Red Sox Mailbag: Should Boston Trade For Ace Amid Early Rotation Woes?


Apr 16, 2015

We’re nine games deep. Who’s feeling it?

The Boston Red Sox wrapped up their first home series of 2015 on Wednesday with a 10-5 loss to the Washington Nationals. The Sox are 6-3 to begin the season, which is pretty sweet for a team that went 71-91 last season en route to a last-place finish.

But questions never fully evaporate. And that’s where the Red Sox mailbag comes in to play.

We solicited, you responded and a common theme emerged. Red Sox fans, in general, seem pleased with the club’s offensive production yet remain concerned about whether its pitching will hold up.

That’s fair. And since most of this week’s questions center on the Red Sox’s ace-less rotation, let’s not waste any time in yanking out an assortment of inquiries. You deserve it.

What are the Red Sox going to do with their rotation? Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz have been garbage. How Boston is 6-3 is mystifying. There’s no way this lasts when they start playing better competition.
–Gregory Pearsoll

Someone might want to fill up Greg’s glass. He’s half-empty.

But he also has a point.

The Red Sox’s rotation, while solid its first time through, has been a disaster in its second turn. The fact the initial success came against the lowly Philadelphia Phillies (three games) and the aged New York Yankees (two games) suggests Boston’s strong pitching out of the gate might have been as much a product of the Red Sox’s competition as it was of their own doing. Pitchers, in general, appeared to be far ahead of hitters across the entire league to open this season.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that we’re dealing with an incredibly small sample size. The level of concern obviously is heightened given the amount of scrutiny that surrounded the rotation over the offseason and throughout spring training, and it’s reasonable, but the Red Sox need to see how things play out for a few turns before making any knee-jerk reactions.

Judging any player or any unit based on a nine-game stretch doesn’t make much sense, even if it’s ultimately the correct assessment, because the organization vehemently backed its rotation amid all of the outside chatter leading up to this season. It’s hard to imagine the Red Sox backtracking and making rash decisions so quickly.

That said, if we’re sitting here on May 14 — an arbitrary date after which each pitcher theoretically should have seven starts under his belt — and there’s still concern regarding one or more starters, then yes, the Red Sox will need to consider changes. And I imagine they’ll first look internally, with Steven Wright, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens and Matt Barnes comprising the candidate pool from which the Red Sox can select based on several factors, including the pitchers’ performance to that point.

The difficulty in executing a trade, particularly a major one, so early in the season is that each team still is going through a feeling-out process in which strengths and weaknesses are identified. It takes time to separate the buyers from the sellers, because as we’ve seen, things sometimes don’t shake out as expected. (Who pegged the Red Sox to struggle last season to the point where they hosted a fire sale at the end of July?)

In short, don’t expect much to change right now. Boston is committed to this thing, for better or worse.

Will the Red Sox trade for a top-notch pitcher?
–Mason Redd

For the reasons outlined above, the Red Sox probably aren’t going to make a major splash anytime soon. But it’s imperative to consider Boston’s ultimate goal: a World Series title in 2015.

The Red Sox aren’t rebuilding or going through a “bridge year.” Their focus is on winning this season. If Boston’s offense proves to be a championship-caliber unit, which it already looks like, then the club would be doing itself a disservice by not making a bold move(s) to improve its pitching staff, so long as the move doesn’t require the Red Sox to tap into their established strength (the offense).

The Oakland Athletics, for example, got cute last season in trading Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester. The move looked good on paper, as it gave the A’s a potentially lights-out rotation, but it completely backfired because Oakland’s offensive production plummeted sans Cespedes. In essence, general manager Billy Beane robbed Peter to pay Paul. (But hey, Beane’s God and “Moneyball” always wins, right?)

Fortunately for the Red Sox, their farm system is well-stocked. And it became even deeper in spring training when Boston signed 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, who immediately jumped to the top of the organization’s prospect rankings.

Don’t expect to see Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart — two players other teams seemingly salivate over — shipped out of town, as they’re as untouchable now as they’ve ever been. But the Red Sox have plenty of pieces outside of those two to complete a deal for a pitcher who would substantially upgrade the rotation if things don’t turn around for Boston’s current starting five.

A list of potential trade targets will crystalize over the next couple of months. Boston’s offense needs to carry the load for now, but — assuming the Red Sox remain in contention — it would be shocking if the team didn’t consider pulling the trigger on something major in the event the pitching staff flops.

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The next one.

It seems that Cole Hamels is out as a trade option. Who could be another option for the Red Sox as an ace?
— Garion Powell

Cole Hamels still is very much an option. The Phillies almost certainly are going to move him at some point, and as a team with questions in its rotation, the Red Sox will continue to be linked to the left-hander, regardless of whether people like it or not.

The chances of Hamels landing in Boston, of course, will be predicated on whether Philadelphia will back off its asking price of either Betts or Swihart. Neither one of those scenarios is happening.

As for other options, we’ll need to wait and see which teams become sellers.

The Nationals have a couple of excellent free-agents-to-be in Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, but they’re expected to contend for a title. Trading either pitcher obviously isn’t conducive to that effort.

The New York Mets could decide to trade a starter not named Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom, but they, too, might make some noise in the very weak National League East. And Jon Niese and Dillon Gee don’t fit the “ace” label you mentioned.

Thus, we arrive at Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds could look to lock up Cueto, who is set to hit the open market next offseason, or they could come to the realization they won’t be able to re-sign the reigning Nation League Cy Young runner-up and trade him to a contender like the Red Sox.

It’ll take a large haul to land Cueto, who went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and 242 strikeouts in 34 starts spanning 243 innings last season. But he’s been absolutely filthy when healthy despite pitching in a very hitter-friendly environment. And he’s only in his age 29 season.

Overpaying for rentals, like Cueto, is risky business, of course. But perhaps the Red Sox will consider making a play for Cueto, who owns a 2.45 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 104 starts since the beginning of 2011, with the hope of re-signing him and making him a long-term fixture in their rotation.

Thumbnail photo via Frank Victores/USA TODAY Sports Images

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