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Archive for the ‘Red Sox Starting Pitchers’ Category

Finding the “Other” Starting Pitcher

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A big focus for the Red Sox this coming week is the team’s meeting with Jon Lester.

It will be “put up or shut up” time for Boston in its pursuit of Lester.

Even if the Sox re-sign Lester, he will only be one of at least two starters the team needs to add.

Let’s look some options for the second starter.

Aiming High

James Shields has been matched with the Red Sox on multiple free agent projections like this one by Jim Duquette.

The need is there for a Lester and Shields combination. And the team has the money to pay them both.

However, Shields is 33 years old and primed for a five year deal.

If Boston has some hesitancy with Lester because of age – Shields would seem to be too far a stretch.

Going Young

The Red Sox have a surplus in the outfield – and could parlay an extra outfielder into a starter.

Yoenis Cespedes could be attractive to a team looking for power – particularly a team with an eye towards the 2015 playoffs. Although it would create a power gap for Boston.

Enter Seattle Mariners and Taijuan Walker.

This could be a good match-up.

Boston ran through a group of young right-handers – Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo – and none of them proved to be consistently effective.

Adding a young righty power arm – to go with the crop of lefties the team is grooming – would be a good get.

Looking Overseas

The Red Sox are not strangers to signing pitchers from Asia.

The team is said to have its eyes on Korean lefthander Hyeon-jong Yang, who looks primed to available next week.

Yang received the Dongwon Choi Award — the Korean Cy Young award — on Wednesday. Reports say Yang projects as a #3 starter in the MLB with #2 potential.

You Never Have Too Much Pitching

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Like the rumor the Red Sox are checking out free agent Ryan Madson as a potential bullpen candidate.

Even with the off-season pick-ups of free agent Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop in a trade with the Brewers, Boston should still be looking at reliever options.

Let’s hope Grant Balfour is on the list too if his price drops.

The team saw last year how quickly they can lose pitching depth when closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both got hit with season-ending injuries.

And there is the same need for depth with starting pitchers.

The Red Sox have six returning starters. No need to prune this list – something that should not even be considered until we see Clay Buchholz pitch in a number of games.

How Red Sox Staff Lines Up

  • Starters – Jon Lester, John Lackey, Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster.
  • Potential Starters (or relievers) – Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa and Steven Wright.
  • Relievers – Badenhop, Mujica, Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, Brayan Villarreal and Alex Wilson.
  • Youngster who could surprise in Spring Training – Allen Webster; he has an arm/stuff to be a big league difference maker. The question: Is he ready to stick in the big leagues?
  • Prospects that could be factors in 2014 – Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens.

That’s deep depth.

But it’s needed. Boston had 26 pitchers hit the mound for the team in 2013.

What to Look at in Spring Training

  • Leading up to Spring Training, Boston should be in add mode in pitching if the right opportunity emerges unless some team overpays in a deal.
  • Among starters, Buchholz is the key – will he show he is ready to go at the season start?
  • Look for Dempster to stay – unless Workman and maybe someone else (Webster? De La Rosa?) show they are ready to move into the rotation if needed.

What are you looking for among Red Sox pitchers during the rest of the off-season and Spring Training?

Red Sox at the All-Star Break

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Finally getting around to writing my mid-season thoughts on the Red Sox.

Start at the Top

Think he has contributed more than he is not Bobby Valentine – manager John Farrell deserves major kudos in the team’s turnaround.

Got the team off to a good start. Communicates well with coaches and players. Has turned to the team leaders to lead – and let them lead. Effectively juggled a lineup that has gone through some injuries. Kept a bullpen contributing – even with its top-two closer options washing out.

And GM Ben Cherington has done his job (giving him a pass on moving Mark Melancon – don’t think it was going to happen for Melancon in Boston). Brought in some good veterans like Koji Uehara, who saw him playing the role he currently is? Although I would like Mike Napoli to hit for power again. And (at least from this distant vantage point) has not interfered with the manager.

Looking at the players. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz have been awesome (wasn’t so sure about Big Papi during Spring Training).

Never thought I would write this: I like John Lackey – he’s Boston’s number one pitcher right now.

What’s next?

Scoring one or more big victories in the trade deadline scramble for players is important. Boston has a little first place cushion – and there is big incentive in winning a division, so that’s the goal here. The team should make the deals to position itself for first (both on the field and psychologically for the players).

