Red Sox

Pitching is Dombrowski's 'primary focus' in offseason


Pitching is Dombrowski's 'primary focus' in offseason

BOSTON -- Dave Dombrowski only watched the 2015 Red Sox for the final five weeks.

But that was plenty of time to see what the team needs -- and doesn't need -- to contend in 2016.

"First and foremost,'' said Dombrowski, "we've talked about trying to improve our pitching staff -- our starters and our bullpen. That will be the primary focus we go after. Those are areas we want to improve. The rest of the club is pretty well set.''

Indeed, the outfield seems taken care of with Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo. David Ortiz returns at DH. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts represent the middle infield and Pablo Sandoval returns at third base.

The catching position has plenty of candidates, with Christian Vazquez having undergone Tommy John surgery, joining Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan.

Only first base - where the Sox hope that Hanley Ramirez can transition -- seems at all unsettled.

The Sox have seven starters under control, including Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens and Steven Wright.

"Our depth in starting pitching is pretty good,'' said Dombrowski. "I don't think the back end of our rotation is going to be the difficult part. When I say 'back end,'' I mean (Nos.) 3-4-5 -- Porcello, Miley, Kelly. We saw Owens, he pitched well. We had Rodriguez and he can take that step forward at any point.

"So I don't think it's the depth, as much as you're looking for that one guy who can maybe be your horse, if you can get him.''

The ''if you can get him'' is, of course, the tricky part.

There are a handful of intriguing free agent starters, including David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and, should he elect to opt out of his current deal with the Dodgers, Zack Greinke.

"There's definitely more starting pitchers available (on the free agent market) than there is bullpen, as far as closers are concerned,'' said Dombrowski.

"How that affects us, I'm not really sure. But there are many more starting pitchers available in free agency than there are bullpen guys. So I'm sure that will come into play at some point.''

But Red Sox ownership is known to oppose long-term deals for free agent starters in their 30s, citing the inefficiency of such contracts.

If the Sox want to land a true front-of-the-rotation starter, however, than they may have to swallow hard and sign a big check.

"I think you're much more apt to be in a position where the availability of what you're looking to acquire is out there in free agency'' said Dombrowski. "Now can you do it? What's the cost of making a trade? Those conversations are just starting.''

Dealing for potential No. 1's isn't easy, or cheap. The Sox would need to package multiple high-end prospects -- and perhaps throw in a tested major-league starter like Kelly or Miley -- to pull off such a trade.

Past the rotation issues, Dombrowski's biggest challenge may come in reconfiguring the bullpen.

He hinted that he wants other closing options, with 41-year-old closer Koji Uehara set to return, but coming off a broken wrist that cut short his season in the final month.

"People have told me that he can fit different roles,'' said Dombrowski of Uehara. "But you also feel comfortable that he can close games at this point in his career. I would hope that we could find somebody else to help in that regard.''

The trend in the game has certainly shifted toward power arms in the bullpen. A number of contending teams boast multiple relievers who can throw 95 mph-plus, but among the current Red Sox, only Junichi Tazawa fits that criteria.

"I love hard throwers,'' said Dombrowski. "But I love hard throwers who get people out. It's a situation where (I would advocate) sort of just a mixture of getting the best guys out there to get the job done. Where that's going to take us, I don't know. I'm open to trades; I'm open to free agency; I'm open to hard-throwers.''

"Ideally, you want an arm out there that could be a power arm in some role, to get a strikeout at a key time for you.''

Before Dombrowski was brought in to the organization. former GM Ben Cherington had trade discussions about Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman and San Diego's Craig Kimbrell.

It's possible that either might be again made available this winter.

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