Red Sox

If Red Sox hope to upgrade rotation in free agency, beyond one big name, they'll find pickings slim

If Red Sox hope to upgrade rotation in free agency, beyond one big name, they'll find pickings slim

BOSTON -- As recently as April, the Red Sox could still credibly claim to be built around their rotation. Now, that rotation could use an overhaul.

The economics of their staff make that virtually impossible. Three more years and $96 million remain on David Price's $217 million contract. Chris Sale's five-year, $145 million extension doesn't even kick in until next season. Nathan Eovaldi may finish year one of his four-year, $68 million deal with only four starts.

Those contracts look immovable, unless the Red Sox are prepared to eat an obscene amount of money. With Eduardo Rodriguez still under team control and Andrew Cashner never anything more than a rental, that leaves one spot to upgrade: Rick Porcello.

The right-hander is in the midst of a brutal season and it's unlikely the Red Sox will extend the free-agent-to-be a qualifying offer, because there's a chance he'd take it and lock in a one-year, $18 million salary.

The Red Sox would be better served spending that money on new blood, but what are their options?

An examination of the free-agent market shows one bonafide ace: Houston's Gerrit Cole. The right-hander is 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and league-leading 216 strikeouts. He's been on the AL All-Star team the past two seasons and will probably finish in the top five of the Cy Young voting for the third time in his career. He turns 29 next month.

He's also looking at a $150 million-$200 million contract and it's difficult to envision the Red Sox committing that much money to another starter without removing one of the big three from their books. Let's consider Cole too rich for their blood.

So, whom does that leave? Per MLB Trade Rumors, there should be around 40 starters on the market, though a number of recognizable names -- Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Julio Teheran, Corey Kluber -- either hold opt-outs they're unlikely to exercise, or options that should be picked up.

If we operate on a couple of assumptions, we can further narrow the pool. The first is that the Price and Sale contracts have hardened the stance of owner John Henry that free-agent pitchers in their 30s aren't worth major investments. That eliminates San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner (30), L.A.'s Hyun-Jin Ryu (33), Pittsburgh's Chris Archer (31) and Chicago's Cole Hamels (36).

The second is that a rotation featuring extensive durability issues can't afford another iffy arm from a health perspective. That eliminates Washington's Stephen Strasburg (if he opts out of the final four years and $100 million remaining on his deal), Seattle's Felix Hernandez, Philadelphia's Drew Smyly, and old friend Rich Hill, who turns 40 in March.

Then there's stuff. The Red Sox prefer strikeout pitchers who can work up in the zone and miss bats. That eliminates Oakland's Brett Anderson (4.5 K/9), Houston's shockingly effective Wade Miley (7.6), who they've had before, and Atlanta's sinker-balling Dallas Keuchel (6.8).

Guess what's left? Not much! One possibility would be Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, who turns 30 in May and has already missed two seasons to Tommy John surgery. Two strikes against him, right? Possibly. But he hasn't missed a start in two years, and he hasn't even thrown 700 innings in his career. As a means of comparison, when the Red Sox signed Price at the same age, he had thrown over 1,400. That's a lot of wear.

Wheeler has touched 100 mph while also watching his 4.20 ERA suffer behind a woeful Mets defense. Depending on how many years he commands on the open market, he could be a target, though he's likely to receive a qualifying offer, which would cost the Red Sox a draft pick.

Another option is Cincinnati's Alex Wood, a 2017 All-Star with the Dodgers. Back spasms sidelined him until July 28, but a lifetime 3.29 ERA speaks to his ability. His injury history makes him a risk -- perhaps a low-cost one.

Then there's Minnesota's Jake Odorizzi. He made his first All-Star team this year at 29, though his ERA has climbed from 1.92 in early June to 3.61 today. He posted a 3.82 ERA over three seasons in the AL East with Tampa, for whatever that's worth.

And that's about it, unless you're interested in guys like Tanner Roark, Jhoulys Chacin, or Kyle Gibson. If this little exercise makes anything clear, it's that upgrading the rotation is likely going to require a foray into the trade market, which means this could be one busy offseason -- but that's a story for another day.

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Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

Four potentially undervalued pitchers Red Sox could target this offseason

It's time for the Red Sox to start thinking like a small-market team, because burning money in the name of their rotation could have dire consequences that stretch well into the 2020s.

With Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi set to earn $80 million annually through 2022 despite being major injury risks, the Red Sox will need to bargain hunt to fill the rest of their rotation. So where might they turn?

The key will be finding undervalued assets. One way to identify them is to look for pitchers with the biggest disparity between their ERA and FIP.

