Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said on Tuesday that he'll continue to look at pitching options as the team prepares for the 2012 season. And given the hurlers available on the open market and the cost at which they come, it's best if the Sox continue to play the waiting game.
It might not be an overly popular decision amongst Red Sox Nation, but no starter available is worth the Sox overexerting themselves financially.
It's obvious that Boston would love to add another starter or two for this season. In an ideal world, the trio of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz would be accompanied by two proven starters for an entire year. As it stands right now, with Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves shifting to the rotation, the Sox are looking at a four-horse race for the final two spots, with Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller also expected to compete during spring training.
That might not seem like a very intimidating back-end of the rotation, especially considering how much starting pitching woes contributed to the Red Sox' September collapse. But with the remaining free-agent starters commanding such high asking prices, jumping the gun wouldn't exactly be the best allocation of resources, either.
The offseason's biggest fish, Mark Buehrle and C.J. Wilson, have already touched down in new locations. They're seemingly the most impactful arms who were there to be had on the open market, and now that they're off the board, we're looking at Roy Oswalt, Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson as the headliners. The decision to pass on both Buehrle and Wilson made sense financially for the Sox, as does seeking out low-risk options for the remainder of this offseason, rather than going big.
Oswalt seems to make the most sense given his reported willingness to accept a one-year deal in order to regain the value he had prior to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign. It's been reported that his asking price might still be a bit high, though. And with durabiltiy concerns, it'd be far from the ideal roll of the dice for the Sox, whose starters frequented the DL last season, given where the team stands when it comes to the luxury tax.
According to WEEI.com's Alex Speier, after going past the $178 million payroll, the Sox will be taxed at a 40 percent rate for any payroll that exceeds the luxury tax threshold. This percentage reportedly reflects the fact that next year would mark the third straight in which the Sox paid the luxury tax. In other words, pinching pennies a bit this offseason makes sense no matter how bewildering it appears on the surface.
Kuroda's situation is a bit similar to Oswalt's, with the soon-to-be 37-year-old reportedly commanding a high price tag despite the notion that he could potentially be had at a one-year contract. He'd undoubtedly give the Sox some pitching depth at the back end, but upwards of $13 million is a hefty lump of cash for a pitcher whose heart is seemingly still on the West Coast (although it's been reported he has warmed up to the idea of playing on the East Coast a bit). And that's without factoring in the luxury tax implications.
And as far as Jackson goes, the five years and potentially $15-17 million annually that agent Scott Boras is seeking for his client is far too rich, especially for a pitcher who's shown some inconsistency during his time in the bigs. Joe Saunders, according to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, could even wind up receiving a multiyear deal.
When it comes to obtaining a hurler via trade, the market has already proven to be costly, evidenced by the hauls received by Oakland and San Diego in exchange for Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos, respectively.
Matt Garza, for instance, would be a perfect addition to the Sox rotation because he's AL East battle-tested who's still relatively young. But the Cubs' asking price is reported to be extremely high. According to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, the Cubs are seeking three "A" level prospects, a request that, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com, is even "out of the question" for the Yankees. The price will likely need to come down for Garza to end up in Boston.
If the Sox don't add a well-known arm to the mix for 2012, it'll likely come off as a bit of a downer for the Fenway Faithful. But it'll also put the Sox in a better position to obtain more proven arms down the road. Anything beyond a one-year deal should immediately be out of the question, and even those should only be doled out after waiting for the current costs to subside.
Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and James Shields, all of whom finished in the top eight in Cy Young voting in 2011, are slated to become free agents next offseason. There's also depth, as Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Brandon McCarthy are among the other arms who could test the waters. Should the Sox refrain from any extra expenditures this offseason, they should be in a better position to make a push for a top-flight starter when that group hits the open market, or even in position to make a splash during what projects to be a solid free-agent class in 2013.
So while Oswalt and Kuroda remain enticing and very well could end up in Boston before Opening Day, the real arms race for the Sox will likely take place somewhere down the road. And in order for that to happen, they'll need to continue to be cost-efficient now.
Is it a bit frustrating? Perhaps. But it's probably for the best. And with the bullpen getting stronger in the wake of the Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey deals, the Sox could certainly do worse than a duo of Bard and Aceves at the back end of the rotation heading into this year's slate of games.
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