SAN DIEGO — The interior looks nice for the Red Sox.
It contains a powerful lineup, and a pitching staff heavy on young, mid-rotation veterans in 25-year-old Rick Porcello, 28-year-old Wade Miley, 29-year-old Justin Masterson, 30-year-old Clay Buchholz, and 26-year-old Joe Kelly.
If you went into the season with those five starters and a pretty impressive lineup that has been enhanced by Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, you’d take your chances.
But Ben Cherington can’t stop there. And it’s obvious the Red Sox general manager is not going to.
The front of the house needs an addition.
It has to have pop. It has to have some pizzazz.
An ace must be added, because without one, the rest of the rotation will look flawed.
Cherington said way back that you don’t necessarily have to have an ace to win a lot of games in Major League Baseball. The Angels won 98 games last season. The Orioles won 96. Did they have a true ace? Not really. But they were ace-less teams that in the end couldn’t get to the level they aspired to reach.
The Giants, on the other hand, did. His name is Madison Bumgarner.
That’s what we’ve come to. Where’s the ace? The Red Sox have been in talks with James Shields’s agents. Some will say that Shields, a guy with eight straight seasons of 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings, is not an ace, that he’s not very good in the postseason.
Certainly can’t argue the postseason part (3-6, 5.46 ERA).
But that can change. It did for Roger Clemens, who struggled in the playoffs early in his career but later succeeded.
It’s tough to predict postseason performance, even for the analytics guys.
There’s Cole Hamels, one of the best lefties in baseball. His regular-season résumé is comparable to Jon Lester’s and his postseason totals are as well. He may be laid-back off the field, but on it “he’s out there to rip you apart,” according to one National League GM, who ranks Hamels second to Clayton Kershaw among NL lefties, even ahead of Bumgarner.
Without an ace, the Red Sox can still compete. With an ace, the Red Sox become an elite team, at least on paper. Simple as that.
They have added three starting pitchers at the Winter Meetings without giving up much. They gave up Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster — two pieces from the 2012 megadeal with the Dodgers — to acquire Miley, a lefty who is similar to Lester in size and some of his pitch repertoire.
“He’s [an] unrefined Lester right now, but he’s on his way to being a No. 2,” said a National League scout who has watched Miley a lot over the past two years. “Not sure what the D-backs are thinking on this one, except to get more bodies.”
Porcello has been in the league six years, taken his lumps, and transformed his pitching style each year. Last season, he started to get more ground balls. He became a very confident pitcher.
He made $8.5 million last year, so he’ll get a sizable raise in his final year of arbitration, if the Red Sox don’t try to sign him long term. Cherington seemed to be of the mind to take any long-term commitment slow.
Masterson is the wild card. He agreed to a one-year, $9.5 million pillow contract to reestablish his value. He could be dropped into the bullpen, where he’s had success, but his deal is a starter’s deal, not a reliever’s deal.
If the Red Sox get their ace, they could deal Buchholz or Kelly to open a spot.
The next question is, where’s the leverage?
In a Hamels deal, it’s pretty even. The Red Sox would have to pony up one or more of their best prospects to get Hamels. But the Phillies face pressure to move Hamels and help rebuild their farm system.
The Jimmy Rollins deal to the Dodgers helped get that ball rolling.
Shields likely will ask for more money than originally expected from the Red Sox. He knows they need him.
There’s reason to believe the Nationals would have to get their socks knocked off in a Jordan Zimmermann package, but the Red Sox would likely pony up more for him because he’s two years younger than Hamels.
The Red Sox still have many chips. They now have two fewer young pitchers, but still about eight more they could deal.
They still have Allen Craig, whom the Marlins and Brewers are exploring in trade talks.
The bottom line is the Red Sox still have the resources to land their ace.
The cost for the three starting pitchers acquired the last two days was two young pitchers who haven’t fully proven they can pitch in the majors and the salaries of the new guys. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Porcello is projected to get $12.2 million in arbitration and Miley $4.3 million. With Masterson’s $9.5 million, those three will cost $26 million.
Add Buchholz, whose salary spikes to $12 million next year, and Kelly, who is not even arbitration eligible and will likely earn south of a million dollars, and the Red Sox have five starters for less than $40 million.
So there’s lots of money to spend on Shields and Hamels.
And really, there would be no excuse for Cherington not to complete the front of the house.
Teams often leave themselves short in certain areas. They run out of money or they run out of players to trade.
The Red Sox have no such issues.
They can finish off their team with an ace, plus a couple of bullpen pieces. If they can do that, then they can realistically think about another last-to-first season.
Follow Nick Cafardo on Twitter at @nickcafardo.