The Boston Red Sox need pitching. File that insight under “not news.” But the news, when it happens, will be where the Red Sox go to get pitching. Boston needs a front-line starter, and all rumors since the end of July have centered around which ace the Red Sox will target in the off-season.
By now, Red Sox fans know the familiar names. Jon Lester, the former Boston lefty dealt to the Oakland A’s at the July 31 deadline, could find his way back to Boston. But Phillies’ Number One Cole Hamels brings Boston pretty much the same that they’d get from Lester — and he’s less expensive.
More recent Red Sox rumors had Kansas City Royals righty “Big Game” James Shields as top target. The Kansas City papers have already named Boston as the favorite in the race to obtain Shields’ services starting in 2015. The Red Sox will get one last look at Shields, in the World Series with the Royals, before deciding whether to make a bid for the free agent.
Detroit righty Max Scherzer, also a free agent, has been the subject of Red Sox rumors as well. But the Red Sox may pass on all of those glamor names, and attempt to work a deal with the Oakland A’s for lanky, 6’5″ righty fireballer Jeff Samardzija.
Of course, the first problem with Samardzija is how to pronounce his name. For the record, it’s suh-MAR-juh. Once that’s out of the way, the question is, why would Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington pass on the marquee names like Lester and Hamels to make a play for the former Cub, who was a 2006 fifth-round pick for Chicago?
Samardzija’s age isn’t a major advantage. While Lester and Hamels are both 30, Samardzija is just a year behind them — but in fact, the big right-hander has less Major League experience than either of those veterans, coming out of Notre Dame in 2006 and taking his big league bow in 2008.
Once he got into the American League, Samardzija showed a dramatic increase in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, fanning 8.25 for every free pass issued with Oakland, compared to just 3.32 with the Cubs in 2014 — and a career-best 4.7 last year.
The righty also allowed a lower WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) at 0.931 compared to 1.204.
Boston may look at those stats and see Samardzija trending toward a breakout, ace-level year in 2015, and while the hurler is eligible for arbitration this year, the Red Sox could work out a new contract for him before he hits the free agent market after next season.
The down side to a trade for Samardzija is that it would be, well, a trade. Cherington would be forced to surrender at least one of his top prospects — likely Mookie Betts or top pitching prospect Henry Owens. But the same holds true for Hamels, who would probably require an even bigger package of young talent for Boston to wrench him away from Philadelphia.
Lester, Shields, and Scherzer, on the other hand, are free agents who can be had simply by opening up the checkbook. Signing and Scherzer or Shields, however, would mean the Red Sox surrendering a draft pick.
Under the new free agent rules, Lester as a mid-season acquisition brings the A’s nothing in return if, as expected, he leaves Oakland for his old team, the Boston Red Sox — or anywhere else.