What the Red Sox need to do is unmistakable—free up space in their overcrowded outfield and acquire some quality starting pitching.
Boston has eight potential outfielders on its roster left over from last season, Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brock Holt. The club also just signed shortstop Hanley Ramirez "with the intention of moving him to left field," according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald.
As far as the starting rotation goes, Clay Buchholz is currently the ace of the staff. His 8-11 record and 5.34 ERA this past year suggest he's nowhere near capable of filling that role. After Buchholz, Joe Kelly is the most experienced Red Sox hurler, and he's only made 48 career major league starts.
Re-signing Jon Lester would go a long way toward solving Boston's pitching woes, but it shouldn't be the franchise's only goal.
Whether it is an established veteran such as Cespedes, an up-and-coming prospect in Betts, anything in between or all of the above, Cherington should try as hard as he can to trade some of his outfielders for a front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher or two. Via WEEI's Alex Speier, in a recent interview on SiriusXM’s MLB Network Radio, Cherington said:
I wouldn't rule out adding two starters. We don't know what the names are. We don't know where they'll come from. We don't know the cost associated with it. We’re in a position to be active in the market for pitchers. ...
The Hanley signing does increase the likelihood of us making a trade. It doesn't guarantee it, but it does increase the likelihood, and sure enough we've had a lot of calls on the outfielders since then.
Here are three pitchers the Red Sox GM must pursue deals for at this year's Winter Meetings:
Jeff Samardzija, Oakland A's:
Oakland is a small-market baseball team run by Billy Beane, the man who made the term "moneyball" famous. Beane and the A's are always looking to dump high-priced stars and rebuild with more economical talent. Jayson Stark of ESPN says Oakland is "pushing hard" to trade Jeff Samardzija, who "has the look of the first of the available ace types to get traded."
Numerous teams are trying to obtain the right-hander, including the Red Sox, according to a team source. Samardzija is 29 and can become a free agent in 2016. GM Billy Beane is fielding offers as he is in a trade frenzy trying to recreate his contending team.
Samardzija pitched 219.2 innings with the A's and Chicago Cubs last season, posting a 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP while striking out 202 batters.
The Phillies finished 73-89 in 2014 and are on track for a long-term makeover. They appear eager to deal Cole Hamels and the four years and $90 million that remain on his contract. Indications are Hamels is ready to move on as well.
From Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro said: "[Hamels] was neutral when I talked to him. Happy to go. I think he wants to win, but he signed his contract, and he plans on honoring the contract, obviously."
ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes sums up nicely why Hamels would be a good fit with the Red Sox:
Hamels remains the most obvious target if the Sox fail in their pursuit of Lester. The Phillies are in rebuilding mode, Hamels is just days older than Lester, has proven just as durable (200 innings or more in six of the past seven seasons), has thrived in a market (Philadelphia) as demanding as Boston and is coming off a season in which he posted a career-best ERA+ (151).
Hamels' numbers speak for themselves. During his nine-year career so far, his ERA is 3.27, his WHIP is 1.14 and he has 1,707 strikeouts in 1801.1 total innings. Hamels also made 30 or more starts in each of the last seven seasons.
Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds:
Unlike Samardzija and Hamels, Mat Latos has the potential to be acquired at a bit of a discount price.
Latos' career numbers (60-45, 3.34 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) suggest that he's a No. 1 starter. However, he was plagued by a variety of injuries last year and only took the mound 16 times. In November, Latos had surgery on his throwing elbow for the second consecutive offseason.
Regarding Latos, Cafardo states:
So much depends on the Sox getting Jon Lester. If they do, they can concentrate on getting a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, such as Mat Latos or Mike Leake from Cincinnati. The Reds would have a need for Cespedes' bat, but they would also probably have a need for shortstop [prospect] Deven Marrero.
Edes says Reds GM Walt Jocketty is "looking for offense" and that "a package built around Cespedes and perhaps Allen Craig could entice the Reds for Latos or Leake."
Should Boston deem Latos to be too much of an injury risk, Leake may be a solid alternative in a trade with Cincinnati. Leake is 27 years old with a 3.92 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over five MLB seasons.
As of right now, the Red Sox's 2015 starting rotation is a very murky situation. Hopefully, things will be a little clearer by the end of the week.