If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that the Red Sox need rotation help. If they’re going to retool and get back into contention in 2016, it’s going to start there. Although the conversation around the topic is obnoxious, it would be undeniably helpful if they got an “ace.” Possibly the easiest way to do so would be trading for someone like Cole Hamels. [Editor’s Note: WELP] If they don’t go that route, they could also try to trade for a Sonny Gray, Carlos Carrasco or Chris Sale (I can’t emphasize enough how unlikely I think this is.) The other way to get a legit top-of-the-rotation arm would be through free agency, where David Price, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimermann should all be available. Unfortunately, Boston has shown an unwillingness to pay for this type of pitching in the past, and it’s impossible to get too excited about this possibility.
Whether they get this caliber of pitcher or not, they’ll likely need more than one additional starter anyway. Even with a top-tier addition, the rotation will be filled out with Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez, which isn’t a group that can be counted on. Luckily, the second-tier of the free agent class has some very interesting names, and the Red Sox should be prepared to take a good, hard look at all of the following:
Kazmir has had one of the stranger careers in recent memory, going from a top-of-the-rotation arm to a forgettable injured one, and now he’s back to being more than respectable. In fact, he’s pitched better than a second-tier guy in 2015, currently sporting a league-leading 174 ERA+. The 31-year-old is also 22nd in DRA among pitchers with at least 75 innings, and 30th in cFIP. However, he’s had injury problems and has never been quite this good before, so I can’t see him being included in the top group mentioned above. It’s worth mentioning that he was traded last week, meaning he can’t be given a qualifying offer. That will raise his price, making him one of the most expensive names in this tier, but it shouldn’t price him out of Boston.
Besides Kazmir, Iwakuma is my personal favorite pitcher in this tier. In his first three seasons in the United States, the Mariners starter has been one of the most underrated in all of baseball. He’s shown impeccable control, and has been able to strike out enough batters to get by. This season, however, Iwakuma has struggled like never before. He missed a big chunk of time with a strained lat earlier this season, and has underperformed when on the mound. He’s getting killed with home runs, but his walks are still way down, and his strikeouts have only fallen slightly. He’s obviously someone to watch for the rest of the year to see if he can turn it around, but he could be a cheap mid-rotation arm on the free agent market, which is a very rare thing.
Gallardo is an exciting name to be thrown on this list, but could be very valuable for the Red Sox. He shouldn’t be the best pitcher on a good team, but he’s a perfect complimentary arm. He doesn’t possess a ton of upside, as he’s stuck in a 100-115 ERA+ range for most of his career with matching peripherals. He does have a history of being on the mound, however, making at least 30 starts in each of the last six seasons while being well on his way to that feat in 2015. If anyone could use that kind of consistency, it’s the Red Sox. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to overpay for someone like Gallardo, he could be a perfect complimentary addition to someone like Hamels or Price.
The most important thing to know about Mat Latos is the fact that his cat’s name is Cat Latos. The second most important thing to know about Mat Latos is he’s been a good pitcher over his career. Even this season, in which he’s struggled by ERA, his peripherals look as solid as ever. He’s pitched to a 3.34 FIP and a 98 cFIP, meaning improvement should be expected. He’s also only in his age-27 season, some rare youth for an impending free agent that should appeal to the Red Sox. Given his age, his struggles that should bring down his price, and his cat-naming skills, Latos could be a great fit in Boston.
Lol. Just kidding. He’s not coming back here.
If Samardzija was having a better season, he could have an argument to be bumped up a tier. However, he’s returned to his inconsistent self in 2015, and finds himself back down in the second tier. While his improved control from last season has stuck around this year, his strikeouts have fallen way off and he’s being hit more than ever before. His FIP, cFIP and DRA all suggest he’s been better than his ERA would suggest, but there are still issues here. He’ll still be one of the more expensive names on this list — especially if he’s traded and is ineligible for a qualifying offer — but he should be affordable, and has the kind of upside the Red Sox should be looking for.
So, there are a lot of second-tier pitchers that will be available this winter. To reiterate, this doesn’t mean the Red Sox should avoid the top of the market, whether that’s in trade or free agency. All of the names listed above have flaws, and the Red Sox could use more of a sure thing, even if it’s going to cost an arm and a leg. Either way, they’ll need more than one arm to rebuild the current rotation. If I had to pick one name, it would probably be Latos with his combination of age and performance, but they can’t really go wrong with any player. Next year is a big season for Ben Cherington’s future, and he needs to get his pitching decisions right this time around.
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