Early predictions for the 2015 Red Sox rotation

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This represents part four of a five part analysis of the 2015 Red Sox rotation. Part one analyzed which of the current Red Sox starters have pitched well enough to earn a spot on next year’s pitching staff, while part two examined the free agent market and ranked the potential fits, and part three was a showcase of the trade options available this winter ranking the options by their talent. This fourth component offers my predictions for what starting pitchers could find themselves on the 25 man roster in the spring; please note these predictions are based on the information available to me as of October 7 and my views may change as the off season unravels. I not only chose one player to fill every rotation spot but offered two back up plans in the event plan A falls through. Each option was selected and ordered based on a combination of my view of their talent, and my perception of their fit in the Red Sox organization. Ladies and gents, part four:

Final Prediction:
Staff Ace: James Shields

Oct 5, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) reacts against the Los Angeles Angels after the final out of the top of the sixth inning in game three of the 2014 ALDS baseball playoff game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

For those of you that read my free agent targets at starting pitcher, you know that I am among the many who see James Shields as an excellent fit for the 2015 Red Sox. Shields will not command nearly as much as fellow aces Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, in dollar value or time commitment. Shields has been a portrait of efficient consistency all the way back to his breakout season during his days as a Ray. Shields is playoff tested; a factor that Ben Cherington and all of Red Sox Nation should not take for granted after watching some dominant starting pitchers get shelled right out of October baseball when faced with a playoff lineup.

Hopefully the team can come to a four year deal with a loaded average annual value for the 32 year old righty. A five year $100 million dollar deal is also not out of the realm of possibility, and I would still prefer it to seven or eight year deals with Lester and Scherzer. There is plenty of smoke to give credence to this possibility. Nick Cafardo recently wrote that the Red Sox “covet” Shields, and industry heavy hitters Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal have also linked the Sox to Shields. I hope this one gets done, and barring a team giving him the extra years that I know the Red Sox won’t, I expect it to happen.

Plan B) Jon Lester

My contingency plan to bring in an ace is likely the headline many of you are desperately waiting for. But I do not expect Jon Lester to return to Boston. Ben Cherington does not expect Jon Lester to return to Boston, otherwise he would have long ago extended him and we would never have seen Yoenis Cespedes don a Red Sox jersey. The Cubs have made it no secret that Jon Lester is a priority and barring an appearance from a mystery team in the Lester sweepstakes, or a stronger than expected effort by the Yankees, my gut says Lester will take the mound at Wrigley next year.

But if James Shields bolts for Texas, or the Yankees diabolically undercut us the way they did this year (to their own detriment) with Carlos Beltran and grab Big Game James, then I think Ben Cherington will be in the unfortunate position of crawling back to Lester. With a true need for an ace that will leave them with zero leverage, I can’t imagine a hometown discount will enter the conversation this time around. If we are to prevent Cubs GM Theo Epstein from signing him, we will have to give Jon Lester much more than we want to.

Plan C) Chris Sale

Sep 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale (49) warms up before the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The best of the three pitchers I named is the dark horse pick because he is a long shot. Buried in this article from the great Peter Gammons, is a tidbit of note to Red Sox Nation: “They’re not trading Vasquez, or Betts…” the only words that may mean more to Red Sox fans than a Jon Lester signing. If Mookie Betts is off the table, and Gammons is the one person I would accept that from, then our trade market has severely dwindled. It seems beyond impossible in my eyes to get a Sale trade done without Mookie, unless they have changed their stance on moving Xander Bogaerts and Blake Swihart… I hope they haven’t.

No, Henry Owens and Manuel Margot represent our next best prospects who, presumably, are available via trade but are far from a Sale worthy package. Lest the Sox change their course by mid-season, don’t expect Chris Sale in a Sox uniform next year. But there is one top starter who I believe we could still acquire…