Looking ahead, the team has a tough second half schedule – with lots of games with AL East competitors. Navigating through the inevitable ups and downs (I am expecting some downs coming) will be key for Farrell and the players.

Glass Half Empty Perspective

Some of the landmines Boston needs to navigate through were adeptly covered by Gordon Edes, the highlights:

  • What can the Red Sox get from Clay Buchholz? We will get an idea what the Boston brass thinks at the trade deadline. If they pay a heavy price for a top-line starter, figure Buchholz anxiety was part of the decision driver.
  • While we are discussing pitching – what about Jon Lester? Didn’t think I would need to say this – but he is no longer a top-two guy in the rotation – and maybe not even a number three. The Sox need Lester to be at least a three to make a deep playoff run.
  • Already mentioned Napoli – but him and Will Middlebrooks were considered key sources of right-handed power. Right now, both are AWOL. This needs to be addressed. I am thinking it will be Xander Bogaerts who gets the assignment in August.

Ending on a Happy Note

Despite the potential obstacles, still like the Sox chances for making the playoffs.

The team has shown itself to be talented (closer to the Terry Francona Era than the 2012 crew) and resilient.

The AL East is tough but every team has flaws (have you looked at the Yankees’ lineup lately?) – including Boston.

The Red Sox are winning big at home (15 games above .500) and more than holding their own on the road (second most road wins of any AL team).

Despite the great first half, I sense fans are still holding back on their expectations for this team. And that appears to be a good place for this scrappy (dare I write, Dirt Dog) team.

How do you think the Red Sox will fare in the second half of the season?

Red Sox and Justin Upton – Can it Happen?

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Justin Upton exercised the no trade clause in his contract to reject Arizona trading him to Seattle.

The rumored players heading from the Mariners were four young players: one of right-hander Taijuan Walker and lefties Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, plus infielder Nick Franklin, lefty Charlie Furbush, and right-hander Stephen Pryor.

Upton would look pretty good in the Red Sox line-up.

What would a comparable trade package from Boston look like?

With the understanding that Upton also has Boston on his no trade list. (Give him more money or extend his contract to change his mind.)

  • Walker. Matt Barnes, the Red Sox best pitching prospect, probably falls below Walker. If deal had Hultzen or Paxton, then Barnes is an equivalent.
  • Franklin. Red Sox comparables are probably either Jackie Bradley Jr. or Garin Cecchini (a third baseman who would fill an organizational need). (Shout out to John Sickels for his evaluations of the Seattle and Boston farm systems.)
  • Furbush. He is a decent reliever who does not reach free agency until 2018. That means Red Sox lefties Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales (both free agents in 2015) may not be seen as equal values. Felix Doubront (free agent in 2018) fits the mold – but is a better player than Furbush (he could balance the Walker/Barnes differential, if that was a trade component). Other possibilities among righties: Alfredo Aceves and Clayton Mortensen.
  • Pryor. He’s a young bullpen power arm. Maybe Daniel Bard is a fit. Junichi Tazawa is too much. Alex Wilson would be appealing to Boston if Arizona saw value in him. Or lefty Drake Britton.

So what’s a trade look like?

At its costliest – probably something like: Upton for Barnes, Cecchini, Doubront and Bard. That feels like too much for Boston.

Or maybe Boston can get Arizona to accept Miller or Morales in Doubront’s place.

Or an alternative: Upton for Barnes, Cecchini, Aceves (does he have value?) or Mortensen, and Britton. This probably feels “light” to Arizona.

This off-season, Boston GM Ben Cherington has been pretty clear about his non-interest in trading prospects.

However with an Upton trade, we are talking about a 25 year-old elite talent. Barnes is just three years younger – and has not yet pitched in the big leagues. Upton has been in the majors for six seasons.

Of course, Upton must have some warts (otherwise, why would Arizona even be thinking about trading him?).

But we are talking about a five-tool player who is under contract for three more years.

Should the Red Sox go after Upton? What do you think it would take to make the trade?

Red Sox Searching for Next Lester or Buchholz

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If the Red Sox are going to create the next Great Red Sox Team – a team that can annually be a top contender for a string of years like the club formed under former manager Terry Francona – developing a top-flight starting pitcher is one of the key building blocks.

The Francona-led team developed Jon Lester – who until last season looked like a world-beater, going 76 wins – 34 losses in his MLB career prior to 2012.

