Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is the big fish. He’s not the only fish.
Reeling in Stanton this offseason admittedly would be the best-case scenario for the Red Sox, almost regardless of the package they’d be forced to assemble. He’s young (turning 25 in November). He’s under team control through 2016. And he’s that good.
But if Boston really wants to avoid a potentially serious pain point in 2015, the organization must exert itself on the starting pitching market with the same ferocity. Otherwise, the club’s recent efforts to improve its uninspiring offense could go down as a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington seemingly understands this, which is why he acknowledged immediately after the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline — a period in which Boston dealt four-fifths of its 2014 Opening Day rotation, including Jon Lester — that he expects to actively pursue starting pitching this winter, whether it be through free agency or trades. The big question, however, revolves around Boston’s commitment to landing an ace, as Cherington also suggested amid his post-deadline chatter that an ace isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to rotational success.
Perhaps there’s some truth to that notion. The Red Sox would be wise to leverage their surplus of assets in an attempt to land a legitimate No. 1, though, as Boston’s current crop of starters includes several unknown commodities — albeit ones with high potential — that could benefit from a stabilizing presence at the front end.
Think Cole Hamels. Think Chris Sale.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote recently that the Philadelphia Phillies have been aggressively scouting the Red Sox for quite a while and that Hamels would be willing to accept a deal to Boston. Sale has perhaps the most team-friendly contract in MLB, but, as ESPN.com’s Gordon Edes points out, the Chicago White Sox lack organizational talent in so many areas that they might be willing to trade their ace if it means acquiring several upper-echelon prospects — something the Red Sox are capable of providing.
Of course, Lester could come strolling back to The Bean in free agency. And really, that would be an intriguing situation for the Red Sox because it would entail landing a No. 1 starter without surrendering any prospects. But if Lester doesn’t return, the Red Sox obviously need to look elsewhere. And no one on the free-agent market aside from Max Scherzer — sorry, James Shields — is comparable to either Hamels or Sale, especially when their current contracts are factored into the equation.
Hamels, who turns 31 in December, boasts career numbers that match up favorably with Lester’s. He also has postseason experience — 7-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 13 career playoff starts — and is under contract for a very reasonable $90 million over the next four years. Lester’s track record within the American League East makes the free agent-to-be more of a known quantity, but Hamels requires a far less substantial financial commitment, so there are benefits to relinquishing prospects in exchange for the latter left-hander over simply signing a familiar face.
Sale, who is one of baseball’s best pitchers by almost every measure, will enter his age 26 season in 2015. He’s owed only $27.15 million over the next three seasons — with a couple of club options also on the table for 2018 ($12.5 million) and 2019 ($13.5 million) — so, in essence, he represents the pitching version of Stanton, except with an even more enticing contract status.
Now, this suggested emphasis on securing a No. 1 starter isn’t to steer anyone away from their Stanton fantasies, which have been prevalent in Boston for a couple of years now. In theory, given the Red Sox’s deep farm system and overall flexibility, pursuing Stanton and going after a top-flight starter aren’t mutually exclusive. But as the Red Sox gear up for a critical offseason following a disappointing World Series defense, it’s important to keep in mind that Stanton isn’t the be-all and end-all, especially with the rotation in a state of flux.
The Red Sox need to keep several lures in the water at all times.
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