Much like last offseason, it appears Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox have gotten their heavy lifting done early this year. They aren’t in such a good position that they’ll shut off all communication with the rest of the league in an effort to keep this roster, but I also wouldn’t expect them to be overly aggressive to add another piece. Really, looking at the current roster, the last item on the list is trading from the starting pitching depth. The Chris Sale deal, as we all know, has left them with seven viable arms and a weaker farm system. Everyone expects them to deal from their depth to address their hole at some point in the coming weeks. I also expect the trade to come, but I’m not sure it should happen any time soon.
For what it’s worth, it already looks like the Red Sox disagree with me on this one. Shocker, I know. According to reports, they’ve already had discussions with Miami about Clay Buchholz. From said reports, we see that not only are they actively looking to make this move now — or at least they’re not opposed to it — but we also see what kind of return they’re looking for. Unsurprisingly, the team is trying to boost their farm system. Unsurprisingly, they would prefer to deal Buchholz over Drew Pomeranz. Unsurprisingly, they are shooting for the stars, asking for a fringe top-100 arm in return for the enigma known as Clay Buchholz. It’s possible that they are asking for so much because they know they don’t have to make a deal right now.
No, the best move in this situation is likely to wait until spring training to make this deal. This goes against conventional wisdom, which says to make the deal right now, and I get why it says that. This year’s starting pitching market in free agency is one of the weakest ever. Right now, Ivan Nova is arguably the best pitcher available to sign, and that is not my attempt to flatter Nova. Buchholz could be seen as a far superior option, and he is if you consider their respective contracts. Of course, when you factor in the prospect(s) it could take to bring Buchholz in, that gap becomes much more even. Additionally, teams looking to make this trade are likely trying to contend, and even if Buchholz is more talented than the free agent options, he’s at least as unpredictable.
So, the trade market might not be as enthusiastic about someone like Buchholz at this time of year. That’s not the only reason to wait, though. On top of that, waiting for spring training also gives the Red Sox a chance to wait out some injuries. When a team has a log jam, the common response is “these things have a way of working themselves out.” If the Red Sox lost a starting pitcher to a significant injury in the spring, holding off on a deal now would allow them to keep a sixth viable starter in the rotation. To flip it around, it could also increase the market for someone like Buchholz. If a different contender suffered a major injury in their rotation, they could need a trade to replace him, and the lack of free agency could make them more desperate.
Beyond the possibility of injury, this strategy also gives the Red Sox a better idea of what exactly they may need heading into the season. Obviously, you can not make decisions based solely on spring training performance, but it’s a data point. When there are clear question marks on the roster such as third base (Pablo Sandoval) and catcher (literally all three of them), any information you can get is helpful. Remember, spring training is why Travis Shaw took Sandoval’s job a year ago. In an ideal world, they’ll be comfortable trading their excess pitching for a prospect, but this isn’t always an ideal world. Instead, they could use it to address their major-league roster.
This is the part where we acknowledge the potential downside of this strategy. If they do decide to wait, it’s entirely possible that the trade market never develops and they are left with all seven arms. Clearly, based on their actions this winter, that’s not what they want. And yet, it’s not the end of the world. It’s possible for them to keep all of their depth. They could either keep two of their arms in the bullpen or they could let Eduardo Rodriguez pitch in Triple-A. The latter option would probably my preference in this scenario, despite the fact I believe he is one of the five best starting pitchers on the roster.
This scenario isn’t likely, though, because if you’re motivated enough you can pretty much always swing a deal. Plus, teams are always looking for starting pitching. If someone is willing to blow you away in the next couple of weeks, then sure, make the deal. However, in the more likely scenario in which teams aren’t going to go crazy for someone like Buchholz, then the Red Sox should wait. And if they get stuck with all seven pitchers on Opening day, well, these things have a way of working themselves out.