It's pretty clear that the Red Sox could use a pitching upgrade, after seeing how this weekend played out. With both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett too inconsistent to be relied upon in the season's first four months, and time running out to make a move, it makes sense for Boston to start running price checks on any attractive starting pitchers out on the market. Especially ones they can hold on to for more than two months.
Matt Garza is the one who has seen the most attention to this point, but he is who he is, and that's someone who might not be the real kind of difference maker the team needs. Or, maybe he could be, but either way, the price might be difficult to accept, especially when dealing with a front office that's very aware of the value of Boston's prospects. There are others out there, though, as Joe McDonald notes today over at ESPN.com: the Red Sox are checking in with the Marlins on Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, two starters who could very much help Boston out in 2012.
Anibal Sanchez would likely come cheaper, but he's also the rental here. He's a free agent at the end of the year, and is likely owed another $2.5 million or more on his $8 million contract for 2012. He's a bit borderline for compensation under the new collective bargaining agreement, as he's pretty good, not necessarily great, and therefore the $12.5 million qualifying offer might actually look pretty appealing to him depending on how the market works this year. (Before you think that's unlikely, remember that Edwin Jackson settled for a one-year deal for less money than that this past off-season).
That could work in the Red Sox favor, both in terms of price and Sanchez's availability, as the Marlins might be pleased to get out from under the last few million on his deal, while simultaneously getting any kind of prospect back. That's not to say no one else will call and Boston can send a total nobody, but that the price will likely be far lower than we're used to for rentals thanks to the lack of compensation for either party with this particular pitcher.
As for Johnson, he's the owner of the much higher ceiling, and is under contract for 2013 at $13.75 million, too. Assuming all systems are go for him in 2013, he'll also be the kind of arm likely to receive a qualifying offer, granting whichever club previously owned him an extra draft pick in the 2014 draft. Johnson's ERA is less appealing than Sanchez's at present -- 4.35 against 3.94 -- but his FIP is 3.13, and he owns a 140 ERA+ over his last four years and 566 innings.
Of course, it took him three-plus years to get 89 starts in one stretch, as he's dealt with injury problems over the years -- he had shoulder inflammation in both 2010 and 2011, resulting in over 150 total games missed. He's made 19 starts in 2012, though, and has yet to be associated with any arm issues this season.
Johnson has the same issues as Garza, namely that the Red Sox likely already have rotation candidates for next year, and if they want a rotation upgrade in the present, Franklin Morales continues to just be in the bullpen awaiting his turn. That being said, unlike Garza, Johnson is a serious difference maker in the rotation when he's on. You can at least see the reasoning for acquiring him mid-season, since he provides a team with more than just respectable durability.
The price is not something that's been made public just yet, but it's safe to say Johnson, with his extra year of control and general Josh Johnsonosity, would be the more expensive of the pair, especially since the Marlins could always just wait him out and offer him a qualifying contract, or deal him to one of many other parties.