A year ago, the Red Sox rotation was firmly secure. With Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka — three of the five recorded at least 14 wins in 2010 — headlining the staff, there was little apprehension.
One year later, holes abound. After Matsuzaka and Lackey underwent Tommy John surgery, a procedure that will cost Lackey the season and Matsuzaka the majority of it, the Red Sox are eyeing a bevy of options for the back end of the rotation. Heading into spring training, the team will stretch out Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller and attempt to convert one of them into a full-time starter.
As for the remaining vacancy, let’s assess the free-agent market, as well as hurlers on the trade block that could hold the fort in Boston.
Hiroki Kuroda, free agent
2012 Opening Day age: 37
2011 numbers: 13-16 record, 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9 in 32 appearances (32 starts) with the Dodgers
Pros: The Japanese pitcher can eat up innings after tossing 202 frames in 2011. During last year’s campaign, he owned a 3.07 ERA. It marked the lowest ERA in his major league career.
Cons: Age, age, age. There’s very little upside at 37. After spending his entire four-year career in the NL West, Kuroda could struggle to adapt to pitching in the AL East. He’s also seeking a deal for about $12-13 million, a price range that could be a little high.
Roy Oswalt, free agent
2012 Opening Day age: 34
2011 numbers: 9-10 record, 3.69 ERA, 2.1 BB/9, 6.0 SO/9 in 23 appearances (23 starts) with the Phillies
Pros: The veteran ace is reportedly open to a one-year contract to dispel worries of his balky back. When healthy, Oswalt could be a dominant force and is just two years removed from posting a 2.76 ERA.
Cons: In recent years, Oswalt has battled lower back issues, a chronic injury that limited him to just 23 starts in 2011. He’s only getting older, which could increase the chances of another injury-plagued year.
Edwin Jackson, free agent
2012 Opening Day age: 28
2011 numbers: 12-9 record, 3.79 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9 in 32 appearances (31 starts) with the Cardinals and White Sox
Pros: The right-hander is a flamethrower and is still in his prime. According to FanGraphs.com, the velocity in three of his pitches increased in 2011 and that improvement helped lift the Cardinals to the World Series. Keep in mind he’s durable and has pitched in the AL East.
Cons: A glance at his career 3.7 walks per nine innings shows he walks too many batters. Considering he’s looking to cash in with a lucrative and long-term deal, Jackson’s contract demands could be a detractor.
Joe Saunders, free agent
2012 Opening Day age: 30
2011 numbers: 12-13 record, 3.69 ERA, 2.8 BB/9, 4.6 SO/9 in 33 appearances (33 starts) with the Diamondbacks.
Pros: Another innings-eater. Over the past two seasons, he eclipsed the 200-inning plateau and, historically, Saunders has been durable amid the large load. He has shown glimpses of potential, notching 23 total wins from 2008 to 2009.
Cons: His 2011 performance could’ve simply been an aberration. In five of Saunders’ six years in the majors, he has posted an ERA over four and a WHIP above 1.400. A move to the AL East may send those numbers skyrocketing once again.
Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs
2012 Opening Day age: 28
2011 numbers: 10-10 record, 3.32 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, 9.0 SO/9 in 31 appearances (31 starts) with the Cubs
Pros: Garza is coming off a strong season for the Cubs, where he posted the lowest ERA in his career. He is already seasoned in the AL East, when he racked up 15 wins in 2010 for Tampa Bay. And he’s just 28 and registered five wins above replacement.
Cons: Is it a coincidence that his best season came in the National League?
Considerations for a trade: Theo Epstein is in rebuilding mode and hinted at the possibility of trading Garza. If Epstein is willing to part ways with the pitcher, it could be worked into a compensation package between the two clubs. Remember, it took four notable prospects for the Nationals to pry away Gio Gonzalez, so the Cubs could ask for at least that.
Wandy Rodriguez, Houston Astros
2012 Opening Day age: 33
2011 numbers: 11-11 record, 3.49 ERA, 3.3 BB/9, 7.8 SO/9 in 30 appearances (30 starts) with the Astros
Pros: During the past three seasons, Rodriguez has possessed a sub 3.50-ERA. He’s maintained that mark despite throwing for at least 191 innings over that span. Plus, he has the stuff to strikeout batters and is a veteran presence.
Cons: In 2011, he surrendered 25 total homers in 30 starts and yielded an average of 1.2 long balls per nine innings. In addition, he became a victim to allowing walks.
Considerations for a trade: The Astros would have to be willing to take on some of the cash, since Rodriguez is due $13 million in 2013 and 2014. The veteran will be due $10 million for this upcoming season.