Early Wednesday evening, the Boston Red Sox starting rotation consisted of Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and an array of promising young Major League arms and top prospects. Less than 24 hours later, the club has acquired Wade Miley and Rick Porcello in separate trades, and now they have signed veteran right-hander Justin Masterson to a one-year, $9.5 million deal.
The 29-year-old Masterson, who will be 30 in March, returns to the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2006 out of San Diego State University. As a rookie in 2008, he was a valuable part of Boston’s march to the American League Championship Series, where it lost in seven games to Tampa Bay. That year, he was 6-5 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 36 games (nine starts) and 88.1 innings.
The Red Sox reluctantly included Masterson in the 2009 trade deadline transaction that netted Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians. A southwest Ohio native, Masterson thrived with the Indians, especially in 2013, when he was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP, allowing 156 hits in 193 innings. Last season, injuries plagued the sinkerballer and he posted the worst numbers of his seven-year Major League career with a 7-9 record, a 5.88 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in 28 games (25 starts) and 128.2 innings between Cleveland and St. Louis. Masterson is expected to be fully healthy by spring training.
Likely, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is not finished with constructing the rotation. Buchholz, Masterson and Porcello will probably be part of the 2015 Opening Day five, but the Red Sox could include Miley or Kelly in a trade package for a frontline starter. Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is perceived to be Boston’s most prominent target, or the club could sign veteran right-hander James Shields and keep the remaining arms for depth.
The Red Sox have five intriguing starting pitching prospects slated to open 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket in right-handers Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo; and left-handers Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson. They also have right-hander Brandon Workman, who has served as a starter during his ascent through the minors but has seen starts and relief appearances in his brief Major League tenure. Acquiring Hamels would probably necessitate parting ways with Owens as well as Miley or Kelly as part of a bountiful trade package.
Signing Shields would continue Cherington’s trend this week of bringing in pitchers who log innings, induce ground balls and pound the strike zone. Shields, though, is not considered a clear-cut No. 1 starter like Hamels. The Red Sox could also tap into their prospect depth and pursue Washington Nationals’ right-hander Jordan Zimmermann. Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto was considered a potential Red Sox trade target, but he will now likely remain with the Reds since that club traded Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon on Thursday.