Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, July 08, 2016

Red Sox Will Likely Make Major Trade for Pitcher, but at What Cost?

Everyone knows that the Red Sox desperately need starting pitching. There is no greater evidence of this than the fact that 28-year-old journeyman Sean O’Sullivan -- who possesses career 5.99 ERA -- is now the team’s No. 4 starter.

Oh, and then there’s the fact that the Sox don’t even have a No. 5 starter at present.

This is all due to the abysmal performances of Clay Buchholz (5.91 ERA), Joe Kelly (8.46 ERA) and Eduardo Rodriguez (8.59 ERA) this season.

The Red Sox starters have been so bad that they’ve overburdened the bullpen, which has clearly shown signs of overuse this season.

The Red Sox pitching staff ranks 10th in the American League in ERA (4.52), 10th in starter ERA (4.82), 12th in walks (279), and has a 5-27 record when scoring four runs or fewer.

The Red Sox are presently attempting to navigate the path to the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline with no identifiable fifth starter, which made minor leaguer Aaron Wilkerson so intriguing… until he was traded to Milwaukee yesterday for 34-year-old veteran infielder Aaron Hill.

In 92.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, the 27-year-old Wilkerson had allowed just 69 hits with 25 walks and 102 strikeouts. He’d allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his 16 starts. In 10 of those 12, he’d allowed one run or less.

No one was expecting Wilkerson to be part of the Red Sox pitching depth this season, much less the solution to their season-long pitching woes. But he looked like a much better option than minor leaguers Henry Owens or Roenis Elias at this point.

Yet, Wilkerson is now gone, leaving only questions. Who’s next up for the Red Sox?

While the Wilkerson trade was not earth-shattering (Dave Dombrowski said he felt Wilkerson was too inexperienced to help the Red Sox this season), it was a likely precursor to something much larger. After all, the Red Sox cannot operate much longer without a fifth starter, or perhaps even with O’Sullivan as their No. 4.

There are rumors of the Red Sox purported interest in Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. However, the 29-year-old will be a free agent at season’s end and is not controllable.

Moreover, Hellickson profiles as nothing more than a mid or even back-of-the-rotation starter in Boston. Though he is having a decent season for Philadelphia, going 6-6 with a 3.92 ERA, Hellickson struggled in his final two years with the Rays before being traded to Arizona prior to last season.

Take a look at Hellickson’s ERA since becoming a full time starter in 2011:

2011 - 2.95
2012 - 3.10
2013 - 5.17
2014 - 4.52
2015 - 4.62
2016 - 3.92

It appears that after some success with Tampa early in his career, big league hitters figured him out. Even a switch to the more pitcher-friendly NL last year didn’t help. All of that makes this season look more like an aberration than anything more promising.

Hellickson is not the answer to the Red Sox problems; they need someone much more effective -- even dominant -- than him. Ask yourself this: can Sean O’sullivan and Jeremy Hellickson help carry the Red Sox into the playoffs this season?

I don’t think so either.

That’s why I believe there’s something much bigger brewing in the Red Sox front office right now. A more impactful trade for a starting pitcher is likely to occur sooner than later.

As I said previously, let’s just hope the Red Sox don’t have to sell the farm — and their future — to obtain a true difference-maker.

That may not be possible. Pitching is in short supply this summer, and the free agent market this winter isn’t much more promising (36-year-old Rich Hill or Andrew Cashner, anyone?).

Here’s the issue the Red Sox face when it comes to trading from their farm system:

When they dealt outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, lefthander Logan Allen and utility man Carlos Asuaje to San Diego for Craig Kimbrel last winter, they limited their ability to make deals at the trade deadline this year.

By sending away four of their better prospects, the Sox drained some of the top talent from their system, which not only left them with fewer pieces to deal now, but also makes their remaining prospects all the more valuable to the organization.

That’s something Dave Dombrowski surely has on his mind right now.

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