The Boston Red Sox are in prime position to add at least two starters, and there is a possibility they will add a third. Currently, the club has right-handers Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly slated to occupy two-fifths of the rotation. With an abundance of highly regarded young arms, Boston could feasibly reserve the final rotation spot for one of Rubby De La Rosa, Anthony Ranaudo or Matt Barnes. The Red Sox could also give one of their high-ceiling left-handers a shot in Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez or Brian Johnson. Likely, though, two or three of those arms will be included in an inevitable trade that general manager Ben Cherington will implement over the current Hot Stove League.
Since Buchholz and Kelly are better suited for the No. 3 and No. 4 rotation spots, Boston needs a reliable No. 1 starter to replace Lester, and a viable No. 2 arm. The Red Sox are setting their vision on Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, who makes sense as a trade target since he is a proven ace, is still in his prime (he will be 31 on December 27) and is signed to a contract that is appealing to Red Sox ownership in terms of duration. The left-hander will receive $23.5 million through 2018, and in 2019 he has a $24 million vesting option, a $20 million team option or a $6 million buyout. Hamels’ contract is more enticing to Boston because it will expire when he is 35 (if he remains with his team in 2019).
Unlike Lester, who was signed by the Cubs for a hefty check, Hamels’ acquisition will cost the Red Sox a bounty of prospects. Fortunately for Boston, it has one of best farm systems in baseball. Here is what a Hamels to Boston trade might look like:
To Boston: Cole Hamels, LHP, and Antonio Bastardo, LHP
Hamels would anchor the Red Sox rotation and Bastardo is a power left-handed reliever who would replace the void left when the club traded Andrew Miller to the Baltimore Orioles last July.
Of those three, Betts is the least likely to be traded. The Red Sox could deal Bogaerts and insert Marrero into the starting shortstop’s role, but Bogaerts is projected to be an annual 25 to 30 home run bat, so Boston would like to keep him. The Red Sox have defensive wizard Christian Vazquez slated to start at catcher in 2015, but they would like to keep Swihart as depth since he has more offensive upside, is proficient behind the plate and has the athleticism to move to another position. The Red Sox envision Betts as an impact player who can move around the diamond to a variety of positions, including right field next season.
Owens is Boston’s most prized pitching prospect, and he could immediately slide into the Phillies rotation. The Red Sox have left-handers Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez at Triple-A Pawtucket, so losing Owens would not sap the depth. The Phillies could ask for Anthony Ranaudo or Matt Barnes instead of De La Rosa. All three are promising right-handers.
With Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley nearing an end to their Philadelphia tenure, Marrero and Philadelphia area native Coyle could serve as the club’s middle infield of the future. Philadelphia does have Cody Asche and Maikel Franco as current young third basemen, but Franco can be moved to first base. Cecchini is a third baseman who can play first base and also has the athleticism to play left field, and he has a disciplined plate approach and is projected to be a .300 hitter at the Major League level.
As for Bradley or Brentz, the Phillies need outfielders. The left-handed hitting Bradley is already one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, though he has not duplicated his .290 average and .850 OPS over four minor league seasons in the majors, where he has a .196 average and a .548 OPS to accompany 152 strikeouts in 530 plate appearances. Philadelphia might prefer the 25-year-old Brentz, who provides right-handed power. Brentz hit .308 over 26 plate appearances in a September cameo for the Red Sox. Over five minor league seasons, he has clubbed 83 home runs.
If the Phillies’ asking price is considered too high for the Red Sox, Cherington could turn his attention to Cueto. The Reds are reportedly insistent on trimming payroll, and four starters (Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon) are eligible to become free agents after the 2015 campaign. Media reports indicate that the Reds are dangling Latos, Leake and Simon, but not Cueto.
Even if the Red Sox do not acquire Cueto, they could pursue Latos for the No. 2 rotation spot.
Other pitchers the Red Sox are reportedly inquiring about include right-handed free agents James Shields and Justin Masterson, and Detroit Tigers right-hander Rick Porcello. Multiple media reports on Tuesday indicated the potential for a trade that would send Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and De La Rosa to the Tigers for Porcello, who is not considered a frontline starter but rather a No. 4 type.