We are seeing this off-season how difficult – and expensive – it is for a team to add a number one or two starter.

The power behind the Dodgers’ costly acquisition of Zack Greinke ($158 million) is they already had Clayton Kershaw (home-grown) on board to be their number one.

The Blue Jays acquired a Cy Young winner (R.A. Dickey) but at a heavy price to their organization – delivering more to the Mets than what the Red Sox were probably willing and able to deal, even with Boston having a strong farm system.

Both of these acquisitions provide proof points on how last year’s Gio Gonzalez trade by the Nationals was a masterstroke. Getting a top pitcher at a reasonable cost in prospects.

Short-Term Priority

For the Red Sox to contend in the AL East in 2013, getting Lester and Clay Buchholz to pitch like number one and two starters is a must.

That’s probably one of the key reasons John Farrell was brought back to Boston to manage.

Farrell knows both pitchers – and had good success as a pitching coach with the Red Sox.

Based on the current off-season, GM Ben Cherington and Farrell are betting Lester and Buchholz can deliver – otherwise, we would have seen more aggressive moves on the pitching front.

Long-Term Priority

Looking at a longer horizon, it appears Boston believes they can develop a top starter from among Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Henry Owens.

Says Cherington, “We have some guys we really believe in. I know that from my standpoint, building a team not just for one year but over a longer time horizon, it sure is valuable to have young players with the ability to make an impact to sort of pencil into a spot here and there.”

Getting one or more of these pitchers to step up as a quality major league starter will help us judge both Boston’s ability to develop pitching and Cherington’s eye for evaluating young talent.

Perhaps closest to contributing to the big league club is De La Rosa, who says he has now mastered the change-up under the tutelage of Pedro Martinez, which obviously would be a great pitch for anyone’s arsenal.

Identifying the Keepers

The Red Sox have a top-tier farm system.

Baseball America expert Jim Callis recently ranked Boston as having the fifth best minor league talent in all of baseball.

Developing that talent. Identifying which ones are keepers; which ones are expendable. Dealing non-keepers at the height of their potential value. These will be key measures in determining Cherington’s success as a general manager.

It is important to note: Typically about 60 percent of top pitching prospects don’t succeed in the majors – here’s a good analysis.

Determining who could be a star among Barnes, De La Rosa, Webster and Owens (if any of them) – and which players the team can “sell high” to acquire “better” talent are vital to the team’s long-term success.

How would you rank Boston’s top pitching prospects? And do you see any of them as “sure bet” big leaguers?

The Big Red Sox Question is Still Pitching

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Recently, Bill James released his projections for 2013 player performance.

And because of his position with the Red Sox – James is a senior advisor of baseball operations – these projections have special meaning because they reflect (at least to some extent) what the front office is thinking.

That makes Jon Lester’s projection particularly interesting.

Lester’s projected numbers:

  • 12 – 12; 3.71 ERA; 3.62 FIP

That’s not number one starter performance – not an anchor who can carry a team on his shoulders.

Let’s look at James’ projections for other AL East top starters (source: FanGraphs):

  • David Price, Rays – 16 – 9; 3.13 ERA; 3.34 FIP
  • CC Sabathia, Yankees – 16 – 10; 3.28 ERA; 3.16 FIP
  • Josh Johnson, Blue Jays – 13 – 9; 3.21 ERA; 3.08 FIP
  • R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays – 16 – 8; 3.58 ERA; 3.76 FIP

The top Orioles starters stack up even worse than Lester:

  • Wei-Yin Chen, 10 – 11; 3.92 ERA; 4.35 FIP
  • Jason Hammel, 8 – 10; 4.30 ERA; 4.06 FIP

These numbers don’t bode well for the Orioles returning to contender status. Figure Baltimore as a potential home for free agent Kyle Lohse or making some other pitching move.

Back to Lester and the Red Sox

Using James’ projections, the Red Sox view Lester as a .500 pitcher.

And James doesn’t see the rest of the starting staff much differently:

  • Clay Buchholz, 12 – 11; 3.64 ERA; 4.01 FIP
  • Ryan Dempster, 11 – 10; 3.74 ERA; 3.71 FIP
  • John Lackey, 12 – 12; 4.05 ERA; 3.82 FIP
  • Felix Doubront, 12 – 11; 3.70 ERA; 3.94 FIP

That’s a starting rotation that projects to deliver 59 wins and 56 losses. Meaning the team needs 23 wins from elsewhere to get over .500.

