Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training on Feb. 20, and Opening Day is not until April 6 in Philadelphia. There is ample time for general manager Ben Cherington to fill what many perceive as a hole at the top of the rotation.
But Cherington doesn’t see a void, or at least not one worth the high cost of filling. He likes the roster as it stands today, outside of a few tweaks to add some depth.
“I think it’s likely that we’ll add to the roster before spring training,” Cherington said Thursday. “But I think it’s less likely that it’ll be of the big headline-grabbing variety of moves. That would be my guess right now.”
In Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley, and Rick Porcello, the Sox have five solid mid-rotation starters. Their hope is that one or two of them — Buchholz, Masterson, and Porcello are the best candidates — emerge as elite.
The alternative would be signing free agent James Shields or trading several top prospects to obtain a pitcher such as Philadelphia lefthander Cole Hamels. Cherington didn’t rule that out, but he doesn’t sound eager to wade back into that market in search of an ace.
“Look, starting pitchers who perform at the highest level and do so consistently and are relatively young and near their prime, those guys are hard guys to get and are valuable and cost a lot, whether it’s dollars or talent,” he said.
“We’re trying to put ourselves in a position where we have that caliber of pitching and hopefully we have some of it internally and maybe some of it still has to develop. There’s no question a team benefits from having high-end starting pitching performance. It’s just a question of how to get that. We looked at all sort of things.”
Triple A lefthanders Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, and Eduardo Rodriguez could emerge as solutions. Former first-round pick Anthony Ranaudo is another option.
“We think we have enough pitching talent to put together a good pitching staff, one that can help us contend in the division,” Cherington said.
The Red Sox met with Shields and agent Page Odle during the Winter Meetings in December but have not since. The 33-year-old remains unsigned, but the Sox are wary of bringing a fly-ball pitcher to Fenway Park.
The Sox have the prospect depth to make a significant trade. But after rebuilding the farm system, Cherington isn’t eager to carve it up.
“We haven’t been limited in any way other than by ourselves,” he said. “There are guys we just don’t want to move.”
Cherington didn’t dismiss the idea of signing Shields or making a trade. But his words seemed telling.
“As far as the starters, we’re really focused on the guys we have,” he said. “Look, we always have to keep an open mind with opportunities but we like the group we have.
“We feel like there’s some upside, some untapped potential with the group we have. We talk about ways to help the group we have.”
The Sox feel they have improved their infield defense with the addition of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and that will aid the starters, particularly with the high ground-ball rates generated by newcomers Masterson, Miley, and Porcello.
The catching tandem of Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan also could deflate some earned run averages.
“We’re in a very good place both from a game-calling and pitch-framing standpoint, the overall defensive component to the position,” manager John Farrell said.
Vazquez, who showed impressive receiving skills in 55 major league games last season, will be the primary starter.
Look for any additions to come in the bullpen. The Sox have a large group of relievers but could use another veteran or two in the mix. Burke Badenhop, who had a 2.29 ERA in 70 appearances last season, remains unsigned.
“We think we have a good start,” said Cherington. “We have young arms that are capable of stepping up and being good solutions. If we can add to the group, give us some more options between now and spring training, that’s something we wouldn’t mind doing.”