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How will Red Sox fill out starting rotation?

Daisuke Matsuzaka

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Could Daisuke Matsuzaka be a factor for the Red Sox at some point in 2012?

The Red Sox have their bullpen for 2012 in place for the most part. The lineup and bench is pretty much intact with the possible exception of a right-handed platoon bat for right field.

But the rotation still needs some work. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett are in place and the deal for Andrew Bailey likely means Daniel Bard will join them, unless he looks completely lost as a starter in spring training.

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That’s four starters. The Sox need five plus a handful of extras for the needs that invariably arise during the season. General manager Ben Cherington said last night that he is, “actively considering and looking at starting pitching options.”

So what are those options at this point? Let’s take a look.

INTERNAL OPTIONS

Alfredo Aceves: The righthander wants to start and he’ll come to camp as a starter. But it would be difficult to use Bard and Aceves in the same rotation. Bard threw 73 innings last season and Aceves 114. They won’t be physically able to suddenly throw 170+ innings, especially Bard. Using both of them would tax the bullpen and require extra spot starters.

Aceves makes sense as a reliever who can be a spot starter 5-10 times and fill in those extra innings for Bard.

Brandon Duckworth: The veteran righthander was 8-6 with a 3.97 ERA as a starter for Pawtucket last season and agreed to return. He has 134 games of major league experience, 84 of them starts, and is injury insurance.

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Felix Doubront: He’s 24 and lefthanded, so he’ll get plenty of opportunities. But Doubront has a lot to prove after a poor 2011 season.

Daisuke Matsuzaka: He’ll presumably be back from Tommy John surgery sometime in the second half of the season. Matsuzaka has been agonizingly slow to return from previous injuries, but he should be motivated by the idea of impending free agency. Funny how that works.

Andrew Miller: He posted a 5.54 ERA and 1.82 WHIP last season. But the Red Sox are oddly enamored with the tall lefty and he’ll be coming to camp.

FREE AGENTS

There are two ways to go here. Guys such as Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt or Joe Saunders come with a good track record, but would be expensive. Scott Boras is claiming that Jackson is better than Yu Darvish. Kuroda and Oswalt are said to be agreeable to one-year deals. But that one year won’t come cheaply.

Or you can hang around and see what second-tier guys such as Joe Saunders, Paul Maholm, Jeff Francis or Rich Harden will take. Keep in mind, the Sox need a No. 4 or a No. 5 starter, not a star.

TRADES

The Cubs are willing to trade Matt Garza but are asking for a lot. Dealing with Theo Epstein would be risky given his knowledge of the system. The Sox have the prospects if they want to make a big deal for Garza or somebody else. But there is no indication that Cherington wants to part with kids like Will Middlebrooks or Anthony Ranaudo.

(As an aside, the Sox are not likely to receive Garza as part of any compensation package for Epstein.)

INJURY REHABS

It would not be a surprise if the Sox rolled the dice and offered a minor-league deal to somebody such as Scott Kazmir, Ben Sheets, Brandon Webb, Chris Young or Jon Garland. There’s little risk and the potential for high reward. It worked for the Yankees and Bartolo Colon last season.

Cherington proved that patience paid off in his search for bullpen help. Expect a similar approach as he fills out the rotation.

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