The Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington made it clear to the media this month that the quest for an ‘ace’ in the starting rotation is very low on his radar at this point. The chances that any more moves, in terms of starting pitching or even the rest of the roster, is pretty slim. Yet, is Red Sox Nation happy to sit down until April to see how their team does on the mound? Are the new acquisitions of Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson, and Wade Miley enough to carry the load with Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly? Or is 2016 the year to worry about it?
The market for an ‘ace’ dropped significantly when Jon Lester signed with the Chicago Cubs, sending many teams to question who to trade for or sign. ESPNBoston.com reported two days ago:
"“Looking strictly at free-agent possibilities, the only two remaining starters on the market you could legitimately call an ace are Max Scherzer and James Shields. You can forget about Scherzer. If the Sox weren’t going to pony up the $155 million for Jon Lester, you can be sure they aren’t going to meet the asking price for Scherzer, which is projected to be much higher.”"
James Shields did well for the Kansas City Royals, going 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 34 starts, including a complete game shutout. His two loses in the 2014 World Series, giving up fifteen hits and seven runs, when his team needed him to shut the door, may still not sit well in the stomachs of Royals fans or new prospective teams.
However, a number of other top pitchers could be available and more enticing after the 2015 season. A few of the top names in the discussion are: David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann. As Cueto and Zimmermann have little to no experience pitching against American League teams, their numbers are unproven against a different set of hitters. That did not stop Cherington from bringing over Miley from the National League, and their very impressive bodies of work should not be discounted on a mere technicality. Neither should Greinke be discounted, despite being signed through till 2019, with a possible out of his contract in 2016. Let us simply say that we will examine the pitcher with both AL East experience and a more plausible way to Boston.
On the surface, the 29-year-old lefty from Tennessee would be the easiest to wrangle. He is a free agent in 2016 and has over seven years of domination over AL East batting lineups. His career record is 86-51, with 1147 strikeouts to only 324 walks. In 2012, Price dominated the league with a 20-8 record to win the Cy Young Award. Last season, he recorded three complete games between the Tampa Bay Rays and his new team, the Detroit Tigers. With the filthy pitches Price has used against the AL East for the majority of his career, the Red Sox could use a veteran talent, who knows each rival’s tendencies.
The problem is that Detroit will not give up on Price without a fight. The Bleacher Report’s Anthony Witrado said, “The Tigers are already losing out on Max Scherzer and need Price to be at the top of their rotation if they are going to fend off the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox in their division.” And rightfully so. The Red Sox already got Porcello from the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes, and now they would be losing another big part of their pitching staff, with no compensation. Adding to the fact that the White Sox brought in more starting pitching with Jeff Samardzija and David Robertson, and firepower from Melky Cabrera, the Tigers will be hard-pressed to keep their dominance in the division.
If the price is right, in every sense of the word, for the Red Sox, they should make him a signing target, like many other teams. However, a lot of that interest will be based on how the 2015 seasons shapes up. With all of Boston’s additions to their rotation, it could be smooth sailing; it could also be a disaster. Masterson is on a short contract to prove himself, which means he could flop or he could succeed and want more money than the Red Sox are willing to give him. Miley is coming over from the National League the AL East, just as Kelly did, which means they could both come out of the gates slow like Kelly did last season. Buchholz, himself, is in need of an improved season, too. If all of these pitchers work out as much as Cherington is banking on, then the Red Sox may not even need Price or any ‘ace’. But, in a playoff run, would it not be nice to see a man on the mound for your team who is ‘lights out’?