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Red Sox: No Ace, No Problem

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The Red Sox have rebuilt their rotation this off-season by adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson – players that provide upgrades over the back-end of the rotation but don’t necessarily fill the hole created when Jon Lester was traded last season.

They join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly on the starting staff. And knocking on the door are youngsters Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman.

But while Boston may have depth – the team does not anyone who could be classified a number one starter.

Is no ace, no problem for the Sox?

The Red Sox seem to think so. Says Boston GM Ben Cherington, “Once Opening Day is gone, the whole No. 1 starter thing kind of is overrated.”

Adds Masterson, “The ace category is always more of a fan/media type of thing.”

And the accomplishments of the Orioles and Royals during the 2014 season reinforce those beliefs.

Evaluating Red Sox Rotation

Two keys to keep in mind in evaluating the Sox starting staff.

One, there is still plenty of time to go before Spring Training and there’s a #1 starter – Cole Hamels – potentially on the market.

MLB.com’s Jim Duquette places the Red Sox as the odds-on favorite to acquire Hamels from the Phillies.

Boston has the young talent that Philadelphia would undoubtedly ask for – the question is would the Red Sox give it up for Hamels.

Holding out for a big package is the biggest card Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has as he tries to rebuild the Phillies.

Two, as Cherington says, “rotations are rarely static.”

The Red Sox have internal options to bolster the five starters – with Barnes, Ranaudo and Workman (and maybe Steven Wright) in the first wave.

Sox prospects Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson are in the second wave – players who with a little more seasoning in the minors could make major league debuts in 2015.

And don’t forget, teams with free-agents-to-be like the Tigers (David Price), Nationals (Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister) and Reds (Johnny Cueto) all could be looking to make in-season, Lester-like deals in 2015.

The Red Sox approach may be – let’s see what kind of team we have in 2015 before making a decision on whether to invest in a short-term pitching asset or add more building blocks for the future.

Red Sox Filling in Roster Holes

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Fixing a last place team can require a lot of moves – and Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is methodically reshaping the team move by move.

Add some punch to the line-up – enter Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

Restock the rotation – Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson come to Boston.

Bolster the bullpen – with the Sox adding Anthony Varvaro in a trade with Atlanta.

Varvaro posted good numbers last season: 2.63 ERA in 61 appearances, with 50 strikeouts and 13 walks in 54 2/3 innings.

He had been designated for assignment by the Braves to open a spot on their 40-man roster for recently signed infielder Alberto Callaspo – which shows he wasn’t exactly highly regarded by Atlanta.

But relievers come and go – and Boston is smart to stock up on good arms – like Varvaro and another recently acquired reliever Zeke Spruill.

Boston has also bolstered the left-side of the bullpen – bringing back Craig Breslow.

Replacing Ross

As soon as Jon Lester signed with the Cubs, the odds greatly increased free agent catcher David Ross would head to Chicago.

Besides catching many of Lester’s games when they both played for Boston, Red Sox Manager John Farrell often said having Ross was like having an extra coach.

And the Cubs – a team stocked with young players – signed Ross to add some veteran leadership.

It looks like Cherington is not going to wait long to find another catcher to back up Christian Vazquez.

Media reports say the Red Sox are close to landing Ryan Hanigan from the Padres.

Hanigan brings Ross-like offense (he had a .218 avg. last season) but is a stronger defensive catcher.

And he has Massachusetts roots (played high school ball in Andover, Mass.).

Reportedly heading to San Diego in return is 3B Will Middlebrooks, who lost his spot to Sandoval.

Maybe the change of scenery will restart Middlebrooks who has experienced injury and poor performance in his last two Boston seasons. He could be a good buy-low acquisition for the Padres.

Trade Chip

The Red Sox still have plenty of room to improve their team.

One Sox player who could help bring in more talent is Allen Craig, writes Richard Justice.

Craig had a nightmare year last season – capped off by hitting for a .128 avg. in 29 games after Boston acquired him from the Cardinals.

But Craig has an offensive track record. From 2011 to 2013, Craig was among baseball’s most productive players. He was fourth among all NL players in batting average (.312), 12th in OPS (.863) and 14th in OBP (.364).

