Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Back in August, the Red Sox and Dodgers made one of the biggest trades in baseball history. Now, Boston should be trying to make another deal with Los Angeles for their excess pitching.
The Dodgers have been the talk of baseball ever since they completed the Nick Punto trade with the Red Sox, taking on absurd amounts of salary in the process. Since then, they haven't stopped spending money, and despite their astronomical payroll, they show no signs of slowing down. This past weekend, they made a huge splash by signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract, then turned around and signed yet another pitcher, Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu to a three-year, $36 million contract.
All of baseball had been waiting for Greinke to sign his deal so the rest of the starting pitching market would begin to develop. The Red Sox were one of those teams, as adding to their rotation is (presumably) the number one item on their agenda at this point of the offseason. The Greinke deal sped that process up for Boston, and in more ways than one.
With the additions of Greinke and Ryu, the Dodgers now have Greinke, Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly as starting pitching options right now. Even if Ryu starts the season in the bullpen, which has been speculated, they are still left with seven potential rotation members. This invites a lot of trade possibilites. Boston has already managed to make one deal with the new free-spending Dodgers. Why not explore another, more low-key one?
The first name to come up in trade rumors for the Dodgers has seemed to be Aaron Harang. Last season with Los Angeles, he threw 179 innings, finishing with a 3.61 ERA and 4.14 FIP. It was his second straight season with an ERA under four, but it was also his second straight season pitching in pitchers' parks in the NL West. If he were traded to Boston, forcing him to pitch about half his games at Fenway and most starts coming against AL lineups, one would have to assume there would be some drop-off in his results. It could affect Harang more than others, since he tends to give up balls in the air. His career ground ball rate is 38%, compared to a 45% league-wide rate in 2012. That being said, he's been good for at least 25 starts in all but one season since 2004, and could provide some stability if needed. They shouldn't trade anything big for him, but as an incoming depth piece, they could do worse.
Along with Harang, Capuano seems like the type of guy the Dodgers would like to move. He started 31 games in 2012 for L.A., and finished with a 3.72 ERA and 3.95 FIP. Also like Harang, he likely benefited some from pitching in the NL West, though he still finished the year with an 11% home run to fly ball ratio (about league-average), and 1.1 home runs per nine innings. Capuano has always been solid as far as his K/BB ratio goes, but home runs have always been an issue. This would almost certainly be exacerbated by pitching in parks like Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards and Rogers Centre on a regular basis. All in all, he and Harang are somewhat similar cases, with Capuano being the slightly cheaper option, contract-wise.
Lilly is coming off of a season in which he was only able to make eight starts due to injury, but he should be ready by Spring Training 2013. Since 2007, he has had just one season with an ERA over four, but all of those seasons came in the National League. Though his past performance is somewhat encouraging -- especially given what we've seen from Boston's rotation the past few years -- his age (he'll be 37 in January) and contract (he's owed $12 million next year) is far from it. On top of all of that, he also has a full no-trade clause, meaning he'd have to accept a trade to Boston. If he'd be willing to come here and the team could get him on the cheap, that'd be great. I wouldn't go too hard after him, though.
Finally, we have the most intriguing trade candidate on the Dodgers roster, who also happens to be the most difficult option to see being traded. Billingsley is also coming off an injury, having suffered a partially torn ligament in his throwing elbow. He has declined to undergo Tommy John surgery, but he is reportedly throwing without pain and at 94 MPH. Even if that reported velocity is a bit high - and it almost certainly is given he's never thrown that hard in his career - it's still encouraging to hear of his recovery. He's a guy who hasn't had a FIP of at least four since 2007, and whose career ERA and career FIP both sit at 3.66. His low home run totals would likely rise a bit following a move to the AL East, but he's always managed to keep the ball on the ground at least at a league-average rate. If his 2.7 walks per nine innings can stay that low, he would be a huge addition to this rotation. It's unknown what it would take from Boston to get Billingsley, who is under contract through at least 2014, with a $14 million team option for 2015. Of the four trade candidates in the Dodgers over-packed rotation, Billingsley fits the Red Sox's needs best for both next season and the near-future.
Whether the Red Sox want to give up what it would take to get Billingsley is another story. Even if they decide they don't want to, there are some other good depth pieces to be had from Los Angeles. All that's left is a little negotiation between Ben Cherington and Ned Colletti. We all know what happened last time.