The Boston Red Sox, according to prevailing rumors and media reports, are shopping for an ace starting pitcher after former starter, Jon Lester, chose to sign with the Chicago Cubs rather than return to the organization that drafted him in 2002. The team’s general manager, Ben Cherington, tells a different story.
“I think it’s more likely if we add anywhere, it’s the bullpen, between now and spring training,” Cherington told veteran Boston beat writer Gordon Edes on December 20.
At the time, the Red Sox had just finished a whirlwind of acquisitions, bringing in three solid-but-not-spectacular arms in Arizona’s Wade Miley and Detroit’s Rick Porcello via trade, and another former Red Sox draft pick, Justin Masterson, as a free agent.
The Red Sox appear to be counting on 30-year-old Clay Buchholz to hold down the number one starter’s slot, followed by 2014 trade deadline acquisition Joe Kelly as the number two, followed by some combination of Miley, Porcello and Masterson.
How that plan will work out is certainly open to question. By shifting his emphasis to the bullpen, Cherington may be revealing some doubt about Koji Uehara, the closer who he just signed to a new two-year, $18 million contract — despite the troubling fact that Uehara will turn 40 three days before the 2015 season opens, and showed signs of arm-weariness in 2014.
Recent rumors have pointed at Toronto Blue Jays free agent closer Casey Janssen as a possible target for Cherington and the Red Sox.
Drafted by the Blue Jays in 2004, the 33-year-old Janssen emerged as a top closer in 2012, saving 22 games in that campaign, and a career high 34 the following season.
Janssen suffered a sharp decline in 2014, saving just 25 and posting an ERA of 3.94, his highest since 2009. He blew five saves and fell out of favor with Blue Jays Skipper John Gibbons.
But a severe case of food poisoning that sidelined Janssen at the All Star break, causing him to lose eight pounds in 10 hours and spend two full days on an IV drip, may be the reason behind his sudden decline. In that case, Cherington may be counting on a rested and recovered Janssen to snap back in Boston.
Coming off a down season in which he made a relatively modest $4 million salary, Janssen may also prove an economical gamble who could share set-up duties for Uehara with Junichi Tazawa — and possibly take over the closer’s job should Uehara finally show that the years have caught up with him.
Given that the Red Sox were not willing to compete with Chicago’s reported seven-year, $180 million contract offer to Lester, it appears dubious that they would make a similar offer to Detroit Tigers free agent lefty ace Max Scherzer, who remains available.
Without a Boston offer to Scherzer, strengthening the bullpen on a budget appears to be the direction the Red Sox will take for the remainder of the free agent signing period.