Teams looking for a bat – like Seattle, Baltimore and others – could make a play for Craig.

What do you think the Red Sox could get for Craig?

Next Steps for Red Sox Pitching

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We still have a long baseball off-season to go so it’s a good time to see what else may be on the Red Sox Hot Stove League pitching shopping list.

Starting Pitching

Don’t think for a minute that just because Boston added three starters at the Winter Meetings the team is done with its starting rotation.

There is still a glaring hole at the top of the staff – despite Red Sox claims about how a #1 starter could emerge from this group.

Max Scherzer is after bigger money than Jon Lester and James Shields is older than Lester – so you can forget about them.

Phillies lefty Cole Hamels would make a good addition to the Sox staff – but no one is quite sure what Philadelphia is up to – are they “all in” in selling? Are they realistic in their asking prices?

Boston has the young talent to make a Hamels play. But any deal would be very expensive.

Another top pitcher said to be on the market is Jordan Zimmermann of the Nationals.

Like Hamels, the acquisition cost would be high but unlike Hamels, Zimmermann is a free agent to be after the 2015 season.

Sox additions Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson have the same status as Zimmermann – and 2015 free agent pitching class is top notch.

It could be the Sox strategy to buy time during the 2015 season and go heavy for pitching next winter.

The Bullpen

Lefty reliever Andrew Miller was another close but no cigar free agent play.

Adding a left-handed reliever to the bullpen is still on Boston’s to-do list.

Craig Breslow is an option to return – but is not the same imposing figure as Miller.

Two other lefty free agent options from the injury scrap-heap are Tom Gorzelanny and Sean Burnett, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery but may contribute in the second half of next season.

Candidates to fill out the right side of the bullpen include Burke Badenhop and hard-thrower, but risky injury-wise Brandon Morrow.

The Sox also have some prospect candidates for the bullpen – with Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes in the best position to make the club as relievers.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright could also fill that role.

And look for Boston to be on the prowl for low-cost arms – like their addition of right-handed reliever Zeke Spruill from Arizona.

Most relievers have up and down careers – and teams try to strike gold on their upside years.

Down in the Zone

There were a couple of interesting recent articles that Boston’s haul of Porcello, Masterson and Wade Miley was part of an effort to cash in on the MLB trend of the strike zone expanding toward the bottom of the zone.

All three pitchers – along with fellow Sox starter Joe Kelly – work the bottom third of the strike zone and below well.

And offensive free agent additions Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez are strong low ball hitters.

Red Sox Winter Meetings Review

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Well, the week did not exactly unfold like the Red Sox wanted it to – or did it?

Boston made a valiant effort to bring back free agent pitcher Jon Lester – or did they?

The Sox came up short in the Lester bidding war – $135 million over six seasons. While the Cubs won by awarding Lester a six-year, $155 million contract.

Never mind, the team probably blew it by starting Lester off with a low-ball $70 million, four year offer during Spring Training.

Given the team’s public position of not going long term for pitcher past 30 years of age, a reasonable hunch could be the Red Sox would make a respectable public showing in trying to sign Lester but not bring to the table a bid that could win.

Of course, Lester may have been ready for a “new challenge” (driving the Cubs to a World Series) like Pablo Sandoval was in electing to move to Boston.

We probably will never know the full story – but one thing we do know: Lester will always have a special place in the hearts of Red Sox fans for his great service to the team.

Moving On

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington never ceases to impress with his thinking.

Immediately after the Lester decision, Cherington sprang into action (which kind of feeds into the thought the Red Sox weren’t really counting on signing Lester).

Let’s look at the starters that Cherington added to the team.

Rick Porcello

Boston acquired righty Rick Porcello from the Tigers for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (and pitchers Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier).

On a very good – not great – Detroit team, Porcello was the fourth or fifth starter.

On the Red Sox – barring acquisition of a front-line starter – Porcello will be the #1 or #2 starter.

The pluses – Porcello is young (26 during next season), an innings eater (204 innings last season).

The questions – last season was Porcello’s best year. Was it an aberration or a sign he is stepping up as a starter? And Porcello is a free-agent-to-be after the 2015 season. Is he just a one year rental?

