The Red Sox rotation is in better shape than it was after Clay Buchholz's MRI revealed no structural damage, but that doesn't mean Boston won't be on the lookout for upgrades or depth before this summer's trade deadline. Case in point: the Sox reportedly scouted Marlins' starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco on his June 21 start against the Giants, according to MLB.com's Joe Frisario.
Nolasco isn't an ace or anything, but he has thrown nearly 500 innings since 2011, albeit with a below-average ERA+ of 90. In 2013, though, he's been much better since altering his mechanics. He's currently averaging 6-1/3 innings per start, and has been slightly above-average doing it. It's not going to lead a rotation, but it could help steady the middle.
The thing is, the Nolasco market is likely going to be a popular one, and he'll end up on a team that maybe is willing to pay more -- another way of saying that is that someone who needs him more will win this prize. There's nowhere to put him at the moment in Boston with Buchholz returning in the next couple of weeks, not unless someone like Felix Doubront were to be demoted from the rotation. That seems unlikely, at least for a pitcher of Nolasco's caliber -- that's the kind of move the Red Sox would make for a Cliff Lee.
In addition to rotation help, Boston seems to be checking out potential closer options as well, including former closer and current Phillie Jonathan Papelbon. ESPN's Jayson Stark had this quote in his trade deadline preview from earlier in the week:
"They're talking to Boston and Detroit [about Papelbon] right now," an exec of one team said. "They may not say they are, but I know they are." Said another: "Don't be surprised if you see Papelbon end up in Detroit. If the Tigers have a chance to get the closer they need, they won't let [a big asking price] stand in the way.
Like with Nolasco, this might come down to who is willing to go that extra mile in terms of a trade package. The Red Sox could use bullpen help, but with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and so on, they aren't exactly dying for it. The Tigers, on the other hand, were so desperate for closer help that they reanimated the decaying corpse of Jose Valverde's career, only to remember why they didn't bother to re-sign him for the role in the first place. They've already shown a willingness to go all in, be it on contracts, extensions, or summer trades, so seeing them dig deep in their system and pay up for Papelbon would not be surprising in the least, as long as the Phillies are game.
It might be in Boston's best interest to avoid Papelbon, anyway. He's still succeeding at the moment, but his strikeout rate has fallen below eight per nine, and he's been giving up more homers the last two years despite the shift to the easier league and division. It's not that he wouldn't be useful, but with the Phillies asking for a huge return, and someone like the Tigers possibly willing to pay that price, Boston could end up better off looking elsewhere.
Even if the Sox end up missing on both of these players, it's good to hear they aren't just sitting around in first place, assuming the best. They won't be the last potential Sox we hear about in the next few weeks, either.
Read more Red Sox:
- The Celtics, the Red Sox, and two franchise-saving trades
- John Lackey finally living up to his contract
- MLB All-Star Game 2013: Two Red Sox prospects named to Futures Game
- Farrell: Red Sox "better team" with Jose Iglesias at third base
- The Kevin Youkilis trade, one year later