The Red Sox freed up $7.67 million by trading Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies over the weekend. We don't know exactly how much they still had left in the budget prior to the trade, but considering they are still supposedly in talks with free agent Roy Oswalt after signing Cody Ross for $3 million, it's safe to say the answer is "more than zero."
The most oft-discussed starting pitchers the Red Sox could acquire are Oswalt and the White Sox's Gavin Floyd. Both pitchers have pros and cons surrounding them, so which of the two should we be rooting for the Red Sox to acquire?
Oswalt is the better pitcher -- of this, there is no question. Oswalt also owns a more pressing injury history, though. While short, it involves his back, which acted up last season and limited him to 139 innings and a good, but not quite Oswaltian performance.
That back is why Oswalt, a pitcher with loads of talent who was part of Philadelphia's four-headed ace monster last spring, remains available. The Rangers were interested, but acquired Yu Darvish instead. The Yankees were intrigued, but traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda. This isn't to say Oswalt is absolutely damaged goods, it's just that not every team felt comfortable taking on the risk. (Although, we don't know this for sure in the case of the Rangers -- they might have signed Oswalt had a deal with Darvish not occurred.)
Worries over Oswalt's back might have been overblown, too, as what was expected to be potentially career-threatening didn't keep Oswalt from coming back to pitch even better than he had prior to his DL stint (3.4 K/BB ratio, 3.59 ERA, 6.8 strikeouts per nine, 0.5 homers per nine). There is a significant chance whoever ends up with Oswalt for roughly $8 million on a one-year deal is going to own one of next year's most sought-after free agents.
Oswalt also just costs money: a trade for anyone even close to Oswalt's caliber is going to involve prospects, in addition to dollars. The Red Sox have also established enough depth where, if Oswalt needs to skip a few starts during the year for the sake of his back, they can get by just fine -- Andrew Miller is much further from the majors in 2012 than in 2011 thanks to Alfredo Aceves, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, and potentially others.
As for Floyd, he's not as good as Oswalt in terms of performance, but you don't have to worry about the back flaring up and ruining his season. As stated last week when the Red Sox looked into Floyd to begin with, he has averaged 31 starts a year over the last four years, and his FIP have been generally consistent with those of an above-average hurler.
What will it cost to get him, though? Felix Doubront was mentioned as a part of a deal due to being a superfluous -- but useful -- piece who is out of options. It's likely, as Ben Buchanan mentioned on Twitter and as has been mentioned on the podcast, that players like Brandon Jacobs would be on the way to Chicago should Floyd come to Boston. That likely wouldn't be enough in a winter where Gio Gonzalez commanded multiple top-100 prospects.
However, thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement and Floyd's ability, the Red Sox can replenish their system with two prospects when he becomes a free agent. All it would take is a qualifying offer, one that, given Floyd's sustained successes in the bigs, would be matched by a team on a longer-term deal. The Red Sox would get two compensation picks for extending the qualifying offer, after having either one or two years of Floyd under their control (Floyd has a $9.5 million option for 2013).
Floyd would also represent a much lower salary for luxury tax purposes than Oswalt, as his four-year, $15.5 million of guaranteed money means he accounts for just $3.875 million against the luxury tax, rather than the full $7 million he is owed. That basically means it comes down to the cost in prospects -- if it's more than the Sox feel they can recoup through compensation, maybe Oswalt is the better look here.
There are two legitimate and disparate paths here for Boston to take. Neither is the wrong answer, but it's likely the team wants to make sure they make the move that is the most right for both now and later. If it turns out that the rotation is already fine, and that the leftover Scutaro money is best held on to until, say, mid-season, when Boston knows precisely what they need to upgrade, then the answer they found was, "none of the above."
That's a tougher option to swallow as a fan, but has its own merits, as it gives them the cushion under the luxury tax they are hoping for, in order to significantly reduce future penalties for future spending over the soft limit imposed by MLB.
That doesn't mean it's my preference -- my preference is for Oswalt or Floyd. I would understand, but not necessarily like, the more wait-and-see approach, as an Oswalt or Floyd on the Opening Day roster means one fewer hole the Red Sox might have to later fill, and more cushion against the injuries and unexpected, disappointing performances that occur during the season for every team.