New Red Sox team president Dave Dombrowski will undoubtedly look to upgrade Boston’s starting rotation this off-season. There are of course numerous ways to go about doing this and it’s unclear how much roster turnover Dombrowski will create. In other words, looking at the rotation as presently constructed to attempt to discern how much financial and roster space is available isn’t helpful because any or all of those players could be dealt before the Red Sox reconvene in Fort Myers next February.
It seems likely, though, that the Red Sox will look to acquire a pitcher who can start for them on opening day. That may be through free agency, but given ownership’s reticence to pass out $150 million to Jon Lester last off-season, it’s difficult, even with a new front office in place, to see them reversing course and offering David Price $200 million.
They might do it anyway, but the more likely option is through a trade. There are three primary reasons for that. The first is age. The Red Sox can get a younger starter in trade than they can acquire on the free-agent market. The second is salary. The Red Sox will have to pay Price $30 million a year or some such figure while Sonny Gray, to pull a name from a hat, will make the league minimum. The third is the Red Sox minor league system, which is chock full of talent, so it makes sense to use some of that talent to upgrade the major league roster more quickly and efficiently (i.e. pack more talent into one roster spot) than the system could do on its own.
Who might the team look to acquire? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it. That will depend on who teams make available, but the Red Sox have quite the minor league system. If they’re willing to make most if not all of those players available, many options will be on the table. Here are six of the most intriguing pitchers the Red Sox could acquire through a trade this off-season to head their rotation:
Kluber is the reigning AL Cy Young winner and though he won’t repeat this season, he’s still had a fantastic year despite a mostly luck-dependent bad start. Kluber has been worth just over five wins this season by DRA-based WARP, which puts him behind Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel and Sonny Gray, and ahead of every other pitcher in baseball. He’s fantastic. So why would the Indians look to trade a cost-controlled (he has four years and $35.5 million left on his extension after this season) 29-year-old ace pitcher? Two reasons they might: their farm system is lousy and their major league roster is lousy, too.
It’s unclear what Cleveland’s plan is, but it seems unlikely they’ll be expected to contend in a packed AL Central in 2016 or even 2017. That doesn’t necessitate dealing Kluber, of course. He’s signed through 2021 if all his options are exercised, but doing so could speed up the rebuilding process considerably. Dealing Kluber would ignite a bidding war that could help build the next great Indians team, a bidding war the Red Sox could potentially win with the strength and depth of their farm system. This isn’t the most likely outcome, but then no one guy is likely. Kluber would be a great addition (obviously) and his salary would allow the Red Sox to supplement the rotation though free agency as well if they so desired.
This is the other possibility from Cleveland. Rumor has it the Indians already shopped Carrasco at the trade deadline, but he’s now on the DL with a shoulder issue, which makes a deal difficult until he can get back on the mound again. Still, Carrasco is quite good when he’s healthy. After struggling for years after joining the Indians from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade, the light finally came on for Carrasco last season. His strikeouts jumped from below average to well above and he cut his walks allowed in half. Then he proved he’s not a flash in the pan by repeating it this season. Like Kluber, Carrasco is on an inexpensive (relatively) contract that will pay him $14.5 million over the next two seasons with $9 million and $9.5 million option years in 2019 and 2020, respectively. On a per-inning basis Carrasco is similar to Kluber. The difference is Carrasco has thrown 292 innings over the last two seasons and is now on the DL while Kluber has thrown 430 and is still healthy and going.
Jacob deGrom/Matt Harvey
This would make a whole lot more sense if the Mets weren’t about to win the NL East, which apparently they are. Even so, the Mets have as much young pitching as any team does but don’t have much in the way of the young hitting. A deal for one of these pitchers would likely require someone currently able to play at the major league level, so while you might consider Rafael Devers, etc, etc, etc, for Kluber, a deal for deGrom or Harvey would start with a guy like Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts (I refuse to get into specific packages here or who would have to throw in extra players). deGrom is already 27 and hasn’t been as good as Carrasco or Kluber, while Harvey is a year younger and has managed to almost replicate his incredible six win 2014 season this year with one exception: home runs have been more of an issue. Also, Harvey is coming off of Tommy John surgery.
The constant struggle the Oakland A’s face is how to keep the team competitive while constantly rebuilding all on a slim payroll. Thus, good players put in their time building their trade value in Oakland and then are dealt for, Josh Donaldson aside, younger cheaper, players. Although not the strikeout threat that any of the above starters presents, Sonny Gray is younger (he’ll be 26 next year) and is as fantastic. He’s a ground ball guy so he could presumably get by in Fenway just fine without striking out the larger number of hitters that the above pitchers do.
As to why the A’s would deal Gray even though he’s still silly cheap and is one of the better pitchers in baseball? Well, they dealt Josh Donaldson! But seriously, they may not. I’m guessing it would depend on the nature of the package coming back and the state of the A’s going forward. Oakland would likely want a combination of major league talent and minor league talent in return. Who knows if he’ll move, but given the A’s struggles this season it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear his name batted around at the GM meetings.
There are others besides the guys listed above. Chris Sale and Tyson Ross for example, but no pitcher in baseball combines the raw stuff with results while retaining upside like Stephen Strasburg. What’s more, if the Nationals continue their crash and burn season, even though Strasburg has turned things around, the Nationals might look to make some deals and shake up the clubhouse.
What’s more more, Strasburg is about to get expensive. He’s making $7.4 million in his second year of arbitration this season and will be a free agent after next season. He’s a Scott Boras client so an extension, especially this close to free agency, is unlikely. As such, he’d be a one-year addition for Boston which would limit their risk and and limit the cost. It’s still Strasburg so the cost would likely be high, but less than any of the above guys due to the number of seasons of player control remaining.
Should be a fun off-season, huh?
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