Red Sox Absolutely Must Acquire a Starting Pitcher Before Trade Deadline
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Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz hasn’t pitched since June 16th, when he was pulled from his start in Tampa after allowing one run over five innings. The next morning, Red Sox Nation read that his back was acting up, and he might have to go on the DL.
Word was that he would have to miss a couple of starts to give his back some rest, and the question seemed to be whether he would be able to return for a start before the All-Star break or whether he would be held out until the start of the second half.
In the ensuing weeks, Buchholz has seen three back specialists…and he is scheduled to see a fourth on Monday.
The Red Sox front office has typically held its cards close to its vest. I find it VERY curious team management has discussed Buchholz’ upcoming appointment as openly as it has. And I find the timing of the appointment to be very curious—as it comes the day after the non-waiver trade deadline (don’t forget, teams can still make trades in August as long as players have slid through waivers).
It suggests to me the team knows a lot more about the young Texans’ status than they are letting on, and it suggests to me that the news isn’t especially good.
Is Theo's Back Already against the Wall?
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While I’m obviously not in the loop on Yawkey Way, the tea leaves tell me that Theo & Company will need to acquire a starting pitcher prior to tomorrow’s deadline.
Right now, Buchholz’ status is a mystery…in a week, his physical condition will be a known quantity, and the cost of a starter will increase precipitously if it is discovered Buchholz will miss much more time.
The front office needs to be proactive, and I believe they will be. The offense is not a problem, in spite of the issues the ballclub has at shortstop (Scutaro/Lowrie), left field (Crawford) and right field (JD Drew)…the lineup leads baseball in a number of offensive categories.
The NEED on this team is starting pitching. Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield are not the answer in spite of Wakefield’s outing in Chicago last night. Assuming the team will need to do something, let’s talk about who may be on their radar:
The cost for Colorado Rockies RHP is prohibitive
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As for me, you can forget Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who will cost way too much in terms of prospects. When the Yankees asked about Jimenez, Colorado told the Yanks they wanted Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova and Jesus Montero.
While the Yankees termed that asking price a non-starter, the fact that is where the Rockies started is an indicia they will expect a boatload of talent in return for their one-time ace.
Frankly, the Sox farm system doesn’t have ANYTHING close to that type of talent left in their farm system after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason.
Additionally, in my opinion, Jimenez is NOT the type of talent that warrants a bounty of talent of that magnitude. He is not a quality pitcher in the mold of Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. After an outstanding start last year, he is just 12-15, 4.17, over his last 38 starts. His velocity is down…and scouts have questioned whether he will remain healthy due to issues with his pitching mechanics.
He is not a staff ace, and thus, is not the kind of pitcher you empty your farm system for…period.
The Yankees were smart to say “thanks, but no thanks”…the Red Sox have almost-certainly done likewise.
Note on the Red Sox Farm System
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A note regarding the Boston farm system: there isn’t a heckuva lot left in terms of major-league-ready talent after the trade of Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo to San Diego.
The best of the Red Sox prospects are Anthony Ranaudo (my top prospect in the organization) and Will Middlebrooks, both of whom the Rox asked for in a Jimenez deal (along with a third prospect). It seems unlikely the front office is going to deal either of those guys unless it is in a deal for someone like Felix Hernandez.
As for the other higher-profile prospects:
I believe Jose Iglesias (pictured) is greatly overrated—the young man has an outstanding glove, but I doubt his bat will ever play in the big leagues.
Lars Anderson? The Rockies are reportedly looking for a first baseman in the deal to eventually take over for Todd Helton when he retires. While Anderson is toiling at Triple-A (Pawtucket), isn’t it apparent he'll never be an impact player in the big leagues?
Ryan Lavarnway? It could be that he will never be anything more than a DH in the big leagues…and as we all know, Colorado plays in the National League.
Pitchers with Big Contracts
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They both have big-money deals that will obligate their team over the next few seasons, and I don’t believe the Red Sox front office is interested in forfeiting a significant bounty in terms of prospects while relieving other ballclubs of any such contracts.
