SAN DIEGO — Maybe the offseason has ended in the minds of the Jon Lester Admiration Society, but as of this writing, of significant major league pitchers only Jeff Samardzija and Lester were off the board.
The Red Sox likely are to field a five-man rotation with significant pieces by Opening Day. There’ll likely be three new faces in the rotation, and one or two may be significant.
Wednesday night they were nearing a deal for Arizona lefthander Wade Miley and were willing to give up righthanders Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. The deal was pending the third prospect the Sox were willing to part with.
If the deal is consummated, it gives the Sox a middle-of-the-rotation lefty, and a pitcher some scouts believe resembles Lester in a lot of ways. Is he the ace to replace Lester? Of course not. But he would be one of the complementary pieces in the rotation.
They need an ace, and among the possible available ones are Cole Hamels, David Price, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann, Max Scherzer, and Johnny Cueto.
In addition to Miley they would need another No. 2/middle rotation starter and there are a plethora of them, including Detroit’s Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez, Washington’s Doug Fister, Cincinnati’s Mat Latos and Mike Leake, etc.
And so the process of serious negotiations on those options either have begun or are about to begin.
Don’t believe that the Red Sox and Phillies haven’t had numerous discussions through front and back channels on what it would take to pull off a deal for Hamels.
“We’ve talked informally with the Red Sox all season,” said one Phillies official. “We’ve got to get down with some serious talks soon because the Red Sox are one of the teams we match up with.”
The Red Sox need to be careful, however, because the Dodgers also have interest in Hamels, and don’t count out the Cubs, even after the bloated six-year, $155 million with a vesting seventh-year option contract they gave Lester. Comparatively, Hamels has four years at $90 million remaining on his deal with an option for $20 million, reasonable for a pitcher of his magnitude.
“They [Red Sox] have to know we think they need to give up one of their top prospects,” the Phillies official said.
Of course. Any major pitcher involved in a deal of this level requires that the team that trades him gets a top-five prospect in return. The A’s gave up Addison Russell, a shortstop and their No. 1 prospect, in the Samardzija deal with the Cubs, so the Red Sox would have to do the same.
They would have to give up Mookie Betts or Blake Swihart and then fill in with an Anthony Ranaudo or Matt Barnes or Eduardo Rodriguez to get it done. If they can do it for less than that, more power to them. But this is the position they now find themselves in.
Shields would be a clean acquisition . . . just cash. He’ll pitch at age 33 next season, but he’s been durable and very good. He’s American League East tested. The only thing he doesn’t do well is the postseason.
In a perfect world, the Red Sox would try to obtain a young veteran such as Zimmermann, who is as tough as nails and is just coming into his best years as a pitcher. Signing him will be challenging, but as general manager Ben Cherington pointed out, he believes taking players one year from free agency also can have its benefits. It would allow the team to get to know him and him to get to know the team. Zimmermann is only 28.
Price is an interesting study. Do the Tigers want to re-sign him long term, or would they deal him, get the offense they need (Yoenis Cespedes and more), and attempt to re-sign Scherzer? Price, too, is AL East tested, and only 29. He’d have to repair some ill feelings with David Ortiz, but this situation has occurred often in the history of baseball and it turns out just fine.
Padres team president and CEO Mike Dee said his team is trying hard to obtain a hitter. There have been talks with Boston on Cespedes, but the Sox aren’t crazy about taking veteran righty Ian Kennedy back. Other names are involved, but the Padres are balking at dealing controllable young veterans such as righthander Tyson Ross.
The Red Sox have offered Justin Masterson a one-year deal. Cherington said he’s made other offers for pitching that are pending.
Cherington reiterated that he has “several balls in the air” and conversations are inching along toward some sort of resolution on the free agent or trade front. But there are options.
The offseason didn’t end because Lester wasn’t signed. It didn’t end because Lester picked the Cubs.
One door closes, another one opens. There are plenty of pitchers who can lead the Red Sox to a World Series championship. Lester did it twice, and he also played for two last-place teams. He had an impact in about 34 games a season, but he was an ace and a leader and genuine good person who, after the chicken and beer fiasco that he was a part of, really took it upon himself to do the right thing and take a leadership role.
Players depended on Lester to give them not only a quality start, but a huge boost on the day he pitched. He set a tone for the pitching staff. He wanted to get deep in games, save the bullpen, win the big matchup against the other team’s top starter.
Lester did all that.
Can the Red Sox find someone who can do that again?
If they don’t, shame on them.
They have signed Pablo Sandoval away from the Giants at five years, $95 million and Hanley Ramirez from the Dodgers at four years, $88 million. They have a potentially potent lineup.
All of their excess players, including 10 young pitchers, Cespedes, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, and Brock Holt are tradable commodities that should help bring back pitching.
“Losing out on Lester puts them in a tougher position,” said one NL GM. “But if you want their players, you have to be willing to deal. There’s no team in better position to make a significant impact to their team than Boston. If they don’t, it will be because of their own failing.”