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The 2017-2018 offseason starting pitching market

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A look at the rotation arms available this winter.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Most of the focus for the Red Sox heading into this offseason has, understandably, been around the lineup. Boston’s offense was dreadful for large stretches of the 2017 season, and while some of the bounce-back will have to come from returning players, they certainly need a big bat or two this winter to keep pace with the other top teams in the league. That means little focus is being given to the starting pitching market, which is almost always a place the Red Sox at least need to keep in mind. This year, there are two schools of thought. On the one hand, the Red Sox have a strong rotation already with Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and David Price at the top and Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez (when healthy) in the bottom with Steven Wright, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez representing depth options with major-league experience. That sounds great, but there are also health questions with at least four names on that list, so there are some who think the Red Sox should go for more depth. I think it’s clear they won’t touch the top-end of this class, but the other tiers are very interesting. I should be clear that in my distinctions below, I don’t mean “core starters” as guys you build your team around, but rather as pitchers who can expect a rotation spot to be more or less handed to them immediately upon signing their new contract.

The Core Starters

Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Chatwood, R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, Hisashi Iwakuma, John Lackey, Ricky Nolasco, C.C. Sabathia, Jason Vargas

As I just got through in the introduction, the Red Sox needn’t concern themselves with the top-end of this class. That means Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish almost certainly won’t be in Boston despite both being fantastic pitchers. Cobb and Lynn are also likely off-limits for the Red Sox this winter after having been extended qualifying offers. I can’t see Boston’s front office giving up draft picks and international money for a starting pitcher at this point.

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the names are where the Red Sox would start to look, and even many of these guys may be too high-end for their blood. Cashner is likely someone they should avoid, as he put up a strong ERA in 2017 but had dreadful peripherals and will almost certainly regress heavily in 2018. Dickey, Iwakuma, Lackey, Nolasco, Sabathia and Vargas are solid options if you are looking for a veteran on a short-term deal who can likely provide something close to league-average production, albeit with a limited ceiling. Chatwood, though, could be the most interesting name on this list. He has some command issues and hasn’t ever really put up eye-opening numbers, but he gets a ton of ground balls and has put up phenomenal numbers away from Coors Field in 2017.

My Pick: I’d be surprised if the Red Sox targeted anyone from this group, but Chatwood would be the guy I’d look at if I looked at anyone. He should be had for relatively cheap (MLB Trade Rumors predictions 3/20) and could be an absolute steal.

The Depth Starters

Brett Anderson, Clay Buchholz, Jesse Chavez, Mike Bolsinger, Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Garza, Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley, Tyson Ross, Anibal Sanchez

This crop of pitchers is the more likely group from which the Red Sox will target a pitcher considering these are guys who should be had on one-year deals or perhaps even minor-league deals with spring training invites and early opt outs. Some of these players are obviously familiar. Fister played a big role for the Red Sox in 2017 and should generate plenty of interest based on that performance. Clay Buchholz is one of the more talented pitchers in recent Red Sox memory, but was obviously wildly inconsistent and had trouble staying on the mound. He missed almost all of 2017 with the Phillies. Miley was awful in his one year with the Red Sox, and since leaving has had bad years with Seattle and Baltimore. Colon pitched with the Red Sox way back when and has been in the league for approximately 84 years.

Some other names on this list could be interesting, too. Ross probably wouldn’t make much sense for the Red Sox since he carries health issues of his own, but he also likely has the most upside of anyone on this list. Anderson is similar to Ross, though I’d say he’s a bit safer at this point to go along with having a lower ceiling. Chavez has proven to be able to handle swingman roles that involve time in both the rotation and bullpen, which could be just what the Red Sox need. Bolsinger could also fill that role, though he’s less proven.

My Pick: A reunion with Fister likely makes the most sense since the team knows him and can help tap into the best possible version of himself. All of these pitchers are fairly similar, though, and if they want to target this group the smartest strategy is likely to wait it out and see who can be had on non-guaranteed deals.

The Trade Market

Julio Teheran, Dan Straily, Jeff Samardzija, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Jake Odorizzi, James Shields, Jason Hammel

There is a wide variety of pitchers available on the trade market this year, and honestly most of the names listed here are probably too high-end for the Red Sox to consider. Teheran has been connected to Boston before, but that was before they built their current rotation. Straily and Samardzija are far from aces, but they’ll probably be a bit too in-demand for the Red Sox to want to wade into those waters. Happ, Estrada and Odorizzi are all in the AL East, and probably not realistic Red Sox targets. Shields and Hammel make too much money for how much they can provide on the field.

My Pick: Samardzija is probably the best combination of price and talent, but I can’t see the Red Sox targeting anyone on this list.