Wade Miley

The Sox added Wade Miley for a couple of youngish pitchers (power arms from the Arizona perspective) who have yet to emerge (Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster) and low-minor infielder (Raymel Flores).

Miley is a little harder to decipher (than Porcello) because Arizona stunk last season.

But he profiles similar to Porcello – a middle of the rotation starter.

It’s interesting to hear the Red Sox spin – yes, focus on Porcello’s last season but for Miley, look more at the full body of work.

Justin Masterson

Bringing in Justin Masterson as a free agent starter is a wild card – could be a plus or a wash out.

Masterson was a disaster last season – being chalked up to an assortment of injuries.

But he had some good – not great – seasons in Cleveland.

The Red Sox will not know what they got in Masterson until May or June.

The good news – he is signed to a one-year deal.

The question – right now, Boston is counting on Masterson to be in its rotation – and based on last season, that’s a gamble.

What do you think of the current make-up of the Red Sox rotation?

Red Sox Winter Meetings Preview

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We all know re-signing Jon Lester is priority #1 for the Red Sox.

Let’s look at some other things on Boston’s plate as the MLB Winter Meetings kick-off.

If Lester signs elsewhere – Max Scherzer should be on the target list.

The reported price-tag for Lester is high, but the Scherzer price will be higher – most likely approaching Clayton Kershaw range ($30 million/year).

The Red Sox can afford it – and they have the need.

Grabbing a #2 Starter

Of course, adding Lester or Scherzer won’t be enough to rebuild the Red Sox rotation.

The team had the MLB’s fourth worst ERA in the period after the 2014 All Star break – when Boston mostly competed without Lester and John Lackey, writes Buster Olney (insider required).

Nick Cafardo provided a laundry list of pitching acquisition candidates for the Red Sox.

Pitchers to watch:

  • Cole Hamels, Philadelphia – Can the Sox or another team meet the Phillies asking price?
  • Mike Leake, Cincinnati – The Reds have four free agents to be (after the 2015 season) in their rotation. They may look to thin out their potential losses.
  • Tyson Ross, San Diego (not on the Cafardo list) – Based on the team’s pursuit of Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, the Padres are looking to make a splash this off-season. Ross would be a good addition to the Sox rotation.

Thinning out the Outfield

On paper, the Red Sox have too many outfielders.

With hitting on the wish list of a number of teams, Boston will be checking the trade market for Yoenis Cespedes.

Cespedes has power – which is in much demand. So he could help land a #2 starter.

This trade market survey may also include testing the waters for Shane Victorino and Allen Craig.

What either player can bring back in a deal now is an open question – given Victorino missed most of last season due to injury and Craig’s offensive ability vanished (maybe because of ankle problems).

Teams could want to see them on the field during Spring Training before making a trade commitment.

Due to a strong farm system, Boston has much more to offer in deals that excess outfielders.

Pete Abraham provided a well-done analysis of the prospects the Red Sox may be willing to move.

Three to watch as part of potential trades:

  • Deven Marrero, shortstop – Teams looking to take the Brandon Crawford defense first model could be interested in Marrero – a player close to major league ready.
  • Henry Owens, pitcher – If the Red Sox want to go big in acquiring a starter (like Hamels), they will need to offer a top pitching prospect in return. The good news is Boston has depth among lefty starter prospects, with Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez.
  • Bryce Brentz, outfielder – Brentz is more a complementary piece than a centerpiece. But with power at a premium, he could be a valuable addition to a trade package.

Looking Longer Term

Beyond the Winter Meetings, developing the team’s next #1 starter needs some work.

The Lester free agent cost demonstrates the value in player development.

Lester is the last purebred Red Sox ace since Roger Clemens, writes Michael Silverman.

This caliber of player is hard to find – and it’s not clear whether Boston has that player in their farm system now.

Jon Lester: Will He Stay or Will He Go?

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Looks like free agent pitcher Jon Lester is headed to the home stretch in making his decision on where he wants to play – with the Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs and Giants all reported to be in the running.

Lester is primed to get huge money ($130-140 million or more) in a long-term deal (likely six years, with maybe seven being a difference maker).

