So let's take a moment to put Red Sox starting pitching in context:
As a staff, the team is ranked 24th in baseball in FIP — which solely takes into account what pitchers can control — at 4.38. Red Sox pitching has posted the sixth worst walk rate in baseball (3.50 BB/9). At the same time, Red Sox pitchers have posted a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against of .306, which is around league average.
In essence, the rotation's struggles haven't been a result of bad luck; they've just flat out sucked. That's why pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired. That's why Justin Masterson is on the disabled list with "shoulder tendinitis." The Red Sox can't depend on any one starting pitcher right now, and the decision to not chase a top-of-the-rotation starter this past offseason is starting to backfire.
There's always going to be the lingering Cole Hamels rumor out there, but hell, we've written about that half a billion times and there are other pitchers out there. Given the landscape of baseball at this moment, here are some of the pitchers that could be available in a trade moving forward.
Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse
I'm sure you had the same reaction when you read Garza and Lohse as I did while researching.
Nope? Yeah, me neither. Maybe if this was 2012 those names would garner a little bit more excitement, but Garza and Lohse aren't the pitchers they used to be at all. Lohse is getting absolutely ROCKED by opponents this year to the tune of a 7.03 ERA, 5.74 GIP, 6/81 K/9, 2.04 BB/9 and a .289 BABIP. He's also in the National League, so that doesn't really bode well for potential success in the American League.
Well how about Garza? Garza, he of the fountain of endless loogies (no, not LOOGYs) on the mound. While with the Rays, Garza always seemed to bring his best stuff and his #gritty attitude on the moundto Boston, putting up a 3.81 ERA in a hostile Fenway Park.
Unfortunately, he hasn't been doing too well either. Garza has a 4.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP, .266 BABIP and 7.0 K/9. His strikeout-to-walk rate has fallen over the last three seasons from 3.24 to 2.52 to 1.74, which is alarming given that Garza is 31 years old. That doesn't bode too well, especially given the rather feeble competition in the Brewers' division.
So who else is out there?
It's hard to look at Aaron Harang and not get lost in his movie-star eyes. Somehow, someway, the 37-year-old Harang has been excellent to begin the year. So far this season, Harang has posted a 2.03 ERA . But that comes with a 4.20 xFIP (an alarmingly high number) and a .255 BABIP, which likely means he's due for a fall back down to Harang-levels of ineptitude once a few of his many fly balls start leaving the park or falling in.
Harang is what he is: a back of the rotation guy. The team, right now, doesn't have any consistent arms, and they'd be loathe to turn down any rotation help. But Harang doesn't really fit the bill for what the Red Sox need right now.
Might as well call this Rick Porcello 2.0. Leake is just 27 years old, but is due to be a free agent after the season. Through his career, he's posted a 4.22 FIP and a 3.83 ERA, striking out just 5.1 batters per nine innings while walking 2.2. Before coming to Boston, Porcello posted a 4.30 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 5.5 SO/9 and 2.2 BB/9.
Leake's not the most exciting pitching out there on the market, and he's not gonna solve the Red Sox' need for a losing-streak stopping anchor, but he's definitely something. He would make for a good second acquisition, but isn't the type of arm that will make the difference by himself.
It's kinda nuts how Scott Kazmir is still just 31 years old because it feels as if he's been in the league forever. He came in with the Tampa Bay Rays as a 21 year old back in 2004, and while he was nearly out of the game a few years ago, Kazmir came back strong last year for the A's to the tune of a 3.55 ERA on a 3.35 FIP. He's gotten off to a good start this year as well, with a 2.78 ERA and a 3.87 FIP while striking out 8.54 per nine innings.
There's only a year left on Kazmir's deal, so he's a rental for whoever acquires him. Buster Olney reported that the Royals are targeting Kazmir.
Kazmir, as one of the better pitchers out on the market, is going to have a fair number of suitors, and the price will get unreasonably high sooner rather than later. Given that he also pitches in the wasteland knows at O.Co Colisseum, the most pitcher-friendly park in baseball, Kazmir is due for some statistical regression once he isn't pitching in a stadium that has miles on miles on miles of foul territory. The Red Sox could do worse, but if they're spending big, they could also do better.
Photo Credit: Allan Henry
Photo Credit: Allan Henry
Johnny Cueto is really, really good at pitching, but that also means he's going to cost an arm and a leg. He's a free agent after the season, and has gotten off to a typically strong start in his contract year. He's got a 2.98 ERA, a 3.67 FIP, 8.24 SO/9 and 1.40 BB/9 to his name so far this season.
But here's the thing. Given what Cueto is going to cost and his level of talent, Cueto really has to be compared to Cole Hamels. Unlike Hamels, who is locked down for at least the next four years, Cueto will be hitting the free agent market after the end of the season, and given the massive contract he stands to land, could very easily be one-and-done with any team he's traded to this season. It's easy to imagine that the difference in price between the two will not come close to the difference in return.
There are other names out there, but the fact of the matter is, there aren't a whole lot of pitchers (beyond the Cole Hamels type) that make sense for the Red Sox in both the short term and the long term right now. That's the type of move that the team needs at this current juncture: a move that can best balance the young core in place with Betts, Bogaerts and Swihart, while also making the big-money signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval justifiable in the short term by giving them a chance to win now.
The Red Sox do have options at Triple-A Pawtucket. Brian Johnson is pretty close to being major league ready. His command would play up at the major league level right now and he's got a very sharp sense of pitch execution and sequencing that's unusual for a player of his age. Because Johnson's a pitcher who has never really depended on velocity, he learned to execute throughout the minor leagues, a reason why he's dominated for the last year and a half.
Eduardo Rodriguez is a bit more raw and the higher-ceiling prospect. He could use a little more seasoning, but if needed, his pure stuff could play up at the major leagues right now. Johnson and Rodriguez are both close to major league ready, just in completely opposite ways.
There just isn't a whole lot the Red Sox can do to fix their rotation right now without overspending. Coming into the season, the team just needed one pitcher to exceed career norms and three to maintain their career averages in order to produce a palatable rotation; instead all five pitchers, at one point or another, have flopped. There's hope for a couple of them given recent starts, but the rotation is still a mess right now, and there's no obvious diamond in the rough to be found for Ben Cherington. Unless the Red Sox are willing to spend and spend big, this rotation might have to largely fix itself.