Since around mid-season of 2012 national baseball pundits and ardent Red Sox fans who have surmised that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are at their best #2 starters, have stated that a glaring need for the Red Sox to return to glory is an ace pitcher to head their rotation. This sentiment lead me to ponder just how easy is it for any team to find and acquire an #1 starter. Not every team even has an ace and most that do are not moving them ( Verlander, Kershaw, and Matt Cain just to name three).
We are going to go on a search, division by division, team by team to see if an acquirable ace is out there. We will widen the search to include some guys who once were aces ( and maybe could be restored by a change of scenery or by John Farrell's magical pitching instruction) and will look at some guys who could be helpful #2-3 pitchers. The market has changed even as this is written today. Let's go ace hunting!
AL East-- Not likely the divisional rivals will help the Sox and with exception of one team not much help anyway.
Yankees and Orioles-- The Orioles despite the playoff season have no one remotely in the ace class, and the Yanks have only CC, who is not moving. I suppose Hiroki Kuroda could be considered, he is a free agent. But at age 38 he is a middle to back end guy. I bet if he leaves it is back to LA Dodgers.
Blue Jays--Two guys who might qualify here, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, who slumped badly this year. I suspect the Jays keep both and surely will not send them to John Farrell.
Rays- Ah, if only the Rays were not in the AL East this is the place to go. Lots of rumors the Rays would listen on David Price before he gets too "pricey"and to get some much needed offense. James Shields has a team options for 2013 for $9M and $12M for 2014, some rumors they could cut him loose, but it is way more likely he is traded if Price is not. Even youngsters like Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are exactly the young projectable aces the Sox ideally could trade for...but not from here.
Posssible AL East candidates: none
AL Central--Not many great names here either...
Royals and Twins- nada
Indians- Here comes the first name of a one time ace, Ubaldo Jimenez. Yes the same Ubaldo ( how many Ubaldos are there??) who was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA in 2012. Would the Sox take him for a next to nothing package? The Sox are reportedly interested in Shin Soo-Choo, could they get Choo by swallowing Ubaldo? Another Indian hurler coveted in the last year or two ( or since the Sox traded him) is Justin Masterson. But as much as I would like to see Justin back in Boston it would be a major stretch to see him as an ace, plus Tito Francona's arrival in Tribetown likely keeps him in place.
White Sox--Another former ace here in Francisco Liriano, who will be a free agent, and hopefully the Red Sox let him stay free. If he is on the list it is way, way down the list. The next name is the guy I had near the top of the list due to his past ace history, current ability, and availability. He is Jake Peavey, but unfortunately the availability changed completely today. Peavy had a $22M team option for '13 and no one in baseball expected the Chisox to pick up the option. And they did not, but what they did do was sign Peavy to a new $29M 2 year deal. Cross him off the list. Chicago has the most valuable asset of all in young ace Chris Sale, who is going nowhere.
The Tigers are loaded with starting pitching 3/5 of which are staying in Motown ( Verlander, Scherzer, and Fister) it is possible youngster Rick Porcello is falling of favor and maybe could be dealt for. It is more likely Porcello gets the spot of our next candidate, Anibal Sanchez. Here is our first very likely 2013 Red Sox pitcher, as the former Sox farmhand is a free agent. There is little doubt Sanchez could help. There is doubt if he is really anything near an ace, and he has had health issues in his career.
AL Central possibilities-- Anibal Sanchez, Ubaldo Jimenez, Francisco Liriano
AL West- More fruitful hunting than the rest of the AL at least...
Houston- yes the American League's newest team with absolutely no one to consider for this list.
Seattle- Only one target and we all know who it is, King Felix. If Seattle had even once hinted there was a remote chance they would trade him, Felix would be at the top of the list. Two other problems besides the M's reticence to deal him, first if they did entertain offers the biding would be fierce. The last problem is the thorniest. Supposedly, a couple of years ago Theo made a stealth offer to the Mariners to choose any 5 guys from our system for Felix. With all of the holes the Sox now have in the field, do you want to trade Middlebrooks, Bogaerts, Barnes, Bradley, Brentz, and de la Rosa for example for Felix. Maybe? Not so sure it would help in the long run, and less sure Seattle would do it.