And the teams competing at this stage are all financial titans (with possibly the Giants lagging a little in this category).

Red Sox

Looks like the Red Sox have been working hard to overcome their spring blunder of low-balling Lester in their initial offer.

For instance, Sox owner John Henry is reported to have made a second trip to Lester’s home in the Atlanta area to demonstrate the team’s interest.

Joel Sherman reports Lester felt disrespected by Sox ownership with the team’s initial offer.

Sherman likens Red Sox management to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert who had to rebuild his relationship with LeBron James to clear a path back for James to Cleveland.

Publicly calling for Boston to re-sign Lester, DH David Ortiz said it is “time for us to step up, man up, and try to make the guy happy.”

Sox legend Pedro Martinez joined in, calling Lester “the perfect guy” to lead the staff.

Let’s close the look at Boston and Lester with Tony Massarotti, who writes – signing Lester or not will not be the measure in determining whether Boston will be primed for comeback in 2015.

Rather, it is addressing the glaring holes they have with both the #1 and #2 starter (John Lackey) spots.

That said, bringing back Lester would get the Red Sox half way home on this quest.

The Competitors

The Dodgers are reported to have thrown their hat into the Lester sweepstakes.

Los Angeles has practically unlimited financial resources (thanks to an $8 billion TV contract).

After disappointing once again in the playoffs, the Dodgers may see Lester as a missing piece to championship glory – not to mention insurance should Zack Greinke opt out of his contract after the 2015 season.

The Cubs are going all out for Lester.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, of course, has long ties to Lester and knows he faces stiff competition in landing Lester.

Says Epstein, “Free agency is not for the faint of heart.”

Chicago has just added Lester former teammate and friend Ryan Dempster to their front office – which may help their chances a little.

And the Giants probably feel they owe the Red Sox one as payback for Boston signing Pablo Sandoval.

San Francisco is supposedly heating up in their pursuit of free agent 3B Chase Headley – to replace Sandoval.

Whether San Francisco’s pursuit of Headley would affect their interest – and financial ability – in pursuing Lester remains to be seen.

Where do you think Lester will end up?

Trade Options for Red Sox Outfield Surplus

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The addition of free agent Hanley Ramirez (along with Pablo Sandoval) brought some much needed offense to the Red Sox line-up.

But Ramirez’ move to the left-field has also created a surplus in the outfield.

And given Boston’s needs in the pitching department, having some additional trade chips are most welcomed.

As of today, the Red Sox starting outfield looks like Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Yoenis Cespedes or Mookie Betts.

With Cespedes a free agent to be after the 2015 season, he could be on the trade block for pitching.

And the Red Sox have more chips to cash in, including:

  • Shane Victorino – who recently proclaimed he is ready to retake Boston’s right-field starting job.
  • Allen Craig – who is a huge question mark – both regarding the value he could bring to the Red Sox and what Craig could bring in a trade.
  • Daniel Nava – a nice fifth outfielder – so probably more valuable to the Red Sox than what he could bring in a trade.

Teams that Need Outfielders

Here are some potential trade partners for the Red Sox should those teams look to move an outfielder.

Cincinnati. They need a left-fielder and they have a bunch of pitchers on pace to be free agents after the 2015 season – Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon. There could be a match-up here.

San Diego. The Padres are a wild card off-season team. They made a run at Sandoval, indicating they want to be players. The team needs hitting – and have attractive pitchers like Tyson Ross or Andrew Cashner to offer.

Cleveland. They are a contending team – maybe one outfield bat away from the playoffs. Maybe they would move a Danny Salazar or Trevor Bauer for an outfielder.

Detroit. This is an “all in” team, striving to win it all. A Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose and J.D. Martinez outfield doesn’t add up to a championship outfield. How about Rick Porcello for Cespedes?

Seattle. Seattle needs another bat to go with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. A player like Craig could be a good fit because the Mariners need both an outfielder and a first baseman (roles Craig could play). And they have young pitching – like Taijuan Walker. Of course, Craig wouldn’t be enough to get Walker.

The Red Sox have re-shaped their team to boost the offense.

Hitting is in demand.

Boston is in position to convert this surplus into pitching.

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