The Red Sox’s rotation wasn’t exactly an area of strength at the beginning of the offseason.
Now, several months later, there still are questions surrounding the unit.
The Red Sox on Monday traded David Price to the Dodgers as part of the deal that also sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles. The move opens a spot in Boston’s rotation, which added Martin Perez in December while losing Rick Porcello in free agency to the New York Mets.
With pitchers and catchers having reported to spring training Tuesday, it’s unclear who’ll slot into Boston’s starting five alongside Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Perez. The Red Sox could opt to use an opener every fifth day — something chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is very familiar with from his time with the Tampa Bay Rays — or fill the void with an internal candidate. Boston also could look outside the organization for depth, either via free agency or trade.
The Red Sox have additional financial flexibility in wake of Monday’s blockbuster, which helped Boston achieve its offseason goal of getting under the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Boston likely will look to maintain some wiggle room for potential in-season moves, but the club’s payroll currently sits around $193 million — enough for Bloom to explore what low-cost options are available.
As such, here are eight free-agent starting pitchers the Red Sox could pursue to replace Price and fill out their rotation:
Collin McHugh, 32, RHP
McHugh stumbled out of the gate as a starter in 2019, resulting in a demotion from the Houston Astros’ stacked rotation. He pitched well thereafter and owns a 2.21 ERA in 85 relief appearance (106 innings) over the last two seasons, so he might best be suited for the bullpen, but it’s hard to ignore McHugh’s previous success as a starter.
McHugh posted a 3.70 ERA, a 3.60 FIP, a 1.25 WHIP and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 102 starts between 2014 and 2017. He recorded 19 wins and finished eighth in Cy Young voting in 2015.
Aaron Sanchez, 27, RHP
Sanchez flashed front-line potential with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016 when he earned an All-Star selection en route to a 15-2 record, a 3.00 ERA, a 3.55 FIP, a 1.17 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings across 192 frames in his first full season as a starter. Injuries have been an issue over the past three years, limiting both his availability and his consistency, but Sanchez is only 27 years old and comes with plenty of upside.
It’s not hard to imagine Sanchez bouncing back from the awful stat line — 5-14 record, 5.89 ERA, 5.25 FIP, 1.62 WHIP — he posted in 27 starts split between Toronto and Houston in 2019. The question is his health, as Sanchez underwent shoulder surgery toward the tail end of last season and it’s unclear when he’ll be available in 2020.
Taijuan Walker, 27, RHP
Walker is a total wild card thanks to tossing just 14 innings across four starts over the past two seasons. He already has undergone Tommy John surgery. But the 2010 first-round pick reportedly is drawing plenty of interest after being non-tendered by the Arizona Diamondbacks at the beginning of the offseason. He’s a worthwhile gamble for a team in need of a rotational boost given his pre-injury track record.
Walker, once a highly touted prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization, went 28-28 with a 4.10 ERA, a 4.33 FIP, a 1.25 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 82 starts from 2015 to 2017.
Danny Salazar, 30, RHP
Salazar, like Walker, is a high-upside dart throw. He missed all of 2018 and made only one start (four innings) in 2019 thanks to shoulder surgery then a groin injury, but there was a time when the hard-throwing right-hander looked like an ace for the Cleveland Indians.
Salazar, an All-Star in 2016, owns a 38-34 record, a 3.82 ERA, a 3.61 FIP, a 1.27 WHIP and has struck out an impressive 10.5 batters per nine innings in 109 career outings (105 starts). It’s just a matter of him staying on the mound, something he has had a hard time doing.
Jason Vargas, 37, LHP
Vargas, the elder statesman of this list, isn’t going to blow anyone away. It’s also fair to question whether he’s equipped to handle the pressure of pitching in Boston after threatening to knock out a Mets reporter last season. Yet here we are. It speaks to the dearth of viable starters available on the open market, and at the end of the day, you could do worse than Vargas. Probably.
The veteran southpaw earned an All-Star nod with the Kansas City Royals in 2017, a season in which he tied Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco for the MLB lead in wins (18) while posting a 4.16 ERA, a 4.67 FIP, a 1.33 WHIP and 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 32 outings. He’s coming off a 2019, in which he went 7-9 with a 4.51 ERA, a 4.76 FIP, a 1.36 WHIP and 7.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 30 starts (29 appearances) split between the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies despite sitting in the low- to mid-80s with his fastball.
Matt Harvey, 31, RHP
We’re five years removed from the height of the “Dark Knight” era in Queens, and the most recent results have been ugly, with Harvey sputtering to a 7.09 ERA in 12 starts with the Los Angeles Angels last season. This would be nothing more than a last-ditch effort to extract some big-league value from a former Cy Young candidate.
Clay Buchholz, 35, RHP
Buchholz, who went 7-2 with a 2.01 ERA in 16 starts for the D-Backs in 2018, couldn’t carry that momentum into 2019, as he struggled to the tune of a 2-5 record and a 6.56 ERA in 12 starts with the Blue Jays. Who knows whether he has anything left in the tank.
If nothing else, there’s familiarity here, with Buchholz having spent his first 10 MLB seasons in Boston. His decade-long run with the Red Sox, as you’ll recall, featured plenty of highs and lows. He went 8-10 with a 4.78 ERA in 37 appearances (21 starts) in 2016, his final season with the organization that drafted him.
Andrew Cashner, 33, RHP
Speaking of familiarity, Cashner made 25 appearances (six starts) with the Red Sox in 2019 following a midseason trade from the Baltimore Orioles. The results weren’t pretty — 6.20 ERA across 53 2/3 innings — but he has had success at various points in his career, including a 17-start stretch with the O’s at the beginning of last season in which he went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA, a 4.26 FIP and a 1.19 WHIP.
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