Fixing the Red Sox’ Pitching Staff

The Boston Red Sox have been playing better baseball of late, and their bats seem to have come alive in the past three weeks. But, what’s preventing them from winning more ball games? It’s their pitching staff, of course, the same thing that has them at the bottom of the American League East in the first place. Boston starters own the fourth worst ERA in the majors with the 13th best K/9.

Spending about $200 million in the offseason on their offense, the Red Sox figured they would not need an ace to compete. Little did they know, that Clay Buchholz would emerge as an ace this season. He’s posted a 2.55 FIP this season — that ranks 5th best among starters — while striking out just over 8.5 batters per nine with a 3.10 WAR. If Buchholz stays healthy, Boston could make a run at the division.

But if that is to happen, Buchholz can’t be the only pitcher the Red Sox can count on. Wade Miley has been passable, and Eduardo Rodriguez has exceeded expectations. Rick Porcello has an ERA that sits at 6.08 — worst among qualified starters. He is 4-9 while allowing 1.52 HR/9. At this rate, the Sox can’t keep letting Porcello take the mound every fifth day. They need another pitcher they can rely on to be a stopper after a loss.

Boston will need to make roster moves in order to acquire better pitching. These moves will need to be getting Porcello and Justin Masterson out of the rotation. Masterson can serve as this year’s right-handed specialist out of the bullpen and Porcello will need to have a phantom DL stint. They can send Matt Barnes back to Pawtucket as he has not yet found his niche in the Majors. But once these moves are made, they have room to ship in better pitching.

Porcello won’t be traded, only because it’s the first year of his contract and his value is at an extreme low. But the Red Sox can make a trade for a starter. And a decent one that they could extend beyond the termination of their current contract. But they would be wise to do so after they see him pitch in Boston because as we have seen with Porcello, not all good pitchers can handle pitching in Boston.

Brian Johnson is still pitching in Triple-A Pawtucket and will need to be called up at some point this season. The left-hander has a 2.63 ERA while holding opponents to a .211 average. Rodriguez has been a success for Boston this season and that is a reason to call up Johnson. Bringing up Johnson will leave the Red Sox with a rotation of Buchholz, Rodriguez, Miley, Johnson. They have room for another good starter. And if they choose to not call up Johnson, that leaves room for them to make more moves for two starters.

Miami Marlins’ starter Mat Latos has had a decent year pitching for the fourth-place Marlins. He has a 3.63 FIP and is striking out just under eight batters per nine. In his seven-year career, Latos has posted an ERA of 3.47 while holding his opponents to a .232 batting average against. At the trade deadline, the Marlins will be sellers, and Latos will be owed less than $5 million. This contract would be a great pickup for Boston as Latos could really help the staff go deep into games and give the bullpen a rest.

Another option could be Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds. Cueto is in the final year of his contract and will likely demand over $150 million in the offseason. As we saw with Jon Lester last year, the Red Sox are reluctant to sign pitchers over 30 years old to long-term contracts. But that’s okay. Cueto doesn’t need to be the Red Sox long term solution. He needs to be the solution to the second half of this season. Finishing second in the Cy Young voting last year only to MVP Clayton Kershaw, Cueto is having himself another great season in 2015. The two-time All-Star who is probably headed to his third All-Star game this year, has posted a 2.84 ERA this season with a 2.2 WAR. Over his career, the right-hander owns a 3.42 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .232 batting average against. Cueto could be a great compliment to Buchholz and the rest of the staff.

The Sox could make a trade for Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago White Sox. An All-Star last year, Samardzija was inked to a one year $9.8 million contract with the South Side Sox last off winter. He is 5-4 with a 3.51 FIP and 2.0 WAR. He’s not the typical shutdown ace Cherington should be looking for, but he can make this staff better. He has pretty good strikeout abilities as shown by his career 22.1 K%. With Chicago out 10 games in the A.L. Central, they will be looking to sell at the deadline as well.

Cole Hamels trade talks have been building on Yawkey Way for the last season and a half. This trade however, would not be for just Cole Hamels. Assuming Ryan Howard is a packaged deal with Hamels, I would say still make the trade as long as the Phillies eat a decent amount of his contract. Howard would give the Red Sox a potential solution to the first base problem for at least the next season, and could hit very well in Fenway. Hamels, who has a no trade clause in his contract, is owed $94 million over the next four years, but that shouldn’t be a problem for Boston’s payroll. Hamels will likely require whatever team acquires him to pick up his option year, and that again wouldn’t be a problem for the Red Sox. Hamels gives the Red Sox an actual ace that they can rely on every fifth day. So far this season, Hamels has posted a 3.22 ERA, 2.0 WAR and a 9.56 K/9. In his career, Hamels owns a 3.27 ERA. He has struck out 23.4% of opposing batters while holding them to a .234 batting average.

If Boston’s bats stay hot, the Red Sox can make a run at the division. But they will only be able to do so if they make a move at the trade deadline for a couple of decent starters. There are a bevy of options that will come available on the trade market. If Boston remains on the fringes of contention, it may become wise to pull the trigger on a deal and trade away of the organization’s prized prospects.

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