The Red Sox need to target a starting pitcher at the deadline.

BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox leaves the game after colliding with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the sixth inning of the game at Fenway Park on July 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: Eduardo Rodriguez #57 of the Boston Red Sox leaves the game after colliding with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #13 of the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the sixth inning of the game at Fenway Park on July 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

With Eduardo Rodriguez’s return this season very much a question, the Boston Red Sox may need to look outside the organization for help.

Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez has bee the team’s second best starter this season. He has the second lowest FIP and xFIP and the third lowest ERA at 3.44. Only Chris Sale bests him in all three metrics. Steven Wright has a slightly lower ERA but has some relief work pulling that number down. His ERA as a starter is 4.14. What’s more is that EdRod had gone three straight games without giving up an earned run and nine out of his last eleven giving up two or fewer. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle his last time out and we don’t know if or when he’ll be back this season.

Manager Alex Cora gave an update that didn’t sound good. Describing the injury by saying “It looks bad.” He won’t require surgery, supposedly, but he will need to be reevaluated in a couple weeks. Recently, Rick McNair took a look at the internal options. While there are a number of solid options for back of the rotation types, none of the names covered in that article are what you want replacing your second best starter. Even last year’s second best starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz doesn’t look like a good bet to make. If his troubles are injury related, counting on him getting healthy is probably not a gamble worth making. If not, then hoping he figures it out could leave the team hanging in October.

What do the Red Sox need to replace?

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While not a great measure of talent or skill, Eduardo Rodriguez was tied for the 7th most wins in baseball. His 3.44 K/BB ratio was 25th in the majors. He was 21st in FIP, 29th in xFIP and that 3.44 ERA was 22nd. And if you like SIERA, his 3.77 was 23rd in baseball. All of that is among pitchers with 100 IP or more. In short, he was a very strong number two in the league. His numbers are actually good enough to make him the best pitcher on a handful of staffs this season. Essentially, that’s the role David Price should be filling, but isn’t quite pulling off.

And there aren’t a lot of indications that he’s been lucky or benefited from an unusual amount of good defense. He hasn’t been unlucky or suffered from poor defense, either. In fact, his numbers are all fairly context neutral so far. With a .294 BABIP and a -0.13 ERA – FIP, his peripherals appear to match his output fairly well. So we can be reasonably certain that he is what he looks like. And while that’s good news for the long term, the nature of his injury, and the timing, aren’t good for the rest of the season.

What will limit their ability to replace Rodriguez?

This is a complicated question for which much digital ink has been spilled. But we can simplify it here. In short, they are right up against the final threshold for penalties under the current CBA as it pertains to payroll. If they go over, their tax rate jumps up to the maximum amount for first time offenders and their 2019 first round pick drops ten spots down the order. It’s a stiff price, but at this point, I don’t think they can afford to let that limit them. I was arguing as much a couple weeks ago, actually. And now I’m not the only one:

No, money won’t be a deterrent. But years will be. The team still needs to watch their payroll in subsequent years. While they won’t get under the main luxury tax threshold next season, getting back under the most severe penalty threshold will be vital. After a strong draft this June, and a willingness to spend on the IFA market this month, one year with their top pick being penalized won’t kill them. But multiple years could. So don’t expect to see any starting pitchers with big dollars over multiple years heading to Boston. The other limiting factor is trade chips. The Red Sox farm system was extremely thin coming into the year, but that doesn’t mean it is empty, or that they can’t land a big time player. After all, Manny Machado was just acquired without a single top 50 prospect heading to Baltimore.

Which short term pitchers could they target?

The first name that jumps out is Cole Hamels. Hamels is certainly in the decline phase of his career, but he has aged well and is still effective. Plus, he has post season experience (and success) which Dave Dombrowski may covet. The 4.36 ERA isn’t sexy, but he’s still striking out almost a batter per inning. He has a $20M club option for 2019 with a $6M buyout. So the long term cost is minimal. He also has a vesting option but doesn’t appear likely to trigger it.

On the inexpensive side, Tyson Ross also comes to mind. He has returned from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and is striking a bit more than 8 batters per nine innings. He has a 4.32 ERA with a 4.10 xFIP. His contract for the 2018 season is for $1.75M. Ross has been struggling to get back to the pitcher he was before his injury when he posted ERA’s in the low 3’s and high 2’s. But he appears to be effective these days even if he has fallen short of those numbers.

Then there is Trevor Cahill who returned from the DL for an elbow injury just before the All Star break. But he was having an excellent season before getting hurt. A 3.10 ERA with a 3.14 FIP and a 3.15 xFIP would fit very nicely into the Red Sox rotation. He is striking out almost a batter per inning, walking just 2.41 per 9, and is inducing almost 60% ground balls. This likely wouldn’t happen until just before the deadline as Dombrowski will want to see him pitch a couple more times before pulling the trigger. But at a prorated $1.5M this could be a a sneaky good get.

Any chance at a shocking move?

While the limited number of trade chips creates some hurdles for the front office in the pursuit of a big starting pitcher acquisition, you can’t rule anything out completely. In that spirit, we could consider San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. We all know how good Bumgarner is. With a 2.90 ERA this season he continues to hang onto the mantle of Ace. But his strikeout rate is down to 19.7% from a career rate in the mid 20’s. That could be rust from missing lots of time the last two seasons with freak injuries. But it could be an indication of declining stuff. If the Giants are worried about the latter, they may be willing to cash in.

It’s a risk betting on him returning to Ace form, but with his post season history, it’s a risk worth taking. If the price is reachable, of course. That said, it would take another emptying of the farm to get it done. That means names like Michael Chavis and Jay Groome. But at this point, it might be worth it. Baumgarner is due a prorated $12M this year and has a club option for $12M in 2019. If he is still the guy he was before the injuries, that’s an easy option to pick up. And it would replace the departing Dew Pomeranz nicely.

In short, go get it done, Dealin’ Dave.

This Red Sox team is the best we’ve seen, perhaps ever. With the team due to lose quite a few of its stars to free agency over the next few years, the time to strike is now. Take advantage of this window while it’s open and go get whatever is necessary to shore up the division and make a strong post season run. You almost never have seasons like this one. Don’t waste it.

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What do you think the Red Sox should do to replace Eduardo Rodriguez? Are there any names worth targeting not mentioned above? Let us know what you think in the comments!