Lowe would be the preferable pitcher among this group of pitchers. He was successful in Boston and is a proven commodity in the American League East...but do the Red Sox really want to pay him $30 million for 60 starts?
If they wanted to do that they would have signed him to a long-term deal before he ever left "Bahston" in the first place.
Is Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie an Option?
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He is a nice pitcher, and he has been battle-tested in the AL East. While he is arbitration-eligible, he will certainly cost his club a lot less than John Lackey cost the club in the winter of 2009-10.
But Guthrie plays for Baltimore, and the Orioles’ Buck Showalter appears to hold a grudge against the Red Sox dating back to his days as manager of the NY Yankees.
It's unlikely he would sign off on a deal that would send Guthrie to Boston unless he extracts a king’s ransom, and it says here Theo isn’t going to be held hostage for the likes of Guthrie.
Option No. 1: LA Dodgers RHP Hiroki Kuroda
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So, where does that leave the Red Sox? It means they have to be content looking at guys who will be a free agent this winter…guys who won't cost the club a lot in terms of prospects if they agree to eat the remaining money on the pitcher’s 2011 contract.
The top option among those pitchers has got to be Dodgers RHP Hiroki Kuroda. He fits the mold of what the Sox should be looking for in that he is a free agent at the end of the year…and he should be available as the Dodgers are out of the playoff hunt and need to shed payroll in consideration of the various financial and operational complications mounting for the McCourt ownership.
Would the Sox have to send much to LA if they ate the balance of the $4-plus million owed to Kuroda over the next two months? Probably not.
The righty has the right to veto any trade and has previously made it known that he does not want to go to the East Coast—but while some pundits have suggested that means he will not be traded to the Red Sox or Yankees, others suggest he will approve a deal if he is pitching for a contender.
After all, he'll be a free agent this winter and would only be committed to play on the East Coast for a couple of months.
Could the Price Be Right for Erik Bedard?
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Seattle’s Erik Bedard is another pitcher the front office is reportedly looking at...and he would appear to make a lot of sense for the Red Sox.
The southpaw’s cost almost certainly would be low in terms of prospects. He has had a history of injuries throughout his career, missed all of the 2010 season, and just returned from the DL...and he got lit up in his return from the DL last night (5 ER in 1.1 IP).
Plus, he will be a free agent this winter.
Could price tag ever get any lower? From the Red Sox perspective, he should be worth a roll of the dice. He’s a southpaw with a decent track record against the Yanks, and when he is healthy, he has typically pitched very well (he was 4-6, 3.00, over 15 starts prior to last night’s adventure).
Assuming the price isn’t too steep, he would be a good fallback if Kuroda can not be pried away from the Dodgers.
The Most Likely Acquisition? How about Rich Harden...
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The third guy on my list is Oakland RHP Rich Harden. Admittedly, he's another guy with an significant history of injuries. He has struggled to live up to his potential since being afflicted by those injuries, but he has always had a TON of potential.
Also, Red Sox pitching coach Curt Young was once his coach in Oakland.
He almost-certainly wouldn’t cost very much in terms of prospects.
The idea of making a trade with the Athletics has to be attractive to Theo Epstein & Company because the A's are reportedly shopping both OF Josh Willingham and LHP Craig Breslow in addition to Harden. Both are guys that the Red Sox have had a keen interest in acquiring.
Willingham hits with power from the right side and would be a great fit in the Sox’ lefty-laden lineup. As for Breslow, he is a lefty reliever who is very effective against left-handed hitters...and as a former Sox farmhand, he is a known quantity to Boston’s front office.
Oakland desperately wants to slash some payroll. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Red Sox sell high on a guy like Josh Reddick right now—before he comes back to Earth—with injured Ryan Kalish in the wings and Drew available to platoon in right field with Willingham.
Reddick could be attractive to Oakland due to his potential and his contract status, though he may not fit into Billy Beans’s Moneyball mentality.
(NOTE: Keep an eye on this one. If the Sox don’t get Kuroda—who I believe is their No. 1 target—I wouldn’t be surprised to see them send Reddick and Weiland (and a player-to-be-named-later?) to the A’s for Harden/Breslow/Willingham.