. The righty has delivered six consecutive quality starts and has only allowed more than three runs in three of his eleven starts in 2013. By all measures, it appears he is recovered from the lat strain that cost him the first seven weeks of the season.
The deal with the Rangers is no longer imminent, so it seems Garza is once again available to the rest of the league. For what it's worth, the prospects rumored in the deal were Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and Neil Ramirez. According to MLB.com, that would cost Texas their No. 1, No. 14 and No. 15 prospects.
Using the same list, the corresponding prospects for the Red Sox would be Bogaerts, outfielder Keury De La Cruz and catcher Christian Vasquez. Obviously Bogaerts is untouchable, but perhaps a package of other top 10 prospects (Henry Owens, Garin Cecchini etc.) would entice Chicago if no one else steps up.
Still, the Sox might not want to thin their prospect depth for a rental.
Cishek has been one of the most underrated relievers in the league the past few seasons. The 27-year-old righty has had three consecutive solid seasons, despite toiling away in the obscurity of Marlins Park. Now, he is finally generating some buzz for the Marlins' annual fire sale.
So far, there have been no connections between Boston and Cishek, but that could obviously change. Cishek seems like he would fit well in Fenway, as his extreme ground-ball tendencies would play well there. Additionally, his 5.6 percent HR/FB ratio is 10th best among relievers over the past three seasons, just a tick behind some Yankees reliever you might have heard of.
According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Marlins may be looking to pare off some of their relievers, though Cishek will undoubtedly demand the highest bounty. The closer makes a minuscule $505,000 this season and is arbitration-eligible for the next four seasons.
That cheap salary means it will take a little more to pry him away from the penny-pinching Marlins. But if Miami doesn't get too carried away, it is hard to find a reliever who would fit better with the Red Sox.
In a thin market for starters, Norris is arguably the most valuable and realistic target. The 28-year-old hasn't had the smoothest transition to the American League, as his 6.2 K/9 rate is well below his 8.4 career average. However, it is encouraging that Norris has added nearly a mile per hour to his fastball after some worrisome velocity decline in 2012.
One worrisome fact might be Norris' meager 39.9 ground-ball percentage, eighth-lowest in the American League. He doesn't give up many fly balls either, but his 20.7 line drive percentage is concerning, even with the Red Sox's solid outfield defense.
Norris is not really part of the Astros' long-term rebuilding efforts, even at his affordable $3 million salary. But he is still arbitration-eligible through 2015, and that might be important considering the state of Boston's rotation.
John Lackey and Ryan Dempster are nearing the end of their careers, and Jon Lester is a free agent after next season. Yes, the Red Sox have a plethora of solid pitching prospects, but as the Kansas City Royals have shown, that really doesn't mean much.
Put it this way: Boston might be trading a couple pitching prospects whose ceilings are close to what Norris already is, namely a No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Crain is currently on the DL with a right shoulder strain, but if his health checks out as expected, he would easily be the best fit for the Red Sox.
The 32-year-old has been a revelation for the White Sox this season, turning into the most valuable reliever in the MLB so far. Crain's emergence stems from a reduced walk rate of 2.7 BB/9, which would be his lowest figure since 2007. Combined with his 11.3 K/9 rate, that increased command has turned him into a premier reliever.
Crain recently told Rob Bradford of WEEI that it "would be fun" to play for the Red Sox, a sentiment the team undoubtedly shares. Injuries and attrition are piling up quickly in the bullpen, and it feels like a matter of time before the levees burst. The Red Sox are among the league leaders in blown saves, illustrating their need for a late-innings difference-maker.
Crain will not come cheap, but he will also probably not require an exorbitant package like some of the other pitchers on this list. Though he will be a free agent at season's end, he would immediately shore up the Red Sox's biggest weakness.
For a team with few glaring weaknesses, Crain could be the difference between another late-season collapse and a World Series contender.