There's no putting it lightly; the Red Sox starting pitching has been atrocious in 2013. They have the fourth-worst team-ERA in all of baseball, and are sixth worst in fielding-independent-defense. As Matt Kory pointed out on Wednesday, this will be an area the team must look to improve during the offseason. As you may have heard, the front office will have a surplus of money to work with, after unloading the massive contracts belonging to Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Because of this, they shouldn't be too shy in the free agency market.
While there isn't a whole lot of top-tier talent in this year's free agency market, especially after Matt Cain and Cole Hamels each signed a contract extension this season, there are some nice value pickups available. They key for the front office is to stay away from the bad long-term deals that got this team in trouble in the first place. Ben Cherington and company may be compelled to give out a four-or-five-year deal to a borderline front-end starter this winter, but it's important for them to adhere to the quality that Cherington stressed in his post-megadeal press conference: discipline.
Without further ado, let's take a look at some players the Red Sox could target in the coming offseason.
Zack Greinke is easily the number one free agent pitcher on the market. The 2009-Cy Young winner was traded midseason by the Brewers to the Angels, and has been putting up his typical phenomenal numbers. He is a definitie front-end starter, and will surely be commanding a huge financial commitment this offseason. The right-hander will turn 29 this October, and should have a few more elite years left in his arm. However, I don't think the Red Sox will end up with his services. Firstly, he will likely be asking for a six-or-seven-year deal, which Cherington and company should shy away from. However, even if the team decides they're okay with paying that price, his past problems must come into play. He has dealt with some publicized anxiety problems, and pitching in a market like Boston probably wouldn't be the best scenario for him. Either way, it seems the Angels seem intent on keeping him around, and he likely isn't a realistic choice for the Red Sox. Unfortunately, they'll probably have to look to the trade market if they want a true ace in their rotation in 2013.
There is also an old friend available, one who was part of the Josh Beckett trade that preceded the 2006 season. Anibal Sanchez has blossomed into a terrific middle-of-the-rotation arm, and was another guy traded this deadline. His trade to Detroit has given him his first taste of the American League (except for interleague play, of course), and he has looked like the same pitcher. Sanchez has proven to be a guy who can regularly put up an ERA in the mid-to-high three's, and his FIP has also supported that performance. He has also improved his control on a yearly basis, and is down to 2.2 walks-per-nine-innings in 2012. He'll be 29 when next season starts, and he would be the one guy who I'd look at giving a somewhat substantial multi-year deal to. I wouldn't go over four years, but he could provide some value through his age-33 season.
One-or-Two-Year Deal Candidates
Personally, Edwin Jackson is my favorite pitcher on the upcoming free agency list. He is the prototypical middle-of-the-rotation starter, and he has never been able to find a team that wants him long-term. Last year, he signed a one-year deal with Washington, and has once again been an above-average starter. However, the Nationals have been dominant with their rotation, and he seems to be a forgotten man. Durability has been a huge problem for the Red Sox, especially their starting pitchers, and Jackson has proven to be a workhorse. Since 2009, he has thrown 214, 209, 199 and 181 innings, respectively. The Red Sox could probably get him on a two-year deal at around $12 million-per, and pencil him in for around 30 starts at the number three spot in their rotation.
Another interesting free agent that will be available is Twitter-master Brandon McCarthy. After missing all of 2010, the right-hander reinvented himself and has been a totally different pitcher from the beginning of his career. He has walked less than two batters per nine innings in each of the last two years, which has helped him keep an ERA below 3.50 in both seasons. He has had some injury problems (including a scary play in which he got a line drive to the head that ended his 2012 season), so he may want to accept a one year deal to prove he can stay healthy. If that's the case, the Red Sox should jump all over that. He may give up a few more home runs, moving from the cavernous Coliseum in Oakland to hitter-friendly Fenway, but his control would be a welcomed addition to this rotation, especially as a number-four pitcher.
Finally, there are three pitchers who each figure to have their team-option declined. Firstly is Jake Peavy, who has pitched phenomenally for Chicago this year. However, his health problems have marred his career, as this was his first season throwing more than 111 innings since 2008. After his very good 2012 (3.40 ERA, 3.71 FIP), it would likely behoove him to seek a longer-term deal, probably for a reduced average-annual-value. If he can be coaxed into accepting a one-year deal, I would love the Red Sox to have him. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening.
Also likely to see their options declined are Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, both with the Angels. Santana should be off-limits to this team. He has not had a sub-four FIP since 2008, and he's been a train-wreck this season. He's put up a 4.93 ERA in 2012, and that despite a seemingly lucky .239 batting average on balls in play. He's always had home run problems, and a transition from the AL West to the AL East probably would not help that cause. Haren is a better option, but he scares me as well. He was outstanding in 2011, but has struggled in 2012. He's had some trouble keeping the ball down this year, as his groundball-rate has decreased while his home run-rate has increased. Also, his velocity has been dropping at an alarming rate over the past few years, and he is currently averaging under 89 MPH on his fastball. The good thing is that he may be seeking a one-year deal to prove he wasn't a fluke, and that is something the Red Sox should definitely look into. If he wants more than that, though, then they should stay far, far away.
In the end, I would look for the Red Sox to pick up two additional rotation members this offseason. Of course, there will likely be a number of starting pitchers available through trade, as well as some lower-tiered arms in free agency. (You can check out the entirety of the upcoming free agency list here.) While I'd love to have Sanchez, I think some team, possibly Detroit, will make too big of a commitment that would eventually scare me off. Obviously there is a long way to go until this decision needs to be made, but right now I'd lean towards signing Edwin Jackson to a two-year deal, and Brandon McCarthy to a one-year deal. That would give the Sox a Buchholz-Lester-Jackson-McCarthy-Doubront/Lackey rotation, with Rubby de la Rosa available for depth. They would still be on the search for a bonafide ace, but that at least looks like a rotation that could help a team contend for a postseason berth.