The latter — fielding independent pitching — is an ERA-like number derived from the events a pitcher can directly control: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and hit by pitches, the idea being that everything else is in the hands of the defense. FIP has its flaws, because it operates on the assumption that a pitcher can't impact balls in play, which means hurlers aren't credited for the majority of their outs, but it can still be a useful tool.

A wide spread between a pitcher's ERA and FIP can suggest bad luck or bad defense that mask some underlying strengths. The Red Sox, interestingly enough, looked a lot better as a staff via FIP than ERA, led by Chris Sale (4.40 ERA vs. 3.39 FIP), David Price (4.28 vs. 3.62), and even Rick Porcello (5.52 vs. 4.76).

Their staff ERA of 4.70 surpassed their 4.28 FIP by the widest margin of any team in baseball. Defensive metrics are notoriously spotty, but Fangraphs ranked Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts dead last at his position in defensive runs saved, saying he cost the Red Sox 19 runs. Similarly, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (minus-2) and third baseman Rafael Devers (minus-13) were considered negatives, too. Bogaerts and Devers aren't going anywhere, but Bradley, a defending Gold Glover, is likely to be traded this winter. The Red Sox could also upgrade their defense at second base.

In any event, we're drifting a little far afield. The point is finding opposing pitchers who significantly underperformed their FIP, which could make them targets this winter. Here are four names to remember.

1. Joe Musgrove, RHP, Pirates

A first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2011, Musgrove was traded to the Astros a year later before joining Pittsburgh as the centerpiece in the 2018 Gerrit Cole blockbuster. He made a career-high 31 starts this year, going 11-12 with a 4.44 ERA that masked a 3.82 FIP.

Those relatively middling numbers still established the 26-year-old as Pittsburgh's most effective starter, and he remains under team control through 2022.

With the Pirates in what feels like an eternal rebuild, it's hard to imagine they'd consider any player untouchable. Musgrove could make for an intriguing target.

2. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Reds

Gausman is a non-tender candidate, since he's set to make at least $10 million in his final year of arbitration. Chosen fourth overall in the 2012 draft by the Orioles, Gausman was once considered a top-10 prospect.

He has yet to live up to that hype, but he's better than the numbers suggested last year between Atlanta, where he posted a 6.19 ERA (and 4.20 FIP) in 16 starts, and Cincinnati, where he found use as a reliever (4.03 ERA, 3.17 FIP). Gausman struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings and is still only 28, so perhaps a flyer is in order, particularly if other teams are viewing him as a reliever and the Red Sox give him an opportunity to start.

3. Spencer Turnbull, RHP, Tigers

How does the AL's loss leader sound? Pitching for a woeful team, Turnbull went just 3-17 with a 4.61 ERA in 30 starts. His 3.99 FIP suggests better stuff than results, however, and he doesn't become a free agent until 2025.

Turnbull throws 95-97 and is considered a piece of Detroit's future, but it never hurts to ask. The 27-year-old went winless in his final 18 starts and is a late bloomer who was still pitching in Double A at age 25.

4. Pablo Lopez, RHP, Marlins

The rookie went 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts, but his 4.28 FIP and low walk rates (2.2 per nine innings) suggest some promise. The 23-year-old hails from Venezuela and can't become a free agent until 2025. He features a low-90s fastball and changeup, and the Marlins like his competitiveness. Being the Marlins means they're in perpetual fire-sale mode, however, and Lopez is worth a look.

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Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

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Andrew Friedman announces he's staying with Dodgers, taking biggest name off board for Red Sox

The Red Sox can cross the biggest name off their GM search before he was ever even an option.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman announced on Monday that he will finalize a deal to stay in L.A. "in the next couple of days." Friedman had technically become a free agent after the Dodgers' season ending in shocking fashion against the Nationals last week.

His five-year, $35 million contract expired, but the Dodgers moved quickly to lock up the 43-year-old, who has built consistent winners in both Tampa and Los Angeles and was considered the most intriguing candidate for the job of running the Red Sox, which opened up when the team parted ways with Dave Dombrowski in September.

With Friedman off the board and the Twins reportedly nearing a deal to extend Lynn native Derek Falvey as their chief baseball officer, the Red Sox have seen the candidate pool for their opening diminish before their search even starts. Before the season ended, the Diamondbacks took another name out of play by extending GM Mike Hazen, a Massachusetts native and former Red Sox executive. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein also declared his commitment to Chicago, though his contractual status hasn't changed.

One name that hasn't been taken off the board is Chaim Bloom, Tampa's VP of baseball operations. The 36-year-old Yale graduate oversees Tampa's baseball operations alongside Erik Neander, and the two guided the Rays to a wild card before taking the Astros to Game 5 of the ALDS.

Widely considered one of the most innovative franchises in the game, the Rays have reached 90 wins in two straight seasons despite fielding one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

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