After selling off 80% of 2013’s World Series pitching staff before the trade deadline, the lone remainder was Clay Buchholz, who has been disappointing this year posting an ERA of 5.29. Undoubtedly, many questions surround next year’s rotation considering if opening day were tomorrow, Buchholz would presumable be the “ace” to start the season. Still, Buchholz should still have a spot with the team next season, especially now having the most experience on the staff. Newly acquired starter Joe Kelly, should also have a home in the rotation next year, as he has already shown with St. Louis he can pitch in the big leagues. Kelly is young, only 26 years old, has postseason, and has incredible upside utilizing a fastball that can touch 100 mph. Between Buchholz and Kelly, they both project to be middle-to-back of the rotation starters, but still three other spots remain unanswered as the Red Sox face big decisions with the regular season wrapping up.
The unloading of Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, and John Lackey opened the door for an extended tryout of sorts for some of the Red Sox pitching prospects. The likes of Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo have been given the chance to start for the second half of the season in efforts to make the starting rotation for 2015. De La Rosa has impressed the most out of the group, showcasing the ability to work into the later innings of games. Workman and Webster have been heavily inconsistent, occasionally having a great game, but too often followed up by a disappointing outing. Ranaudo is the only one in this group having made his debut in 2014, yet started his career well in August winning his first three games, but since the start of September the Red Sox #5 prospect has struggled, posting a 7.27 ERA for the month. As of now De La Rosa appears to have the best shot at a spot in the rotation and the other three may have to battle it out in spring training to earn their chance to start for Boston in 2015.
While the Red Sox have a good core of prospects that can contribute in the coming years, the front office may see them as the primary source for replenishing the rotation. Rather the 2014 crop of free agents holds a few proven front of the rotation pitchers that would secure the #1 spot for their pitching staff. Jon Lester is set to hit free agency and has repeatedly said that he would love to return to Boston, the only thing in the way is the amount of years that each side wants to commit to. While Lester is looking for six, the Red Sox are more in the ballpark for four so it may come down to which side budges first. The other possibility is James Shields, who has had success in the AL East before, and signing him would leave no debate as to who would be the ace of the rotation next season. A less likely target the Red Sox pursue is Max Scherzer, not only because of the length of the deal he will require but also the money. It was reported that in spring Scherzer turned down a 6 year $144 million extension from the Detroit Tigers. After following his Cy Young award winning season up with one in which he has tossed another 200 innings with a 3.19 ERA, he figures to earn even more on the open free agent market than the $144 million he turned down. The Red Sox will likely stay away from any negotiations with him keeping their eyes on Lester and Shields.
The final approach the Red Sox may take to tying down their #1 rotation spot could come through trade. There are a number of elite pitching options on the trade block and the Boston has one of the top farm systems in the league.Cole Hamels has received rumored interest from the Red Sox and likewise the Phillies have been doing heavy scouting on Boston’s top prospects. Although Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is known to be stubborn when it comes to swapping players, there is potential on both sides to come away winners since the Philies need to get younger and unload big contract players. In addition to Hamels the front office should take a look at Chris Sale, who is surrounded by a severe lack of offense. Chris Sale is still very young and could require a greater quality of prospects, but he would be controlled for the forseeable future at a lost cost and is easily a #1 pitcher for any team. The Red Sox can afford to trade away many of the prospects without depleting their farm system due to their depth not only with their top prospects, but the rising talent in the lower levels.