Angels--Multiple likely candidates here. First Zack Greinke is the biggest name pitching free agent here is. The Sox have the payroll flexibility to jump in, and would not lose a draft pick, but Zack does not seem like a great Northeast corridor fit. The Angels are poised to push hard to keep him because they gave up a bushel of kids to trade for him, and because the Angels need to him so the can decline the options on our next two candidates: Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. The Angels have a 2013 option for Santana of $13M, which there is no chance of taking. Haren's team option is $15.5M or a buyout of $3.5. Santana may be of use to Boston, but he is no ace. Haren is a different story. He has been an ace in the recent past for Arizona and Oakland. He has put up outstanding career K/BB ratios, and at 32 is not long in the tooth on a short term deal. This could have a quick resolution. It has been widely assumed the Angels would save $12M by declining his option and paying Haren the buyout of $3.5M. But it recent days it has been reported by several sources that the Angels would like to trade Haren and save the buyout as well. This is where the Sox could ( and should ) jump in. Unless several other teams are bidding, which could be, the price in players should not include our top prospects. And by acquiring Haren's existing contract, it would be only a one year commitment, which Boston could more easily absorb than almost anyone. Haren is high on the list.
Oakland- With all of the young starting pitching the A's built last winter, they are likely all untouchable. But last winter Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, et al seemed unlikely trade targets. Would Billy Beane trade Brett Anderson and would the Sox dare to trade the 3 top propsects for the oft injured lefty?? I am assuming the top 3 prospects based on the packages the A's got for Cahill and Gio. One other idea connected to Billy Beane's last off season. Beane acquired potential aces like Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone by trading his existing young starters. Could the Red Sox find a team to trade them the equivalent of Jarrod Parker plus more pitching by dealing Lester or Buchholz?? It was unlikely before the hiring of John Farrell, it seems more likely your ace or aces could be Jon and Clay if Farrell can resurrect them. One other Oakland name is Brandon McCarthy he is a free agent, and could have been high on the Sox radar, but his serious beaning by a line drive complicates the picture. He is a possibility to help but may not be a real ace in waiting.
Texas--They are not trading Yu or likely not Matt Harrison. Not really an ace but interesting lefty is Derek Holland, a 26 year old who went 12-7 in 2012. Would they trade Holland alone or in a package for Jacoby Ellsbury, who the Rangers could pursue as a Josh Hamilton replacement? Could Holland blossom into an ace?
AL West candidates: Felix Hernandez, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, Brett Anderson, Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy
NL East- Maybe the top two on the list come from this divsion.
Miami- Josh Johnson. Hs name was rumored as a Boston target last July and will be again. He has been and is an ace. He is in his prime at age 29 next year, and the always rebuilding Marlins are open for business. There are names on this list that might be had just by taking on a big contract...Johnson is not one of these. He will cost probably three young top players. The only way to drive down the price in prospects might be to take on a contract the Marlins may want to move, maybe Mark Buehrle ( another useful but not ace pitcher) or Jose Reyes. Reyes would be a huge financial deal to swallow, and I am not sure if Miami wants to move him, but by taking that whole deal, that should lower Johnson's price tag and Boston could use a shortstop of Reyes' talent.
NY Mets- They have an ace who has a team option in his deal, but R.A. Dickey will be staying. The do have another one time ace who unlike Josh Johnson, you could deal for just by taking his $$$. That is Johann Santana. His 2012 no-hitter show he can still pitch but can he stay healthy? To take his whole contract will cost at least $31M, $25.5M for 2013 with a $5.5 M buyout for '14.
Philadelphia- Another top of the list candidate, Cliff Lee. The lefty was only 6-9 this year, but that is a reflection more on the Phils than Lee. Lee's ERA was 3.16 and he had 207 strikeouts with only 28 walks. Lee is 34 years old and has three years remaining on his deal at $29M per year. Now that is a huge price tag, but that is the only reason he is likely available. The Phillies are an aging team with bloated contracts, and they need to re-tool. Now it is possible the hot September that pushed the Phils to the edge of the wild card hunt will fool Ruben Amaro into thinking he can keep his team intact. But it is likely for only a warm body or three, the Sox could land Lee and maybe even have Philadelphia pay a little of the contract. Roy Halladay may fit the same description but Lee had a much better year and Lee would save more $$ by being dealt.
