Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, June 16, 2014

Red Sox May Seek Starting Pitching Despite Dwindling Playoff Hopes

The Red Sox could be without at least three members of their 2014 starting rotation next season.

Both Jon Lester and Jake Peavy will become free agents when this season concludes, and John Lackey may choose to sit out the 2015 season rather than play for the Red Sox at the league minimum.

The Red Sox had language inserted into Lackey's contract stipulating that in the event he missed extensive time due to an elbow problem, the team would get control of him for an extra year at the league minimum (roughly $500K).

At age 30, Lester will earn $13 million this year, the most he has made in any season. The Red Sox need to ask if he will get better and be more valuable in his 30s than he was in his 20s. Is he worth $20-$25 million per season over at least five years?

The Sox reportedly made Lester a four-year, $70 million offer earlier this season, which he promptly rejected.

Yes, the Red Sox can afford Lester. But is such an expensive, long-term investment in a pitcher in his 30s prudent?

Peavy will make $14.5 million this season, meaning he will be overpaid. Next year's major league qualifying offer will be in the range of $15 million for a one-year deal. The Red Sox have to determine if they think that Peavy is worth that much, or if any team will offer him a high-dollar, long term deal.

In my estimation, he is not worth that cost, and he belongs in the National League.

On the open market this winter, Lackey would likely get at least two years (maybe three) at $15 million per year. If he decides that pitching for the minimum is not worth the injury risk, and would potentially jeopardize a long term deal beginning in 2016, Lackey might just choose to sit out the 2015 season.

It would be a reasonable decision. Why take the risk?

With all of that in mind, the Red Sox are thinking beyond this season in their quest for controllable starting pitching. That's why the Sox could still be buyers at the trade deadline, even if they are out of playoff contention.

According to multiple reports, the Sox have been scouting Cubs' pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is 2-6 this season with a 2.77 ERA. The 29-year-old has struck out 82 batters over 91 innings of work.

It's been reported that the Cubs previously offered Samardzija a five-year contract in the $60-million to $65-million range, which he rejected. However, it may not be all about the money.

The pitcher is also said to be concerned about the Cubs' timeline to become competitive again. Chicago has endured four straight losing seasons, and is well on its way to a fifth.

Samardzija is controlled through the 2015 season via arbitration. He will be highly coveted at the deadline and will likely have big price tag. The Sox will probably need to part with at least three top prospects to land him.

But, Samardzija will be 31 after the 2015 season, when he is scheduled to become a free agent. Why would the Red Sox be inclined to give him a big payday at age 31 if they won't give one to Lester at age 30?

Additionally, there has long been speculation that the Sox have interest in Phillies' starters Cliff Lee (age 35) and Cole Hamels (age 30).

Lee has a large contract and isn't healthy at the moment. He is owed $25 million in 2015, and there is a $27.5 million club option for 2016, with a $12.5 million buyout. That's $27.5 in guaranteed money, and it could be as much as $52.5 million over two years.

If Lee is traded this season, it would most likely be a post-waiver deal since he’s unlikely to be healthy enough for a trade before the July deadline.

Hammels is owed $22.5 million each season through 2018, totaling $90 million. There is also a $20 million club option for 2019, with a $6 million buyout. This means that any team acquiring Hamels will be on the hook for at least $96 million over four more seasons, and up to $110 million for the next five.

The Red Sox will have some difficult, yet interesting, choices to make in the coming months. But, one way or another, they need to address their starting rotation for the long term. And they may begin doing that as soon as next month, despite their dwindling playoff hopes.

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