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Dave Dombrowski says Red Sox ace likely to come from free agency

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The Sox have made a big trade. It might be their last of the offseason.

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With President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski already pulling the trigger on one big trade to land Craig Kimbrel, Red Sox fans may have been eyeing the best names in their farm system--Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, and Rafael Devers--and wondering which of them would be next to go. How many of them would make it through to spring training still in the organizaton? After all, Dombrowski hasn't made it a secret that his team is in need of an ace, and there's even been rumblings in the media suggesting team owner John Henry would prefer they acquire that ace via the trade market.

Well, Dombrowski's making no promises, but in the same conference call where he named Kimbrel the closer, he also suggested that the Red Sox would go a different route to help the rotation. The exact quote, via Scott Lauber:

"My thought process is most likely any acquisition we'd make in the starting pitching would first happen as far as the free-agent field is concerned," Dombrowski said in a conference call with Kimbrel. "You never know, but that would be my guess."

Alright, so Dombrowski didn't say "ace," but does he really have to? We all know what the Red Sox are after, and that narrows down their options quite a bit. By most estimations, to four men: David Price, Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, and Jordan Zimmermann. Some won't even agree on that last one after a middling 2015 performance. Or Cueto after how 2015 ended for him.

But that's beyond the scope of this discussion, because it's going to take many thousands of words to completely dissect that quartet. What's important here is the basic idea: the big starting pitcher acquisition will be at the expense of dollars and years, not prospects.

And that's probably a good thing, because while the Red Sox did not give away the four best-of-the-best prospects named earlier, they did give away some of the glue guys who could have made a trade possible without including more than maybe one of those top-four. Constructing a trade for, say, Sonny Gray around a core of Rafael Devers, Henry Owens, Manuel Margot, and Javier Guerra seemed feasible. Remove those last couple names from the equation, though, and you start seriously scrambling to find ways to even get the conversation started without mentioning Moncada or the like.

Maybe it's still doable. And if it is, I'd kind of hope Dombrowski chooses to go that route and avoid the risk a guy like David Price might represent. Younger players like Sonny Gray or Chris Sale or you-get-the-idea are just that much less likely to wind up as albatross contracts. Dombrowski makes room for that, of course, with his "you never know" comment. But it's easy to see why he seems doubtful. And if, in the end, the Red Sox would really have to do serious damage to that top four to get the ace they want, then going into free agency is probably the better choice at the end of the day.

And, on the flip side of things, if Dombrowski finishes this offseason with those four players still in the farm system with Craig Kimbrel leading a revamped bullpen and [insert ace of your choice here] anchoring the rotation? It will be a job well done.