After building a roster that would supposedly take the Boston Red Sox back to the World Series, the team's season came to a screeching halt after a dismal 7-20 performance in the month of September.
While one could argue that all 25 players on the roster should share the blame for such an awful performance, the starting rotation of the Red Sox appeared to receive most of the blame, and rightfully so. The six-man unit that consisted of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Erik Bedard, Tim Wakefield and Andrew Miller had had an average ERA of 7.04 in the month of September. Not exactly what you would call "clutch" pitching.
Just after the end of the Red Sox's season, it was revealed that John Lackey was battling severe elbow discomfort and decided it was best to undergo Tommy John surgery, which would keep him out of the team's rotation in 2012. The team only had Beckett, Lester and Buchholz under contract while Bedard, Wakefield and Miller were all impending free agents.
Heading into the 2012 offseason, newly crowned Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington recognized that the starting rotation was the biggest of the team's concerns and planned to focus his plan of attack around improving the rotation via both Free Agency and the trade market.
To fill a traditional five-man rotation, Cherington would have to add two pitchers to complete the rotation. With this in mind, he and newly hired Bobby Valentine decided that it was best to prepare the team's apparent closer Daniel Bard as a starter during Spring Training. A move that both Red Sox management and Bard himself are very much on board. With Bard apparently all but a lock for a spot in the rotation, there may be only one spot that needs to be filled.
So far, it appears that Cherington wanted no part in bringing back his own free agent starters. Cherington watched as Bedard signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates and has publicly said that he doesn't believe the soon-to-be 45-year old Wakefield is in them's plans for next season. While Andrew Miller was brought back, it appears his role (if he has one) won't likely be in the Red Sox's rotation next season.
Cherington stood by idly as the top two starting pitchers on the free agent market, C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle departed for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Miami Marlins, respectively. While both signed hefty contracts, the team had two less solid starters to choose from.
Cherington also acted as a bystander as he watched the Oakland A's young ace Trevor Cahill get traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and most recently saw the San Diego Padres trade their young ace Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds.
As a fan, it has been very frustrating to sit around and watch Cherington do nothing, especially after witnessing the team's exciting offseason last year. However one that is clear is that the team no longer has the payroll space to sign a big-free agent without breaking the luxury-tax threshold and that the farm system is almost depleted and appears unattractive to most teams.
While no serious starting pitchers have been signed to this point, Cherington has kept his eye on several options on both the free agent and trade market. With three, possibly four spots filled, here are the five pitchers the Red Sox have been linked to having start for them and just how likely a possibility they are.
Roy Oswalt, Free Agent
Arguably the best free agent pitcher left on the market, Oswalt would provide the Red Sox with a veteran presence they need in their rotation. Last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, Oswalt put together a 9-10 season with a 3.69 ERA.
The 34-year old has drawn interest from several clubs including the Red Sox and is looking to command a two-three year contract with a money value just lower in value to the contracts Wilson and Buehrle signed. Boston has been in contact with Roy's agent Bob Garber since the Winter Meetings began and has been a known possible suitor for the right-hander.
Oswalt would provide the Sox with a solid number four starter option with eleven years of major league experience. However, Oswalt did battle several health problems last season and posted career low numbers in SO/9 and gave up almost 10 hits a game last season. With this in mind, the Sox could try and sign Oswalt to a short-term contract and see how it ends up working out. He's a former All Star and has postseason pitching experience, something the Sox find attractive, if the price is right.
Joe Saunders, Free Agent
After the team acquired Trevor Cahill from the Oakland A's, the Arizona Diamonbacks decided to non-tender the left-handed Saunders to make room for him.
Even since he was even being rumored a possible non-tender candidate, the Red Sox have shown by far the most interest out of any club in Saunders as a potential addition to their starting rotation. In 2010, Saunders went 12-13 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts with the N.L. West champion D'Backs. He posted a career best in WHIP and WAR.
