The 2014 season was a major disappointment for the Boston Red Sox, as the defending 2013 World Series champions dropped all the way to last place in the American League East. In the process, the Red Sox traded away several veteran starting pitchers while looking to retool for 2015.
During the winter meetings, Boston restocked its rotation by adding Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. Earlier in the offseason, the Red Sox beefed up their batting order with the signings of All-Star free agents Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
For the most part, the club looks to be in good shape heading into the season. In fact, there is only one significant piece Boston still needs—a No. 1 starter. Unfortunately, it's a rather instrumental missing piece, and the more time that goes by, the less likely it appears Boston is to get it.
Below are five starting pitchers the Red Sox could still acquire this offseason. With the market rapidly drying up, not all of them qualify as aces. Similarly, the key word regarding Boston's chances of adding any of these players is "could." At this point, the most realistic scenario may well be for the Red Sox to stand pat with what they have.
The best free-agent pitcher available this offseason remains unsigned. And while there are no real indications that Boston is in the hunt for Max Scherzer, there isn't any significant talk of him going elsewhere, either.
The lack of heat on Scherzer this offseason has gone from unexpected to surprising to downright shocking. This is the 2013 American League Cy Young award winner, a 30-year-old stud who has struck out 492 men in 434 2/3 innings over the last two seasons, posted a 3.02 ERA (135 ERA+) and 1.07 WHIP and gone 39-8. There's not a team in baseball that wouldn't be improved by signing him, yet the only rumors concerning Scherzer continue to be purely speculative.
The Scherzer mystery appears to be no clearer today than when MLB's free agency period began. The odds of him joining the Red Sox are slim, but Jason Mastrodonato of Mass Live makes a solid case for why Sox fans shouldn't count out the possibility of their club inking Scherzer:
Before writing off Scherzer as a candidate for the Red Sox, remember that they meet and consider everyone who might be a fit for their team, they wouldn't have to surrender their first-round draft pick to sign him, showed a willingness to offer six years to Jon Lester and have $55 million coming off the books in 2016.
Nobody past David Ortiz expected them to sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and yet the Red Sox committed $183 million to that cause.
Despite losing out on Lester to the Chicago Cubs, the additions of Ramirez and Sandoval show Boston clearly has an open-minded attitude when it comes to spending this offseason. Isn't there a chance the Red Sox decided Lester wasn't worth the cost? It doesn't necessarily mean they don't think any pitcher is worthy of that type of money. Maybe management will respond to the failed Lester situation by making a serious effort in pursuit of Scherzer?
It wasn't long ago that Boston was considered by many to be the leader as a potential destination for James Shields. But, the recent news regarding Shields is not encouraging for those hoping he'll sign with the Red Sox. Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports:
Two execs say it is their understanding that Shields has a five-year, $110 million offer and is looking for an even higher guarantee. … Free agency is fluid, and teams often mask their intentions or shift course. At the moment, however, sources say: … The Red Sox, projected to be an early favorite for Shields, are maintaining contact with his camp but are “highly unlikely” to sign him.
Going by Rosenthal's words, the outlook on Shields may not actually be as dire as it sounds. Boston could easily be masking its intentions regarding Shields to avoid driving up the price. Not only that, but why would the team maintain contact with Shields if it wasn't still interested in him?
If five years and $110 million really is the going rate for Shields, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox are eager to give that kind of money to a pitcher who will be 37 in the final season of his contract. The same is true for Lester and his six-year deal with the Cubs. Age and desired length of contract could also take Boston out of the running for Scherzer, who is only seven months younger than Lester.
Why is Ryan Vogelsong on this list? He's already 37 years old and finished 8-13 with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP last year. Vogelsong is not a top-of-the-rotation guy.
However, after Scherzer and Shields, Vogelsong represents the best of what's left among free-agent starting pitchers. He threw over 175 innings in three of the last four seasons, so if the Red Sox want to add an extra arm on the cheap side as an insurance policy, Vogelsong could be it. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports suspects Vogelsong can be had for one year at $5 million.
[Hamels' salary] would increase to $110 million over the next five years if Hamels were sent to one of the nine teams on his no-trade list, requiring that club to pick up his vesting option.
The Red Sox are one of the teams that Hamels must approve, but whether they are willing to absorb his contract and part with the necessary prospects remains to be seen. Outfielder Mookie Betts probably is untouchable, but perhaps the Phillies could land a combination of young pitchers and left-side infielders; the Sox are deep in both.
While Hamels probably represents the most likely scenario for Boston finding an ace at the moment, there is a logical flaw in trading for him. The cost to get Hamels is both his high-priced contract and the loss of prospects. Why not just spend money on Scherzer or Shields and avoid having to part with any young talent? Or, as follows, the opposite route is a possibility as well.
The Washington Nationals have been unsuccessful so far in their attempts to sign Jordan Zimmermann to a long-term contract. Zimmerman will make $16.5 million in 2015 before becoming a free agent next year. Via James Wagner of The Washington Post, last month Zimmermann said:
Obviously, I’d like to stay with the Nats. I have no complaints about the Nats. It’s a business. I know that. If they feel they want to trade me and get something in return that will help them later down the road, I totally understand. At the end of the day, I love the Nats. I love this city. I love playing there. … If the deal is right, I’ll definitely sign a multi-year deal. I never once said I didn’t want to stay in D.C. But at the end of the day, the deal has to be right and the deal has to be fair and that’s all I’m asking for. Just pay me what I’m worth and I’ll be happy to stay. If we can’t come to common ground, I guess free agency is the next step.
It's the kind of quote that makes it sound as if Zimmermann is definitely available for the right offer. In this case, that offer probably necessitates multiple big-name prospects.
With the exception of a top starter, the Red Sox have both a roster that's built to succeed now as well as an abundance of talent in the minor leagues. What's the point of planning for the future if it sacrifices winning in the present? Boston is not a rebuilding team, and contention comes at a price. The Red Sox may need to accept that parting with prospects is simply a necessary evil.
To add a star pitcher, Boston must spend more than it wants to or trade away young players it's afraid of losing. There's no other way to do it. Whether or not the Red Sox will decide either method is worth the risk remains to be seen.