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Nick Cafardo | Red Sox Mailbag

Ask Nick: Should Red Sox get a young ace, or a veteran?

One reader asks Nick if the Sox should make a competitive offer for Alex Cobb. David Maxwell/Getty Images

One thing that surprises me at this juncture of the offseason is that the Red Sox haven’t pounced on making a deal or signing an ace pitcher.

The market for James Shields has been less robust than what I thought it would be, so he’s there for the taking. There’s at least one team who has made the 5/$110 offer, a figure I wrote about in a recent Sunday Baseball Notes column.

The figure also represents what the Red Sox would have to assume in a Cole Hamels deal with the Phillies (they’d have to pick up a fifth-year option at $20 million because Boston is on his no-trade list).


Shields is a great clubhouse presence in terms of leadership, and of course his workhorse nature is well-known. He would be a perfect fit for this staff and a good example for the younger pitchers.

Hamels would also be ideal. The Red Sox only have Wade Miley from the left side, and while you can downplay that as long as the righties are effective, it’s still nice to be able to offset some of the tough lefthanded hitters in the league with someone of Hamels’ caliber.

Max Scherzer is also a difference maker. It’s hard to imagine a contender doesn’t bite the bullet, and pay him close to his $200 million asking price to have him at the top of a rotation.

With that, here’s our first offseason mailbag:

Would it be more cost effective and sensible for the Sox to pursue a younger top of the rotation starter over someone like Cole Hamels? Perhaps the Sox could make a competitive offer for Alex Cobb that includes Clay Buchholz.

JJ, California, Md

Well, Cobb would be awesome, but Buchholz makes $12 million, so that part wouldn’t be attractive to the Rays. From what the Rays people tell me, they’re building around Cobb and are not looking to deal him. He’s only first-year arbitration eligible, so he’ll be fairly cheap for a couple of more years, and I’m guessing he’s off the table unless the Red Sox traded Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Matt Barnes — a deal that would overwhelm the Rays. I don’t see that happening. I agree Cobb would be a great piece. But in the past when they had Matt Garza, Shields, and David Price, they would look for deals because those guys were on the verge of making big money. Cobb isn’t there yet. In general, yes, I would say going after younger players is better than older ones. And they’ve done that with Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, who are 26 and 28, respectively. Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann would also be a terrific get.


Jon Lester is one of those rare players who has a mental block and can’t throw to the bases. I never understood why teams let him off the hook. The National League will most likely exploit this and bunt like crazy. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this?

Bruce, Princeton

I agree. It was a topic of discussion with the scouts I’d see at Fenway or on the road, but it never seemed to be executed on the field. One reason is AL lineups don’t like to bunt. Teams would test him now and then, but I think he’ll be tested more in the National League, where he may see a few more bunts from pitchers. Matt Garza has the same issue in Milwaukee, though it’s more prominent.


Are the Red Sox playing chicken with Phillies GM Ruben Amaro because they figure the longer they wait, the closer they will be to all the aces on next year’s free agent class? The price has to go down as they approach the trade deadline with all those rentals available.

Mark, Pasadena, Calif.

I’ve been amazed at the passive nature of teams going after the remaining free agents/trades possible in the market. They are high-priced ticket items for sure, but any one of these guys — Shields, Scherzer, Hamels, or Zimmermann — can make a big difference in winning or losing. The Red Sox could be waiting the Phillies out and waiting for the price to come down. There haven’t been substantiative talks lately. The Red Sox could use another lefty to balance out their rotation.

Do you believe the Red Sox will add either Scherzer or Hamels before the start of the season? Were the quick pickups meant to start the regular season or were they leverage to improve bargaining position in the offseason?

Tyler, Warrenton, Va.

Great question. For me it makes no sense to do all they’ve done — and they’ve done a lot with formidable lineup additions like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez; three new pitchers in Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson, who are all good interior pieces – and not go after the ace. They seem to be around or over the $189 million luxury tax threshold. They also have extra pitching prospects and extra outfielders they could deal for Hamels. Shields and Scherzer are just money. So my common sense response would be they will make a deal for an ace.


What price do you think the Sox will present to the Phillies to get Cole Hamels? Is a package of Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, and Allen Craig enough to get it done?

Dave, Lake Ridge, Va.

The Red Sox turned down a proposal that included Betts and Swihart before. I wouldn’t give up both, but you probably have to give up one of them plus three other good prospects to get it done. There are other teams – the Padres, Cubs, Astros, Rangers – that might be willing to give up more to get it done. It’s all about desperation. Hamels is really good and I have yet to speak to a baseball scout or GM who doesn’t think he translates well in the American League. The Red Sox are in a good place because they have prospects who look good on paper and that’s all you need to make a big deal. The one thing that’s happened with new draft rules is that these prospects have a higher value than ever before. But if you’re “going for it,” then you do what you have to do. It didn’t work the way he wanted it, but Oakland’s Billy Beane gave up his best prospect, Addison Russell, in order to obtain Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammels. He took a gamble with his best kid. If the Red Sox think Hamels makes them a lock in the AL East, you have to give up Betts or Swihart.


The word is that Allen Craig’s foot may be healed by spring training. Should the Sox hang onto him until March and see how he’s hitting?

Bruce, Norwell

No doubt. The baseball people I speak to in the NL are dumbfounded about his 2014 season. They speak so highly of him as a professional, clutch hitter, and one of the toughest outs in the NL. It’s the reason the Red Sox insisted on Craig in the deal. With Mike Napoli in the final year of his contract, a Craig bounceback would be welcome. I’m not sure they’ll hold on to him, especially if they have to include him in a deal for an ace pitcher.

What are three moves you see the Sox making before the start of spring training? If Craig and Shane Victorino have great springs, and Rusney Castillo doesn’t, could Castillo start in Triple A?

Sean, Southington, Conn.

NC: I see them acquiring an ace pitcher whether it be Shields or Scherzer or trading for Hamels and Zimmermann. I do see another bullpen piece. They signed Mitchell Boggs and hope there’s a revival there, but they could really use a power lefty in the pen. I also see one more outfielder being weeded out between Victorino, Craig, and Nava. I don’t see Castillo going back to Triple-A because he has a big major league contract and he’s made good progress. Things could change if he starts out slowly.

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