The thing most appealing about Saunders is that he represents a relatively low cost option for the Sox and has experience pitching in the American League. Saunders achieved at least 16 wins twice with the Angels in 2008 and 2009. While he isn't the most sexy commodity on the free agent market, Saunders offers the best current value for Ben Cherington and company.
Gio Gonzalez, Trade Target
With the Oakland A's apparently open for business after trading Trevor Cahill to the Diamonbacks, they have also been fielding calls for left hander Gio Gonzalez.
Stemming back to the Winter Meetings, the Sox have reportedly been in trade talks with the Oakland Athletics about acquiring the young left hander. Gonzalez's 2010 certainly backs up the significant trade interest he's drawn, as he went 16-12 with a 3.12 ERA last season. He earned his first All-Star birth and was able to put up career bests in categories like SO/9, BB/9 and WAR. He was able to log at least 200 innings for the second straight season.
Out of all of the options the Sox have been linked too, Gonzalez is by far the most talented. However, being that as it is, he will most likely be the hardest to acquire. Along with Boston, Oakland is talking with several other different clubs about the young star. Also, it doesn't help Boston that Oakland appears to be targeting young third baseman Will Middlebrooks as the center of a possible trade. Middlebrooks has reportedly been the one prospect that is off limits to other teams, and rightfully so considering his rise through the minor leagues. Unless the Sox would be willing to part with Middlebrooks, don't count on the Sox winning the Gonzalez sweepstakes.
John Danks, Trade Target
The Chicago White Sox have tried to gauge interest in several different players, and have drawn the most interest from starting pitcher John Danks.
At the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox and White Sox reportedly sat down to discuss Danks and have remained in contact with them about not only Danks, but several players. Despite his struggles in 2011 (8-12, 4.33 ERA), Danks has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball each of the last four seasons. Since 2008, Danks has gotten at least 12 wins and has an ERA under four in each of those seasons. He strikes out a fair amount of people and historically doesn't walk a lot of people. Sabermetric wise, he's been as high as a 6.4 WAR player.
While I believe that Danks is a more likely player for the Sox than Gonzalez, I still don't know if the two teams match up all that well. While the White Sox probably aren't seeking Middlebrooks for Danks, they may be seeking a package the Sox may not be willing to part with. I still believe a Danks trade is possible and certainly could happen at any time given their longtime interest in him, I think there is work to be done for Danks to be Boston bound.
Alfredo Aceves, In House Option
With a small budget and other needs to fill, the Boston Red Sox could simply choose to have their versatile reliever prepare as a starter for next season.
Like with Bard, the team has entertained the idea of having both Bard and Aceves in the rotation behind Beckett, Lester and Buchholz. Last season in a long-reliever/spot-starter role for the Sox, Aceves went 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 114 innings logged last season. Aceves gets a lot of ground balls and can strike out a fair amount of guys. However, he has been known to be wild sometimes having hit several batters last season.
With Cherington's apparent notion to be frugal this offseason, having Aceves start may be what the doctor ordered. Because the team is familiar with him and what he can provide, it may be easier to just have him train as a starter and not worry about giving up prospects or payroll space for another pitcher. However, Aceves is simply better served in the role he played last year. We learned last year that you can never have enough starting pitching depth, and Aceves certainly proved that last year. Because Aceves has never been a full-time starter in his career, it may be better for him to stay in the role of long reliever and spot-starter that he's had since he came into the major leagues. With Cherington's known interest in outside options, I still believe the team will more than likely add another pitcher to the mix from the outside and allow Aceves to stay in the bullpen, where he belongs.
The Red Sox showed us last week that were in fact planning to add pieces to the team with the Mark Melancon trade and the singing of utility infielder Nick Punto and defensive-minded catcher Kelly Shoppach. With pitching the primary concern, Ben Cherington and the Sox will most likely acquire a starting pitcher sooner rather than later, which is certainly good news for Red Sox fans.