We are, somehow, less than a week away from the trade deadline, and the Red Sox needs are pretty clear. Just reading the tealeaves based on the reports, it’s clear that the team is heavily into the reliever market. They were connected to both Jeurys Familia and Zach Britton, and you can surely expect them to be involved in discussions for guys like Fernando Rodney, Ryan Pressly and Joakim Soria (among others) over the next six days.
There is also plenty of speculation, though less reporting, regarding interest in second basemen and starting pitchers. The second base interest is easy to explain, as it seems unlikely that Dustin Pedroia will play again this year and neither Brock Holt nor Eduardo Núñez are overly palatable everyday options. They can survive with that duo, but it’s a clear area at which they can potentially improve. That’s not what I want to focus on today, though.
Today, I want to take a closer look at the starting pitching market and the team’s needs at this spot. When Eduardo Rodriguez went down, I made the argument for the team looking into this market. We’re now a little over a week removed from the injury and the actual market has become a bit clearer, with more information coming out about the in-house options as well. As we look more into things, I’m starting to come around on the idea that this year’s trade market may not be enticing enough to really provide an upgrade.
The obvious place to start here is with what the team already has in-house. For the Red Sox, there are three safe in-house options. Or, at least something close to it. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price may not all be shutdown starters every time out and they may not all be fan favorites, but they are all going to be in the rotation all year if healthy. Furthermore, based on their 2018 performance they will be positive contributors more often than not. There’s also Brian Johnson, who has proven solid as a back-end arm over each of the last two years. He’s never going to blow anyone away, but all he’s done in the rotation is pitch to a 2.22 ERA in 2018 and a 3.72 ERA in the role over his career. He’s going to regress from that sub-2.50 ERA this year, but there’s a lot of room between his current mark and useless.
So, the way I see it, the Red Sox currently have four starters who they can easily live with in their rotation, three of which have the potential to be great. That leaves one open spot, and a spot that the team hoped to have Drew Pomeranz fill admirably. I suppose there’s still potential for this — as many have noted and will continue to note, he was very good in 2017 — but there aren’t any signs. On Tuesday, he was back to showing inconsistent command and a fastball that topped out at 89 mph. Simply put, he’s not a major-league starter until that velocity climbs back up. In addition to Pomeranz, there is a rolling group of depth arms ranging from Hector Velazquez, Jalen Beeks, Justin Haley and William Cuevas. Like Johnson, none of them will blow you away but the chances of finding someone serviceable in that group seems solid to me.
Of course, a team battling in a tough divisional race can’t really settle for a solid chance at finding a serviceable arm. If possible, they are exactly the type of team that should be looking for a clear upgrade on the trade market. The issue is that it may not exist. Mike Fiers seems to be the most popular name available, but is he really as safe as some make him out to be? His 3.49 ERA certainly would point to that being a yes, but his peripherals (4.59 FIP, 4.75 DRA) point towards that being significantly better than his true-talent. He’s not missing bats this year, and all of that combined with him being bad by all metrics for two years prior to this one don’t inspire much confidence. He may be a marginal upgrade over the in-house options, but I’m not sure it’s enough to justify what would be a relatively significant trade package.
In addition to Fiers, some other names thrown out there have been Matt Harvey, Tyson Ross and J.A. Happ, among others. Harvey has been much more bad than good in recent years and has not exactly earned the benefit of the doubt in large markets. Ross has been a near-ace-like pitcher in the past and has shown flashes, but he’s also spent all of his best years in the NL West, which is the exact opposite to the AL East in terms of ballparks. Happ seems to be the clearest upgrade, but he’s also another left-handed starter. Granted, I don’t think that’s as big of a deal as others, but it’s clear that in an ideal world the Red Sox would add a righty. It should also be mentioned that while Happ has been underrated in recent years he’s been more average than good in 2018.
So, the one piece that could be intriguing is Happ, and his handedness is not an ideal fit. There’s also the issue of the Red Sox not being the only, or most motivated, contender looking for starting pitching help. It’s hard to see them winning a battle for Happ. To me, the best option seems to be just sticking with what they have and upgrading at other spots. The in-house options aren’t too much worse than the what’s available on the trade market, and that’s not even including Eduardo Rodriguez. The lefty is going to be ready to shed his walking boot soon, and it’s not impossible for him to return within a few weeks. Although Drew Pomeranz’ start on Tuesday didn’t inspire much confidence, the proper reaction isn’t to panic. Instead, the Red Sox should keep their eyes on the starting pitching market but only jump if there’s a true upgrade available. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be.