Doesn’t sound like a playoff contender.

Last season’s issues weren’t about scoring runs – the Red Sox were fifth in the American League in runs scored.

It was about pitching – particularly top of the rotation performance.

Boston manager John Farrell has his work cut out for him – getting Lester and Buchholz to deliver – season-long – at a high level.

Do you think Lester and Buchholz can return to form as top starters in 2013?

Red Sox Should Look Into R.A. Dickey Trade

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The top off-season player acquisition target for the Red Sox – if they are to contend in 2013 – is landing a number one starter.

Based on last season’s performance, neither Jon Lester nor Clay Buchholz can be counted on to be the pitching staff’s ace.

John Lackey is a crap-shoot – coming off of Tommy John surgery and delivering mediocre results for the Red Sox before the injury.

Felix Doubront is promising but at this point is a back-end of the rotation guy. And who knows what Rubby De La Rosa can provide.

The Red Sox need a big winner who can eat innings.

Enter R.A. Dickey, the likely Cy Young winner who is on the Mets.

Under normal circumstances, there is no way Dickey would be on the market.

But the Mets are a mess on the field. Dickey is 38 years old and has one year left on his contract.

To quote Mets GM Sandy Alderson on dealing Dickey, “I think it’s always been a possibility. I think that’s always been understood by R.A., by his agent, by us. It doesn’t mean it’s the preferred avenue but … it’s always been assumed as part of the equation.”

Alderson also said, “It would be a little unusual to trade a Cy Young winner, but I can remember a time when we traded for the leading hitter in the National League at the time, so it happens.”

Is there a team and manager in baseball that has more combined experience in dealing with a veteran knuckleballer than the Red Sox and John Farrell – based on the experience with Tim Wakefield?

Boston knows a knuckleballer can pitch successfully in his late thirties – and even into his forties.

Any Other Number One Options?

One reason to zero in on Dickey – the top-tier pitcher market is pretty thin (as one would expect).

  • Justin Verlander – This Tiger is going nowhere.
  • Felix Hernandez – Let’s take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik at his word: King Felix is staying in Seattle.
  • Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee – Probably not moving from Philadelphia but worth a phone call to check out. Both would fit as Dickey alternatives.
  • CC Sabathia – Yankees ace is staying put.
  • Clayton Kershaw – Dodgers are looking to extend him.
  • Jered Weaver – Angels have dumped two starters and Zack Greinke is a free agent, Weaver is staying with Los Angeles. Boston should investigate Greinke as a free agent – but I don’t see him as a fit at Fenway at the mega-price tag he is expected to command.
  • David Price – Maybe is pricing himself out of Tampa Bay – but unlikely Rays would move him to Boston (but the Red Sox should inquire).
  • Matt Cain – Giants are not dealing this ace.

What a Dickey Deal Would Take

One would figure there would be a strong trade market for Dickey – despite his age and contract situation.

The Mets are building – so they would want youth but close to the majors.

Start with a young starter like De La Rosa, Matt Barnes or Allen Webster.

Add in Ryan Lavarnway – depending on how the Mets evaluate him. If they see him as a potential starter, he would be a good piece to include since New York needs a catcher.

Then include an outfielder such as Bryce Brentz or Ryan Kalish (given the injury history – probably not high on the Mets list).

And close it out with a strong prospect who is a ways away like Garin Cecchini (his brother is in the Mets organization) or another young pitcher such as Anthony Ranaudo.

That’s a lot to offer – but the Red Sox would hold onto the organization’s jewels in Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley. They maintain pitching depth, losing only one from De La Rosa, Barnes and Webster – and also keeping Henry Owens.

Among the rest – Lavarnway, Brentz, Kalish, Cecchini and Ranaudo – none are sure-bets (if such a thing exists among prospects).

Another possible trade package direction – include Jacoby Ellsbury, if the Red Sox don’t expect Ellsbury to re-sign with the team. Of course, Ellsbury may not be too attractive to the Mets – if they don’t see an opportunity to retain Ellsbury.

If the Red Sox move Ellsbury, they could look to add a free agent like Shane Victorino to provide a bridge until Bradley is big league ready.

What do you think – should the Red Sox pursue Dickey? If yes, what do you think it would take to get him?

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