Taking stock of starters market
The Red Sox can afford to bolster their rotation, so let's look at who's available
That payroll figure will certainly rise after arbitration cases (Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, among others) and the anticipated re-signing of David Ortiz (not to mention Cody Ross).
In an otherwise unremarkable free-agent market, Boston can find several intriguing options to fill the rotation spot vacated by Josh Beckett.
Not Just Joshin' -- Sox Still Need Help
Before being traded to the Dodgers, Josh Beckett posted a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts for the 2012 Sox, who collectively accrued the highest ERA by a starting rotation in Red Sox history.
|Sox season||Starters' ERA|
Relative status quo may sound unappealing given that the 2012 rotation finished with the highest ERA in club history (5.19). However, any immediate solution for the Red Sox will require Lester and Lackey to bounce back, and Buchholz and Doubront to continue to develop.
Franklin Morales, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster could compete for that final opening. But the Sox have money to spend, so that trio is better-suited to be rotation depth. Having backup options like these prevents seasons where Aaron Cook makes 18 starts.
So will the Red Sox make a free-agency splash with a starter? The answer to that question could answer whether the August trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers was merely a salary dump or represented a philosophical shift within the organization.
Is Ben Cherington gun-shy after the team was burned by ill-advised long-term deals?
The Red Sox have plenty of money to spend on Zack Greinke, the clear prize of the starting pitching market. But the new approach may be to throw big money into short-term contracts.
Here's a look at Boston's options to fill the open rotation spot.
The Ace: Zack GreinkeIt's not often that a Cy Young Award winner reaches free agency this young. In fact, Greinke, who is 28 and won the award in 2009, will be the fifth-youngest free agent with it on his resume.
Zack Greinke is among the youngest Cy Young Award-winning starting pitchers to hit free agency. He's in pretty select company.
|Year of free agency||Age|
|1992 Greg Maddux||26|
|2008 CC Sabathia||28|
|1984 Rick Sutcliffe||28|
|1974 Catfish Hunter||28|
|2012 Zack Greinke||28|
Long-term deals to Beckett and Lackey taught Boston a lesson: starters on the wrong side of 30 aren't great investments. But at 28, Greinke might be a different story.
Greinke struggled with anxiety early in his career with the Royals, before winning the Cy Young in 2009. Greinke, whom the Brewers traded to the Angels earlier this season, is perceived as preferring to avoid the limelight, so Boston might not be his preferred destination. However, there's little doubt of his pedigree.
Not bad company.
After 2012, it's unrealistic to call Jon Lester an ace. Greinke could be the answer. Especially considering how he finished the season for an Angels team that was battling for a playoff spot. In his final eight starts, Grienke was 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA and a .204 batting average against.
Big Names Coming Off Big Contracts: Dan Haren, Jake PeavyIn the next tier, you have the aging aces -- Dan Haren and Jake Peavy -- coming off massive contracts.
Highest 2012 WAR, Impending FA Starters
Jake Peavy went 11-12 with a 3.37 ERA in 32 starts for the White Sox, striking out 194 and walking 49 in 219 innings.
|>>WAR: Wins Above Replacement|
Given Boston's financial flexibility, either could be prime candidates for short-term, high-cost contracts.
Haren just turned 32, but his arm has experienced a lot of use. Since 2004, only three pitchers have thrown more pitches. Haren was once dominant against righties (.219 Opp. BA in 2009), but they've hit .320 against him in 2012. Don't read too much into his 12-13 record, as he received the eighth-worst run support in the AL.
Peavy, 31, is coming off his most effective -- and more importantly, healthiest -- season since 2008. The only AL pitchers with better strikeout-to-walk ratios were Sabathia, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez. Yet, Peavy averaged just over 106 innings in the previous three seasons, making his long-term health a legitimate concern.
Bound to be Overpaid: Anibal Sanchez, Edwin JacksonNext, there are the solid starters -- Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson -- who are about to paid like aces.
After playing on seven teams in the past eight years, Jackson is finally ready to settle down after a solid season for the Washington Nationals. Sanchez comes off his third straight sub-4.00 ERA season.
Both will be 29 next season, so their youth in an otherwise aging free-agent market likely ensures long-term deals. That makes them unlikely fits for the Red Sox.
Short-Term Solutions: Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Hiroki KurodaAmong impending free-agent starters, three of the four lowest in 2012 ERA are 35 or older: Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster and Hiroki Kuroda.
Oldies But Goodies
Hiroki Kuroki had the second-lowest 2012 ERA of impending free-agent starters, and he's the oldest of the four league leaders, all of whom are 30-plus.
Any could be a low-risk, short-term option for a Red Sox team able to throw big sums of money into the market.
Lohse finished seventh in the majors in ERA, but 46th in expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP). That's a strong sign that he's in for a rude awakening in 2013. At 35, it would be a surprise if he's up for a return trip to the AL.
Dempster might be the most realistic option if Boston is looking for a one-year rental. But his 5.09 ERA in 12 starts with the Texas Rangers certainly hurt his value. Also consider that he went 9-2 with a 1.98 ERA against teams with losing records, compared to 3-6 with a 4.65 ERA against those .500 or better. That doesn't sound like a recipe for success in the AL East.
For the second straight year, Kuroda is probably the best option for the Red Sox. With the possible exception of Peavy, he had the best season of any free agent. Boston is in the unique position of having a significant spending advantage over the cost-cutting Yankees.
Could the Red Sox blow Kuroda away with an offer? At 37, he's likely considering contenders only. Does Boston even qualify?
Injury Risks: Brandon McCarthy, Shaun MarcumIf healthy, Brandon McCarthy and Shaun Marcum would be among the elite of this free-agent class. But neither can seem to avoid injury.
Elbow injuries have sent Marcum to the DL four times in his career, including for two months in 2012 and the entire 2009 season. Still just 30, he's a risk for anything beyond a one-year deal. But Marcum's effectiveness might entice a team to give more.
McCarthy, 29, has been on the disabled list eight times in the past five years, and that doesn't include the frightening September incident in which a line drive struck him in the head. Shoulder issues continue to plague McCarthy, but his breakout 2011 season proves that he could be worth a gamble.
Talented, Yet Shaky: Gavin Floyd, Francisco Liriano, Ervin SantanaGavin Floyd and Francisco Liriano were once top-10 prospects. Ervin Santana seemed destined for stardom. None of the three has translated talent into consistency.
Since his breakout 17-8 season in 2008, Floyd has been consistently average, going 44-48 with a 4.24 ERA. Santana took a step back in 2012, allowing 39 home runs and posting a 5.16 ERA. The bigger red flag may be his 4.95 career ERA away from home. Both pitchers have team options for 2013 that could keep them off the market.
Liriano continues to alternate between dominance and wildness. Two consecutive mediocre seasons have seriously diminished his market value. But still only 28, he's the same age as Clay Buchholz. Few possess his upside, but Liriano's control only seems to be getting worse.