Braves and Nationals--Tim Hudson was a potential free agent but the Braves today picked up his team option, everyone else on these teams are likely to stay put. Maybe the Sox could ask for a Tommy Hanson or Jordan Zimmerman from each team for Ellsbury but I doubt that has much traction.
NL East possibilities: Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Johann Santana, Roy Halladay, Mark Buehrle,
NL Central-- No aces available here, maybe a useful pitcher or two.
Pirates- no one unless the Sox want to try AJ Burnett again in the AL East...nah
Cubs- Only one name that has been repeatedly connected to Boston since Theo hit Chicago, Matt Garza. He is only 29 and has had AL East success ( although mostly vs. Boston), but it is a reach to call him an ace. And the rebuilding Cubs would look for sizable package in return, I think I would pass.
Brewers- One free agent of note, Shaun Marcum. He had good years in Toronto before moving to the Brew Crew where he has been injured a lot. Marcum could be a good buy low high ceiling risk. Maybe the Sox could deal for Mark Rogers, but that might be dealing for an ace for the Paw Sox.
Cards- Their aces are too old to want even if they would trade them in Adam Wainwright and the first Chris Carpenter. Kyle Lohse is looking a big money deal as a free agent coming off a 15 win season. Let some other club pay for the past performance.
Reds- Guys like Cueto and Latos are not available, one younger pitcher who could be is Homer Bailey and an older pitcher who could be had is old friend Bronson Arroyo. Neither are aces.
NL Central candidates: Matt Garza, Shaun Marcum, Homer Bailey
NL West- Slim pickings but one big name
Rockies and DBacks- none in Denver and not any readily available in Phoenix, but if the Backs are listening on Justin Upton maybe Ian Kennedy could be pried loose. But it would take a big package of kids. If the Sox send a boatload of kids to Arizona I would rather spend on Upton.
Padres and Dodgers- Nothing really of interest or acquirable here either. Edison Volquez from the Padres was considered an upcoming young ace back in Cincinnati but not now. Maybe San Diego would deal Casey Kelly to Boston? Or maybe Josh Beckett could had from the Dodgers??( kidding, I'm kidding)
The World Champion San Francisco Giants--Once again the Giants won with a lucky last minute drive down the field.....wait a minute wrong friggin' Giants. Once again these Giants won with pitching of which they have tons, but not likely to trade much, unless you want to take the rest of Barry Zito's contract. But despite their 2 titles they are considered to need more offense and their starting center fielder, Angel Pagan, is a free agent. they also need to replace Melky Cabrera. Would the Giants be interested in taking on Jacoby Ellsbury for at least the one year remaining before free agency? And would they trade fellow one year to go before free agency Tim Linecum for Ells? Would Boston do this? Tim L was most certainly an ace a couple of years ago with 2 Cy Young Award seasons and he will be only 29 next June. But he had a poor 2012 going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA with 190 K's, following 4 straight seasons of over 200. His 2011 was considered subpar as well because of his 13-14 W/L record but his 2011 ERA was 2.74 with 220 K's. So his 2012 resembled Jon Lester's. If the Sox are banking on John Farrell administration to straighten out Lester, Buchholz, and Bard why not add Linecum to the list. He is owed $22M for 2013 but is a free agent after so if he goes bust the 22 mil is all the Red Sox are on the hook for, and is not that why Ben Cherington craved payroll flexibility. And based on the post season, if all else fails Linecum could help in the pen.
NL West candidates: Tim Linecum, Ian Kennedy (?). Casey Kelly(??)
So after our scavenger hunt here is a list of sixteen top possible targets. The are listed in order of realistic availability as well as how close to a true ace they are.
1. Cliff Lee
2. Josh Johnson
3. Dan Haren
4. Tim Linecum
5. Zack Greinke
6. King Felix Hernandez
7. Anibal Sanchez
8. Matt Garza
9. Ian Kennedy
10 Brett Anderson
11 Derek Holland
12 Ubaldo Jimenez
13 Johann Santana
14 Brandon McCarthy
15 Shaun Marcum
16 James Shields ( much higher if it seemed at all likely he could be had)
Acquiring any of the pitchers on this list is not the second coming of Dan Duquette dealing for Pedro, but come to think of it maybe Ben has all ready done that by trading for Rubby de la Rosa. Maybe our new ace is all ready here.
Enjoy the sure to be busy Hot Stove Season which is now underway.